Standing on the Pony Express route

Autumn Along the South Platte Valley

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History runs through Colorado's South Platte River Valley

I've always been a fan of the American West, as I grew up on John Wayne and Clint Eastwood movies. And my trips over the past few years to that part of the country has only increased my interest.

So when my buddy Matt Vincent, a fellow photographer and Western historian, took me and my wife to the South Platte River Valley during a 2021 trip to the Colorado Plains, I was astounded to learn that we were standing on the very route used by the Pony Express as riders moved through the Sterling area.

The Pony Express holds an oversized place in the history of the American West. Started in 1860 to deliver mail between Missouri and California, this link between remote outposts of civilization was short-lived. In fact, it lasted less than two years, quickly replaced by railroads.

That didn't lessen the experience of standing on the edge of the South Platte River Valley on the very route taken by stalwart cowboys loaded down with mail. The photo above, titled "Autumn Along the South Platte Valley," includes a short section of the Pony Express trail.

Riders navigated along the edges of the cottonwoods growing in the valley, using the river as a way to find their way across the seemingly endless and landmark-free plains.

I just stood on the trail (marked in this photo) for a few minutes, imagining how isolated these riders must have felt. We too often forget how frightening the plains were for travelers before railroads and cars.

It is hard to imagine what it must have been like, looking making the 10-day trek through territory that was far from domesticated.

I then walked to the rim of the valley and composed "Autumn in the South Platte Valley" to show the golden cottonwood trees through which the Pony Express route wended and the rolling sand hills of the Colorado Plains. The entire scene was topped by that beautiful cloud-strewn sky.

Below are some more photos created during our stay in the Eastern Colorado Plains. You can see the entire collection by clicking here.

Matt Vincent's "The Chronicles of Custer," which covers the history of Gen. George Armstrong Custer's beginnings in this area of the American West, is highly recommended. You can order copies here.

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