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Fitness and Photography for Fun - A blog on staying fit by hiking and doing photography by David Mendosa

Picket Wire Canyonlands

October 17th, 2011 · 1 Comment

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This weekend I was in Purgatory. It was a pleasure, not punishment.

The U.S. government took me to Purgatory. It’s the only way to get there short of a long hike or bike ride, which itself can be a sort of Purgatory.

But the Purgatory I went to was a real river, which on most maps bears the name Purgatoire, which French fur traders bestowed on it in before 1800. Locally, people call it the Purgatory or Picketwire River.

Picketwire (or Picket Wire) is the way early Anglo settlers pronounced Purgatoire. You can hear the correct French pronunciation of this word here. It’s in fact not even close to the way we say Picket Wire.

The Picket Wire Canyonlands are in the Comanche National Grassland, which the U.S. government established in 1960 after the Dust Bowl of the 1930s defeated farmers here. I learned about the tour during my previous trip the the Comanche National Grassland.

A Still Stretch of the Purgatoire River in the Picket Wire Canyonlands

A Still Stretch of the Purgatoire River in the Picket Wire Canyonlands

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This is an important site, but little known. It’s greatest importance is because it contains one of the world’s largest dinosaur track-ways. The rocks of the Morrison formation preserve more than 1,300 documented brontosaurus and allosaurus tracks that are 150 million years old. Until recently, however, the site was too remote to attract sustained scientific interest.

So few people are able to come to the site that we were able to walk all around it. The tour leader, Kevin Lindahl from the U.S. Forest Service, explained that the Purgatoire River does far more damage to the site when it floods each year than we do. And each year the river’s flood exposes new tracks.

But first we stopped to see rock art at one site. We think that people of Comanche, Kiowa, Cheyenne, Apache and related tribes as well as pre-historic people created this rock art between 375 and 4,500 year ago.

A Petroglyph in Picket Wire Canyonlands

A Petroglyph in Picket Wire Canyonlands

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If this person hadn’t been in the way, I might have been able to convince you that this is a huge arch or natural bridge.

Another Form of Rock Art

Another Form of Rock Art (Photograph by Kevin Lindahl)

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We also toured the ruins of the Dolores Mission and Cemetery. In 1871 eleven families led by Damascio Lopez settled in the canyonlands. Life was hard, and several of gravestones remain.

Gravestones at the Dolores Mission

Gravestones at the Dolores Mission

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Finally, we arrived at the dinosaur tracks. I was surprised to see a dinosaur there. And even more surprised to see how small this one was.

A Dinosaur and its Toe Tracks

A Dinosaur and its Toe Tracks

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The little person in the background gives perspective, showing how large the dinosaur tracks are.

One Little Person and Many Big Dinosaur Tracks

One Little Person and Many Big Dinosaur Tracks

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We did see one big bird, the rarest and most expensive of all Osprey species. This is the world’s first production tiltrotor aircraft. We were next to Fort Carson’s PiƱon Canyon Maneuver Site, and in fact had to get special permission to pass through it to reach the Picket Wire Canyonlands. When this Osprey V-22 flew over, we couldn’t miss it.

The World's Rarest and Most Expensive Osprey

The World's Rarest and Most Expensive Osprey

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When we left the canyonlands, we saw the erosion of the canyon wall that reminded me strongly of the hoodoos that I had seen in Bryce Canyon National Park.

The Hoodoos of Picket Wire

The Hoodoos of Picket Wire

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The tour started at 8 a.m. and we returned to La Junta by 4:30 p.m., giving me just enough time to head out of town again. This time I went north and caught this shot of two horses on the high plains at last light.

Two Horses in the Last Light of Day

Two Horses in the Last Light of Day

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Beauty is simple.

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1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Dale Reed // Oct 24, 2011 at 1:17 pm

    Have just visited canyon end of sept. Was totally alone. Hiked the trail in the 5.5 miles. I found fresh bear track in the sand on the trail. There was also a cougar track on bank at dinosaur track site, how cool! Would have loved to see valley before beaver where trapped out back in the early 1800s.

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