2021 Mountains & Mesas

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If you’re reading this, you’re thinking about visiting, or currently are visiting southern

Colorado and/or northern New Mexico. We commend you on a brilliant decision! Our combined

counties offer an endless number of fun family events, solo trips, museums, festivals,

and more. No matter the season, no matter your interests, we’ve got something for you. Read

on for ideas on things to do in the tri-county territory, with COVID-19 safety guidelines permitting,

of course.

If you like music, the summer is filled with concerts of every stripe; from Country and

Western to Reggae, Jazz, Celtic, Americana, and everything in between.

Area art galleries showcase the incredible talents of our local artists, some of whose work

is normally seen in New York or Los Angeles. There are regular festivals scattered throughout

the year where local artists sell their work. You’ll find paintings, clay sculptures, knit clothes,

hand made handbags, and more.

There are a million and one things to see and do here, far more than we could fit into just

one magazine, so you can also see our past issues. Go to www.worldjournalnewspaper.com,

and scroll down in the left column to Publications, and click on Mountains and Mesas. Enjoy

getting to know our world!

Table of Contents

To Lily Lake, and Back Again (and again) Page 6

Sometimes, it takes more than one try to get to the top

by Conor Orr

Fishers Peak?

More Like Fishers Sneak Peak! Page 12

Colorado’s newest state park is just starting to open up

by L.B. Bergsteiger

Santa Fe Trail Bicentennial Page 24

A few fine facts

by Marty Hackett

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Page 6

Mountains & Mesas

To Lily LaKe

and Back agaiN,

aNd BacK again

by Conor Orr

HUERFANO —You know, I’ve had to call off my fair share

of summits and hiking goals in my day. As a hiking instructor,

and later as a backpacking ranger at the Spanish Peaks

Scout Ranch, I was trained to prioritize safety over accomplishments.

If you ask me, the most important part of outdoor

recreation is having fun outside. You may move at a

snail’s pace, you may rest every five minutes, but so long as

you’re having a good time, you’re doing it right in my book.

Nevertheless, it’s commonly known that we humans derive

great pleasure from making and achieving goals. Hunt

the animal, eat the nutrients, feel good about it. We’re hardwired

for this stuff.

Now that we’ve done given ourselves a society to muck

around in, that hardwiring can get a little itchy. If you want

that good feeling of satisfaction, the satisfaction you feel

when you’re on the edge of starvation and you successfully

hunt down and tear into an antelope, you’ll have to look

further than your local grocery store. You need something

that gets your blood pumping.

One thing that’s awesome about nature is that it is one

heck of a proving ground. If you’re looking for an opportunity

to make and accomplish some really satisfying personal

goals, you might try looking outside...

...Especially if you live near some mountains. Mountains

- mother nature’s response to the stair climber - present some

of the purest, most straight-forward opportunities to challenge

yourself in some ancient ways. After all, what struggle

is more pure than the struggle against gravity? When we’re

first born, we can’t even hold our heads up.

Last year I made the goal to make it up to Lily Lake.

Growing up, I always heard folks talking about it, this gorgeous

alpine lake up past Gardner some 12,000 feet in elevation

and nestled right up against Mt. Blanca. A good

friend of mine from Scout Camp days used to take his whole

family up there every so often, and he had waxed poetically

about it to me enough to firmly set the hook in my soul.

Could this place really be as beautiful as he described? I had

already been up to Como, Blue, and Crater Lakes on the other

side of that epic crust between Blanca and Ellingwood Point,

and I was completely enraptured by them. It had been years,

and I was itching for a hard climb up to some cold water.

It took me two tries to make it up there, and you know

what, I don’t want to hear any jawing about how “it’s not

that hard of a climb” or “whatever bro, you didn’t even summit.”

If you’re up to keep climbing through torrential rain

and thunder at 11 odd thousand feet in the air and with a

pregnant woman waiting for your climbing buddy, then

more power to you, but that’s when I head home.

But I digress.

The first time I made an attempt was last summer was,

astonishingly, only my second time in the Upper Huerfano region

up there past Gardner. My first time was two weeks prior

to the fact, when I had scoped out the roads and decided that I

absolutely had to come back and climb. Who knew there was

an entire other huge chunk of this beautiful county that I hadn’t

even seen? It’s shameful, really, because that area is gorgeous.

I was very lucky ovder the summer to have a small pod

of close friends and family who I could go climbing with, before

the pandemic started raging too hard in our parts. John,

Tom, and Noah were my hiking buddies on those trips, and

I’ll be forever grateful for the adventures and laughter we

shared. Kids, solo hiking is cool and all, but where it’s really

at is hiking with a buddy.


On the drive up to the trailhead, only just past Gardner

and on the right-hand side, there is a small abandoned slice

of an old community called Redwing. Where has this place

been all my life? Tinder-dry wood huts, rusty old accoutrements,

tumbleweeds going this way and that, and a door

swinging loosely in the wind? Right up against the side of a


It all looks straight out of a spaghetti western. My buddy

Noah and I are both film buffs, so we pulled over for a minute

to check it out through the binoculars, geeking out. I’ve

done a bit of research since, (just a bit) and I really haven’t

been able to dig up much on this old town. If you know anything

about historic Redwing, please, feel free to reach out to

me at the World Journal. Let’s talk about it.

A note about the drive up the 4WD track to the upper

parking lot and trailhead - it’s not for the faint of heart. Nor

for the faint of transmission! With its various great jagged

rocks criss-crossing the road, which ascends at all angles, and

the numerous points at which, if you run into someone driving

the opposite direction, you may have to back up or down

very steep hills, navigating this little track safely past a certain

point is almost as satisfying a feat as climbing the dang

mountain. The 4WD experience is recommended for all

those making an attempt.

In truth, that’s half the fun. That’s another one of the cool

things about going outdoors in southern Colorado. Our trails

aren’t nearly so populated as what you’ll find up north. The

trail that heads toward Lily Lake is probably one of the more

frequented, most developed of the longer trails you’ll find in

our region, but it still has these primitive elements that, in

my opinion, make the experience all the more authentic.

Don’t get me wrong. The conga-line hiking trails you can

find up by Boulder, for example, have their role to play. Accessibility

is important, so it’s a good thing that some trails are

developed to the point where most anyone can get to them.

But if you can test yourself with a good hike, and you

want to, I really really recommend the hike up to Lily Lake.

tRiAls OF tHE tRAil

It’s true what the haters say! This trail really isn’t a grueling

and dangerous slog that only the most accomplished

climbers can do. If you’ve got some hiking experience, and

if the weather is good, you can probably do it in a day. We

tried for a day trip the first time and got rained out, but had

an excess of time during the next attempt, in which we had

Mountains & Mesas Page 7

good weather and decided to camp.

But oh lordy, this hike will test you in other ways, let me

tell you. I swear, we faced a biblical plague of flies and moths

when we went up there back in July. There is a gorgeous river

that runs through the valley you climb in, which is wonderful

for views and for pumping water, but sadly it does invite the

more blood sucking of flying insects to join the party too.

So people! Gear up! Bring a little bug spray with you. You

won’t regret it.

I am also sad to report that my brother Thomas’s poor legs

burned to a crisp. It’s the classic story of Icarus. He walked too

close to the sun without wearing sunscreen and with too short

of shorts on. The sun at that altitude - it’s like a laser.


You know what’s a conundrum in backpacking? The

food situation. How much should you bring? What kind

should you bring? How will you clean up after cooking while

actively working to Leave No Trace? There are a thousand

different answers to these kinds of questions, and it really all

depends on who you ask. If you ask me, it depends on the


It feels really good to have a really nice meal out in the

wild, but if you’re going to be doing any serious hiking, you

really want to cut down on the weight you’re carrying as

John and Noah walking through

one of the many beautiful campsites

along this trail.

much as possible in the food department. There are an incredible

number of ultralight power foods available these

days, including straight up peanut butter. You can take ultralight

eating too far though. I once hiked a three-nighter with

nothing but CLIF Bars, and I was half-wolf by the time I got

out of the woods.

The number one thing is to follow the rules of Leave No

Trace. It may seem annoying, and it might cause you to go

out of your way, but it’s incredibly important to keep our

wild spaces free of litter and human waste. That probably

narrows down your dining options a little bit, because if

you’re going to make anything with sauce or oil, anything

that may result in any kind of smelly residue, then you’re

going to need a very good bear bag set-up.

I happen to be world-class at setting up bear bags, which

came in handy this summer when we lads decided to cook

some spaghetti alfredo up there by Lily Lake. A feast for a

backpacker! Delicious.

Here’s a piece of advice for you: don’t cook spaghetti alfredo

on a backpacking trip. And if you do, remember to bring

enough silverware.

It was an utter debacle that night. We tried our best to

cook and divvy up that pasta and sauce, and through sheer

force of will, we succeeded in not making a mess. Thank God

we brought plenty of tortillas, because those of us who were

utensil-deficient were hungry enough to mutiny against my

fork-carrying brother.

It sure was dark up there in the early night, before the

moon rose high enough to cast its glow over the cliffs, ridges,

and summits all around us. We dined on a little rock outcropping

in a high alpine valley, with a river far below us. The

whole world shrank down to just that little space, maybe

eight feet in diameter, upon which we clustered for dear life

around a tiny gas flame from my MSR stove.

DON’t lOOk DOwN (yOU’ll GEt

DistRACtED by HOw pREtty it is)

If there’s one thing I learned in all my years believing that

I could be an astronaut without any kind of a head for

numbers, it’s that mass matters. It’s one of the fundamental

principles of the universe. Get a bunch of stuff in one place

and things are going to happen. Doesn’t matter if it’s stardust

or boulders.

You can feel that’s the case with mountains. They’re kind

of just huge piles of rocks, but they’re also so much more.

They represent just enormous potential energy. All those

rocks stacked so high have, among other things, the ability

to completely restrict your free will.

Down in the flatlands, you have a high degree of potential

mobility. In a nice, wide open space, you can pretty well

move in any direction you’d choose, except too far up or

down, and if it’s flat enough, you can really get creative with

how you maneuver. That’s not so in the mountains. When

you are fighting gravity every step of the way, when you are

sometimes traversing along a narrow path by a cliff, or along

a ridge for example, your mobility is incredibly restricted.

Your possible choices shrink from innumerable to several,

and that shift is felt bodily. You have a heightened awareness

in the mountains. When one misstep could send you tumbling

to your doom, your brain tends to kick into high gear.

Step-by-step we made our way up that mountain. I will

say, in all honesty, the true enemy of accomplishing your

goals in the outdoors is simply the sheer beauty you will be

confronted with, or distracted by, every step of the way. On

the second trip up this summer, when we were planning on

spending a night, we actually decided to set up camp pretty

early because we found this absolutely amazing campsite a

few miles in that would have had the most incredible views

come sunrise.

We literally set up our whole camp and lay down for a

whole half hour at like one o’clock in the afternoon before we

realized that we had another 8 hours or so of daylight and

not much to fill it with other than more hiking. We packed

up camp with some grumbling and set off again to make

more progress and to find a higher campsite. A word to the

wise: if you’re going to break camp early, remember to bring

a deck of cards.

Mornings out in the mountains are beautiful, aren’t they?

I remember waking up first and lacing up my boots, heading

over to the river over which I had dangled our bear bag.

There’s something so exciting about waking up and immediately

getting started moving around through a complex

environment. Don’t get me wrong, I also love sleeping in a

warm, comfortable bed and waking up slowly on the

weekends with a nice cup of coffee, but you feel so dang

alive when you get up and get cracking in an primitive

campsite with a view.

Another tip: don’t bother cooking breakfast.

You’ve already got to break camp and get moving before

it gets too hot. Cooking and cleaning can add north

of an hour to your morning. Some folks boil water for instant

coffee and oatmeal packs, and that’s fine business,

but I’d just as soon scarf a couple of granola bars and hit

the trail with time to spare.

On a hot summer day, there are fewer things

more relaxing than taking a well-deserved break

by a cool and babbling stream. (Note - that leg

is wearing pants, just short, short pants.)


The last stretch will always be the hardest.

It’s tried and true, without fail. Just when you think

you’re reaching the top, you see that it’s a false peak. Over

and over again. I’ve long since stopped predicting to folks

when we’re gonna get “there.” You’ve got to give up hope

and keep going before you reach your goal. That was the

case for us, climbing up to Lily Lake after a night in the


I’ll spare you the ugly details. Some un-scoutlike language

was let slip in that final slog. People don’t give Sisyphus

enough credit.

We had decided to cook alfredo with spam for dinner,

and we had brought pots and pans and rocks and free

weights and a pretty freaking big ol’ tent, so over all, at

that high altitude, we were struggling to breathe.

But ladies and gentlemen, we made it. We accomplished

our goal. At the last moment, right before the

strength of man failed, we crested a final rise and the lake

came into view.

Beautiful. Truly beautiful. I’ve said it before and I’ll

say it again. I’m sure there’s some science behind it, but I

will never understand how there are lakes at such high altitude.

It honestly feels like a miracle.

We sat by the shore for a long time - I don’t think I

ever looked at my watch. John and Tom waded a ways

into the water, braving outstanding cold, to chase after

some glimmering bit of material a little ways off the bank

which we all thought might be silver, or at least a big hunk

Page 10

Mountains & Mesas

of quartz. Tom managed to wade far enough - up to his midchest

and he’s a tall man - to poke the thing with a stick. Splitting

apart easily, it revealed itself to be a decomposing fish.

We all revolted.

Yes it was a classic day up there at that lake. Sun was

shining, there were massive stone cliffs all around us and

about four thousand feet to fall. It was cold, and it was windy.

It was awesome.

You know, we felt some real satisfaction when we

reached that lake. All the more, maybe for having not accomplished

the goal on our first attempt. There is something

really amazing about finally achieving something that was

previously just out of reach.

When we got back to the car a few hours later, we were

sweaty, disheveled, and happy. I can only speak for myself,

but I slept like a rock that night. I always do after backpacking.

Folks, it doesn’t matter what your goal is outside. Just get

out there! We’ve all been too cooped up lately. Whether

you’re climbing a mountain or walking around the block, it’s

all good.

But if you do decide to climb a mountain, I hope you consider

Lily Lake, up by Gardner, Colorado. I’ve done my best

to give you some idea of what it’s like, but honestly, words

cannot describe it. It is gorgeous. It is awesome in the ultimate

sense of the word. You will feel like you’re in the Lord

of the Rings. Check it out.

“You’re wearing that?” The Orr boys prepare to

assault the peak.

to get there:


At long last - the jewel for which we traveled far and labored hard -

Lily Lake, the goal of our journey. Photos by Conor Orr

Mountains & Mesas Page 11

Page 12

Mountains & Mesas

Fishers Peak?

More like Fishers

Sneak Peek!

Colorado’s newest

state park has opened

up its first hiking trail,

and is poised for much

bigger things

Mountains & Mesas Page 13

by l.b. bergsteiger

tRiNiDAD/ RAtON — One of my favorite things to do

with big natural landmarks is to try to imagine what kinds

of things might have gone on around them. The Rocky

Mountain Southwest is littered with prominent and fascinating

geological features that have surely been attracting

people for thousands of years. Some of the oldest archaeological

evidence of the presence of Paleo-Indians have been

unearthed in various sites right along the Colorado Front

Range, indicating that people have been cruising up and

down I-25 for the last 12,000-20,000 years. What sort of relationships

did these folks have with features like Greenhorn,

the Spanish Peaks, or Fishers Peak?

One of the stranger consequences of modern civilization

is that good, honest three-dimensional space has largely been

chopped up and paved over in order to operate basically in

two dimensions. Whereas our ancestors once ambulated

freely through the natural world, hiking and clambering

where necessary, we tend to stick to pavement, or at least

well-established trails. Due to the additional chopping up of

space into private and public zones, some of the most intriguing

sites in this world are completely inaccessible to all but

a select few viewers.

That’s not to say the system we have is all bad. Roads

and trails do make it a lot easier to get around, and one way

or another, it has always been the case that the intriguing

areas are restricted to most people. The roads and paths that

we stick to help to ensure that those sites can be preserved,

rather than trampled over and carried away in pockets as


However, it is just oh-so-exciting when new access to a

site does become available, especially in a context where a

balance between conservation and recreation is struck from

the beginning.

That is the case, or at least it will be the case, with Colorado’s

42nd and newest state park - Fishers Peak State Park.

Fishers Peak is nothing if not distinctive. Heading south

on 1-25, it is the most prominent and recognizable feature on

the landscape after the Spanish Peaks until you get over

Raton Pass. A glorious chunk of volcanic rock, a mesa with a

stair-step profile that rises some 4,000 feet above the ground

around it and 9,633 feet above sea level. Fishers Peak may

not be the tallest mesa in the United States, or Colorado for

that matter, but there is no higher point east of Trinidad than

Fishers Peak, all the way to the Atlantic Ocean.

For locals, the profile of Fisher’s Peak is probably about

as familiar as a loved one’s face. When you live for long

enough next to such an awesome rock, you come to identify

closely with it. That’s why it’s weird that it has been so outof-reach

for so long.

Trinidad’s awesome rock has not been accessible to the

public since before Colorado was a state. It used to be corporate

owned, and for the last few decades, the mighty Fishers

Peak has been privately owned as a part of the massive

“Crazy French Ranch.” The owners have leased the land out

very selectively for hunting, but by and large have left it

alone, so the vast majority is totally undeveloped and is

home to a wide variety of plant and animal species. Preliminary

studies show that the usual cast of actors live in the

park. Elk, deer, mountain lions, and black bears roam freely

Page 14

Mountains & Mesas

Fishers Peak and part of the Crazy French ranch, as seen from the air.

Photo from PBS video

across its 19,200 acres, but researchers have also found 119

species of birds, an endangered New Mexico Jumping Mouse

population, 300-year-old gambel oak trees, the adorable flammulated

owl, oven birds, and endemic butterfly species that

are not found anywhere in the world other than on Mount

Capulin and the Raton Mesa.

Fishers Peak is actually a part of the Raton Mesa, which

is an enormous mesa complex that was formed many thousands

of years ago as lava flowed from the ground and

cooled in tremendous pools. If you want to have your sense

of scale blown apart, check out an aerial view of the mesa on

Google Earth or Maps or something. The Raton Mesa is a

sprawling and fractal-like formation, and the fact that we interpret

it from the ground as a bunch of separate structures

is indicative of just how small we are.

There have been rumblings in Trinidad and the outdoor

community for years now about wanting access to Fishers

Peak, but it was not until within the last six years that any

real progress has been made on that front.

On September 12, 2019, Governor Jared Polis signed an

executive order that set forth the terms by which the former

chunk of the “Crazy French Ranch” would become Colorado’s

42nd state park. After a positively frantic year of

work and preparations, the 19,200 acre chunk of property

was officially granted state park-hood, and Governor Polis

participated in a ribbon-cutting ceremony on the parks’ official

opening date October 30, 2020. This was the fastest opening

of a state park in Colorado history, and that comes with

its pros and cons.

I spoke on the phone with Colorado Parks and Wildlife

Public Information Officer Bill Vogrin about writing this article,

and he wanted me to be very clear about something.

If you’re thinking about visiting the park sometime soon,

you should probably keep in mind that the park is not even

remotely finished. Although it was officially opened last year,

it’s still in a pretty primitive state. As of now, in early 2021,

there are only 250 acres accessible, with just three trails which

cumulatively total about two miles in length. At the moment

biking is not allowed, and neither are dogs.

“So we aren't encouraging the public to come down,” Vogrin

informed me, “But we do have a tiny bit to offer if they

really want to make the trip. It will be two to three years before

we complete the master-planning process and start building

amenities people traditionally expect in their parks.”

So look. You’ve been warned. If you go way out of your

way for this and travel all the way to Trinidad to check out

the newest state park, you might be disappointed. For right

now the park consists of a few very short trails stemming

from a nice parking lot with a few picnic tables and a couple

of long-drop restrooms. I’ve visited and I can attest that it is

continued on page 20

Rocky Mountain


Page 18

Mountains & Mesas

What every hikie needs is a good place to do some deep thinking. Photo by Bergsteiger.

Page 20

Mountains & Mesas

The "First Look Trail" at Fishers Peak State Park. Photo by Ismael Dovalina.

still a lovely place to take a short hike and maybe one of

the best spots around the city to have a picnic, but it’s

not the outdoor adventure destination that it someday

will be.

So if that’s all you’re after, hold your horses and keep

your eyes peeled. Fishers Peak State Park will be epic -

once the development is complete. When all is said and

done, the park will span 30 square miles, (19,200 acres)

which will make it Colorado’s second largest state park.

There will be a shiny new visitor center and other attractions.

The City of Trinidad is investing heavily in this

project in the hope that it will become popular, and

people and agencies around the state seem to share that

hope. Governor Polis has described the park as “iconic”

in several ways and seems particularly thrilled at the intersection

of opportunities that this site represents.

To have such a large chunk of wilderness with rare

and endangered species totally undeveloped with a

community that could really stand to benefit from its

use right next door? It’s an investor’s dream come true.

There are a great many hopes and dreams pinned

on this park, and while it’s impossible to tell the future,

it is worth recognizing that just getting the project this

far is already a realization of a lot of hopes, dreams, and

hard labor. You can’t access Fishers Peak just yet, but

you can get closer than ever before. Many of us have

been waiting all our lives to climb on that thing - what’s

a few years more?

to get there:


Fishers Peak State Park is beautiful in winter too.

Photo by Bergsteiger.

Page 24

Mountains & Mesas

the Santa Fe


gets ready to celebrate

its bicentennial

River Crossing, by Harold von Schmidt, (American, 1893-1982).

Image used with permission of the A.R. Mitchell Museum.

Mountains & Mesas Page 25

The route of the Santa Fe Trail, painted on the side of the Boy Scout Museum in Raton, New Mexico.

by Marty Hackett

In 1821, the Santa Fe Trail became America’s first great international

commercial highway, and for nearly sixty years

thereafter, was one of the nation’s great routes of adventure and

western expansion. The story of how the trail came into being

is the fascinating saga of a 31 year-old salt maker in Franklin,

Missouri, in debt and on the verge of going to jail, who began

that first journey to Santa Fe in 1821.

Over nearly twenty-four years, of the countless men from

the Missouri frontier who purchased goods, hired hands and

headed for Santa Fe, New Mexico, William Becknell was the first

to make it through safely. Cloth of various kinds was the major

item of trade taken to the Southwest, along with other sewing

tools, such as needles and thread, hand tools, and more.

As they crossed the plains of Kansas and into southeastern

Colorado, Becknell said,

“A continual and almost uninterrupted scene of prairie

meets the view as we advance, bringing to mind the lines of


‘Or onward

where Campania’s plain,

forsaken, lies

A weary waste,

extending to the skies.’”

In 1846, during the war with Mexico, the Santa Fe Trail became

a route of invasion, as Colonel Stephen Watts Kearny led

the “Army of the West” down the trail into Nuevo Mexico. Military

posts were established along the way, and it was during

this time that the Mountain Route from the Kansas border and

over Raton Pass was established as a safer route for the military.

Kearny’s assignment was to capture Santa Fe and take command

of the forces in California. Kearny made strategic use of

the Mountain Route. The well-known commercial route simplified

a daunting logistical task — moving 1,500 men and an equal

number of supply wagons across nine hundred miles of desolate

prairie. From Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, the troops advanced

about twenty five miles a day in stifling heat, crossing the Arkansas

River into Mexican territory. Five days later, the army

forded the Purgatoire River in the vicinity of present-day Trinidad.

On August 18, 1846, his army of Missouri volunteers and

U.S. cavalry captured Santa Fe without firing a shot.

“Away into the wee hours of the morning did we tramp,

tramp, tramp. Nothing broke the stillness of the night but

the steady tramp of the men and the rattle of the wagons.

We were now to prove the sincerity of those patriotic oaths

so often sworn, and right nobly it was done.”

~Ovando J. Hollister, Boldy They Rode

The Santa Fe Trail ran through the homelands of the Shawnee,

Kansa, Osage, Pawnee, Cheyenne and Arapaho, the Comanche

and Kiowas, the Apache tribes of Mescalero and Jicarilla,

throughout the lands of Mouache Ute, and into the lands of the

Pueblo Indians. These Native Americans, for the most part, were

content to let the caravans through their lands. But as more game

was killed, as more buffalo began to disappear, and as the grass

that sustained all the animals on the Great Plains grew scarce

where the caravans had traveled, the tribes became increasingly

agitated. Their resistance became evident as lone hunters, small

parties, and wagon trains were attacked. Eventually, it was all

in vain, for the ever growing settlements and settlers put more

pressure on the Army to subdue and place the native people on

reservations. By the mid- 1870s, the great nations of the plains

were under so much pressure that they ceased to be a threat to

the travelers on the Santa Fe Trail.

“My shame is as big as the earth…I once thought that I was

the only man that persevered to be the friend of the white

man, but it is hard for me to believe the white man anymore.”

~ Black Kettle” (after Sand Creek Massacre)

Trade and use of the trail increased as the Civil War raged

in the eastern United States but by the mid-1860s, iron rails

began stretching west. Since the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe

Page 26

Captain William Becknell, romantically portrayed.

Mountains & Mesas

Railroad had won the race for the right of way through Raton

Pass, it was their trains that were to thunder into Las Vegas on

July 4, 1879, and eventually on to Santa Fe. Soon after, wagon

use of the Trail as a means of long-distance transportation of

goods and individuals proved inefficient, thus closing this chapter

in the history of the Santa Fe Trail.

“But the shriek of the iron horse has silenced the lowing of

the panting ox, and the old trail looks desolate.”


A woven Cloth of

Colorful Characters

The story of the trail comes in many forms — in biographies

written by women telling of their uncertainty and fear, leaving

their homes and heading into the unknown; journals kept by military

officers detailing the battles, and the losses of the men who

volunteered to fight for their cause; historically researched documents

giving numerous facts; and then there are the legends.

These are the many faces in the story of the Mountain Branch of

the Santa Fe Trail -colorful characters who painted the landscape

with their tales of woe, adventure, strength and perseverance.

Hough’s journey west

A 16 year-old boy, living with his parents in Missouri in 1850,

held quietly to a dream to become an Indian trader. The cities of

Missouri and the east seemed to be thriving, but there were riots

in the streets between the Mormons and other religions. Hearing

of the profits to be made by taking trade goods in caravans to

Santa Fe, the young boy’s father decided to move his family

west, took his son and set off on the new trail. When they

reached St. Louis however, his father contracted cholera and

died. Fearful to move forward without his father, a young John

Simpson Hough returned to Pennsylvania to learn a wholesale

dry goods trade from his uncles, but kept in his mind his father’s

wishes to travel west and his dream of becoming a trader.

Seventeen years later, John Hough purchased a stock of

goods in Leavenworth City and transported the goods and his

family over the Santa Fe Trail to Colorado Territory where his

brother-in-law, John Wesley Prowers, had purchased some land

along the Purgatoire River from Thomas Boggs. The two families

settled in Boggsville, and there, Hough opened a store in

partnership with Prowers using the knowledge he had learned

from his uncles.

In 1869, Hough moved his family to Trinidad, Colorado, because

there was a prospect of a school being started there that

would teach English. Trinidad was also a good place to start a

mercantile firm. Situated on the Santa Fe Trail at the gateway

to Raton Pass, Trinidad had a promising future as a commercial

center for the region. Hough opened a store on Main Street

under the name of Prowers & Hough. Sometime in 1870,

Hough started construction of a large two-story adobe house

for his family. Unlike many of the crude buildings in the town,

it was a fine residence for those days.

the Coming of kit Carson

Lindsey and Rebecca Carson took their two-year old and

moved from Kentucky to Howard County, Missouri to a place

called Boone’s Lick, a property belonging to Rebecca’s cousin

Daniel Boone. The blood of frontiersmen ran strong in the

young boy and his interest was piqued when he heard of the

adventures of neighbor William Becknell who was blazing a

trail to the west. And so it was that yet another 16 year old had

left his home in rural Missouri to become a mountain man and

a trapper in the west. Young Christopher “Kit” Carson joined

an expedition to Mexican California and joined a fur trapping

rendezvous into the Rocky Mountains. Here he lived among

and married into the Arapaho and Cheyenne tribes. Over the

years, he scouted and couriered for the military and soon became

an Indian agent, having learned the native language.

Early in 1868 Kit Carson and his family moved to Boggsville,

and lived in the same house as the Houghs. It was during

this time that Carson gave Hough one of his Native American

leather coats, which Hough treasured for the rest of his life, before

bequeathing it to the state of Colorado.

building a borough with baca

Life in northern New Mexico had changed. The Mexican

War of Independence had ended and the newly independent

Mexico claimed New Mexico as its province, opening the area

to American trade. The Santa Fe Trail had opened up a vital

transportation route. Trade goods from the east were passing

through on caravans headed for Santa Fe. The Mexican-American

War had seen General Stephen Kearny and his army seize

Santa Fe to the south which ultimately brought New Mexico

under full U.S. control. But the farmers and ranchers of the narrow

river valleys along the Rio Grande and its tributaries had

called this place home since the early sixteenth century. The Hispano

settlers had found prime grazing land and were successful

at what they knew, so they remained.

It was one farmer, traveling the Santa Fe Trail on his way to

Denver to sell a load of flour, who changed the future of many

of the families of northern New Mexico. When he crossed over

Raton Pass and into the Purgatoire River valley, Felipe Baca saw

what he believed to be prime, fertile lands that had potential for

agriculture and grazing and told himself he would stop on his

way home to see more. That fall, Baca left his home in Taos,

New Mexico, and laid claim to a choice piece of bottomland in

the valley to the north. After a successful harvest, he returned

home, with a wagon full of melons and grain. His advertising

of the farming advantages of the new-found land induced many

to follow him to Colorado. Twenty ox-drawn wagons, loaded

to the hilt with all their belongings, brought 12 families to the

area of the Rio de las Animas Perdidas en Purgatorio - shortened

Mountains & Mesas Page 27

to Purgatoire River by later French settlers. The journey was

without mishap until they reached the steep incline of the pass.

There, several of the wagons rolled over, but no serious damage

was done. And although the men were armed and ready, no

Native American attack occurred.

By 1865 the settlement had increased in population to twelve

hundred and it had reached the point where it needed a church

for its Catholic population. And so Don Felipe donated land.

The church built by him was no more than four adobe walls with

a dirt roof, the floor being the bare ground. It served the congregation

until 1885, and was called “Santisima Trinidad” (Holy

Trinity) from which the city of Trinidad was given its name.

Having outgrown the small house originally built for his

family, Felipe and Dolores Baca traded 22,000 pounds of wool

for an unusual adobe house built on a hill along the Santa Fe

Trail: the house originally built for John Hough.

The Hispano farmer and sheep rancher, Don Felipe de Jesus

Baca, was one of the first settlers of the Purgatoire River valley,

and historical records note that he was one of the most important

developers of Trinidad.

wily wootton adapted to the

demands of life out west

Seventeen-year-old Richens Lacy Wootton, tired of the life

in Kentucky with his parents and moved to Mississippi to work

on his uncle’s cotton plantation. It wasn’t two years later that

he made his way to Independence, Missouri, and found a job

working on a wagon train run by the Bent, St. Vrain & Co. Richens

soon found himself at Bent’s Fort, the only major permanent

white settlement on the Santa Fe Trail. He met many explorers,

pioneers, traders, and trappers, and became enamored with the

life. For the next several years he lived as a trapper and traded

among the Native Americans of the Rocky Mountains. By 1840,

Page 28

trapping had become less profitable, and Wootton returned to

work for Bent’s Fort. During the Mexican American War, he

scouted for the U.S. Military. One of his primary duties at the

fort was hunting game and buffalo to provide food for the fort,

but within a few short years, the buffalo herds began to dramatically

dwindle almost to extinction because of the droves of men

who hunted them for their hides. Wootton thought it a profitable

venture to ranch the buffalo instead, and operated a ranch near

Pueblo. Three years later, he drove the herd east along the Santa

Fe Trail to Kansas City, where he indeed made a hefty profit.

By 1865, Wootton decided to settle near Trinidad. He leased

some land from the owner of the Maxwell Land Grant and obtained

franchises from the territorial legislatures of Colorado

and New Mexico to build a 27-mile toll road over Raton Pass.

Hiring Ute people to build the road, which required cutting

down trees, removing large rocks and dirt from the hillsides,

building bridges, and grading the trail, he dramatically improved

this once challenging and nearly impassable stretch of

the Santa Fe Trail.

He then erected a hotel and put up a tollgate, charging $1.50

for one wagon and 25 cents for a single horseman. However,

Native Americans were always allowed to use the road at no

charge. Admiring the home his friend John Hough had built

further north, he decided to build one for himself that duplicated

the structure, near the toll gate at Raton Pass.

In 1878, the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad bought

the right of way and paid him and his wife a lifetime pass and

pension as part of the purchase price.

Getting it done for God

Religion started to play an even more important role as the

community developed. Seven years before “Uncle Dick” Wootton’s

death in 1893, Holy Trinity Church, built on the site originally

donated by Don Felipe Baca, saw its first baptism.

Mountains & Mesas

“On the 24th day of June in the year 1886, I solemnly baptize

Julian Wootton, adopted son of Richard Wooton of

Raton, of the Rio de Las Animas,”

signed, Pedro Juan Munnecom,

Parish Priest of the Most Holy Trinity Parish.

Baca, having met with the priest on several occasions, also

agreed to donate land to build a Catholic school, on the condition

that the Sisters of Charity of Ohio would provide their

services. By 1875 when the Jesuit Fathers took over the parish,

Trinidad had a public school, St. Joseph Academy, and a boarding

school. All the land on which these buildings stood had

been deeded to the Sisters of Charity by Don Felipe Baca.

It wasn’t long before one of the Sisters of Charity, Sister

Blandina Segale, went to her superior and offered to rebuild the

original crumbling school. Finding no money and no hands to

accomplish the task, Sister Blandina took crowbar in hand and

climbed onto the roof of the one-story building and proceeded

to carry out a test on the good human nature. It was not long

before the detached adobe being thrown down attracted the attention

of Dona Juanita Simpson. “Por amor di Dios, Hermana,

que esta usted haciendo? For the love of God, Sister, what are

you doing?” When Sister Blandina made her explanation, it was

not long before Dona Juanita, wife of the noted hero of Simpson’s

Rest, had workmen and material for the sister’s use. When

it came time to plaster the schoolrooms, the plasterer was left to

mix the plaster as the sister directed, but had no one to carry the

mortar to him. Sister Blandina again solved the problem; she

procured a bucket and did the carrying.

when life gives you lemons…

start a boarding house

A young woman and her brother accompanied their mother,

Eliza Sloan, who wished to move from Illinois to California. They

embarked on a trip on the new trail and arrived in Santa Fe, one

of the many stops along the way. During their brief overlay,

Eliza’s satchel was stolen and the family of three were left

stranded in the unfamiliar territory. Being an entrepreneurial

spirit, Mrs. Sloan begged and borrowed enough to build a boarding

house, and began a new life for herself and her children. The

young daughter, Marion, walked to school each day, and while

on her way, encountered an interesting and oft-talked about man

— Kit Carson. Carson, who had opened up a trading company

in Santa Fe, took a shine to the young American lady, and fondly

referred to her as his “Maid Marion.” Over the years, Marion met

and fell in love with Richard Russell, an officer from Ft. Union,

who had arrived in Santa Fe at the boarding house where he and

his fellow officers would take their meals. Carson agreed to stand

up for Maid Marion as she was betrothed to the young officer.

The young couple, following the mustering of Mr. Russell

out of the Army, established a trading post in 1865 for the travelers

arriving on the Santa Fe Trail. However, the partner with

whom they had invested on the trading post, ran away with the

store’s money, and the Russells had to sell what was left of their

investment. They agreed to move to southern Colorado just

west of Trinidad, where they established a cattle ranch and

called it Stonewall.

A path forward to the future

The voices of those who traveled along the trail and built

the City of Trinidad are still heard today in the people that still

live in the area. The threads of their lives intertwined, the legends

of their trials and triumphs twisted together, and created

a story of the valley along the Rio de Las Animas Perdidas, with

its colorful characters creating a tapestry of rich history. Two

hundred years of that history will be commemorated in Trinidad

on September 27, 2021, celebrating two centuries of love, loss,

and life on the Santa Fe Trail.

to get there:


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