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The Santa Fe Trail Scenic and Historic Byway- Mountain Branch of Colorado is a 501(c)3 Non-Profit Organization formed in 2003 to enhance the local economy through the promotion of tourism along its route. We collaborate with stakeholders and businesses to interpret and market a 188-mile scenic drive from Colorado’s Kansas border to the New Mexico border. We invite you to sample our hospitality, scenery, history, culture, nature, and to experience our magnificent true west lifestyle. The most delightful aspect of the Byway’s scenery is the variety of landscapes. Narrow river canyons, fertile farm country, and lowland meadows with breathtaking mountain vistas surprise us around every bend in the byway. We suggest taking 3 -7 days to tour Colorado’s Santa Fe Trail. It is a genuinely relaxing experience that makes you feel as though you are in another time in history. Much of the land in the corridor is public land offering a myriad of opportunities for outdoor recreation in a vast uncrowded playground. Hundreds of miles of trails are available for all levels of hiking, biking, and horseback riding. These public lands are home to a large diversity of wildlife and hold some of our Nation’s most significant history. Let us be your guide while exploring these hidden treasures. Help us preserve our unique history and leave no trace while visiting. Take only photos, and leave all else for others to enjoy and study.

History

The history of the Santa Fe Trail reads like a saga of the old west. Native Americans once roamed this land in pursuit of the plentiful wildlife. Trappers of French and American descent took beaver from the many streams in the area. Pioneers like Buffalo Bill Cody and Jedediah Smith traveled extensively throughout the Trail finding adventure at every turn. See the wagon ruts, those beautiful ruts, throughout the byway from bygone trappers, traders and settlers. Relive the famous sighting of Pikes Peak in Bent county where Zebulon Pike first saw the peak given his name. Trace the route of the historic Santa Fe Trail as you comb the region for dinosaur tracks. Step back in time as you experience the daily life of early settlers at Bent's Old Fort in La Junta. Demonstrations of frontier medicine, trading post operations and black smithing make this an unforgettable experience. Celebrate a 1846 Christmas at Bent's Old Fort. The communities throughout the Mountain Branch of the Santa Fe Trail celebrate with living history activities in their towns. Santa Fe Trail Days in Trinidad is a colorful rendition of life during the trail days. Activities reflect the rich historical legacy of the area. Take part in La Junta's Early Settlers Days and Lamar Days, and live history for a day as the early settlers did. Be sure and take a trip along the auto tour route to view the wagon trail ruts, traces of evidence that the wagon trains stormed across our prairies. The still waters of Kiowa and Crowley County run deep with history. Near Eads Colorado lies the site of the epic Sand Creek Massacre. Take yourself back to days of old in a land the great Apache, Arapaho, Cheyenne, Comanche, Kiowa and Ute Indian Tribes once called home. The Mountain Branch of the Santa Fe Trail was used by "Trail Founder" William Becknell's on his first route to Santa Fe. It was Susan Shelby Magoffin's journey line to Chihuahua City in Mexico. It was the setting for Uncle Dick Wooton's imaginative exploits and capitalistic skills. It was a side trail to Taos and Kit Carson territory. It is a rich store of its own impressive legend, and a rich vein of distinctive interpretable storylines.

Culture

During the years of its existence, the Santa Fe Trail was more than just an important commercial trade route across the southwest. From 1821-1846, the Trail was an international corridor between the United States and Mexico. Even after the United States acquired Mexico's northern provinces (1848), the Trail served as a conduit for exchange and interaction between Spanish, Native American and American cultures. The trail's multi-cultural history is reflected in the diverse inhabitants of the communities found along the Byway, and in the richness of the cultural events hosted by these communities. In addition, communities through which the byway passes are cultural melting pots, from the Corazon de Trinidad National Historic District, with its period architecture and brick streets, to quaint rural farm towns with roadside stands at the farmers market selling locally grown produce. The farmers markets in our commuities are the place to be on Saturday mornings. Your coffee is brewing while you can join the others to shop for next week's meals. Growers rise early to bring you the choicest produce from the area; mounds of cantalopes, sweet corn, greens and every variety of root crop. Some say that Rocky Ford, Colorado grows the sweetest cantalopes on earth! Vendors offer homemade jams, jellies, vinegars and pickles, even handmade aprons. There is also a delectable variety of honeys. Local nurseries are here with a large selection of annuals and perennials that grow well in the area, including the full palette of bearded irises. Sturdily crafted redwood trellises for your vines and roses, plus gardening books and melodic wind chimes are all available at the Farmer's Markets. Musicians drop by to add some tunes to the conversations with the out of town visitors. Farmer's Markets on the Mountain Branch of the Santa Fe Trail are a cultural feast for the soul.

Archaeology & Paleontology

Several significant archaeological sites are found within and in proximity to the Santa Fe Trail corridor. These sites contain pictographs, petroglyphs, dinosaur tracks, fossils, Native American teepee rings, fire circles, and other evidence of both prehistoric and settlement-era human activity. The numerous rock art sites document continuous habitation of the region for approximately 5,000 years. Significant archaeological sites exist on Comanche National Grassland at Picket Wire Canyonlands, Picture Canyon, and Pinon Canyon. The Louden-Henritze Archaeology Museum (Trinidad) features exhibits on the area's geology, fossils and archaeology. Experience guided tours where you'll discover dinosaur tracks and Indian rock art. Go Petroglyph hunting along the wondrous Picture Canyon of Baca County. Bicycling is an excellent way to explore the Comanche National Grassland. Contact the USDA Forest Service in LaJunta at 719-384-2181 for information on access to the dinosaur tracksites.

Natural Qualities

Southeast Colorado is rich with a diversity of natural values. In this unique part of Colorado, prime agricultural land gives way to expanses of native grassland. The landscape changes dramatically as elevation increases in the vicinity of Raton Pass. Here the pinion pine/juniper ecosystem dominates. The natural splendor of yucca and brightly colored cactus adorn the prairie. The unspoiled beauty of Raton Pass and the nearby Spanish Peaks, lure many visitors to the area. In places, rivers have carved canyons and valleys leaving unusual rock formations along their path. Numerous warm-water lakes dot the landscape, providing critical wildlife habitat. Significant waterfowl populations live within and migrate through the Santa Fe Trail corridor. The area rivers and lakes also support relatively lush vegetation. Even at a distance, one can discern the meandering paths of rivers by following the ribbon of trees nurtured by the waterway. The ribbon of trees known as the Big Timbers played a prominent part in the history of the Santa Fe Trail. Wildlife is abundant throughout the region, supported by the extensive public land holdings managed by various agencies. Comanche National Grassland alone provides habitat for approximately 275 bird species, 60 mammal species, 40 reptile species, 11 fish species and 9 amphibian species. Throughout the Mountain Branch Byway there are vast herds of prong horn antelope viewable along the sides of the roadways as you drive through the prairie. It is quite a site! Nature is abundant and I personally have seen many astounding displays of the wildlife in the outskirts of the Trinidad area. I have seen up to 17 fox during the twilight of the evening. Among them, only 1 red tailed fox trapped and encircled by the others. It looked like a showdown from the old west, with mighty unfair odds. My presence alarmed them and they scurried off into the night.

Scenic Qualities

The Santa Fe Trail Scenic and Historic Byway's scenic qualities range from the magnificent vistas of Raton Pass, to the verdant, irrigated crop lands of the high plains. The rural communities through which the Byway passes are scenic in their own right and contribute to the overall character of the eastern half of the trail corridor. Near its southern terminus, the byway passes through the Corazon de Trinidad National Historic District. Period architecture and brick streets contribute to the Historic District's charm and scenic value. The southern half of the corridor exposes the traveler to the quintessential scenic qualities of southeastern Colorado's high plans; panoramic vistas, expansive grasslands, and rolling hills of pinon pine and juniper. The Byway also affords views of Fisher's Peak and the majestic Spanish Peaks which are both historic and inspirational. The traveler also experiences the beauty and solitude found on one of the nation's disappearing natural resources, undeveloped grasslands. Because much of the southern corridor is virtually undeveloped, the modern visitor can experience what traveling the Santa Fe Trail must have been like in the 1800s. The Purgatoire River is a ribbon of life billowing through the prairie as you make your way across the grassland along the trail. Abundant bird life, dramatic vistas and a sense of isolation provide the Byway with beauty, character and authenticity that are essential qualities for National recognition of our historic trail.

Recreation

The Santa Fe Trail Scenic and Historic Byway offers over 30,000 acres of public land which supports a variety of recreational activities. Vast tracts of public land support hiking, horseback riding, bicycling, camping, hunting, fishing and other recreational activities. Several warm-water lakes, State Parks and State Wildlife Areas serve as multiple-use recreation areas. Several picnic areas, trail heads, skate parks, municipal parks and golf courses also serve this area. The Arkansas and Timpas Rivers follow the byway for a good portion of the route, providing many opportunities to enjoy the riverbanks. There are a number of lakes and reservoirs that are located just off of the byway to provide additional opportunities to enjoy the recreational qualities of the area.

   
   

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Santa Fe Trail Scenic and Historic Byway- Mountain Branch, PO Box 118 Trinidad, CO 81082

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