If you’re reading this, you’re thinking about visiting, or currently are visiting southern
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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,
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Area art galleries showcase the incredible talents of our local artists, some of whose work
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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
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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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.
GEt iN GEAR
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.
HUNGRy As A bEAR
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
Here’s a piece of advice for you: don’t cook spaghetti alfredo
on a backpacking trip. And if you do, remember to bring
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
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
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
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 tREAsURE At tHE END OF tHE ROAD
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
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
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
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
Mountains & Mesas
More like Fishers
state park has opened
up its first hiking trail,
and is poised for much
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
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
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
Mountains & Mesas
What every hikie needs is a good place to do some deep thinking. Photo by Bergsteiger.
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
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.
Mountains & Mesas
the Santa Fe
gets ready to celebrate
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
where Campania’s plain,
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
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
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,
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: