Showing posts with label Purgatory River. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Purgatory River. Show all posts

June 11, 2019

Our First Trip to Trinidad Lake State Park

Part of Carpios Ridge Campground from an overlook.
As I turned into the Carpios Ridge Campground at Trinidad Lake State Park, pulling the little pop-up trailer, I saw this tall building with a bright red-orange metal roof.

"That must be the visitor center," I said to M. But I was so wrong. It was the "camper services" building — toilets, plus coin-operated showers, laundry room, and vending machines. The actual visitor center was more modest.

By happenstance, the first weekend of June found us holding reservations for the dogs at the boarding kennel, but our original planned destination was impossible. What to do? A lot of the high country was still snowy and/or in the middle of the Big Melt, so we looked lower down.

A view from our campsite. The forest here is mostly piñon-juniper.
Trinidad Lake SP was not too far away, and thanks to our volunteer work, we had a brand-new hang tag for the Jeep that would give us free park admission — we still had to pay for the campsites. I went online to check, and there were two left, so I grabbed one. (All these campsites are by reservation only.)

The Purgatory River was dammed to create the lake in 1979, making it slightly younger than Pueblo Reservoir.  The lake's level fluctuates, but it is around 800 acres.

Creating the lake drowned some former "coal camps," but you can see visit Cokedale at the park's west end, with its long row of former coke ovens aging under the Colorado sun — when they were working, that little valley must have filled with choking smoke.

One morning I went down to fish before breakfast, and I admit to being skunked—I saw a couple of fish, but they rejected my lures. Some anglers in boats were not doing well either, but I saw one hooked by a fisherman on the shore.

Muddy water flowing into the lake.
When I don't know a lake, my default strategy is to fish the inlet. We went up there later, but the muddy water of "the Purg" was flowing in big-time out of the Culebra Range. So I switched to hiking and geocaching — CPW staff have placed some excellent caches, as well as those left by other geocachers.

The riparian zone meets the P-J in Long's Canyon.
The best hike is Long's Canyon, about a three-mile round trip, because it is away from roads and follows a creek and riparian area that offers the best birding and wildlife-viewing opportunities. There are even some permanent blinds.

It also includes a geological feature, the KT (KPg) Boundary, as described in "An Earth-Shattering Kaboom at Trinidad Lake State Park."

If all this is not enough, you are only about five miles from the Corazon de Trinidad National Historic Area.

December 29, 2015

Bear with Me — There's More

Bear enjoying late-season tomatoes.
More links that I need to clear . . . 

• "The Hermit: New Mexico's First Mountaineer" — it's a story of religion, violence, penitence, and isolation, in other words, New Mexico.

• Some birds do well in cities and suburbs. How can we help them?

• We are told the decades of forest-fire suppression has led to hotter, bigger files. But a CU study suggests that severe fires are not new on Colorado's Front Range.  

Plans to sequence the genome of the oldest dogs found in North America.

Outdoor magazine's best 25 books for well-read explorers. Old Glory, yes!

• Everyone hears about Coronado's expedition in the American southwest,  no one about Francisco Leyva de Bonilla's. Maybe that is because it was such as disaster.

• Saving a big piece of southeastern Colorado's canyon country. And a chunk of the High Plains east of Pueblo.

Why are we still talking about Chris "Supertramp" McCandless?
Twenty-three years after his death, McCandless still has people talking — debating his cause of death, condemning his choices and discussing how perhaps they, too, can leave everything behind and walk into the wild.
A "river of sheep" in northwestern Colorado. Good photos.

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.

March 04, 2014

A Piñon Canyon "Armistice"

The big news in southern Colorado back in the late 1970s was the Army's search for a new training area for mechanized troops.
Blue is the current PCMS, brown the proposed expansion area.
Green areas are the Comanche National Grasslands (Wikicommons).

Fort Carson, formed during World War II (at the begging of city fathers who wanted soldiers' pay spent in Colorado Springs), was created by expropriating ranch land to create the 137,000-acre military reservation.

But it was not enough anymore, the Army said. They wanted another training area close enough to shuttle units back and forth. Various locations were suggested: South Park, the San Luis Valley, the High Plains.

The High Plains "won," and a new round of condemnations created the 235,896-acre Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site along the Purgatory River.

Some landowners took the money and ran, while others fought futilely against the federal government.

It's possible to hunt on PCMS, and my friend Eric and I took advantage of that to explore various archaeological sites, old and new. I remember walking into an abandoned house in the late 1980s and finding, for example, a 1977 Sears Roebuck catalog still lying on a kitchen counter, while kids' toys littered the living room floor. It was a sad scene.

At the same time, I had to admit that Army ownership gave those of us who jumped through a couple of bureaucratic hoops opportunities to explore country that we never could have entered before.

The Army's civilian wildlife specialists kept windmills pumping water for deer and antelope and lobbied to keep training activities out of "sensitive areas." One of them told me that they would mark off small wetlands, for example, with engineer's tape, and the troops were supposed to treat them as "minefields."

An area containing the now-famous dinosaur trackway was transferred to the U.S. Forest Service and opened to the public.

But generals kept hinting that they needed still more land — more than 400,000 acres — and local residents lobbied Colorado politicians to stop that. Homemade signs saying "This land is not for sale to the Army" went up in Otero, Las Animas, and other counties.

Late last November (I missed this at the time), the Army backed down.
At the urging of Sen. Mark Udall, a Boulder County Democrat, Army Assistant Secretary Katherine Hammack used the paperwork equivalent of a wooden stake to kill expansion plans for the 235,000-acre training site.

"It's kind of an emotional moment," said Las Animas County Commissioner Gary Hill, a rancher and neighbor of the training area who has been at war with the Army over expansion for years.
The Army's reason is that fewer troops means less need for training. But then they would never admit that the years of bad publicity, political conflict, and hard feelings mattered.

Furthermore, generals and assistant secretaries come and go, but the expansion plan, once written, can last for decades.

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.

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.