Picture Canyon Picnic Ground at Comanche National Grassland

Contact the USDA Forest Service in Springfield at 719-523-6591 for information.

Picture Canyon is located 35 miles southwest of Springfield on the Colorado/Oklahoma border. Recreation opportunities in Picture Canyon include a picnic area, trail head facilities, marked four-mile loop hiking trail, camping, wildlife viewing and photography. Several springs help to support a variety of plants and wildlife in scenic Picture Canyon. Most of the rock art designs were probably created during the 17th or early 18th century by historic Plains Indians. There are red and black pictographs and animal and human petroglyphs. Look for prehistoric Indian rock art on the south canyon walls.

Unusual rock formations are the main attraction of the 2.6 mile loop hiking trail. Rugged canyons encompass natural attractions such as the Balanced Rock, and Crack Cave. Rock houses, rock fences and cemeteries can be found in the area. Evidence of big game hunters dating back some 12,000 years ago is apparent from the points and tools found by ranchers and farmers in the Comanche National Grasslands. Clovis points, Folsom points and Plano points have all been found in the Baca County area. Drought and dust storms of the "Dirty Thirties" ruined local farms and forced the owners off the land.

 

 

Crack Cave

Some researchers have suggested that rock art here may have astronomical significance; plan to visit this site on the fall equinox when a local festival is held and tours are given. There is a natural separation in the sandstone that formed a cave known as Crack Cave. Within these walls are markings that were carved in the rock faces more than 1,000 years ago. For 8-12 minutes the markings are illuminated by the sun's rays at dawn over the eastern canyon wall only during spring and autumn equinox. This phenomenon was discovered in 1976 and filmed for a PBS documentary later in 1984. Although a mystery, it is certain that these inscriptions, in conjunction with the rays of the sun striking them, precisely mark the equinox. Some scientists believe that these marks are Ogam writing and show the ancient Celts explored the area long ago. Others believe the writings were a cultural exchange among early American Indians.

 

 

The Springfield Chamber of Commerce sponsors two annual Equinox Festivals generated by the interest in Crack Cave's history marking the two equinoxes. Spring Equinox "Home and Garden Show" is held around the middle of March each year in the Springfield Elementary Gym, 341 Tipton St., Springfield, CO, with vendors, businesses and clubs having booths displaying their service, wares or food. Fall Equinox is held on a Saturday in the middle of September at City Park, 5th and Colorado Streets, in Springfield, CO. Events usually include: arts and crafts booths, bake sales, "Baca County Style Hee Haw" variety show, History on the Rocks video, Picture Canyon tours to see the rock art, and sunrise at Crack Cave, remote control model plane fly-in, and an "old-time" cowboy dinner. For Crack Cave details, contact the Comanche Springfield office at 719-523-6591. For details about the annual festival call 1-719-523-4061.

 

The "tours" to Picture Canyon are only during the equinox dates during March and September and are free of charge. The Forest Service opens the iron gates to Crack Cave for public viewing and a guide accompanies them to give background information and assist within the cave. Picture Canyon is open to the public year-round so one may view the other rock art on the canyon walls or the magnificent scenery on the Comanche Grassland.

 

A number of rock shelter sites have been discovered in Picture and Holt Canyons and also on West Carrizo Creek and its tributaries. The earliest of the shelters falls into the Plains Archaic Period. Most agree that this period is a span of time from 6000 to 1600 years ago. Some of the shelters date back to 250 B.C. to 500 A.D., but others are late enough to fall into the Plains Woodland period. The transition between these two periods was gradual and relatively slight as the only new thing that comes into play was the advent of farming. The landscape then was much as it is today. These hunters and gatherers were a simple folk, never living in their rock shelters or other sites for long periods of time. They followed the food resources with the change in the seasons. The southerly exposure of many of the rock shelters indicates that these shelters were inhabited during periods of cold weather. The shelters would receive both light and warmth for much, if not all, of a day during the winter. Water sources were generally located within 300 feet of these shelters.

These early inhabitants used a hunting-gathering lifestyle that took advantage of a diversity of food resources. Vast herds of American bison or buffalo roamed during this time. Mano and metates (grinding stones with which to process seeds and other plant materials) were found in and around the rock shelters. Other tools found are stone knives, scrapers, and awls used to butcher and work the hides of animals. Spears and knives were also an important part of the hunters inventory. Other tools indicate that woodworking was also an important activity. Abraders that were used to smooth wood, much in the way that we use sandpaper today, were also found. Knives and scrapers were multipurpose in woodworking as well as butchering and hide preparation. Hamerstones were also found and used for a multitude of tasks. Remnants of spear or dart shafts were found in the Holt Canyon rock shelter.

 

A number of the rock shelters contain one or more panels of rock art. Petroglyphs are incised carvings and pictographs are paintings on a rock surface. The inhabitants of the Plains Woodland period (400A.D.-1100A.D.) left their traces of pottery in open-air as opposed to sheltered sites. Evidence of simple farming exists at several sites. These Indians built brush structures on a base of vertically placed or inward leaning stone slabs, and they used small corner-notched projectile points for hunting. This means that the bow and arrow were now used for hunting and a variety of other things. Woodland pottery most frequently recovered from Baca Woodland sites is cord-marked grit tempered ware. These vessels were made of local clay and coarse sand from the creek beds. The grit was used to reduce the tendency of the vessel to break during firing.

 

The Apishipa Indian site houses measured 15-21 feet and were round or oval. Poles were placed vertically on the upper portion in a circular pattern leaning inwards. The spaces between the poles were filled with smaller sticks and brush until a secure structure had been formed. Skins might have served as a final weatherproofing when needed. These people placed their dwellings in the first terrace above flood plains of creeks or the lowest portion of a mesa arm around which a creek makes a bend. This location provided good visibility in at least three directions from atop the finger jutting onto the flood plain. It also permitted easy access to the flood plain where they farmed. Apishipa sites were also temporary and transient in nature. They utilized these structures in late spring when crops were planted on the flood plain and again in early fall for the harvest. Acorn remains in sites indicated that these sites were used in the fall too.

 

As many as three to four of these shelters were found in a group and assuming 4-5 people were in each dwelling then groups of up to 20 probably lived together. Hearths or fire pits are the focus of the sites and were used for warmth and to process both plant and animal foods. Some of the hearths measure up to 19 feet across. Manos and metates are common at these sites along with the remains of acorns and pieces of tiny maze (corn) cobs. Some implements of chert (flint), petrified wood and obsidian (volcanic glass) have been found at theses sites. Most of these materials were brought into the area by the inhabitants as they are not indigenous to the Baca area.

The last prehistoric period encountered in Baca County is what is termed the tipi ring period. These circular arrangements of stones are very common. They were located with a specific set of ideas in mind. Along canyon rims where one has a good view into the canyon was a favored location. The canyon rim usually sits slightly lower than the mesa behind it. In several places at the heads of canyons with streams running through them, as many as 44 tipi rings at a single site are visible. These sites are not particularly productive in terms of artifact finding and it has been deduced that they were used for an Indian groups stay in one locale for a period from 3-4 days to perhaps several weeks. The Apache built the tipis in this area during 1350 A. D. according to a radiocarbon date of charcoal from a ring and documented accounts from early Spanish explorers. Turquoise beads have been found at the tipi ring sites and it is probable that these were obtained in trade with Pueblo groups to the west. Some of the pottery found at tipi sites were polychrome (multiple color, painted) ware which was identified as San Lazaro Glaze Polychrome pottery made during Pueblo IV times in the Anasazi area. Pueblo IV times was a period spanning four hundred years approximately (1300 A. D. to contact with Europeans). Locally made woodland cord marked pottery turned up at these sites as well. Mica tempered shards from one tipi ring site indicates trade with the Taos/Picuris area to the southwest at a relatively late date (after 1500 A.D.)

From Springfield, Colorado drive south on Highway 287 for 20 miles. At the town of Campo turn right (west) on County Road J. Continue for 10 miles, then turn left (south) at County Road 18 for 5 miles. Turn right (south) at the Picture Canyon sign and continue for 1 mile to the parking lot.

From La Junta, Colorado drive south on Highway 109 for 58 miles. Turn left (east) at Highway 160 for 28 miles. Turn right (south) at County Road 13 for 12 miles. Turn left (east) at County Road J for 5 miles. Turn right (south) at County Road 18 for 5 miles. Turn right (south) at the Picture Canyon sign and continue for 1 mile to the parking lot.

Facilities include: 3 covered picnic tables with grills (fires allowed in grills only), 1 vault type toilet, 2.6 mile loop trail that leads to the sites, drinking water not available. Camping is allowed in the parking area only. However, no electricity, water or garbage containers are available. Please pack out all trash.

As you enter this area, please remember that you are the guardian of this unique canyon. For thousands of years it was unchanged. Today vandalism is a continuing problem in this fragile area. Rock Art is particularly sensitive. Please photograph but do not touch or apply any photographic enhancing or replication materials. These sites on public lands are protected under federal law. We thank you for observing the rules for this area and for helping us to preserve this valuable resource. Please be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

 

 

 

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