Picket Wire Canyon on Comanche National Grassland

Extreme Adventure

This information was provided by the USDA Forest Service in LaJunta. Call them at 719-384-2181 for more detailed information and access to the dinosaur track sites. NO CAMPING OR UNAUTHORIZED MOTORIZED VEHICLES ARE ALLOWED IN PICKET WIRE CANYONLANDS. Guided tours with the US Forestry Service are available by appointment. Tours operate in May, June, September and October. $15 for adults and $7.50 for children. You will find a complete itinerary of your auto tour of the dinosaur tracksite at http://www.fs.fed.us/r2/psicc/coma/palo/autotour_brochure.pdf. Picket Wire Canyonlands is located about 25 miles south of La Junta. The area is accessible by foot, bicycle, or horseback. Allow for a full day hike, and be sure to bring plenty of water and food. The Canyonlands are pristine and remote, and none of the area's rock art sites have been identified for public viewing. Look carefully and you can find petroglyphs of meandering lines, abstract designs, and animal figures.



Wildlife Adapt to their Environment

The primary purpose of the Grasslands is the management of 419,495 acres or range lands and another is Wildlife Management of approximately 275 different species of birds that use or live here. Quail, pheasant, dove, bald eagle, golden eagle, badgers, ducks, geese and hawks, lesser prairie chickens and longbill curlew are just a few. There are just about forty different species of reptiles, nine amphibians, eleven fish, and lion, bear, antelope, fox, and bobcat are among the mammals. Given the sparcity of trees these creatures adapt to their habitat amazingly well. They sometimes dig in for cover under the sandy soil to avoid falling prey to predators. Photo courtesy of USFS Comanche National Grassland.


Dinosaur Tracks

Arial View of the North America's Largest Dinosaur Tracksite photo courtesy of USFS Comanche National Grassland

The dinosaur tracks are located in the Purgatoire Valley, called Rio de las Animas Perdidas en Purgatorio or River of Lost Souls. The site of the trackway is named Picket Wire Canyonlands and extends 1/4 of a mile. It is North Americas largest tracksite containing over 1,300 footprints in four different layers of rock. The illustration provided by the US FS Comanche National Grassland, shows the type of footprints found in the shoreline strata. The Picket Wire Canyonlands site could be considered the national treasure of dinosaur footprints!

dinosaur tracks
The tracks are 150 million years old and were made by two types of dinosaurs, Allosaurus and Brontosaurs. Forty percent of the tracks were left by Brontosaurs, plant eating dinosaurs, accompanied by younger Brontosaurs heading west along the shoreline. The smaller tracks weave around the larger in a playfull fashion. The other sixty percent of the tracks were left by the Allosaurus. They were two footed, three toed and ferocious meat eating scavengers hunting in packs.


Rock Art

Rock Art images some of which may be 375-4500 years old have been found in Picket Wire Canyonlands. They were left behind by nomadic people who were hunters and gatherers who the followed migrating game making their visits to the area short. Photos courtesy of USFS Comanche National Grassland.

Intriguing as they may be, these lands offer an incredible amount of history and dates from 150 million years old dinosaur tracks to late 1800 homesteads. These sites hold important clues to our past and we need your help to preserve and protect these valuable resources. If disturbed, important clues to our past will diminish forever. Removing, damaging, or even moving evidence destroys a site's scientific, and often aesthetic value for future visitors. 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. Please report any acts of vandalism, defacement, or theft to the U.S. Forest Service Office in La Junta, (719) 384-2181 or Springfield (719) 523-6591

Please do not touch or disturb rock art in any way!



If you are interested in more information and science on the Colorado Rocks, there is an excellent book, unbiased and also speculative, "Ancient American Inscriptions" is available from the author, Bill McGlone. To obtain one of these books, please contact Bill at 1214 San Juan, La Junta, Colorado. The books are $24.95, check or money order. Don't forget to include your mailing address.


Most Native People's language was not written, only spoken. When two tribes with different dialects met, they often communicated with hand signs, and this practice is still sometimes used today. Martineau's ability to recognize graphic representations of these hand movements allowed him to inspire historians and archaeologists all over the West. We also recommend his book, The Rocks Begin To Speak (Library of Congress Number 72-85137).

The Dolores Mission and Cemetery was built between 1871 and 1889 by Mexican Pioneers. Ruins of the Mission and Cemetery are still visible, pictured at right. Photos courtesy of USFS Comanche National Grassland.

The Rourke Ranch also known as the Wineglass Ranch, was a cattle and horse ranch, founded by Eugene Rourke in 1871. Three generations of the Rourke family lived and worked on the ranch ensuring its survival over a span of a hundred years. When the ranch was sold in 1971, it was known as one of the oldest and most successful enterprises in southeast Colorado expanding from Eugine's original settlement of 40 acres to well over 52,000 acres. New Byway placed interpretive signs have been installed.

Withers Canyon is the only allowable access to the canyonlands for the general public. Hiking, non-motorized bicycles and horseback riding are permitted.Starting your hike at the locked pipe gate you will be dropping down in elevation about 500 feet into the canyon. Continue following the dirt road the rest of the way through the canyon heading south/southwest. The road is not marked except to the dinosaur tracksite. Ranching is a primary means of livelihood in this area. Please close gates and do not disturb livestock. Approximate Mileages: Distances: One Way & Round Trip Bulletin Board to Pipe Gate - 3.0 miles - 6.0 miles Pipe Gate to Purgatoire River - 1.0 miles - 2.0 miles Pipe Gate to Cemetery - 3.7 miles - 7.4 miles Pipe Gate to Dinosaur Tracks - 5.3 miles - 10.6 miles Pipe Gate to Rourke Ranch - 8.7 miles - 17.4 miles











Picket Wire Canyonlands became part of the Comanche National Grassland, December 3, 1991. 16,000 + acres of land was transferred from the U.S. Army through congressional legislation to the U.S. Forrest Service (Public Law 101-150). The U.S. Forest Service is mandated by law to protect and conserve the natural resources in Picket Wire Canyonlands. Interim guidelines have been developed to protect and conserve precious, non-renewable resources in the canyon and still provide appropriate public access. We encourage you to stop by or call the Comanche National Grassland Office in La Junta, Colorado for current weather and road information on Picket Wire Canyonlands. They are located at 1420 E. 3rd Street, just east of Vanhooks Fruit Market off of Highway 50 in east La Junta, (719) 384-2181. Office hours are from 8:00 am to 12:00 pm and 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm, Monday through Friday.

Facilities at Picket Wire Canyonlands include:


GOOD PHYSICAL CONDITION is essential to the enjoyment of your hike as well as to your personal safety. Know your limits and the limits of the weakest member of your group. You are only allowed in the canyonlands area from dawn to dusk, so plan your hike carefully. Overnight camping is not allowed in Picket Wire Canyonlands.
SOLO HIKING CAN BE EXTREMELY RISKY and requires careful attention to planning and to potential safety hazards. Always notify someone of your expected route, departure and return times. In case of emergency, call the Otero County Sheriff Office, (719) 384-5941 or 911.
THERE IS NO DRINKABLE WATER in Picket Wire Canyonlands. Carry at least 1 gallon of water per person. Thirst will not occur until you are already dehydrated, so drink before you are thirsty.
BE PREPARED FOR THE HEAT, temperatures in the summer range from 90 F to 105 F. You will be walking in direct sunlight for the entire trip. Prepare for sudden weather changes. Afternoon thunderstorms are common.
WEAR PROPER ATTIRE! During summer, cloths should be loose fitting and provide enough cover to protect your body from the sun. Wear a hat. During spring and fall wear several layers of clothes so you can adjust to temperature changes. A rain parka is also suggested as sudden storms can occur in the afternoon. We recommend high-top hiking boots that are well broken in before your hike or you could be disabled with painful blisters. Carry moleskin or molefoam and use it as soon as you feel a "hot spot," do not wait until the blister has formed. "Tennis" shoes are not recommended because they offer little protection from prickly pear and cholla cactus that are abundant throughout the canyon. Socks are also important. Two pairs can help lessen friction and heat as long as they do not unduly constrict your feet within the boot.
FLASH FLOODS CAN OCCUR WITHOUT WARNING at any time of the year. If you find yourself in a flood situation, climb to the highest possible point immediately.
A FIRST AID KIT is strongly recommended.
AVOID TALL GRASS! Watch where you place your hands and feet. Prairie rattlesnakes, scorpions, tarantulas, and badgers are common. Generally, these animals are as afraid of you as you are of them.
PETS SHOULD BE RESTRAINED, Do not let them harass wildlife.
Carry out all trash, including cigarette butts.


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