Comanche National Grasslands – Picket Wire Dinosaur Tracksite

Saturday, May 31

The Comanche National Grasslands also includes an area called Picket Wire Canyonlands. Within this section lies a Dinosaur Tracksite. This part of the US was once under a very large sea and during one of the points where this particular area was along the coast of the sea. Dinosaurs that happened to walk in the sand left tracks in what became Dakota Sandstone.

To get to the Purgatoire River dinosaur tracksite, you can either hike or bike about 6 miles from the Withers Trailhead or go with a representative of the BLM to the site. Jon & I thought that it would make for a great 12 mile hike.

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Picket Wire Canyonlands Dinosaur Tracksite



We got up fairly early and drove to the trailhead where we found a primitive campground. I was rather annoyed with this since everything I read said that you couldn’t camp there. There were several people occupying the sites, so I wasn’t too upset since Jon & I had Vogel Canyon all to ourselves. It was obvious that it had rained here during the night.

We packed up our stuff and hiked down 250 ft into the canyon. Since it had rained there, we could tell that only a couple of mountain bikes had gone down the trail this morning. Like a lot of this area, most of the hike is very exposed with very little shade. We had spent quite a bit of time at elevation where the temperatures are quite a bit lower than in the canyon. It felt really hot, especially down in the canyon.


We passed by a number of old ruins.


After a while, we came across two mountain bikes left in the trail. There was a distinct trail going up the side of the canyon wall. We caught a glimpse of the biker heading back down. Jon asked if I wanted to follow the trail. I suggested that we wait until we were heading back to decide.

The route passes by the Dolores Mission and Cemetery. It is the remains of an old Spanish mission and graveyard. The tombstones were carved from sandstone.P1100770    P1100771  IMG_4156

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We also came to a copy of a shoulder blade of a Sauropod. It was about 8 feet long. The original had been found at this site.


We finally reached the dinosaur tracksite.  There were a number of dinosaur tracks on this side of the river, but the vast majority were on the other side of the river. Since it had rained, the water was fast moving and cloudy.


Jon and I stripped off our shoes and carefully crossed in the area mentioned on the map. Once again, it was helpful that I took a picture of the signage. It was also very helpful that Jon had brought his hiking poles. I’m pretty sure I would have slipped at some point if I had not been using one to cross the river.

There were lots of tracks. It was just amazing seeing not just the footprints of the dinosaurs, but the continued tracks.

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The tracks included ones left by Sauropods, Ornithopods and Theropods. I could definitely see the tracks, but with mud or water filling several of them, it was not always obvious which kind of dinosaur left a specific footprint. It was pretty amazing to walk among them.

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It was warm and I was ready to head back. As we were heading back to cross the river again, we saw a few people come down the trail to the tracksite. Then there were more people and a ranger. Some of them were carrying coolers or chairs. It was obvious that they had not walked the 6 miles to reach this point. I remembered that it was Saturday, so it made sense that a guided tour was going on.


I was hot and tired already, so we headed back. I had brought 3 liters of water and a few snacks with me, but I was already running low on water. I also didn’t start taking any salt tablets until we were well into our hike. As we were walking back, I was just focused on getting back so that I could drink lots of water and cool off.

Jon wanted to check out a couple more ruins. I just kept walking for the ones close to the trail. Then Jon wanted to follow the trail up to the canyon wall. I wasn’t excited about doing it, but followed after him. Jon stopped at a shady place and had sat down to wait for me. I was impatient to get back to the trail since I was already hot and tired and running low on water. Jon convinced me to sit down and take off some of my sun protective clothing. At this point, I think I was down to about 3/4 of a liter of water. Jon was very concerned that I wasn’t cooling off and had so little water left. After sharing some of his water and getting me to settle down, he left to find more water or assistance for me.

So I sat and tried to rehydrate. I took off my shoes and socks to let my feet cool off. I looked at the scenery and waited. I thought that we had climbed about 2/3rds the way up the canyon wall.


After a while, I heard Jon coming back. He comes around the corner of the rock carrying a red Solo cup full of ice and water. It was almost like a mirage. I couldn’t believe that he had found ice water by climbing up the canyon and then carried it back down to me. Very amazing.

After drinking the water, chewing on the ice and wrapping some ice in a bandana to put around my neck, I followed Jon up the rest if the canyon wall. I had just assumed that the rest of the climb was about like what we had already done. It wasn’t that easy. There were a couple of steep bits. After doing that, I was even more amazed that Jon had brought me a cup of water.

There was a couple in an RV camped up on top of the canyon. They were glad to refilled a couple of my water bottles. We sat and talked for a little while, but I was still very hot and tired, so we headed out. Rather than climb all the way back down the canyon just to climb back up later, Jon used some of his orienteering skills and the Garmin watch to get us back to the Fuso.


I wasn’t good for much by the time we got back. Jon put me in the cab of the truck and turned on the A/C. He then went back to the camper and brought me some cold water. He cranked up the generator and turned on the A/C in the camper, too.

Neither one of us was all that keen on camping at the campground, so we left the protected part of the area to do some dispersed camping. We found a great campsite with a great view near the canyon.


I showered and took a nap. We had a nice grilled dinner and quiet night.

We were heading east the next day to make the push homeward.


Moral of this story
1) Not all days are the same, so you have to prepare for the day and conditions that you have.

– I was overconfident after our 20 mile hike the previous weekend. I had prepared snacks and water and had been taking salt tablets during the Keet Seel hike where the weather conditions were as close to perfect as possible.

– During this hike, I didn’t start taking salt tablets until it was too late. I also didn’t prepare for the heat adequately. Jon and I had been fortunate to avoid the worst of the heat until this weekend. It meant that our bodies weren’t conditioned to it yet. I needed to make allowances for that.

2) When you are suffering from heat exhaustion, you may not be thinking clearly.

– I was definitely not making the best choices in the situation. I really should have let Jon know what was going on before I got to that point.


Thank goodness my husband is very resourceful and was able to get us back to the vehicle safely.

Categories: Spring 2014 | Leave a comment

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