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Picket Wire Canyonlands Guided Auto Tour, CO

part ofPSICC, US Forest Service


For a unique and unforgettable family experience, tour Picket Wire Canyonlands. Located on the Comanche National Grassland south of La Junta, Colorado, these primitive canyons are home to the largest dinosaur tracksite in North America! Guided auto tours are the easiest way to experience Picket Wire Canyonlands and learn about its rich, colorful past. During the tour, knowledgeable guides will show you difficult to find dinosaur tracks, and the interesting prehistoric, historic, and natural features of the canyons. This auto tour is the only motorized access into the canyons.

Dinosaur Tracks

Located on the banks of the Purgatoire River in southeast Colorado, this dinosaur tracksite is the largest documented assemblage of trackways in North America. Over 1,300 prints in 100 separate trackways extend across a quarter mile expanse of bedrock. Apatosaurus and Allosaurus are two types of dinosaurs that left prints in the mud over 150 million years ago.

This tracksite has given scientists interesting insights into the social behavior of dinosaurs. Tour guides will tell you what scientists have learned and show you difficult to find small tracks made by a carnivorous dinosaur or theropod. Without a guide you will miss the whole story of the tracksite!

Rock Art

Those huge dinosaurs weren’t the only prehistoric visitors to the canyons. Rock art images, together with the remains of dwellings, stone tools, and pottery, shed light on the lives of prehistoric people. Rock Art is the term used to describe images pecked or painted on rock surfaces by prehistoric people. Rock art can be difficult to find but guides will take you to some of the best sites in the canyons.

Spanish Expedition

According to legend, a group of Spanish treasure seeking soldiers died in the canyons without benefit of clergy. Thus, in the sixteenth century the river was named El Rio de Las Animas Perdidas en Purgatorio (the River of Souls Lost in Purgatory). Later, French trappers shortened the name to “the Purgatoire.” Early Anglo travelers on the Santa Fe Trail could not pronounce “Purgatoire” and hence further corrupted the name into “Picket Wire.”

Early Settlers

In the 19th century, Hispanic and European settlers homesteaded in Picket Wire Canyonlands. Guides will take you to an early Catholic Church and cemetery, which was built on land donated by Damacio Lopez. You will also visit Rourke Ranch, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, and learn how pioneer Eugene Rourke’s ranch grew from a 160-acre homestead in the late 1800s to an over 50,000-acre cattle empire still owned by the Rourke family into the 1970s.

Join us!

Don’t miss this opportunity to spend a day exploring Picket Wire Canyonlands with a knowledgeable tour guide! All day tours (8 a.m. to 4 p.m.) are offered on Saturdays and some Sundays in May, June, September, and October. Sign up early because the tours fill up fast! Tours are offered through the USDA Forest Service. Due to rough roads, visitors will need their own four-wheel drive high clearance vehicle. Additional tour dates may be available to groups. Call the USDA Forest Service at 719-384-2181 if you are interested in arranging a special tour date.

Know Before You Go:

Auto Tour Safety Checklist

All tour participants 18+ years old must read through the safety checklist. Visitors on the tour are responsible for providing their own 4-wheel drive, high clearance vehicle. All-wheel drive, minivans, RVs, sedan type, ATV and UTV vehicles are not allowed. Tours are limited to a maximum of 45 people and are conducted by a tour guide. Please meet at the Comanche National Grassland office at 8 a.m. the day of the tour. Plan for a full day; from 8 a.m. to about 4 p.m. You must stay with the tour group for the full duration of the tour, you may not depart early. Tours may be subject to cancellation due to adverse weather or road conditions. If a tour is cancelled for this reason, every attempt will be made to reschedule.

Your Responsibility

Be aware of the potential risks and to take safety precautions at all times while on the tour. Children under the age of 18 are the complete responsibility of their accompanying adults/guardians. There must be one adult for every five children. Please do not let your children wander away from the tour.


No pets allowed.


Drinking water is not available on the tour. Bring a minimum of 2 quarts of water per person. Carry extra water in your vehicle.


Restrooms are available at the office (morning), at the dinosaur tracksite (noon), and at Rourke Ranch (last stop of the day at about 3:30 p.m.).

  • High-top hiking boots are recommended.
  • Bring water shoes or old sneakers if crossing the river at the dinosaur tracks.
  • Be prepared for extreme weather! Wear a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen and insect repellant for hot weather and layer clothing for cold or changing weather conditions.
  • Bring rain gear.
General Safety

  • Reptiles and insects live in the canyon. Avoid tall grass and watch where you sit and place your hands and feet.
  • Bring insect repellant and an EpiPen if you are allergic to insect stings.
  • Trails in the canyon have loose rocks, wire, cactus, and animal burrows. Watch your step.
  • Be prepared for changing weather conditions and high winds. If the weather looks like rain, the tour may leave the canyon early.
  • Bring all medications needed for a 24-hour period.
  • Bring a first aid kit.

River Safety

  • Be aware - the river may look shallow but may have sudden deep drop-offs.
  • Tour guides will determine whether or not the river is safe to cross based on its depth and current. You assume your own risk if you choose to cross the river.
  • Children must be supervised at all times, especially near the water.

Vehicle Safety

  • Four wheel drive, high clearance vehicles and an experienced driver are required for the tour.
  • Please use 4 wheel drive if the tour guides request it. Your vehicle may scrape vegetation, have a flat tire, or have damage to your axle or frame if not careful.
  • Sharp and blind curves exist. Please drive slowly at all times.
  • While driving, be aware of pedestrians, horseback and bicycle riders, and wildlife; please keep your eyes on the road. Stop your vehicle only at safe level locations.
  • Flat tires may occur while on the tour. Bring at least one useable, inflated, spare tire. Bring a lug wrench and a jack that work for your vehicle.
  • During hot weather, engines have the potential to overheat. Check all fluid levels in your vehicle before the tour.

Getting There:

From Pueblo, Colorado, drive 65 miles east on U.S. Highway 50 to La Junta, Colorado. Turn right onto Lacey Ave which is on the east side of town. Take the first right onto East 3rd Street. The Comanche National Grassland office is on the SW corner of East 3rd St. and Lacey Ave.

Contact Information:

Mailing Address:

1420 East Third Street
La Junta  CO  81050

Phone Number:

Information:  (719)384-2181
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