On The Road – Albatrossity – Time, on the Picketwire


This week’s photo-essay goes back a ways, both in terms of the pictures (and the quality thereof) and in terms of the history of the planet we live on. In the fall of 2003 Elizabeth and I made a trip to La Junta CO, in the high plains eastern half of that state, to see one of the remnants of when dinosaurs walked the earth, a dinosaur trackway in Picketwire Canyon. We met some friends (Elizabeth’s dissertation advisor and his wife, recently retired from Indiana University), camped on the rim of the canyon, and hiked down into the past.

Picketwire, the word and the river, has a past. Indigenous people have lived there for thousands of years; there were petroglyphs in the area near our camp site. We do not know their name for this river. The Spanish explorers, who were the first Europeans to visit this part of the continent, named the shallow river El Rio de Las Animas Perdidas en Purgatorio or the River of Souls Lost in Purgatory.

This was in memory of a 1593 expedition whose leader was murdered by other expedition members, who wanted to seek the legendary cities of gold. The killers took over leadership of the group, but the expedition was left priest-less, since the clerics with the original expedition refused to travel under the leadership of murderers. So the rogue party struck out on their own into the heart of the Comanche nation; they were surrounded by the Comanche and massacred in a canyon along this river.

Since they had no priest to perform the last rites, their souls were condemned to Purgatory for eternity, and the river was named for them. French trappers called it the Purgatoire, and even later some Texas cattlemen, who had no use for unpronounceable place names bestowed by Papist furriners, bowdlerized it to Picketwire. Progress, of a sort.

Even further back this land was the shore of a vast lake, and 150 million years ago that lakeshore was traveled by dinosaurs. Their fossilized tracks are visible today, and well worth the 5-mile hike into this roadless area.

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