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Sunday, March 11th, 2007

Following the Santa Fe Trail

Back to writing again. The big problems with WordPress appear to have been fixed, but there are still some tweaks required to get everything back the way it was, and I’ve been needing to review my plugins to make improvements anyway. Plus I need to revamp my categories.

It was time to drive from the Kansas City, Missouri, area (actually Lee’s Summit), where I’ve been living the last six weeks, back to El Paso, Texas. I’ve made the drive three times before, each with a variation. Once through Dallas, to see an old army buddy and his family; once through Killeen to take care of some business at Fort Hood, and once straight through. All these routes go through Texas, and the shortest one was 1 750 kilometers (1 087 miles), which I did straight through in 17 hours. Driving through Texas is a long, boring affair.

On this occasion I had some time over the weekend to spare, and I wanted a change in the scenery and to indulge in a little sightseeing. So I cut across Kansas on the I-70 (not much of an improvement over Texas), and started heading southwest in Colorado. I spent the night in Colorado Springs, and the next morning, started heading south on the I-25. The Rocky Mountains were off to my right, and I was driving through the foothills until I hit the Raton Pass and entered New Mexico. I was now following the Mountain branch of the Santa Fe Trail. Actually, the Santa Fe Trail started in Missouri, but the I-70 runs a little north of the original trail, although the terrain is similar.

When I got to the vicinity of Pecos, New Mexico, I took a little time out for history. I visited the Pecos National Historical Park. I was there to see battlegrounds of the Battle of Glorieta Pass, called “the Gettysburg of the West”, but I had an added bonus in that the Park hosts the ruins of a Spanish mission dating back to 1621, and a Native American pueblo dating back to the early 1400s, although it had been settled since 1100. I intend to write more about the American Civil War battle later, but now seems a good time to write about the Native Americans and the Spanish.

When I first came to the United States, my family was in a hurry to absorb as much of the American experience as we could, because we intended to go back to Australia. Since we were living in southeast Pennsylvania, we had ready access to a lot of Revolutionary War era and Civil War sites, and as a teenager, I visited a lot of battlegrounds. It was only later, when I was in the US Army, that I really learned to appreciate the significance of terrain. After I got out of the Army, I didn’t live near American historical battlegrounds and didn’t visit them. I was also older, and had more of an appreciation for history.

Standing on the site of the Native American pueblo, I was able to look out at the surrounding terrain and truly appreciate the brilliance of its location. The hill had a commanding view of the terrain for miles in all directions, but because it was in the mouth of a mountain pass, there were only two avenues of approach for other people, most of whom could be presumed to be hostile. There were ready water sources and surrounding fields for raising crops. At the foot of the hill was an open area that served as a site for trade. The plains-roaming Apaches could approach, camp at the foot of the pueblo, and trade between the agricultural Pueblo people and the hunter-gatherer Apaches could be conducted in safety for both.

The ruins of the Spanish mission were also fascinating. Much of the adobe walls of the second mission church, dating from the early 1700s, remained, built on the foundation of the earlier one, and low walls remained of the rest of the mission. You could stand in the monastic cells, the kitchen and eating areas, walk on the flagstone floors, and see the utility of the drainage. Having lived in California, I’ve been to many Spanish missions, but none had the sense of history, of what it was actually like to live here centuries ago, as this place had.

Late in the afternoon, I left Pecos and drove the short remaining distance to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Santa Fe has a reputation of being a great place to visit, and I was interested in seeing what was there. It’s a dusty, modern American small city that did not look impressive at all at first. The surrounding hills are littered with new homes built to look like old adobe buildings, but after seeing the real thing, they look as fake as a three dollar bill. My previous impression of the town was that it is full of aging hippie artists, but after seeing it, I can correct my view. It appears to be full of aging ex-hippie artists who, when they get together, probably spend most of their time trading stock tips. I checked into a room in the outskirts and plugged in to see what is really supposed to make this place an attraction. Their tourist site appears to be big on plugging arts and culture – 250 museums! I’m more interested in history, so I found the way to the historical center. I got in the car and headed there.

It didn’t take me long. I drove in and drove around. I stopped only because there were stop signs. My assessment of Santa Fe: if you’ve got a lot of money to spend on pretty things that you don’t need, it’s probably a great place to visit. I headed back to my room and went to bed very early.

So now I’m up, I’ve spent some time writing, and I’m ready to hit the road again. I’m going to take the I-25 south to El Paso; technically no longer the Santa Fe Trail but the El Camino Real, following the Rio Grande River. Hmmm. Isn’t the same name as the mission trail going up through California?

On the way, I see that I can stop by Fort Craig, as long as I’m willing to drive a few kilometers on a dirt road. Since I drive an SUV that I actually use to drive off road, this is no big deal. I’ve been told that I can’t visit the site of the Battle of Valverde – it’s on private land (Ted Turner’s name was thrown in.) I have the time, and it would round out my tour of retracing Sibley’s New Mexico campaign.

Posted by Greg in History, Posts About Me, Travel

1 Comment »

This entry was posted on Sunday, March 11th, 2007 at 07:07 PST and is filed under History, Posts About Me, Travel. You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

One Response to “Following the Santa Fe Trail”

  1. Quixotic Extropicist » 2007 » March » 13 says:

    […] Yesterday I wrote about the Native American and Spanish history value at this park, but the real highlight for me was taking the Civil War battlefield tour offered only on Saturdays. As it turned out, I was the only one signed up for the tour, but the park ranger there still wheeled out the van to take me around. When he found out that I already had some familiarity with the history, but that my limited on-line research was missing a lot of details, he seemed especially pleased. […]