The rest of the photos for today are linked here>
I saw a different picture of the west today, and now I have added William Bent to my list of western heroes. I learned about his life and his story today as we toured Bent’s Old Fort this afternoon. This morning as we continued west from Kansas into Colorado, I kept seeing signs for the “Santa Fe Trail”. What we hadn’t known before is that we were traveling along the route, now an official National Historic Trail administered by the National Park Service, with a history that predates Coronado’s historic search for the Cities of Gold in 1540.
In the small town of Lamar, Colorado, we stopped at the excellent Colorado Visitor Center to get information on the trail, the history, and the towns along the way. Once again, the visitor center was staffed with a great volunteer, who gave me all sorts of brochures about the Trail, and suggestions of what would be the best way to spend our time today. In addition, with the simple exchange of my email address to the state of Colorado, I became the proud owner of a “colorful Colorado” baseball cap. I know, I know, but I can always delete the email when it comes in, telling me all the great things about visiting Colorado.
Our campsite destination was another state park, the John Martin Reservoir SP, built by the Corps of Engineers in conjunction with the dam, but now operated by the state. We drove in to an almost completely empty, very large and open campground, situated below the dam among huge old cottonwoods and locust trees, with half a football field between sites along the small overflow lake. Electric, but no water or sewer, but a dump station and a threaded water spigot nearby made it just fine. We settled Abby into her crate, safe in the MoHo with the air conditioner going and set out to explore.
Just 30 miles to the west was the site of Old Bent’s Fort, the highlight of the day. The actual fort burned down in 1849, was carefully excavated and reconstructed by the National Park Service in 1976 based on original drawings, historical accounts, and archeological evidence and is a faithful reproduction. The fort sits alone on a terrace above the Arkansas River, surrounded by natural grasslands and wetlands, and framed by the winding course of the cottonwoods along the river. It feels silent, and as we walked from the parking lot on the 1/4 mile trail to the fort, I felt as if I had stepped back in time. This spot was a significant center of fur trade in the 1840’s on the Santa Fe Trail, influencing economies around the world. It was a trade fort, not an army fort, and William Bent married a Cheyenne woman and was considered part of the tribe.
The fort in 1840 was constructed with adobe bricks, when William Bent brought in 150 Mexican workers because he so admired the adobe buildings he had seen in the Mexican Territories. The reconstruction in 1976 was built exactly the same way. We walked through the fort gates into the dusty courtyard, surrounded with rooms cooled by the thick adobe walls. It was quiet except for a very few visitors. I felt the era so thoroughly in this place, it was an amazing experience. The National Park Service is to be commended for this treasure.
After our visit, we continued to the town of La Junta, also on the trail, and then home through Las Animas to our campsite on the lake. Our travel time was short enough that even after our road tour, we had time to unload the kayaks for a spin on the lake. There were white pelicans, reminding me of home, and at least ten blue herons on the shoreline as we paddled by. The moon was rising, nearly full, in the early evening sunset, and the breeze was just enough to keep us refreshed. Perfect way to end a perfect travel day.