Location: Pawnee National Grasslands East
Takeoff at 40.8460383, -104.1085337 (google maps link)
Wind Direction: Northwest, West, Southwest
Getting there: ~120 miles/2 hours 15 min drive from Boulder or Golden. From the small town of Grover, CO at the intersection of County Road 122 and County Road 89 where 122 turns to a well-maintained dirt road, continue east on 122 for 7 miles. Turn right (south) on County Road 103 and continue for 2 miles to County Road 118 (google maps link to this intersection). Turn right (west) and go through a wire gate and close the gate behind you. Continue for 1 mile to the top of the cliff. For best results, try not to drive off the end.
There is a takeoff area large enough for 2-3 gliders and can be used for SW through NW wind. The launch is marked with a star on the above image. To get there, cross the barbed wire fence within 500’ or less of the cliff edge (to stay within public land) and head north for 0.25 mi. The launch itself is located due west of the first wind turbine you encounter and is right at the cliff edge.
Important: This is a cliff launch! A slight slope exists, but it’s not terribly long or steep. However, it’s sufficient that given a confident, committed launch and/or soarable wind, you should be able to be flying before committing to the cliff. Bring solid ground handling skills, this takeoff is not suitable for anyone who is not completely confident in their launches. If you have any doubt about the wind or your abilities, there’s plenty of big grassy areas further back from the edge to practice in.
Public/Private areas: While most of the Pawnee Grasslands are actually private property, this site happens to be public land with the same regulations as National forest, as confirmed through the Weld County Assessor’s office (https://www.co.weld.co.us/maps/propertyportal/) and the USFS motor vehicle use map (https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5307750.pdf and https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5307749.pdf) There are bound to be other, possibly better, ridges in the area, particularly near the Pawnee Buttes so lots of pioneering potential remains! For now, the green area is our public access. There is a small east/west fence (marked as red) dividing two adjacent public parcels which is OK to hop to explore to the north of the access road, up until you hit the next east/west fence.
Flying: This weekend, Marcos, Ty, Carl, Kevin, Dusty, Natalia, and Myself flew a ridge soaring site in the Grasslands. From chatter on the WhatsApp group it sounds like this area has been flown before in the 80’s but is otherwise relatively unexplored. It’s a ridge soaring site with thermalling potential that ranges from approximately 75’-150’ high and runs roughly North/South for several miles. It’s essentially obstruction-free for over 50 miles to the west. From our experience over several weekends in the area, the wind tends to be quite laminar and steady, even on strong west days on the front range.
On our first day out, the wind was very strong and we were able to soar 16m mini wings. The next day the winds were light until the late afternoon, and once they picked up it was soarable allowing for flights of over an hour, until we ran out of time. A few guys were able to catch a thermal to over 500’ AGL.
Photo credits: Ty, Marcos, Dusty, Carl, Natalia