Driving the Santa Fe Trail

July/August 2017

The main purpose of this trip was just an old fashioned road trip. But we needed a destination. In the past we have traveled old roads like route 66, Lewis and Clark, US 89, US 101, Mormon Trail, Lincoln Highway and others. This time we decided to follow the Santa Fe Trail. We were driving our Porsche Boxster with the goal of driving two lane roads whenever possible and with the top down.

The Santa Fe trail goes from Franklin Missouri to Santa Fe New Mexico. It originated in 1821 and its use was discontinued in 1880 when the railroad reached Santa Fe. We have mile by mile guide books that lead a driver along the trail. As the trail just cuts across the undeveloped country the current roads usually are not right on the original trail's path. The guide book leads us off the main roads to find markers or evidence of the original trail. The book starts in Missouri and goes west. We therefore decided to drive east first and follow the trail back home. With 16 days to do it we had some time and miles to spend while back east.

From Dodge City Kansas to Santa Fe there are two routes. One, the mountain route, goes west from Dodge City into Colorado and then south to Santa Fe. The Cimarron route goes south out of Dodge City into present Oklahoma and then west into New Mexico and joins the mountain route north of Las Vegas New Mexico. We followed the mountain route east and then detoured to see our son Troy and his family in Colorado Springs and continued east from there. We will follow the rest of the trail going west on our return.

Along the way we visited 3 miniature museums and 2 car museums. I put them on separate pages with links to the pages.

Thorne Room Chicago Art Institute


Santa FE Trail

The first day we drove to Sante Fe. No photos that day. An easy drive with good weather. We usually put the top down in the morning and leave it down until mid afternoon. When we have had enough sun the top goes up.

Leaving Santa Fe we drove out I 25 through Las Vegas NM to Springer NM to start the northern route. That is where the northern and the southern routes came together.

We visited out first trails museum in Springer. We would see only one other Santa Fe Trail museums on our trip.

We were trying to get a feel for how the people felt as they traveled the trail. While there were many hardships it was an wonderful and exciting trip.

Our first miniature

On to Raton New Mexico. It is just south of the Colorado border. North of the town was Raton Pass which was a difficult climb for the wagon trains coming down from Trinidad.

This is an old motel on the original auto route into town from 1903.

It was a bustling busy town. Being right on I25 helps.

We drove over the pass to Trinidad. There were many nice old houses in Trinidad.

The route follows highway US350 to La Junta Colorado. Here the road is on or near the original trail. This was an easy part as it was flat and straight.

Here we saw our first DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) marker. They put these all along the trail in 1906, It is amazing that people were that interested in preserving the route of the trail that long ago. We are going to take a lot of photos of markers along the trail. I hope you like markers.

Then it was on to Colorado Springs to spend an evening and a day with Troy, Teresa, Katelynn and Jessica.

We went to Manitou Springs. It is a small tourist town west of Colorado Springs at the foot of Pikes Peak. Katelynn is looking forward to college graduation in December.

Teresa's new 4 Runner. She just got it that week.

On the morning of our 4th day we headed out across eastern Colorado and all the way across Kansas to Saint Joseph Missouri. It was a 600 mile day with no freeways.

The next day we drove across northern Missouri, into Iowa and then across Illinois to our hotel in Naperville. It is a small town about 30 miles west of Chicago.

We took the commuter train into Chicago. We had a great day. We took the architectural river tour.

Chicago was beautiful. We really enjoyed the tour.

Trump has a prominent display here. The only building with his name on it.

Then we went to the Chicago Art Institute to see the historic miniature Thorne rooms. These rooms are all in a one inch to one foot scale.

Then we went to the Palmer Hotel and had high tea. Jan loves high tea.

Then we went back to the park to watch the kids play in a huge fountain.

We walked back to the train station.

The goal the next day was to go straight south and get out of Chicago as easily as possible without getting on the freeway. We went to US30 which is the old Lincoln Highway and then headed east into and across Indiana to Auburn.

All across Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and Kentuky we would go through areas where the Amish people lived.

There we visited the Auburn, Cord, Duesenberg Museum. It is in the showroom of the original factory.

We were not sure where we were staying each night so about 3 pm we would pick a town and call ahead. We usually stayed in Hampton Inns. We stayed this night in Richmond IN. The next morning our destination was Maysville KY. We headed south on little roads crossing the Ohio River. I am alway fasicnated by these large rivers. We would cross the Mississippi twice, the Ohio 3 times and the Missouri 3 times.

We had some trouble finding this museum but a girl in the 7/11 led us here. They did not allow photographs but I took a couple anyway. Then I took photos off of their website. This is an example of what one woman can do when she has a passion for something and huge amounts of money.

This was beautiful little town.

It is right on the Ohio River but you would not know it as they have built huge flood retaining walls all along the bank of the river. The wall looks nice however with murals.

We drove across the river into Ohio just to see the river, made a U turn and returned to Kentucky.

Then we headed south through Lexington to our next hotel in Danville Kentucky. The next day our destination was Jefferson City Missouri. We took many small roads going east and managed to stay off the freeways.

For 50 miles outside of Danville there were swap meets everywhere. Hundreds of them. We talked to people from Niagara and from Virgina that came to Danville to the swap meets. They had pickup trucks and trailers.

In all the states we saw corn, corn and corn. It is no wonder no one has stopped production of ethanol. It is the lifeline of the midwestern states.

We had been here several years ago and I wanted to go back. There have been a lot of Corvettes made since I was here. Also in February of 2014 a huge sink hole developed under the main hall of the building. In the middle of the night the floor caved in and took 8 Corvettes with it. Part of the museum explained the event.

We continued west across Kentucky. We drove through Cairo Illinois. I had been there years ago and wanted to see if it had improved. It was still a ghost town. It is right at the point where the Mississippi joins the Ohio river.

We stayed that night in a Hampton Inn in Jefferson City. We got in there after dark. We drove for a couple of hours in the rain down beautiful winding roads across central Missouri. My kind of driving.

The next day our objective to trace the Santa Fe Trail started. The trail began in 1821 in Franklin Missouri. It is on the north side of the river across from Boonville. The town was moved in 1825 when the river washed it away. A new town of New Franklin was established just north on higher ground.

This is the site of Old Franklin. Nothing is left except many markers and displays. The auto route is now a National Historic Trail and is well marked by the National Park Service.

At this time Franklin was the most westward developed town along the Missouri River. The boats could only navigate this far up the river. The Boon Lick Road led from St. Lewis to Franklin.

Lewis and Clark had also gone through here on their trek up the Missouri River in 1803.

The trail went west on the north side of the river and then crossed over the Missouri at Arrow Rock. We followed the route along small roads until they turned to dirt.

We then went back to look over New Franklin.

William Becknell is considered the father of the trail. He led the first expadition on horse back. Mexico had just obtained their independence from Mexico in 1821 and they could now trade with the Americans from the east.

I told you there would be a lot of markers. You haven't seen anything yet. Stay tuned.

Downtown New Frankin

We went back arcoss the river and followed it west to Arrow Rock

The Old National Trails Road, the first road across the eastern United States, also followed this route.

Marshall Missouri

Several places along the trail ruts from the original wagon trails can still be seen. These are the first we found. It was down about 30 miles of dirt road.

Sometimes we were driving adjacent to the trail but sometimes we were right on the original route.

These ruts went right through an old cemetary. The ruts were there first.

This old cabin was built about 1818. They want to restore it. When the trail started there were no towns west of Franklin. The trail followed the river for a few miles, then turned south and then west across an empty land later to be named Kansas.

There are 12 of these monunents to the women of the west. Three of them are on the Santa Fe Trail. We will see four.

I got out to take photos and Jan watched.

Springfield Missouri is an interesting town. It was the home of President Harry Truman and his library is located here. He is the local hero. It is also one place the Mormons settled before Joseph Smith was jailed and then escaped to Nauvoo Illinois. Two branches of the LDS reorganized churches are located here. They built this huge temple.

This is also the spot the Lord Jesus will return to.

We stayed the night in a Hampton in Lee's Station south and east of Kansas City. The trail took several routes around and through Kansas City.

The next morning we went back to the river north of Kansas City. As boats were able to go further up the river the start of the trail was moved to Westport which is now part of Kansas City. This is where Westport landing was and the boats docked.

Another monument to the brave women and mothers of the trail. As the Santa Fe Trail was mostly for commerce instead of migration of settlers, not as many women rode the trail in the early years.

Kansas City skyline. Kansas City is a very nice city.

The town of Westport became a starting point for people on the Santa Fe, Oregon and California trails.

We then went to another well known miniature museum. The Kansas City National Museum of Toys and Miniatures.

We then contiuned to follow the trail south and west leaving Missouri and entering Kansas

In the early days they established small towns along the trail which are now gone but markers remain.

This is Elk Grove Campground just south and west of Kansas City and was a major staging area for all three of the trails heading west. The Mormon Battalion also went through here in 1846.

The trail follows, runs parallel to and crosses US highway 56 across most of Kansas. It is a small lightly traveled highway

We went through many towns just like this one. There were huge corn elevators in every town. Some towns had a few empty stores on their main streets but in general the towns looked very prosperous. It wasn't that way when we went through here 20 years ago.

Council Grove was on the tour route but had no motels. We found another Hampton Inn just south of the trail in Emporia Kansas. We returned to the trail the next morning.

The second Madona of the Trail statue was in Council Grove

The corn was gone now and it was mostly cattle and hay fields. The land is flat and to the trail travelers it must have looked the same every day. No landmarks at all. They would cover about 10 miles a day.

This was Indian country. Some tribes were friendly while others were not. By the mid 1800s the Indians figured out that the white man was not just traveling through but were taking their land and hostilities increased.

Pawnee Rock. It was the first sign of some landscape other than flat plains. It rose a few feet about the plains and was a landmark for the travelers. It used to be a few feet taller but was used as a source of building stones.

When the first travelers came through here they would see millions of buffalos. The herds would stretch for miles. Then they almost went extinct.

This is an old distance table

More corn

At Larned the trail split for a few miles. We had now reached the Arkansas River. The trail would follow the river into Colorado. There was a lower "wet" trail that followed the river and a northern higher trail. When water was high they went north. When water was scarse they went along the river.

This is only our second Santa Fe Trail museum. It was run by the city of Larned. It was small and old but they did a good job with it.

Our one and only buffalo. Long dead. I though we would see a lot of live ones but we didn't

Old photos

They had a small local car museum. It was fun to see what was displayed. 13 cars here.

Dodge City. It was a huge cattle town. They ran cattle up from Texas. It later dropped off when the cattle brought diseases. It was known for a short time as a rough bar and gun fight town.

At Cimarron, just west of Dodge City the trail split to the Mountain Route and the southern Cimarron route. We were to follow the southern route this time. There was a park where the trail crossed over the Arkansas River.

We again had to leave the trail to find a place to sleep. This time it was in Liberal Kansas. It is right on the Oklahoma border.

The next day we went straight west to pick up the trail again.

More grain elevators. They are huge.

At times along the trail there were markers for the Mormon Battalion that followed the trail as far as Santa Fe. This was a group of about 800 men that were volunteered from the Mormons to help fight the Mexican War in 1846. They never did fight anyone but they went as far as Califonia and helped with farming techniques and other activities. They were disbanded after one year and the men went their way. Many returned to the east to help their families travel to Utah.

They went across this country. We went 20 miles out of the way to see this.

After entering New Mexico at Clayton we went up US87 toward Raton to meet the northern route. We again crossed the original trail. This was one of the most imprssive sites. You could feel how they must have felt crossing these lands.

They would sometimes travel in four lines of wagons.

They had to endure dust storms and prarie fires.

We met the northern trail and then headed south and west to Cimarron

This small road parallels Interstate 25 about 20 miles to the west. There were no cars. It was beautiful country, everything was green and we could see huge clouds and storms off to the east.

Coming into Las Vegas New Mexico we ran into a huge rain storm. We could hardly see the road and the car was hydoplaning. We got to Las Vegas and the ground was covered with huge hail stones. The cars were dented. I am glad we didn't get there any sooner.

In 1846 Las Vegas was an established town. When the American Army arrived they took over with no resistance.

The American general stood on the roof of this building and addressed the Mexican people. He tolded them they were now American citizens. If they did not resist they would not be bothered and would be protected.

We stayed that night in Santa Fe. Had a nice dinner. We went into town the next morning for breakfast, looked for more monuments and then followed the Sante Fe Trail out of town to the last trail marker.

Someone had carved out a word. An adjective before the word Indians. Must have been "savage".

The square was here in 1821. This is where the travelers traded their goods. This was the Mexican Governer's House.

We went over the hill through Madrid to Albuquerque. The 3rd Madonna of the Trail is here. They wanted it in Santa Fe but the local artists did not like it so they put it here. It is back behind the courthouse.

We spent the night in a Hampton in Gallup. The next day we went home via Springerville, US180 and over Mule Creek.

The fourth Madonna of the Trail is in Springerville. Right next to the McDonald's. Why it is there I have no idea. Now we will have to go looking for the other 8.

We went for 16 days, 5300 miles, and we averaged 34.2 MPG. Great trip.

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