The trailhead register showed that about a dozen other hikers had been here in previous days, mostly on the weekend before, but I was the only one here today. The trail rapidly descended about feet to the floor of Withers Canyon , a tributary of the Picket Wire. I clipped on down the trail amidst stands of beautiful flowers and bright green fields of grass, all adorned in a shimmering coat of dew that glistened in the early morning sunlight.
After about a mile I entered the main body of Picket Wire Canyon and turned to the right and continued on the trail. This was a broad and flat valley about a half mile across bordered on each side by rocky bluffs and occasional cliffs. Presently I came to the ruins of some old ranch buildings that I paused to inspect.
- A Mix of Sun and Clouds.
- The Picket Wire People of Colorado;
- Picketwire Canyon in Southeast Colorado.
Shortly after this I reached a place where the river ran adjacent to the north wall of the valley, which forced the trail up into the bluffs about feet above, affording me some nice views down into the valley and a perfect excuse to stop for a break. Some crumbling adobe walls stood in silent watch over the valley, remnants of a structure that appeared to be about 70 feet square. I studied the construction detail of the ruins, and noted that a foundation of large flat stones from the nearby cliffs had been placed on the ground, with a wall of adobe bricks made of clay and straw built on top.
Most of the walls had eroded away and were gone, but I thought it quite amazing that some still survived after more than a century of weathering. Nearby was a stone cistern that had been dug into the ground. A modern informational sign nearby told of Indian rock art on the cliffs above, and said that evidence indicates that this valley has been inhabited by humans for nearly years!
I began to feel very much like a newcomer! There was not a single other soul to be seen in the valley, but I observed a lone set of footprints in the mud from the day before. Curiously, they went in only one direction, and I wondered how that could be so, for there is only one trailhead that provides access to this place. Further up the valley I left the main trail and followed signs to the dinosaur tracksite on a rocky shelf beside the Purgatoire River a short distance away. This site is most impressive, featuring over tracks in an area about a quarter of a mile long.
The tracks were made in the mud on the shore of an ancient lake by plant-eating brontosaurs and smaller meat-eating allosaurs. Many of the tracks are two to three feet long, and some are sunk a foot or more into what was once soft mud, but which is now solid rock. The recent rain had filled many of them with water, which made them stand out in bold relief. Parallel pairs of tracks are said to be evidence that these ancient animals traveled together in herds.
I pondered the incredibly precise string of geological events that had to occur for these million year old tracks to be visible on the surface of the earth today! These tracks are even older than the Rocky Mountains, which jut into the sky a hundred miles to the west. The best tracks were on the other side of the river , so in spite of the fact that the water was running high from spring runoff, I waded across the swift chilly torrent to see them.
So today both the river and its canyon have two names: Purgatoire and Picketwire.
Nor is it compelling that in two people in separate parties died in the canyon due to dehydration and heat exhaustion. Our low-clearance Subaru had no problem on dry roads. If the roads had been any muddier on the way out, we might have gotten stuck as the soil is fairly clay-ey. Perhaps it had to wait for the roads to dry out? In the morning we had coffee and breakfast and hit the trail. Once we entered the canyon, here is the first view we saw.
A few miles into the hike we encountered willow shrubland indicating we were approaching water. You can filter the water, but apparently it is not palatable. A n old telephone pole with glass insulator: at some point, the canyon had electricity.
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Those days are long gone. I was saddened to compare my photo to those of others taken in years past. It seems as if a few artifacts have walked away. A closeup of some of the sedimentary rock. The canyon also contains rock art and if you look hard enough, you will find it. This rock art could be seen easily from the trail if you are not looking down at your feet.
A life-sized replica of a dinosaur bone. Apparently these fossils suggest that this species hunted in pairs, not solitarily, as once was thought. And another. There were lots! I've heard that after a heavy rainfall or with lots of snowmelt, it can be a bit treacherous. Luckily, we didn't feel unsafe crossing the river. I was more worried about my precious camera getting wet.
Beyond the Picketwire by Bost Family Traditions on Spotify
In any case, after hiking 5. Tracks leading to the river. Human footprints in a layer of mud presumably above more dinosaur tracks almost caused me to have an existential moment. What tracks will I leave? After spending awhile with the dinosaur tracks, we ate lunch and then began the long 5. A few of the flowers we saw along the way.
It seems to be a new record for Comanche National Grasslands and a new county record? A close up of the leaves in rosettes and alternate along the stems. The habitat was a sandy wash, dampened by vernal and monsoonal rains next to juniper, mountain mahogany, and grasses. I always get excited when I spot a weird plant that takes me awhile to ID. The last evening at the Withers Campground was spent exploring the area behind the campsite and photographing plants and rocks.