Sunday, July 15, 2007

Dino tracks, petroglyphs & our kids' eco heritage

This posting is intended for school-age children. Please pass it along or read it to them. Depending on the age of the child, you may want to read it in parts, not in one sitting. It's about our leaving their heritage intact.

Dear American student,
I made this for my Denver first-graders, but I thought other children might enjoy it.

If you like dinosaurs, the American wilderness, bears, pumas and deer, or the Santa Fe Trail, Native American or Southwest history, you might enjoy these photos.

My wife Carmen, my ACD Manchas and I just visited southeast Colorado. In this first photo you can see it's not all flat and empty.

Even the trees like to be photographed or drawn, like this one that I named the Guardian Tree. Does he look like he's trying to protect something? He is--something special I'll tell you about in a minute.

Here's our dog Manchas, which means Spots, after our hot and humid hike. Three Colorado Park Rangers led us into really deep grass to show us petroglyphs the ancient American Indians left here over 4,000 years ago. Manchas had a hard time 'cause he was shorter than the grass and a little too fat.

Here's some petroglyphs we found, but they're hard to see. On the left in the middle of the rock is maybe a snake symbol. In the middle is something like a handprint. To the right and below is maybe a hunting symbol with three prongs, like a fork.

Here's another petroglyph the Ancients left. What does it remind you of?

After Manchas rested and drank tons of water, we got to the top of Picketwire Canyon. It was really called the French word Purgatoire, but the American settlers couldn't pronounce that, so they changed the name.

The French called it Purgatoire, like Purgatory, because some settlers died there. Ask an adult if they can pronounce Purgatoire. (A hint for you: say poo-got-wah real fast.)

Anyway, we started into the canyon. It was hot, over 100 degrees! We wondered if we'd meet a mountain lion and hoped he had already eaten. Manchas especially hoped so.

The first thing we met was the tree I called Leaner. He looked like he was ready to fall asleep in the deep grass.

But all around us were also many living trees like junipers that love growing together on the sides of hills.

This tree I called Pointer was showing us the way to the dinosaur tracks.

This spider was one of the more colorful ones who wanted us to take him home with us, but we left him there.

The next thing we saw was not a mt. lion or a bear, but it did remind me of a swan, so that's what I named him.

We finally made it to these ruins of the Dolores Mexican church built in 1871. It was made from the trees that grow there and from rock. A lot of the places and rivers in this area still have Spanish names like Campo, Carrizo, Tecolote and Chacuaco.

My wife Carmen found a gravestone that had the name Maria de la Cruz Abeyta who was only a baby when she died. There's a sign there that says to leave the cemetery alone, so we did.

Manchas kept trying to leave us to get in the shade but we wouldn't let him 'cause that's where the rattlesnakes like to cool off. But finally we found a rock that the wind or water had hollowed out like a cave. Manchas was very happy to guard our backpacks. We rewarded him with cheese, crackers and ham and some dog treats.

A little later we met a tree I named Armless. He's just like some people who had an accident, but I thought he had a lot of character.

After more than 5 miles, we got to the Purgatoire River. (Did you try to pronounce it correctly? Did you do better than an adult?)

You may be too young to hike 5 miles today, but one day you could get there, if Southeast Colorado hasn't been taken away from us. I'll tell you about that later.

Manchas wasn't the only one who was extremely happy to see the water. We had to carry a gallon for each of us to drink. And we had to carry food, snakebite kit, and stuff for emergencies. Only Manchas could drink from the river. Pick up a gallon of water and think about how hard it would be to carry it for 5 miles.

On our way down we met a man and his son who'd come all the way from Florida to see the dinosaur tracks. The boy told us he was disappointed 'cause there wasn't much to see. These were the prints they saw. They're fossils of where Brontosaurus stepped in mud, and they're huge! Plus they're 65 million years old.

We asked him if they'd crossed the river to see the best ones. He said no. It didn't make sense they had traveled 1600 miles but didn't want to cross 60 feet of river to see the best dinosaur footprints in the United States. What would you have done?

We searched the river to find a safe place to cross. We were lucky because two other people who were there found this spot for us. It wasn't deep if we followed the white line of the foamy water. Can you guess where we stepped?

The prints on that side were much deeper and there were many more than on the first side.

Paleontologists (scientists who study dinos and fossils) think these were made by an Allosaurus. If you don't know what they looked like, find it online or in a book. Look at their feet and see if they match this footprint.

My wife Carmen put her feet into two of the Allosaurus footprints. Hers are maybe bigger than yours but they're tiny compared to the dino's.

She sat down next to one so you can see how big it is.

These next tracks might have been made by a baby brontosaurus maybe your age. The dark parts are from water in the holes.

I really like this print because it reminded me of something. What does it remind you of?

From the shadows we knew it was getting late. We had to leave 'cause there's no overnight camping allowed in the canyon. That's to protect this park from people who want to take the dinosaur prints and petroglyphs from us.

You know what kind of people would do that, don't you?

Guess what? There's also government people who want to do that. It's the Army. I can't explain all that to you here. Your parents or teachers can explain it if they go to this website.

As we left the river, a tree I named Dancer helped us celebrate our completing a great adventure.

Above Dancer, on the hill, I thought I heard a mother bear growling to her cub--3 times! I wasn't scared because bears don't like barking dogs and Manchas can really bark.

We did see deer, rabbits, jackrabbits, beautiful orange orioles, hawks, turkey buzzards. And we heard owls and coyotes when we camped at night. If you've heard them, how did they make you feel?

What I heard and saw were animals that are helpless to stop the Army from taking away this wonderful land from you, the children. Adults can go to the website to see what to do about saving everything wonderful in the area. Maybe you can think of more that even a school child can do.

For instance, you can send a SASE (#10 business size), and they'll send you two bumper stickers for free. Then you can paste them on your new car.
You parents or teachers know what this means and here's the address to write to:
Pinon Canyon Opposition Coalition
P.O. Box 137
Kim, CO 81049

This photo is one of my favorites 'cause it reminds me of how old all these treasures are. We should keep them safe from being bombed or trampled by tanks or helicopters. What do you think?

As we drove home we passed these gigantic wind turbines that provide electricity without adding so much to the pollution. I wondered if even they would be around in a few years.

This was one of the last of many signs that we saw in this part of the country. It shows that many people that live there will not agree to give up their land.

Here is my final photo of the one I call Great Dark Tree. If Americans don't stop the Army from taking over this corner of the state, everything around here may one day look like him.

People make fun of me taking photos of dead trees and giving them names. But the dino prints aren't alive either. Do you think I'm silly for doing that?

We didn't get to see bears or pumas or eagles. Hopefully, you will be able to if this treasured land is saved. And if you get to go, watch out for Dancer, Pointer and my other tree friends. If you're not old enough you can only have your teacher or parent send me a message to let me know. I hope to hear from them.

Rudy Ch. Garcia, teacher

Other websites with historical and scientific info on SE Colorado:
Colorado Tourism Office
The National Trust for Historic Preservation

These next few days are critical if you want to prevent the loss of historical, scientific and environmental treasures of SE Colorado. Go to
to see what the U.S. Senate can do to prevent a great loss of our multicultural heritage.


msedano said...

what is killing all these old trees?

Anonymous said...

As far as I know, it's probably just old age. There weren't that many, and they were far apart. Most trees, and there were lots of them, looked fine. Which was your favorite?

Unknown said...


That was an amazing post! I'm going to print it out for the grandkids who are just learning about archeology and stuff like that from this new magazine we found called Dig. They'll love all this stuff about dinosaurs and footprints and dead trees. Is that river really called Purgatoire? I wonder if they'll change the name of the rio since they now decided that there's no more purgatory.

Muchismas gracias for something new to teach the kidlets. Muy excellente!


Lisa Alvarado said...

R -- this is a wonderfully accessible article that I think parents teachers and young people can all use. It gives everyone a better sense of part of our physical history and why it's important to walk lightly upon the earth. Good going, Rudy G!


BG said...

I liked Armless the best, Great Dark Tree was also beautiful. It was enjoying to read even for myself.

Anonymous said...

Loved your blog post, especially Carmen sitting in the footprint. Creative
teachers are a Godsend.

Anonymous said...

I wish our girls first grade teacher would have been like you!

I read your blog through PCEOC, I graduated Kim High School with Lon. We also live up stream in the Purgatoire Valley in the Red Rock country, our ranch borders Picketwire Canyon Lands and our property is near the existing PCMS.

I throughly enjoyed your story and your perspective on the canyon and trackway. I love old trees, but I had never thought of naming them, I guess I better start!

Thank you for telling our story to the students and their parents. We would love to show you more of the Purgatoire River.

Rene Colato Lainez said...

Great post. You can send it to Highlights Magazine.