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.