May 11, 2017 Slideshows » Special Issues

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Visit Comanche National Grassland 

The premise of the trip went this way: Front Rangers generally head west, where the mountains and many rivers are, for most of their outdoor adventuring. There's often a bit of northward or southern drift along those paths, but rarely do you hear your friends, even the fishermen and -women, talk of going east.

Yes, Springs folk do make the Calhan drive regularly for the Paint Mines Interpretive Park, but what else? What's worthwhile on all the rest of that map — nearly half the state? With 20 years now living in Colorado (and much travel through its western areas), I couldn't answer that question.

So I studied my map. And quickly my eye came to two out of the nation's 20 National Grasslands: Pawnee and Comanche.

Pawnee's up against the Nebraska and Wyoming state lines, and will have to be the subject of a future writing. For our quick weekend trip, we opted instead to point toward the New Mexico and Oklahoma borders and get our feet wet in Comanche. With brief research, we were now learning of Comanche's key attraction, the longest dinosaur footprint trackway in the country, amazingly preserved from the Jurassic period. (Bolivia hosts the longest in the world, by the way, from the Cretaceous period.)

Further reading revealed more sites of interest, including nearby preserved homesteads as well as rock art around dramatic canyon areas. What we'd ignorantly presumed to be empty prairie nothingness with few contours and features turned out to be, well, empty prairie nothingness with few, but very interesting contours and features.

Matthew Schniper
Remains from a settler's site.
Matthew Schniper
Cacti starting to bloom.
Matthew Schniper
A headstone at the Dolores Mission and Cemetery.
Matthew Schniper
The grave sites date back to between the 1870s and 1890s.
Matthew Schniper
A cross still stands.
Matthew Schniper
Welcome to the Purgatoire River Valley, now called Picket Wire Canyonlands.
Matthew Schniper
The cemetery and mission sit right alongside the trail, on the way to the dinosaur tracks.
Matthew Schniper
The Jurassic tracks are the highlight, offering more than 100 individual trackways.
Matthew Schniper
Most tracks belong to Apatosaurus and Allosaurus.
Matthew Schniper
150 million years ago, this area hosted a shallow lake in a tropical climate. These tracks would have been imprinted along a muddy shoreline.
Matthew Schniper
Walk like a dinosaur.
Matthew Schniper
The Purgatoire River, running unusually high during our visit, separates several of the track sites.
Matthew Schniper
It's just over five miles one-way from the Withers Canyon Trailhead to the dinosaur track site. Some hike, we rode bikes.
Matthew Schniper
Though called a grassland, there's obviously plenty of more flora to enjoy.
Matthew Schniper
Fat bikes fare well in sandy spots and for rolling over many rocks in the path.
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Matthew Schniper
Remains from a settler's site.
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