Trailhead: Withers Canyon Trailhead into Picketwire Canyon
Closest City / Town: La Junta & Kim
Driving Directions: From the Town of La Junta, drive south on Hwy 109 for 13 miles; turn right (west) on County Road 802 (Vogel Canyon Road) and go for another 8 miles. Head left (south) on County Road 25 and continue for 6 miles to the Corral Parking Area.
If you have a high-clearance vehicle, turn left (east) at Forest Service Road 500A and follow it for 3 miles until you arrive at the trailhead parking area. East of the parking area is a brown pipe gate, which is the trailhead. There is a primitive campground at the trailhead.
Hiking Distance: 10.6 miles (roundtrip)
Description: From the Withers Canyon Trailhead, the hike drops immediately into the canyon. From the trailhead down to the Mission it is approximately 3.7 miles. It is another 1.6 miles from the Mission to the dinosaur tracks. The total round trip to see the dinosaur tracks is 10.6 miles.
For a unique and unforgettable experience we highly recommend you visit Picketwire Canyon. Located on the Comanche National Grassland south of La Junta, Colorado, these primitive, red rock canyons are home to the largest dinosaur tracksite in North America.
Located on the banks of the Purgatoire River in southeast Colorado, this dinosaur tracksite is the largest documented assemblage of trackways in North America.
Over 1300 prints in 100 separate trackways extend across a quarter mile expanse of bedrock. Apatosaurus and Allosaurus are two types of dinosaurs that left prints in the mud over 150 million years ago. This tracksite has given scientists interesting insights into the social behavior of dinosaurs.
Those huge dinosaurs weren’t the only prehistoric visitors to the canyons. Rock art images, together with the remains of dwellings, stone tools, and pottery, shed light on the lives of prehistoric people. “Rock Art” is the term used to describe images pecked or painted on rock surfaces by prehistoric people. Rock art can be difficult to find but there are numerous sites in the canyons.
According to legend, a group of Spanish treasure seeking soldiers died in the canyons without benefit of clergy. Thus, in the sixteenth century the river was named El Rio de Las Animas Perdidas en Purgatorio (the River of Souls Lost in Purgatory). Later, French trappers shortened the name to “the Purgatoire.” Early Anglo travelers on the Santa Fe Trail could not pronounce “Purgatoire” and hence further corrupted the name into “Picket Wire.”