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. 

The New West dawns at the Pawnee Buttes

THE NEW WEST HAS FINALLY ARRIVED at the Pawnee Buttes in northern Weld County, Colorado. The buttes are the icons of the northern Colorado Great Plains, two giant nipples protruding from the range land in a valley that has more in common with the South Dakota badlands than anything else in Weld County.

This has always been a dusty, empty place that, until recently, has felt like the old Frontier. The nearest town, Grover, boasts about 100 residents, and there's little else in any direction until you arrive in Sterling, Greeley, Ault, Cheyenne or Fort Collins. Indeed, the highest point in Nebraska is closer to the Pawnee Buttes than any of those cities.

Enter the New West. In 2007, a wind farm was built atop the Chalk Bluffs just north of the buttes, and now it's nearly impossible to photograph the Pawnee Buttes from the trail without your image being graced with twirling turbines.

And now, this, just below the wind farm and northwest of the buttes:

Oil.

There are many dozens of new wells that have appeared around Grover, so many that Noble Energy paved a truck bypass around town. The prize: oil from the Niobrara Formation. A gusher was drilled west of Grover about a year ago, and now the rush is on to poke holes into the ground to pump out the oil and natural gas found beneath the plains.

Even with a drilling rig exploring for black gold just to the northwest of Pawnee Buttes, the buttes themselves are still quite a sight:

For more Pawnee National Grasslands images, visit my Colorado Great Plains gallery here.