|On the rim of Picket Wire Canyon with the Purgatory River below|
(Click on any picture for a larger version)
I’ve always been kind of a natural history buff on a casual level. Old things just seem to exude a mystery that I can’t resist. When I come across places that have ancient sites I have to stop and imagine what was going on when these old things were new.
The history of native people and early American pioneers has held a particular fascination for me, so when I found out about an area in southeast Colorado that is awash in history of men and monsters I had to go and explore it.
The place is Picket Wire Canyon, and it’s located southeast of La Junta, Colorado. Here in the canyon of the Purgatory River ancient foot prints of dinosaurs, Native American rock art and archeological sites of early Spanish and American pioneers are scattered about waiting for the curious to find and explore them.
|Stone rings can be found on some of the promontory rises||that overlook the river|
Here in the canyon some of the earliest people to inhabit the area were called the Apishipa Focus people. They were a hunter/gatherer people who lived here from around 1200 A.D. – 1350 A.D. Very little is known about these ancient inhabitants but they left there mark on the land and rocks for eternity.
These Apishipa people were replaced by tribes of Plains Indians beginning with the Apache, then Comanche and Cheyenne. Evidence has been found of occasional raids by Kiowa, Arapaho, and Ute as well. All the tribes left there unique rock art to mark their presence.
During the period that the Plains Indians occupied the canyon, incursions by Spanish soldiers occurred. Artifacts, including armor, have been found in the side canyons and near the river
The road that follows the canyon up river was once a stage coach road. Passengers, passing cowboys and stage personal left their mark as well. From telegraph lines to stage stops and even carvings in the rock walls along the road there is testament to the passing of these early Americans.
|The ruins of the Dolores Mission|
Undoubtedly the most intriguing and fascinating ancient wonder here are the long trackways left by Apatosaurus and Allosaurus on the muddy shores of an ancient shallow lake. There are over thirteen hundred visible dinosaur tracks that make up about one hundred different trackways on the banks of the river. Apatosauus (the dinosaur formally known as Brontosaurus) was a huge herbivore, while the three toed carnivorous Allosaurus was a cousin to the infamous T-Rex. These tracks seem to show a dance of life and death that was routine for these two characters during the Jurassic Period.
There are few places I know of where you can walk in the footsteps of so much natural history in such a relatively small area as Picket Wire Canyon. If you enjoy natural history and have an explorers streak, this is a place you can spend days on end discovering fantastic historical treasures.