| Family Outing at La Junta Dinosaur Tracks
La Junta Dinosaur Tracks
Hike or Bike
11 miles/ 200'
6 hours with kids
The fossilized dinosaur tracks in Picketwire canyon at La Junta are currently the world's longest continuous set of tracks. October through May is the best time to go; the weather can get unbearably hot in the summer.
Directions: From La Junta, head south on CO 109 to GR 802 (David Canyon Road) and turn right (southwest). Follow this road to its T intersection with GR 25 and turn left (south). Follow this road six miles south to the entrance to Picket Wire Canyon. Turn left onto a little rougher dirt road (but one in our party drove it in a Volkswagen Jetta); follow the road 3 miles east to the final road closure. Here there is primitive, desert-style camping.
Tom, Linda, Dawn, myself, my children (8 and 11) and their mother, Nona, set out to reach the tracks. Four of us adults have been there several times : on foot via the trail, on foot via a cross country route, and by bike. I've taken students down on weekend trips. Two years ago my girls and I tried by foot, but the heat was a factor that day and the kids only made it to the old Spanish mission. We also explored the Anasazi pictographs behind the mission, but the kids did not see the tracks. This year, we thought we might get the girls down there on mountain bikes.
With the cars parked on the canyon rim, all but very experienced mountain bikers will need to walk their bikes down the 1/8-mile long, steep, loose, and rocky trail that leads to the canyon floor. I had to carry the girls bikes down and then climb back up to get mine. From the bottom, the first mile of trail is easy biking down a side canyon to reach the actual Picketwire (a bastardization of the French word Purgatoire, the name of the river).
As the trail turns west, you see the first ruins of civilization, and old Anglo-style cabin and cistern that actually had electricity running to it. Ca. 1940. I took no photos of this area.
Another 2.5 miles of mixed easy two track and rocky steeper travel brings you to the vicinity of an Mexican mission church. The area around the church is dotted with adobe ruins of houses and the church itself has some legible late 19th century gravestones. Though the land was lost by Mexico to the US in 1848, this area remained unchanged until the early 20th century.
Alise defines "sacreligious"
In the cleft between the two large rocks behind the mission, (visible four pictures back) you will find Anasazi era (1200 BC- 900 AD) pictographs. These are some of the best in the area that are easily reached. Exploration of the high cliffs will reveal more interesting things; pictographs, smoke stained overhang, small walls, metate grinding rocks for making corn meal and more. You need to explore for several days. We had checked out that group last year, and the girls were working hard, so we opted to take a short rest and move on. We had, however, found a different set of pictographs during a rest stop about a mile before reaching the mission.
Alise, a horse lover, points out "horseshoes". I didn't explain the anachronism.
Linda finds a place "where the indians used to hide"
The final 2 miles to the dinosaur tracks was sandy, but easy going. The tracks represent four species. Now for the REALLY old stuff, 150 million year-old dino tracks.
The most striking are the Allosaurus, a three toed meat eater
And the Brontosaurus, an elephant-foot shaped print that set the record for "longest"
The group walks in the steps of history
Saturday was a crowded day at the tracks. There was a Boulder scout troop with 50 participants and a few other small groups. In the past, we've either been the only group or one of a handful. Late fall may be better. Alise, 8, was the youngest to sign the register at the trailhead ( though a toddler had been pulled in a trailer by Dad. She made the trip on foot to the mission at 6 and on a cooler day could have gone the whole way, but this is probably the lower limit of who can do it. Jeep tours are available several times a year.
Adults and older bikers can continue after the tracks to the historic Rourke ranch, the last private owner before the land was sold to the Army in 1971.
Alise pushing up a few parts on the return
The ecosystem of the entire area, and possibly the tracks themselves (due to river course changes from environmental impact) are at serious risk as the Army fights to significantly expand the Pinon Canyon Maneuver site for war games,. The locals are vehemently fighting this expansion. You can start research by searching the Pueblo Chieftain website.
Here's a couple more good websites.
To make a full weekend out of it, be certain to check out "Bent's Old Fort". It was an important confluence of French fur-trapping trade, Mexican and American trade via the Sante Fe trail, and Indian trade. Facinating history! It was rebuilt and opened as a National Park Historical Site in 1976. Be certain to click on the special events link. My kids especially enjoy the fall rendevous.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):