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Comanche National Grasslands and Old Bent Fort

Ok, so the long awaited trip report is now here.

The area of the Comanche National Grasslands south of La Junta is a quiet and lonley place. Ranches are patchworked through the entire area that was once part of the Dustbowl of the '30s. The government established the CNG in '60s. There was active ranch in the canyon until the early '70s. This is country that most of us would fly over but you would be missing out.

The uneventful drive is about 3.5 hours from the metro area. Once you leave Pueblo on Route 50 you pass through towns that have long lived past their experation date. Towns like Fowler, Manzanola and Swink dont even have stop lights in them. Rocky Ford is famous for the cantelope that we eat in the fall and La Junta, spanish for The Junction, is still a stop on the Southwest Chief Amtrak train that runs from LA to Chicago.

About 13 miles south of town is the border for the grasslands. We deciede to setup camp at the Vogel Canyon trailhead off of road CR802. We found a nice spot behind some scrub oak, it had a fire pit and a picnic pavillion and was home for the weekend.

The morning comes early on the eastern plains​

The driving trip is an all day affair. Leaving from the USFS office in La Junta you drive back out past camp and down to the Picket Wire Canyon trailhead. From here you cross into land owned by Ft Carson (this is the Pinyon Canyon area) and then down to the bottom of the canyon. It is a typical FS/Army road and we never needed 4WD but there are some rocks sticking up. This is the only way to drive into the canyon. You can hike, bike or horseback ride in. The whole driving tour is about 80 miles.


Heading down into Picket Wire Canyon with all "our friends"​

You make stops along the way to see petroglpyhs, Picture Rock, the dinosaur tracks of Alosuraus and Brontosaraus, which is the main attraction, the Dolores Mission and cemetary and the O'Rourke Ranch. I have 2 young boys so this was all about them. They love everything dinosaurs.

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Rock art at the first stop of the day



Us standing in front of the Allosaurus tracks that they just found last year.
Being able to see footprints that are 150 million years old is pretty damn cool. The rock art dates back almost 8000 years and just walking the area and thinking of the history of it - Indians living off the land, heards of buffalo roaming, dinosaurs grazing on plant life puts history at your touch. The Purgatoire River was so named by the Spanish in the 1700s. They had chased the Apache into the canyon. The Apache were out numbered so they set the area on fire. The entire area was engulfed in flames and only a few spanish survived. When they made it back to Santa Fe they told the commanders of the hell that they had been through and so named it.


The Dolores Mission and cemetary​

On Sunday we headed over to Bents Old Fort. It was an trading fort set up by William and Charles Bent that were brothers from the midwest that had come west in search of gold. It was a place that had hotel rooms, a bar, a pool hall, a trading post, a blacksmith and a full kitchen. It was a stop along the way of the Santa Fe Trail. It was used as a staging area, hospital and re-supply area for the invasion of Mexico of 1846 that was headed by Steven Kearny.

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Bents Old Fort

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Trading post with buffalo skins, hats, candles, shoes and guns!​

The best time to go down though is in September. This happens to also be the great migration of trantula's. They literally move from one side of the road to the other for mating season. If you like spiders this is the place to be.

If you do go down you will need to make reservations with recreation.gov The trips are available on Saturdays only in May, June, Sept and Oct. There is a limit of 45 people per tour. Ours was sold out. Our guides name was Kevin Lindahl. He was awesome, he knew all about the history, places, people. A really nice guy. He is also the Arkansas Valley Balloon Festival director. This is a great weekend trip in the spring or fall. There are plenty of roads that can be travelled, used for disperesed camping and just exploring the area. Our state has so much to offer if you know where to look. Enjoy!



Staff member
Thanks Rich, great report. We tried to get down in that area last fall but our time disappeared. This is the kick in the pants to make it there this fall. Looks like a great trip and everyone is smiling, that's always a a good sign.


Well-Known Member
Agree. Looks like a great trip.

The camp spot: did you leave your stuff at camp while doing the driving tour or did you pack it up? Was it an actual camp site? Sounds like it...... sorta.
Tom, we left our stuff there (sleeping stuff, kitchen, food). The only people we saw were picnickers and they left before nightfall. There is no "campground" per se but USFS in La Junta said "stay where ever you want". There are more "camp spots" at Withers Canyon trailhead if you are hiking down. Check out freecampsites.net for a bit more 411 on Withers


Well-Known Member
Rich, do you recall how long it took to backtrack from your camp site to La Junta for the start of the tour?


Well-Known Member
I dont know about the whole tarantula thing. I dont mind them, as long as they keep to themselves! And dont cuddle with me in my tent.