Showing posts with label Otero County. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Otero County. Show all posts

June 21, 2015

Walking with Dinosaurs at the Summer Solstice

Led by a white Forest Service pickup, the "auto tour" forms up.

What I think of when I hear "auto tour."
There is something old-fashioned about the phrase “auto tour”— as in Picketwire Canyonlands Guided Auto Tour — which suggests maybe a 1920 Studebaker Big Six “touring car” with the top down. Goggles and dusters absolutely required.

We were instead in M’s faithful 1997 Jeep Wrangler, and I was shifting in and out of 4wd low range all day long, mostly when descending steep, rocky, glorified wagon roads into the Puragatory Canyon.*

Seventeen vehicles full of people who had paid $15 apiece for adults started out; fifteen made it into the canyon. Flat tires were like a spreading virus — blame the sharp shale up top or the sharp rocks anyplace?

Friends in Pueblo set this up—we were supposed to have gone in May, when it would not have been over 100° F as it was on Saturday, but all tours were canceled due to wet weather. We still had to skirt a few mud bogs, but most of the roads were dusty. Very dusty. And there was little shade, and if there was, the piñon gnats were waiting.

The centerpiece of the tour is the famous dinosaur trackway, which preserves more than "1300 prints in 100 separate trackways  [along] a quarter-mile expanse of bedrock," to quote the brochure. And there are more waiting to be uncovered.

Credit for the discovery goes to a 1936 schoolgirl in the downstream hamlet of Higbee; some paleontologists made quick visits shortly after that — and then scientific interest languished until the 1980s when they were "re-discovered."

Scaled-down dinos play out the tracks' drama
Now there is signage, and a pilgimage to "the dinosaur tracks" has become One of the Things You Do in Colorado.

In the photo, our Forest Service interpreter-guide-wagonmaster has set down  Allosaurus and Apatosaurus models — placing them in the tracks made by real things in the muddy shore of a Jurassic lake.  At this spot, the carnivorus Allosaurus has stepped directly on the tracks of an apparent family group of large and small Apatosaurus browsers. The presumption is that it was stalking them.

Some smaller dinosaurs, Ornitholestes, also left their tracks. They too walked on their hind legs and weighed maybe 25–35 pounds.

As Anthony Fredericks wrote in Walking with Dinosaurs: Rediscovering Colorado's Prehistoric Beasts, "You don't have to be a dinosaur fanatic to enjoy this venture."

In fact, the different stops are like an experiment in temporal dislocation. While it is 150 million years ago at the trackway, at another stop, it is a few hundred years or a couple of millennia ago. At yet another, a 19th-century family cemetery holds the graves of New Mexican settlers who farmed from the 1860s to the early 1900s, while up the canyon, time has stopped in the 1970s, when the Army condemned thousands of acres to create the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site. All of this in eight hours of dusty roads!
A juvenile hominin follows adults across the trackway by the Purgatory River. No Allosaurus is chasing him!
Kevin, our guide, held off on the "get out of Purgatory" jokes until it was time to do just that, for which I thank him.

*In Spanish, El rio de las animas perdidas in purgantorio (River of the lost souls in Purgatory); in fur-trapper French, Purgatoire; and in cowboyese, Picketwire. Named for members of a 17th(?) or 18th(?)-century Spanish expedition wiped out by Indians, an expedition that no one seems to be able to date or accurately describe. Nowadays often just called The Purg. But the name is old. M. is dismayed that the Forest Service has given its official blessing to "Picketwire" in its maps and signage on the Comanche National Grasslands.

February 10, 2014

In the Dust Bowl of 2014

There is nothing to see in eastern Colorado. It's all flat and treeless.
 Almost a month ago — January 18th — I took County Road 11 south from Manzanola, Colo., toward part of the Comanche National Grassland. I had driven nine or ten miles when something struck me — I had seen only one small herd of cattle, maybe six head, no more. The rest had all gone to the sale barn, apparently.

I was right about where the red arrow is pointing in the graphic from the United States Drought Monitor, and what was in theory a quail-hunting trip was, admit it or not, turning more into disaster tourism.

Outdoor writer Chad Love blogs from a location downwind of that location, and he has posted some photos that, once converted from color into black-and-white, evoke the Dirty Thirties.

I didn't photograph those six cows, nor the herd I saw somewhere on Colorado  Hwy. 10 grazing in the slanting sunset light in a pasture that was about half dirt, even though it would have been nice and National Geographic-y. Like something from East Africa.

Windmill on the national grasslands. Not pumping.
Fisher the dog and I took a walk around this windmill. There was no water in the tank, no bird tracks of any sort in the dust.

We drove on to another spot closer to the Purgatory River where there was a little water, but all we saw was a single mule deer slipping away. Very quiet. Very dry. Just a general sense of absence.

Chasing scaled quail involves a lot of a windshield time—and to be honest, I have done better in more agricultural areas, but this trip was degenerating into disaster tourism.

So I admitted that I was doing that, ate a late lunch of crackers and coffee, and drove around.

We drove past the Huerfano River Wind Farm outside Walsenburg—as usual for wind farms, not all the blades were turning—and Fisher got a piss break at Huerfano Butte.

And there is the mystery of those deserted commercial buildings on the gravel road in totally misnamed Apache City.

It was good to be back into the mountains and seeing snow.