Driving into the rising sun amongst the rolling hills of the Colorado southeastern plains with the moon setting to the west on a clear day during early spring made me conjure up visions of settlers traveling across the country in caravans of covered wagons. Little did I know, as we drove down hwy 287 to the beginnings of the Santa fe Trail that I would learn a lot more about the endearing, and sometimes brutal history of the area.
We left before the sunrise on this tour, because I wanted to get out to the 181-mile stretch of the Colorado portion of the Santa fe Trail as early as possible. From where I live, this byway takes about two-and-a-half hours to get to. I imagined that the tour along the byway itself would be an all-day adventure, so I wanted to be sure to make good use of the day.
Our first stop was at the rest stop just before the start of the byway in Eads, Colorado. Despite the fact that this particular stop was along a very heavily 18-wheeler traveled road, when I got out of the car, the bird song that greeted me seemed to drown out the sound of the trucks rushing by every few minutes. Let me put this a different way…when I got out of my car; the first thing I heard was the bird song. The bird song actually stopped me in my tracks; the air was full of music I had never heard before and I wanted to soak it all in.
What I learned at this rest stop is that just a few miles away lies a very large wildlife refuge (Queens State Wildlife Area) …home to many birds and other animals. I also learned the history of Sand Creek and learned about the Sand Creek Massacre. Beautiful and yet disturbing stories all in one stop… yes, it made me think about humanity and our struggle to rise above our primal selves.
All along the Santa fe Trail Historic Byway, you can find bits and pieces of not just Colorado’s history, but humanity’s past. At Bent’s Fort, my hubby and I sat and watched a short historical video about the history of the fort. The people who lived in and visited this fort were from all over the region and beyond. What struck me most was the story of how people in this fort acted very peacefully and behaved so very democratically. Many were linguistically prepared to converse with various peoples as there were a total of five languages spoken within the fort walls…from three native tongues to both English and French. I think at that point, I was actually relieved to learn that not all of Colorado’s history is shrouded in brutality.
When you click on some of the photos I took of the various interpretive signs along this byway, take your time to read the information on the signs. They offer up more details of the stories of our past.
Driving the Santa fe Trail
The Colorado section of this byway is known as the mountain branch. The trail cuts through Colorado from Kansas, just east of Lamar and from New Mexico over Raton Pass into Trinidad. On the Kansas side, you begin the trail on the great plains and on the New Mexico side, you begin the trail along a mountain pass.
Getting from one end of the byway to the other…
- Roads = mostly straight and paved (a few curves along Raton Pass); 8 miles of dirt to Sand Creek Massacre site
- Vehicle types = car, cruiser-type motorcycles
Other sites along the Trail
Best time of year to visit
Since I am a nature nut and found there to be an abundance of life when we took this byway tour, I would say that late spring and early summer would be the best time to visit if you are of like mind. This byway has a ton of interesting historical sites, as well as indoor places to visit during any time of year, though.