Yesterday, we awoke to a glorious spring morning in Cuchara. The forecast was calling for temperatures in the mid 60’s, another day of melting snow and ice and another day of mud. A couple of hours later, it was almost surreal as we watched the mountains shrink and then disappear in the rear view mirror as we traveled across the plains of South-Eastern Colorado. The temperature was 81 degrees. Our mission: To explore Picture and Carrizo Canyons on the Comanche National Grasslands in Baca County. To view prehistoric petroglyphs and pioneer homestead ruins. To celebrate the Spring Equinox by going somewhere warm and dry.
At Picture Canyon, the rock art was amazing, although it was sad to see how many people would rather leave their mark than take a memory of an undisturbed historic site. Most of the pictures were likely inscribed into the rock by Plains Indians in the 17th or 18th Centuries, but it is possible that some of the rock art could have been made by long before that by early Indians or by Celtic Explorers. The “Crack Cave”, is only illuminated by direct sunlight during the spring and autumn equinox and it is speculated that the petroglyphs within the cave were used to track and record the astronomical calendar. Unfortunately, despite our near perfect timing, we were not permitted to enter the cave. The Forest Service recently closed the cave to protect the bat population from disease.
The remains of several early 20th century homesteads still stand in the canyon, not too far from a giant spring that is lined with cottonwood trees and cat tails. This must have been quite a find, to be out in the middle of this dry, parched land and to have running water percolating up from the ground within a stones throw from your front door. These two room homes were built with native stackable rocks held together with mud. The walls were about two feet thick and the same rocks were also stacked to create a livestock corral.
Picture Canyon is huge, experiencing it in its entirety would take days on foot. Horses and mountain bikes are allowed which would make one-day exploration more efficient. Charlie (our dog) was getting burs and cactus needles in his paws, so we kept our hike short, about two miles. But we felt that we had seen everything that we had come to see, and we were anxious to move on to Carrizo Canyon before the Sun set.
Carrizo Canyon is truly an oasis in a vast arid land. Carrizo is the Spanish word for “Reed”, a plant that grows in water. The one-mile nature trail begins at the newly improved parking lot and picnic area. As you wind your way along the creek, it is easy to appreciate that this was a place that was dearly loved by its early inhabitants. Petroglyphs can be found in the canyon walls just off the main trail and it requires a bit of a scramble through boulders to get there. Plant and animal life is abundant here. A rope swing hanging from one of the tall cottonwood trees indicates that a lot of people must come here to swim. This is a short hike, but we plan on coming back to spend a whole day, relaxing, taking pictures, and swimming in the summer.
For me, Carrizo Canyon was a profoundly peaceful déjà vu. My imagination raced with visions of Mothers and Grandmothers grinding corn and preparing cloth from animal hides that had been brought home by the hunters. Children jumped into the deep refreshing pools and played on the sand beach that lined Carrizo Creek. Jubilant, excited young voices and the sound splashing water echoed throughout the tiny paradise. Up high in the smoky canyon, the red light of the late afternoon sun filled the air as a man knelt, etching the figures of deer and antelope into the sandstone wall.
This is exactly the type of inspiration that this artist needs. When I can feel the subject matter at the deepest level of my being, I am likely to find an effective way of communicating that feeling through my art, whether through my writing, producing a video or painting it, or all of the above. Look for our new video about our field trip to this beautiful area at http://LocalTouristColorado.com.