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On the Picket Fence

Last week, state representative and rancher Wes McKinley took Governor Bill Ritter on a two-hour ride through a portion of his district that's threatened by plans for the Army's expanded Piñon Canyon Maneuver site, which one day could stretch "from Pueblo to the New Mexico border east to Kansas," McKinley warns. They didn't make it as far as Picket Wire Canyon, but McKinley knows that stunning part of the Purgatoire River basin well. "It's a beautiful place," he says. "You can see the whole history of the world in one canyon — from dinosaur tracks to pictographs to a modern ranch."

If the Army gets it way, you may not be able to see Picket Wire for long. But right now, you don't even need to make the several-hour drive to southeastern Colorado to view this endangered piece of earth. It's the focus of Contested Lands: Photographs From Around the Picket Wire, a collection of work by five photographers — Scott Engel, Thomas Neff, Kevin O'Connell, James Peterson and Charles Walters — now on display at the Colorado History Museum at 1300 Broadway.

Picket Wire has been contested before. By the time Colorado became a state, it had belonged to Spain, France, Mexico, the Republic of Texas and the United States, and had been populated — always sparsely — first by natives who traded with the Puebloan people of the desert Southwest, then by trappers, traders, sheep and cattle ranchers, and farmers. But Picket Wire's history over the last century has been even more dramatic. The land was plowed up during the agricultural boom times that followed World War I, then blew away during the droughts and Depression of the '30s, until the federal government turned much of the abandoned area into the Comanche National Grassland. Now those struggling to save Picket Wire could be facing the most intractable foe of all — the Army — but this exhibit shows why the land is worth fighting for. For more information, go to
Oct. 1-June 1, 2007


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