Showing posts with label Pinon Canyon. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Pinon Canyon. 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.

November 29, 2007

Blog Stew on the Purg

¶ In September I mentioned Michael Ome Untiedt's impressionist paintings of the SE Colorado canyon country. Some are on his site too. He also has a show opening on Wed., Dec. 5, at Ernest Fuller Fine Art in Denver and running through Jan. 25, 2008.

Timothy Smith's blog about birds and other wildlife attracted to British landfills may be found under "Elsewhere."

Pondering Pikaia is another natural history blog, this one from Alabama, and hence under "Elsewhere" too.

Tucson Weekly interviews J.P.S. Brown.

If you ask Brown who he is, he'll say "cowboy." He won't say reporter, Marine, boxer, movie wrangler, stuntman or whiskey smuggler, and he's been all those things.

If he says writer at all, it won't be first on the list. But he's a great writer, probably the best you've never heard of.

September 09, 2007

An Impressionist on the Purgatory

I want to see this exhibit by painter Michael Ome Untiedt of paintings from the Purgatory canyon country, now at the Sangre de Cristo Art Center in Pueblo. (Link from the Pueblo Chieftain may expire.)

Untiedt admits that he broke a social code:

I was kind of raised with the notion that it's a secret place," said Lamar native Michael Ome Untiedt. "You don't talk about it - you don't want to see spandex bicyclists down there. Part of the reason the Army can take over is because it's been kept a secret."

Ironically, the earlier acquisition by the Army of the ranches in the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site did create more public access to the area, and that access created more awareness of just what lies south of US 50.

April 18, 2007

Swallows, Aristotle, the Clothesline, and Piñon Canyon

Barn swallows
¶ I said in nature-writing class yesterday that they would return around the 22nd, but today, April 18th, the barn swallows were zipping around the CSU-Library building, their favorite nesting site.

Maybe some of the students who pass through its doors, oppressed by oncoming deadlines, will look up and notice them. Followers of Aristotle may note that there was more than one.

¶ Fighting global warming, one piece of rope at a time. Further comments at Tim Blair's blog where he draws a line.

¶ More on hummingbirds: after the last snow melted and the air temperature went above 60 F., a pair of broad-tailed hummers were at our feeder on the 15th No way of knowing if that was the same male that M. heard on the 5th.

¶ The Colorado legislature is now on the record in opposition to the Army's desired expansion of the Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site (PCMS)--if it involves using eminent domain to get the land.

I mentioned some of the ironic aspects before.

Another might be that PCMS' public access--plus the Army's giving the Forest Service management of the "Picketwire Canyonlands" and the famous dinosaur trackway--have helped drive tourism in SE Colorado, where there never was much before.

So now when the Army wants to expand, there are more Coloradans who know the area and its natural attractions and who thus are more likely to opppose the expansion.

By contrast, back in the late 1970s when PCMS was envisioned, most people on the Front Range thought -- wrongly -- that "it's all flat out there." Now at least some know different.

March 08, 2007

The Piñon Canyon quandary

The proposed expansion of Fort Carson's Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site (PCMS) makes a lot of southeastern Colorado residents nervous.

Coming back from last weekend's class trip to Vogel Canyon, we saw several versions of "this land is not for sale to the Army" homemade billboards.

Colorado's Congressional delegation has been hearing from them. Senator Wayne Allard has made some noises. Is he trying to slow the process--or just make it more palatable?

Some Colorado legislators want to limit the Army's ability to condemn land, although they know that the bill might not stand up in court.

A lot of wildlife and botanical research takes place there.

SE Colorado was wracked by this same issue in the late 1970s, when the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site was created. In the 1990s, I went quail hunting there several times. You had to buy a special permit, but it was not much trouble.

Once my friend and I strolled into one of the former ranch houses--we could tell that the owners had just packed and left without tidying up at all. Perhaps they were some of the unwilling sellers whose land was taken by eminent domain. A 1978 Sears catalog still lay open on the kitchen counter. It spoke of pain.

Yet despite the Humvee tracks and the occasional bit of military debris, PCMS had lots of wildlife when I was there--maybe more than when it was grazing land. Windmills were maintained to pump water for wildlife. Certain sensitive areas were cordoned off and treated as "minefields." Like Fort Carson itself, PCMS was turning into something of a wildlife sanctuary. (Some hunting and fishing at Fort Carson is open to the general public.)

As a visitor, I was able to go places and explore things like the ruined stage stop that I probably could never have done before, unless I was the previous landowner's cousin or something.

On the other hand, expansion could restrict public access to areas in the Comanche National Grassland that are now open. And of course the ranchers who lease grazing rights there would lose them, further cutting into their economic base.