BOBBY MAGILL

Journalist • Photographer

Bobby Magill is a senior science writer for Climate Central in New York and a journalist who has covered fracking and the environment in Colorado and New Mexico since 2001. 

Across I-25, Colorado's 'Forgotten Third'

Whether you're in northern New Mexico or Colorado (I can't speak for Wyoming), Interstate 25 seems like an iron curtain.

There's life west of I-25: the stuff of postcards, mountain ski mags, chamber of commerce PR and damn near everything else Colorado and New Mexico are known for. (Downtown Denver, New Mexico's Sandia and Manzano mountains and the bulk of Albuquerque notwithstanding, of course, because they're east of the freeway, but just barely.) Life west of I-25 is champagne powder, fourteeners, big redrock canyons, national parks, great green wilderness areas, vast expanses of suburban hell beneath a skyline of jagged peaks and everything you think of when you hear the name "Colorado."

Then there's life east of I-25, which is summed up by the saying in Colorado that Kansas starts at Denver International Airport. Colorado east of I-25 is tornadoes, stinking feedlots, decaying Dust Bowl towns, Primitive Baptist churches, cornfields piled on top of cornfields and horizon-to-horizon prairie. In short, it's not the part of Colorado often gracing the glossy covers of tourism brochures and magazines.

The world across I-25 may as well be a different planet. I was told by a neighbor recently that folks here in Fort Collins, which is just barely west of the freeway, don't care much about what goes on in Weld County because, well, it's (just a couple of miles) on the other side of the four-lane divide where prairie dogs, twisters and oil wells are more abundant than peaks, powder and pine trees.

Most of us living in the Front Range urban corridor tend to look to the west because it's the mountains and the desert that bring most of us here, and the plains may as well be Kansas or Oklahoma or Nebraska, where the flatlands breed boredom and the stories residents have to tell don't seem to be as interesting to most people as those of Piceance Basin roughnecks, Longs Peak climbers, Telluride Bluegrass festivarians and skiers on the greatest Steamboat Springs powder days.

But, man, there's just something fascinating about those sweeping expanses of prairie across the Eastern Plains. Despite Greeley and Weld County being a metro area unto themselves and enough people living and working in the plains for Fort Collins' own congressional district to span most of those empty eastern Colorado counties, the region just feels more than a little sneered at or overlooked and forgotten by the rest of the state.

So, my Restless West Photography "Forgotten Third Series" celebrates that great, empty land, which, of course, is much more compelling to visit than it seems many people believe. It does, however, require you to look a little closer to find beauty than you would if you were in the mountains.

Where are the most interesting places across that iron four-lane divide? To name just a few: The Picketwire Canyonlands along the Purgatoire River. The stately residential architecture found all over La Junta. The canyon-bound town of Wray. Bents Old Fort National Historic Site. All the towns in the Arkansas River Valley between Pueblo and Lamar, with their quaint downtowns and ornate county courthouses (Otero County notwithstanding; its courthouse's mid-century architecture is among the ugliest I've ever seen). The piñon-juniper clad hills, canyons and buttes along U.S. 160 east of Trinidad and between the towns of Kim and La Junta. Downtown Ault about 15 miles east of Fort Collins. The town of Grover in northern Weld County. The densely-packed windmills surrounding Peetz, north of Sterling. The Platte River bridge north of Fort Morgan. The carousel in Burlington. And much more...