On The Santa Fe Nationwide Historic Path

Autumn national park


One path, with two legs, funneled items east and west/Barbara Jensen

On The Santa Fe Nationwide Historic Path | Ruts And Twisters

By Barbara “Bo” Jensen

Night time is falling throughout prairie grasses surrounding the shore of Storrie Lake, simply outdoors of Las Vegas, New Mexico. Because the solar units behind the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, I watch from the arched opening of my tent, imagining I’m searching from a coated wagon on the cattle grazing close by and geese deciding on the water for the night.

It’s early Could, and my first night time on the Santa Fe Nationwide Historic Path. By morning, I’m doing my finest to retrace it alongside the official Auto Tour Route, small highways that intently comply with the unique trailway. The Nationwide Park Service map I hold consulting is eight inches tall – and three toes lengthy, overwhelming, just like the five-state, 900-mile path itself, unfolding in sections on my passenger seat and beneath my wheels.

This 12 months marks the 2 hundredth anniversary of this epic journey. From 1821–1880, groups pulling closely loaded wagons made this overland crossing in about eight weeks. With my twenty first century horsepower, I’ll journey its entirety in eight days.

However there’s a complication: the Santa Fe Path is split. It splits. The 2 routes run a whole lot of miles aside. Since I’m coming from New Mexico, I’ve determined to journey the extra southern Cimarron Route on my method to the japanese terminus of the path in Franklin, Missouri; I’ll take the northern Mountain Route after I return to Santa Fe.

This west-to-east journey was as frequent because the stereotypical concept of wagon trains beginning “again East” and heading towards the mountains. The Santa Fe Path wasn’t created by households transferring west – it was the two-way interstate freeway of its day, made for transporting commerce. An worldwide freeway, when you crossed the Arkansas River.

When phrase reached the USA that Mexico had gained its independence from Spain in 1821, businessman William Becknell and occasion set off to develop a long-sought commerce partnership with Santa Fe, hauling objects like iron instruments, silk, and cotton cloth to alternate for silver, wool, and the Mexican donkeys favored for breeding Missouri mules. Wagons had been loaded to the hilt stepping into each instructions.

The Mexican port of entry for this border would have been the sleepy village of Las Vegas, 200 miles south of the river. As we speak, the Santa Fe Path right here is actually an interstate freeway. From Las Vegas, I drive I-25 north to Wagon Mound, the westernmost pure landmark on the path that does certainly appear to be a coated wagon. At this level, Becknell and different merchants had to decide on between greater than a northerly or southerly course: the Mountain Route – safer however longer, with tougher terrain – vs. the harmful Cimarron cutoff via Apache and Comanche territories, native individuals who rapidly got here to resent the fixed incursion of wagon trains rumbling throughout their looking grounds. The shorter Cimarron Route was dotted with unreliable water holes and featured a 60-mile stretch forward of me generally known as La Jornada de Muerto – loosely translated: the Day of Dying.

Day 1: In A Rut

At LJM’s Journey Heart, a tiny fuel station by Wagon Mound with a full liquor retailer on the aspect, I ask about discovering wagon tracks. I comply with Previous Ernie’s instructions out to 2 small, fenced cemeteries within the low hills above city. A few pale, scruffy horses graze disinterestedly between the rickety gates on both aspect.

Charles Fraker, Guardian of the Plains/Barbara Jensen

Wandering fastidiously amongst household gravesites, I spy an unusually tall white stone bearing a unique title: Charles L. Fraker, 1841-1922. Vanguard of The Plains Santa Fe Path 1855-1868. A Santa Fe Path freighter, his tombstone is topped with an extremely detailed relief-carving depicting a group of oxen pulling a coated wagon over rocky scrubland, a scout on horseback main the best way.

I scan the bottom beneath the marker and past the cemetery, however I don’t actually know what I’m searching for. Perhaps double ruts of wagon wheels? I don’t perceive these notations of “seen ruts” on my map. Nothing seems to be like a path.

Driving east down Freeway 56, I cross the Canadian River however nonetheless don’t see any tracks I can acknowledge. After touring hours within the solar, I cease to eat at coated roadside picnic tables, imagining a lunch break for a wagon practice. However the place?

A small dust highway on the finish of the picnic pullout leads again towards a Path landmark known as “Level of Rocks.” CR52/Dorsey Highway; it’s not on my map. Driving alongside at slightly below 20 mph, lark buntings all of the sudden flock round me from the grassland on both aspect of the highway, as if to hold me together with them, flying beside my open home windows and crisscrossing like daredevils over the hood of my automotive. One thing is occurring.

Driving over a shallow wash, the low spot all of the sudden catches my eye…as a result of it does not appear to be a typical wash. I brake in a cloud of mud. A large melancholy – unnaturally straight, like a sunken, multilane freeway of dust – skirts Level of Rocks, slicing diagonally throughout the fenced pastures immediately towards the Canadian River and Wagon Mound.

I step out of the automotive, my mouth hanging open. Till I cough. I’ve discovered the wagon ruts of the unique Santa Fe Path.

By the point I attain Clayton in japanese New Mexico, I’ve pushed 215 miles from Santa Fe; primarily based on the freight wagon common of 18 miles per day, I’ve coated 12 days of historic journey. I camp on a low cliff above peaceable Clayton Lake, watching the wildlife at water’s edge as heavy clouds collect at nightfall.

However these ominous clouds proceed to construct as I sleep, delivering one large, blinding jolt of lightning in the course of the night time – I see it via my closed eyes, gasping awake as a cannon shot of thunder echoes off the cliffs, growling off into the darkness because the rain begins.

It’s a portent of tomorrow.

Rutted vestige from the past/Barbara Jensen

A rutted vestige from the previous/Barbara Jensen

Santa Fe Nationwide Historic Path stretches throughout 5 states connecting Frankin, Missouri and Santa Fe, New Mexico. The path served as an important business freeway till 1880 when the railroad arrived in Santa Fe. Carry residence an official park product from Western Nationwide Parks Affiliation that celebrates the path’s upcoming bicentennial.

Day 2: Twister Warning

Freeway 406 leads me from Clayton to Kiowa Nationwide Grasslands, a short-grass prairie protect, that includes – at a crossroads in the course of nowhere – two coated picnic tables, a pristine pit rest room, and the Santa Fe Path Interpretive Website. Squared limestone posts stand up out of the grasses and yucca, aligned so guests can stroll alongside 2½ miles of the path. For 3 hours, I comply with the vast swales over gently undulating hills that appear to go on perpetually, simply me and the meadowlarks, and the cattle grazing between low, scraggly junipers, the place rattlesnakes cover noon. Thick white clouds swell within the distance, however neither the cool breeze nor my SPF30 sunscreen is sufficient to save me from the extraordinary solar publicity. I drive away with a rosy reminder of one more hardship of this path.

Again on Freeway 56, I enter the Oklahoma Panhandle, passing via tiny Felt, after which Boise Metropolis. These are water tower cities, their names emblazoned on the elevated tanks. Heavy, metallic pump arms of oil wells slowly rise and fall outdoors town limits. Grain elevators sit by the railroad tracks, ready for the harvest of dryland wheat fields, inexperienced blurs behind barbwire as I pace by.

The cloudy sky is rising darker by the minute. At Boise Metropolis, I flip north up Freeway 385/287. I wish to go to Chilly Springs, Autograph Rock, and Inscription Rock within the highlands rising above the Cimarron River. However an enormous, purple storm cell appears to be stalking me. As I attain Wolf Mountain, a number of semi rigs have already pulled off the freeway, hunkering down within the parking close to the named rocks. Black thunderheads twist and writhe; lightning is buzzing and crackling in every single place overhead, shut and terrifying. I crank a decisive U-turn, and because the wind begins to roar, I hurtle again the best way I got here, chased via heavy rain and heart-pounding, fearsome thunder, scanning suspicious swirlings for funnel clouds.

At a freeway relaxation cease, I whip the automotive in, simply because the storm unleashes its full wrath. All via the night time, the wind rages, furiously rocking my automobile. I’ve by no means been so glad to be sleeping in my automotive, imagining as an alternative a canvas-topped wagon. One other 200 miles, one other 10 days it might have taken to cross stormy Oklahoma. Right here in Twister Alley, I really feel like I’m lifeless heart in La Jornada – however I haven’t even gotten there but.

Day 3: Fixed Winds

On the blustery Kansas border subsequent morning, I nonetheless breathe a sigh of reduction: “Good-byyye, Oklahoma.” The solar has returned. I take Ok-27 from Elkhart to Cimarron Nationwide Grassland, the place one other tall Level of Rocks landmark overlooks a well-used Santa Fe Path camp. This Level of Rocks has a path to the highest. Center Spring under is a tiny pond, hidden amid thick grass and cattails, guarded from the dessicating winds by a meandering copse of cottonwoods following the sporadic Cimarron River.

As we speak’s nationwide grasslands, such because the Kiowa Nationwide Grassland, mirror the view nineteenth century freighters had/NPS file

Freighter Josiah Gregg wrote about stopping right here through the 1830s in his guide Commerce of the Prairies, noting this grassland’s main characteristic: “These extreme winds are very prevalent upon the nice western prairies, … about as common and unceasing because the ‘commerce winds’ of the ocean. It’s going to usually blow a gale for days, and even weeks collectively, with out slacking for a second ….” After only a half-mile of leaning into the wind, holding onto my hat so it gained’t blow away, I resolve to not add windburn to my sunburn, returning to the automotive.

Two hours later, I attain Cimarron, Kansas, the junction with the Mountain Route, having inadvertently breezed via the driest, riskiest part of this path cutoff – La Jornada itself – going 65 mph and sipping truck-stop espresso, blasting the radio. Boise Metropolis to Cimarron: 152 miles, or 9 days in a wind-blown wagon.

Nonetheless, I nonetheless heave one other great sigh, enjoyable my shoulders as I flip east, towards Missouri and the easternmost finish of the Santa Fe Path. I’ve survived the harmful Cimarron Route. Like so many merchants as soon as making this journey, now I’ll merely reverse instructions, east to west, and start once more.

Subsequent: Frontier Cities And Forts

Barbara “Bo” Jensen is a author and artist who likes to go off-grid, whether or not it is backpacking via nationwide parks, trekking up the Continental Divide Path, or following the Camino Norte throughout Spain. For over 20 years, social work has paid the payments, permitting them to fulfill and speak with individuals dwelling homeless within the streets of America. Yow will discover extra of Bo’s work on Out There podcast, Wanderlust, Journey, and www.wanderinglightning.com

Observe @wanderlightning [email protected]

This text was made attainable partly via the assist of Western Nationwide Parks Affiliation.


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