Saturday, July 20, 2013

On the Road to the Santa Fe Trail

Kathy and I decided for our Summer trip this year we would escape the hot humid conditions on the Lake of the Ozarks and head for the hot dry conditions of Southwest Kansas, Northeast New Mexico and the Texas Panhandle. So we loaded up the mobile motel and hit the road for some Santa Fe Trail, bits of Old West History and a little Route 66.

Our first primary destination was Elkhart Kansas, on the Cimarron Route of the Santa Fe Trail, but that's over 500 miles, so we pressed through to Kingman Kansas west of Wichita for quick overnight stay in an RV Parking Lot behind an Alco (overpriced at $20, and with 'pay' wifi on top).  Although we didn't make any stops of note the first day (since we've been there done that quite a bit), we knew there where a few stops before Elkhart that beckoned us on our second day.  Including some interesting Kansas Ghost Towns.  So after passing along and near the old Cannonball Stage Route that ran between Kingman and Greensburg, we made our first stop in Kingsdown.

Looking down Main Street in Kingsdown, Ks
Funny how towns get their names.  We happened upon a local named Phil who was quite helpful with a little bit of history for this town of about 25 souls.  Established back in the late 1800's as a railroad town, it got its name during a card game when one of the players had a winning hand of four kings and proclaimed "kings down" as he laid out his cards.  We'll be writing up some history soon on this railroad stop for sure.

Still heading west on 54 we passed through Bloom, another Kansas ghost town that we had stopped at last November. Settled by the Vanderslice family in the early 1880's, they called the area Bloomburg, after their Pennsylvania home town, but that was shorted to Bloom by 1885 when the Post Office was established. This town saw it's Post Office close more than once, and the population peaked in the 1930's with a couple of hundred residents, but would decline from there to just a few residents now.  The Post Office closed for good in 1992. Read more about the ups and downs of Bloom HERE.

Tunnel at the Dalton Gang Hideout
Meade is a must stop for Old West lovers, as it has the Dalton Gang Hideout Museum.  Neat little off the road place that used to be the home of one of the Dalton sisters.  A tunnel was discovered from the house to the barn, and legend has it the gang used the tunnel to go undetected by local law enforcement.  Worth a stop to see the museum and explore the tunnel for yourself.  Read more about the Dalton Gang HERE.

Old Mercantile/Store in Woods, Ks
We pushed west, veering off highway 54 onto 160, then south on 83 to highway 51, where not too far you run into the ghost town of Woods. The only remaining original building appears to be a store that dates back to the early 1900's.  This was one of those picture opportunities that may not be there in the next few years. Woods is on 51 about 13 miles east of Hugoton, and shouldn't be confused with Woodsdale, which was involved with the now infamous Stevens County War.

Cimarron National Grassland north of Elkhart
West of Hugoton you enter a portion of the Cimarron National Grassland.  This is where you can really get a feel for what early travelers dealt with.  A beautiful landscape, but one that is desolate, and deadly during the days of the Santa Fe Trail.  After reaching our RV Campground in Elkhart (Prairie RV, great little stop next to Car Wash and worth the $20, includes free wifi), and visiting with one of Kathy's old childhood friends from Ulysses, we geared ourselves up for our first big day of exploring.

The Cimarron Branch of the Santa Fe Trail

Middle Cimarron Spring
Our morning began with a short trip north of Elkhart on state 27, where we would meet up with the Santa Fe Trail along the Cimarron River.  Just after crossing the river, we hooked left onto road 600 and traveled only about a mile before reaching Middle Cimarron Spring.  This was a reliable water source for travelers in the Cimarron Valley, which made it a major stopping point and campsite. Although we see tree's here now, the interpretive sign indicates that travelers on the Santa Fe Trail likely only experienced brush and desolate landscape, which made the spring an oasis on their journey. By the way, the water pump later installed at the spring still works, and the refreshment was nice and cold.

Point of Rocks on the Santa Fe Trail near
 Elkhart, Ks
Another half mile up the road brings you to Point of Rocks. This site was a lookout along the Cimarron Valley for both Indians and traders, with one branch of the Trail running between the rock and the river. This landmark is still surrounded by grasslands, where wagon ruts can still be seen.  Down below was the Point of Rocks Ranch, where travelers would stay the night.  It was swept away by flood in 1914. Today it's hard to imagine that much water, considering the Cimarron River here is dry. This was a great stop to really take in the landscape.

Here's a few from the top of Point of Rocks. 

Looking West on Point of Rocks one can only imagine what
Santa Fe Trail travelers must of thought of this landscape. 

A view south on Point of Rocks

Zoomed view south reveals Eklhart on the horizon. Yes,
you can see for miles and miles and miles. 

After our venture to Point of Rocks and snapping up photos of original portions of the Santa Fe Trail, we headed back into Elkhart, hooked up the mobile motel and headed south into Oklahoma.  Although we couldn't follow the trail direct into New Mexico, we wanted to move on toward Clayton, with at least one ghost town stop along the way.

Wheeless, Oklahoma Store?
Not being ones for "direct" routes, we veered off at Boise City, Ok  on State 325, then what appears to be county roads to the ghost town of Wheeless.  Maps tell us this is a dirt road, however it's paved now. Wheeless was established in 1907 and became "un-incorporated" by 1963.  Not too far from here are the ruins of Camp Nichols on the Santa Fe Trail, but that wasn't in the cards for us today, since we were hauling the trailer.

This area of the Oklahoma Panhandle was some of the hardest hit
Abandoned home on the edge
 of Wheeless
areas during the Dust Bowl of the 1930's. We haven't found a lot about the town itself, but it was apparently a farming community like many others in this part of No Mans Land, which is a strip of land, measuring some 35 miles wide by 168 miles long, that was not included in any state until Oklahoma in 1907, and therefore left without any law and order. For years, it was a haven for outlaws, like William Coe, and Kiowa War Chief Satanta, all before Wheeless was established.

Today only a few buildings remain, including what appears to be an active church.  The abandoned school playground is testament to days long gone before litigation ended the fun of metal slides and merry go rounds on chains.
This playground sits lonely in Wheeless, Ok.

After Wheeless we made our way over to New Mexico and back into more Santa Fe Trail territory along highway 406.  This included McNees Crossing of Corrumpa Creek, a natural rock crossing still visible today and named for a young trader killed by Indians here in 1828.  This site still looks a lot like it did during the days of the trail.

Rabbit Ears Landmark on the Santa Fe Trail
After traveling on past Rabbit Ears, which are two peaks that were used as an important landmark along the Santa Fe Trail, we reach our final destination of the day, Clayton New Mexico.  Here in Clayton you can take in the historic downtown district that includes the still active Eklund Hotel and Restaurant established in 1905.  The town it self dates back to 1887,  and was a stop along the Cimmaron branch of the trail, as well as an important livestock shipping center for herds from the Texas Panhandle and the Pecos River. (Stayed at the KOA in Clayton.  Not bad, but probably on the lower end of KOA's we've stayed at. Wifi sporadic, a bit run down, but has on site store. Standard KOA pricing, and since we only have Passport, cost us $34)

We're heading toward Las Vegas New Mexico, and will eventually wind up in the Texas Panhandle for some more Old West history over the next week.

See our Facebook Photo Album for this journey HERE

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