Back to the ranch

Discover Colorado's pioneer heritage along the Front Range
Lora J. Finnegan

AURORA

Plains Conservation Center
"This really is an amazing wild place so close to the city," says Jim Havens, a naturalist at the Plains Conservation Center. Located at the east edge of Aurora, the 1,100-acre complex is both an educational center and a natural preserve for native wildlife and grasslands. "Just imagine," Havens continues, "in the 1800s, these plains stretched [undeveloped] all the way to the mountains, which are 20 miles to the west."

The heart of the center is a village with two replicas of an 1880s sod house, complete with cow chip-burning stoves and rope beds. Kids can sit in the one-room school and compare modern schoolwork with pioneer lessons such as orthography (spelling) and arithmetic―all chalked onto slates. In a shop nearby, a blacksmith hammers out horseshoes, branding irons, nails, and other necessities.

In May, wildlife watchers can visit to scan the breeze-swept, grassy terrain for American pronghorns, coyotes, and migratory birds from orioles to swallows. You might even see a great horned owl.

Memorial Day-Labor Day, Sat 8-4:30, or by reservation Mon-Fri year-round; $5. 21901 E. Hampden Ave.; www.plainsconservationcenter.org or (303) 693-3621.

Page