Elevation: 4,400 to 4,300 ft
Elevation Gain: 100 ft
Dogs: Off leash
Bathroom at Trailhead: Yes
Date Hiked: 10 April 2009
I have lived in Colorado for ten years now and had no idea that the southeastern Plains are dotted with canyons. These are not Black Canyon of the Gunnison kind of canyons, but they are interesting nonetheless. The advantages of this area is that the canyons are filled with archeological points of interest as well as geologic wonders like dinosaur tracks.
Vogel canyon is located 13 miles south of La Junta, which is the best place to stay if you plan to visit. A loop around the canyon is a short hike, suitable for an afternoon excursion. We hiked it after driving 3 hours from Denver. There are picnic tables and bathrooms there, but the nearest store is La Junta so plan accordingly.
The initial side canyon is filled with sandstone rock formations. Staghorn Cholla (Cylindropuntia veriscolor), which are first visible.
The scenic attractions in Vogel Canyon are Indian petroglyphs, settler ruins, several fresh water springs, Staghorn Cholla cactus, unique rock formations, and lots of birds.
The canyon contains 4 separate trails. Our route traversed all of these in a loop that covered both the canyon floor and the plains above.
Our hike started out in the picnic area and the Canyon Trail. This trail starts out on a broad rock shelf. Cairns guide the hiker into a small unnamed side canyon. The ruins of the Westbrook homestead quickly come into view on the right, and within a half of a mile, a large rock face is clearly visible on the left. It is here that the petroglyphs can be found.
Several side trails and sign posts guide the hiker to the glyphs, which have been badly vandalized. At one point some irreverent school kids spray painted them under the noses of their chaperon teachers. There are no words to describe what I would have liked to have done to those children. One thing is for sure; none of them would be reproducing.
There are reportedly many more glyphs in this area, but the Forest Service is justifiably hesitant to point them out to people. We undoubtedly missed some of the best ones in our quick run through the area. The glyphs are also very hard to see with the naked eye and even digitally enhancing the photos has not brought them out much. Compared to the petroglyphs at the V-bar-V ranch in Arizona, these glyphs seem hardly worth the effort. A little more patience might have revealed some better specimens.
Near the petroglyphs are one of two springs in the area. A natural spring is certainly a draw for both humans and wildlife. These are nestled next to large rock walls. Trees grow abundantly nearby. Note that there is a trail leading down from the first spring to the second, but this second spring is not on the main trail. In fact, it is in a side canyon near private property. It is worth walking down to it, but you will have to back track. The main trail actually heads off at right angle from the first spring.
At this point, the trail heads up into Vogel Canyon proper. Vogel Canyon is wider than the unnamed canyon the route first traverses. It quickly becomes a marsh, and only the remains of fallen down Cairns indicate that one is on the correct route. The trail was also quite muddy here.
This is the trail we bushwhacked to. It eventually connected with the Mesa Trail. This trail originated down in the marsh just before the stagecoach ruins. It is not on the map. Note Staghorn Cholla.
Near the end of the canyon are the rock ruins of an old stagecoach stop, which was active from 1872 to 1876. I would like to see where this stagecoach went, because it seems very strange to have a stop down at the bottom of Vogel Canyon.
The trail guide we received from the Forest Service shows the Mesa and Prairie Trails splitting off from each other just beyond the stagecoach ruins. The drawing was not the best, however, and it looked as if the Mesa Trail split right at the ruins while the Prairie split a little farther. This led us to head up the cliff face, a short 100 ft scramble, right behind the ruins. This was not correct. The two trails do not split until they are up on the mesa itself. Cairns near the ruins show the way. We ended up bushwhacking across the prairie a bit before we intersected with the Mesa trail.
The Mesa Trail traverses a broad plateau of short grass prairie. There are occasional juniper trees and lots of big big sky. A hundred yards away from the edge of the canyon, and you would not be able to tell it was even there. At one point on this trail, there is a metal stairway built over the barbed wire fence. The view from the top of this lofty perch was actually quite pleasing…prairie as far as the eye could see.
The Mesa Trail dead-ends into the Overlook Trail. To the left are the picnic grounds. To the right, the trail travels to the edge of the cliff face for a bird’s eye view into the canyon. Since it was getting late, we opted to head back to the car. The Overlook trail is wide and sandy. It is meant to be handicapped accessible.
Vogel Canyon is not the most impressive of the southeastern canyons but in the spring when the prairie is awash with wildflowers, it would be very pleasant indeed. It is such a shame that its unique petroglyphs have been so damaged and are so hard to see. People are pigs. Still, if you are near La Junta with nothing better to do, a stroll through Vogel Canyon may just brighten your day.