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Picketwire Canyon - Dinosaur Trackway

April 23, 2011 - Withers Canyon Trailhead


The winter's snows were coming in strong in the mountains and the avi danger was high, so rather than fight the weather, I opted for a change of scenery and took my wife to Picketwire Canyon. Picketwire Canyon is located in southeast Colorado and is known for having North America's largest dinosaur trackway. We'd heard of it before but with the mellow temperatures of spring on the plains, we opted to make the gentle 12 mile hike to see the trackway.

We'd driven the four hours from Cheyenne to La Junta the day before and done a short hike around Vogel Canyon, an nearby locale known for petroglyphs. After a KOA overnight and good Mexican food, we got an early morning start for the Withers Canyon trailhead, the entry point for Picketwire. The weather was perfect, 70 degrees, partly overcast and little if any wind. We parked at the trailhead, packed lunch and water and were soon on our way down the trail and through the pipe gate guarding the trail that descends into a tributary branch of the canyon.

The trail descends about 250 vertical feet right after the gate and then gently descends for about a mile to the juncture with the main canyon is reached. The trail is actually a well worn 4WD track that provides firm but but sometimes sandy course . . . easy walking. The trail turns south to southwest and soon passes the remains of a building or two, remants of the prior use of the area by ranchers and herders. This is Santa Fe trail country and there is no doubt that many folks have passed through over the course of the past centuries. We continued along, skirting the slopes above the Purgatoire River and sometimes winding along the broad canyon bottom . . . an up and down over a spur here and there. After about 2 miles we reached the site of the Dolores Mission. The ruins of the Mission include the remains of a structure and the associated graveyard.

The road leads on from the Mission no longer winding but cutting a long course through sandy flats to the trackway. There is an outhouse at the juncture of the main trail and the stub trail that leads to the Purgatroire River and the dinosaur trackway proper. We stopped alongside the river to eat lunch before crossing to explore the tracks on the far side of what at this tiem of year was a shallow lazy stream.

Signage details the type of dinosaurs that made the two distinctive sets of tracks and the environment at the time the tracks were made. We took in the expanse of tracks along the river. There are literally hundreds of tracks exposed and likely untold others remain buried where the soils still overlie what was once mud and is now stone.

After a half hour of checking out the tracks, we were ready to make the 6 mile hike back to the trailhead. The course back took about the same amount of time and with pride my wife powered her way through the last 3 miles, sore feet and all.

An overview map . . .