Canyons of Southeast Colorado
It seldom occurs to people that there are fabulous opportunities for hiking and exploring here in southeast Colorado in the secret canyons of the prairie. They dip below the prairie, unseen by most.
Rock art, or petroglyphs, are the main draw for people coming to Picture Canyon and Carrizo Canyon here in Baca County. Picture Canyon is located about 15 miles southwest of the town of Campo. Carrizo Canyon is located about 30 miles southwest of Springfield. Many of these canyons hold hidden treasures of ancient people and are filled with ancient petroglyphs carved into the canyon walls. Closer to La Junta, Vogel Canyon has petroglyphs, as well as a hiking trail and picnic facilities like the Baca County canyons. Some have relics of abandoned homesteads. Hikers and bikers in the Picket Wire and other sites should prepare for quick changes in the weather, and watch out for the grasslands' wildlife, which includes rattlesnakes. Armed with a picnic lunch, canyons make the perfect outdoor day trip for residents of Southeastern Colorado. Be sure to bring at least a gallon of water for each person. I have heard that Picketwire Canyon can even be seen from space.
Southeastern Colorado canyonlands that are open to public:
104° 11' 50" W, 37° 41' 48" N
This is an enormous canyon and has many opportunities for exploring and
discovery. It begins with the Apishapa State Wildlife
Area in Las
Animas County. This canyon makes for a perfect
day of four-wheeling, hiking and wildlife watching. It
is even rumored to
103° 1' 1" W, 37° 8' 4" N
Carrizo canyon, hidden in the heart of cattle country is lush and breath-taking surprise. Almost humid – even during drought – Carrizo Canyon provides a marshy home to a variety of vegetation including willows, cattails, and of course, cottonwoods and junipers. Carrizo Canyon also boasts wild grapevines, mammoth calabaza plants and, most remarkably, fields of wild tomatillo. Like other canyons in the area, Carrizo Canyon is a gallery of pre-historic rock art. Carrizo Canyon is very easy to explore; the Forest Service has even provided stone and wooden staircases to get in and out of the canyon. In addition to parking area picnic tables, there are several secluded and shady picnic tables in the canyon.
How To get there: Take Highway 287 south from Springfield. About 10 miles outside of town, you will find a small Forest Service sign marking the road to the canyon. Turn west on this dirt road. Follow the Forest Service signs to get to the canyon. With occasional soft shoulders, drive carefully and be alert for cattle and deer.
Canyon access: You can park your car at the top of the canyon. There are stone and wooden stairs to help you climb down into the canyon.
102° 44' 43" W, 37° 0' 41" N
Click her to view my pictures of Picture Canyon
(Picture left, by
) Picture Canyon,
named for its prehistoric rock art is a friendly and
canyon. About 35 miles southwest of Springfield. Armed
with bug spray,
Picture Canyon is an ideal place for
camping, hiking, bike riding, horseback riding and
sleek cows and deer make nice company while they snack
buffalo grass. The mix of sandy green landscape,
delicate wildflowers and
big prairie sky create breathtaking vistas along the
Canyon is a must-see for bird watchers, amateur
anthropologists, and anyone who needs a quick getaway.
103° 35' 54" W, 37° 37' 0" N
Much like the modern-day custom of leaving handprints
in wet cement, dinosaurs have left their prints in the
rock surrounding the
Purgatory River. The amazingly well-preserved dinosaur
tracks look like
part of a Spielberg movie set. The Forest
Service’s Dr. Bruce
and a team of volunteers have uncovered more dinosaur
discoveries in the
canyon, including a substantial piece of hip bone from
a large herbivore.
In addition to paleontologic finds, Picketwire Canyon
provides a glimpse
at human history in Colorado with ancient petroglyphs,
remains of the
once-thriving Rourke Ranch and an old Spanish mission
While Tollgate Canyon is just on the other side of the New Mexico border, it is included here because it once served as a border crossing between Colorado and the New Mexico territory. Tollgate Canyon offers a little history and the strangely striking Folsom Falls, a waterfall that flows over large, black lava rock. A trip to the canyon takes you through the refreshingly beautiful little town of Branson, Colorado. A must-see, the sweet town of Branson could star in an episode of Little House on the Prairie with its crisp white community church and long-vacant jailhouse turned park.
How to get there: Take Highway 160 east from Trinidad, west from Springfield, or head south from La Junta on Highway 109 until you reach Walt’s Corner. Going south on Highway 389 for 10 miles will take you to Branson. As you continue on the highway into New Mexico, you will drive through the Tollgate Canyon. You will find a historical marker, ruins of a tollgate and a picnic table.
About 10 miles south from the border, you will discover Folsom Falls. There is no sign, but there is a large area to park and pipe gate. It should be on your left, if you are driving south. If you should miss it, just drive into the town of Folsom, New Mexico, and ask at the Folsom Museum.