Picketwire Canyon

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La Junta, Colorado (Otero County)
Last Updated: 11/22/2016
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Trail Information

Highlights

Picketwire Canyon is the drainage of the Purgatory River across the southeast corner of the Comanche Grasslands in southeast Colorado near La Junta. It is an area rich in history and geology featuring early Indian rock art, an historic cattle ranch, an old Spanish mission and the largest trackway of dinosaur footprints in North America. It is said that a group of Spanish treasure seekers followed the river into the area and were killed by Native Americans, dying without the benefit of clergy. Thus the Spanish came to call the river El Rio de las Animas Perdidas en Purgatorio or the River of the Lost Souls in Purgatory. When French trappers and traders entered the area they shortened the name to Purgatoire (pronounced Purr-ga-twa). When English-speaking settlers followed the Sante Fe Trail into the area they couldn’t pronounce the French correctly and corrupted it to Picketwire. Picketwire Canyon is only accessible by vehicle through a guided tour offered by the National Forest Service who administer the Grasslands. You must make reservations ahead of time for this tour. The only other access is by hiking, biking or horse-back along a long, difficult route through Withers Canyon.

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