Friday, July 26, 2013

Las Vegas, NM to Stinnett Tx, via Route 66 and the Old West

Dilia Church
Wrapping up in the Las VegasNew Mexico area, we headed south on I-25 for just a few miles, then picked up Highway 84 to just west of  Santa Rosa. This is a stretch of Pre-1937 Route 66 in New Mexico before it was straightened out, cutting off this northern loop that used to go through Santa Fe.

Along the way to Santa Rosa you'll pass through a couple of spots in the road. Like Apache Springs with just a few scattered houses and some ruins off the side of the road, and Dilia which shows a little more life, but still a small ranching/farming community.  We experienced beautiful landscapes as we continued down in elevation, full of "nothingness" but gorgeous at the same time.

After a small jaunt on I-40, we veered back onto the Mother Road at Santa Rosa,
Sun N Sand in Santa Rosa
the City of Natural Lakes. Founded in 1865, the town began as nothing more than a large Spanish Rancho, and was called Aqua Negro Chiquita. Sometime around 1890, it took a new name honoring a chapel built by Don Celso Baco who named it for his wife and Saint Rose of Lima, the first canonized Saint of the "New World." Today, this popular town along America's Mother Road still provides area attractions through nearby lakes and streams, as well as plenty of photo ops through town of some of it's decades old and still operating Route 66 Icons.

Old Motor Court in Newkirk
Between  Santa Rosa and Tucumcari is what we refer to as a ghost town stretch of Route 66 that includes Cuervo, Newkirk and Montoya.  These small towns got their start from Ranching and Railroad and for a time they were bustling with activity from the many travelers of Route 66.  Today they are a shell of their former self with very few residents.  The buildings tell of a time before the interstate when these small communities were important stops. Read more about this stretch HERE.

Blue Swallow Motel 
After the ghost town stretch you'll find plenty more photo ops and some tasty choices in Tucumcari. Heading east into town you will first come to the New Mexico Route 66 Museum, dedicated to exploring the states 604 miles of original Mother Road.  Up and down 66 through town you'll find icon after icon, like the famous Blue Swallow Motel, or Del's Restaurant (mighty tasty mexican food by the way..loved our lunch here). Once nicknamed "Six Shooter Siding", this town started around 1901 with the railroad and quickly became a bit rowdy with saloons, gamblers, dance hall girls and the like. Today travelers can get a great feel for the 1940's and 50's era of the Mother Road as many of the businesses have done a great job keeping up the Neon, and others have been painted with Route 66 themes.

This would be all of the Mother Road on this segment of the trip though, as we cut north on Highway 54 for an overnight stay in Logan, just outside of Utte State Park, on our way to more old west history in the Texas Panhandle.  (Stayed at Arrowhead RV Park on the east edge of town.  Under new ownership for about a month, this was an alright stop for the night with full hookups, but was mostly long term campers working in the area. A little TLC, which the owner is in the process of giving, will go a long way here. Paid $15 (tax included) with our Passport membership). 

Logan to Stinnett and Hutchinson County History

At one time this bar was a bank
Not too far down the road from Logan on Highway 54 we came into Nara Visa, a ghost town lovers delight. This early 1900's town was built on the railroad, and started off as Narvaez, but English speaking settlers managed to mangle the name until it became Nara Visa. What is now just a small town with an open post office and Motel on the western end used to be home to several churches, eight saloons, dance halls, stores, and more.  What used to be the bank, turned into a bar and looks like something we've seen in a movie, but couldn't find anything in our immediate research.

This was a gem of photo ops for Kathy and I, but unfortunately for "me", my camera decided it was time to
There were quite a few old vehicles on
property along the highway in Nara Visa.
retire, so Kathy got all the fun.  We also heard from a reader on our Facebook page that the bank (now closed bar), which was the First National Bank of Nara Visa, was at one time the most robbed bank in the United States, including, according to our reader, by the Pretty Boy Floyd gang.

After some quality time in Nara Visa, we pushed onto the Texas Panhandle for Cal Farley's Boys Ranch, which used to be the Old West town of Tascosa.  This was once a rival to Dodge City for cattle markets, and was the capital of 10 counties. The post office was established in 1878, and by the 1880's it was already a rough town, famously known for a gun fight in 1886 at the Jenkins Saloon between two panhandle ranch factions that left four dead.  You can visit their graves at the Boot Hill cemetery on the way into town.

Once in Cal Farley's Boys Ranch you need to check into the main office, then walk across the street to the Julian Bivins Museum, housed in the original courthouse.  It, and the old school house are the only two original structures remaining from Tascosa, which died as a town after the railroad built 50 miles north of town.  By the 1930's the town was dead and Cal Farley's Boys Ranch was built on the site in 1938.

From Cal Farley's we headed onto our destination for the next couple of days, Hutchinson County seat Stinnett Texas.

For Legends' 10th Anniversary, Kathy wanted to pay tribute to her roots in the Texas Panhandle, as it was her Grandmother Irene Foster which gave her the "history bug" as a child.  Hutchinson county has a pretty interesting history, especially with the oil industry.  Like the wild and wooley town of Borger just a few miles down the road from Stinnett that was once so corrupt that the Governor of Texas had to send in the Texas Rangers. You can read our full story on Borger HERE.

Stinnett wasn't always the county seat. The extinct town of Plemons held that honor for several years after getting it's start in the late 1800's.  Hutchinson county is also home to Adobe Walls, the first trading post in this region established back in 1843.  Just a marker in a field now, Adobe Walls also has the grave of William Billy Dixon, famous scout, buffalo hunter and Indian Fighter.  Dixon was involved with the second "Battle of Adobe Walls", and is credited with being a hero two days into the battle, when a bullet from his Sharps buffalo rifle knocked an Indian off his horse nearly a mile away (perhaps exaggerated. Dixon himself never claimed credit for his "long shot."

Irene Womble Foster, the
inspiration for Legends Of America.
Kathy's great grandfather William Carson Womble settled in the area around 1902 and was good friends with Dixon up until Dixon's death in 1915.  Womble would go on to become a county commissioner and played an important role in building the new county courthouse in Stinnett in the 1930's, which has his name engraved in the cornerstone of the building.  Later, Kathy's grandfather Ben Foster (who married Irene Womble whom Kathy dedicates Legends Of America too) became the mechanical engineer for the courthouse.  He and Irene would live in the basement apartment at the building for years, raising their children there.  We took a tour of the courthouse so Kathy could relive childhood memories of playing in the halls.  Heard a lot of "tales" from her on this trip about life at the courthouse, from sneaking into the library, to her mom, Wanda, climbing out on the upper floors ledge as a child and actually walking around the building.

Kathy's written extensive history on Hutchinson County, it's towns and people which you can see HERE. Be sure to visit the link for Extinct Towns, Ghost Towns and Company Camps to see more about Plemons and other places that used to be part of the rich history here.

You can see our trip in photos via our Facebook photo album HERE.

(We stayed a couple of nights by the city park in Stinnett in a small (3 or 4 space) RV parking area.  Full hookups, and it was "Free" for 3 nights, then $10 per night after [no long term campers].  We think it's great promotion for a city to do this, and loved the fact we could take advantage of it.  The only thing we would suggest is that the city perform the same care with the RV area that they do with the park, as it was full of good ol' Texas stickers and hardly any grass)

Monday, July 22, 2013

Clayton to Las Vegas and Ghosts In Between

Ruins of a building near Clayton
Saturday morning we got an early start out of Clayton to head for a couple of days in the Las Vegas, NM area.  Still following the Santa Fe Trail for the most part, we had plans of venturing off the main route to see a possible ghost town or two, and found a couple of nice surprises along the way, including the remnants of an old stone building not too far out on the road to Springer.  Sitting alone on the landscape, one could only imagine how long it's been sitting here.

Not wanting to risk too long of a stretch without fuel stops, we
decided to stop at a "spot in the road" called Gladstone, and the Gladstone Mercantile. This old store's been here since the 1940's, and when we stopped, the smell of smoked brisket was enough to put us in a trance, luring us to linger here beyond just getting gas.  Very cool place, which has been in the current owners family for about 18 years.  You'll find some antiques, home made vittles, snacks and more in this store, and the owner has done a great job of "cleaning up" the place from its former years. By the way, that was some good brisket!

We didn't want to take the typical route through Springer, and instead veered off highway 56 onto 39 headed for the town of Roy through the Kiowa National Grassland. We were pleasantly surprised to find an unexpected ghost town along the way.

Vintage photo from Mills, NM
Mills New Mexico sits about 26 miles southeast of Springer, and 11 miles northwest of Roy, and like many ghost towns, was once a bustling community with three stores, five hotels, a theater, dance hall, four doctors, a hospital, a barber shop, a bank, two saloons, three churches , a school, and more. Established in the 1890's, it sputtered at first before taking off in the early 1900's. By 1913 there were around 3,000 residents, but you couldn't tell that today.

Mills New Mexico today
With a few falling down buildings and stone foundations, this railroad town is a shell of its former self and sits off the main road. We parked on the highway and walked in, not knowing for sure whether we could get the trailer in tow turned around in town. Much to our surprise we spied a couple of vehicles sitting in front of what appeared to be one of only a couple intact buildings, and one of them was pulling out and coming our way. It was the Postal delivery gal, and that building she just left was the Post Office, which is STILL active. Apparently there's still enough going on around the area that the Post Office, established in 1898, still delivers.  She encouraged us to talk to the Postmaster, who opens the office on Saturday's (lucky for us), so after a few photos of the town, Kathy went in while the dogs and I stayed outside taking in the landscape.

Had a run in with the law while Kathy was jawing with the Postmaster.  Highway Patrol stopped at our
Kaydee dog applies for guard duty in
Mills, NM.
"abandoned" vehicle, saw me walking on the dirt road in town and headed in to check on us. Very nice officer, who gave me a verbal warning about making sure to get completely outside the white line.  As I was walking back to move the trailer over more, he went on in to make sure I hadn't robbed the Post Office.  By the time I was walking back, I could see Kathy and the officer had already made fast friends.  He had some interesting takes on how this area of New Mexico was used by Native Americans to raid wagon trains, and how outlaw riffraff took advantage of the terrain to escape the law. With canyons nearby, it was easy to imagine what he was talking about.  Mills Canyon nearby provides areas for camping and more, so this is a worthwhile destination for the outdoorsman as well as the ghost town lover.

Roy, NM
On down the road, the town of Roy isn't near as 'ghosty' as we thought it would be, and is still active with several businesses open. However, stopping here and walking along the main business district, there are plenty of signs this town has seen its better days.  Two old movie theaters appear to sit empty, though one seemed to be partially used by an antique store.  You can tell there are some residents that really care about keeping up some of these buildings though, and it had a nice "feel", with friendly folk.  Still full from the brisket back in Gladstone, we passed on the local cafe that seemed to be a popular spot.

Turning onto highway 120, we headed for more Santa Fe Trail, passing through the town of Wagon Mound.
Wagon Mound
Wagon Mound is also an important landmark along the trail, as the Mound that sits by the town looks like a covered wagon being pulled by oxen.  One of the best known landmarks on the Santa Fe Trail, it was the last major landmark on the Cimarron route.  Near here in 1850, a small party of men with the express mail wagon were attacked and killed by Jicarilla Apaches.  Another reminder of just how dangerous westward expansion was for pioneers.

At Wagon Mound we hopped on I-25 and headed south for Las Vegas, and our destination for the day at Storrie Lake State Park just outside of town (Nice place to park your RV, or even a tent, with various levels of sites, including some partial enclosures.  No wifi, but we were able to use our ATT data to an extent. Verizon apparently covers this area much better. Clean park, friendly folk. We paid $14 a night with electric and water. Dump station on site.)

Santa Fe Trail, Native American, Civil War, Spanish Mission and even Route 66 history all in a day!

Downtown Las Vegas, NM
Leaving the trailer behind, Sunday we started out exploring Las Vegas. Known to be more wicked than Dodge City during the days of the Old West, Las Vegas features more than 900 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. Established by a Spanish land grant in 1835, this was also the last Spanish colony established in North America and originally called Nuestra Senora de los Dolores de Las Vegas Grandes (our Lady of Sorrows of the Great Meadows) by the Spanish settlers whose roots went back to the early 1600's. In the beginning, the settlement doubled as a fort, designed to be battened down for attacks by the Apache Indians.

When the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad reached the settlement in 1879, it was the biggest city between San Francisco and Independence, Missouri.  During the notorious days of Las Vegas’ history the town was called home or visited by the likes of Doc Holliday, Big-Nose Kate, Jesse James, Billy the Kid, Bob Ford, Wyatt Earp, Rattlesnake Sam, Cock-Eyed Frank, Web-Fingered Billy, Hook Nose Jim, Stuttering Tom, Durango Kid, Handsome Harry the Dancehall Rustler, Vicente Silva and his gang, and Belle Sidons (alias Monte Verde).

La Castenada Hotel from the tracks
While in Las Vegas, be sure to visit the Las Vegas City Museum and Rough Riders Memorial, as well as several picturesque historic districts including the Bridge Street and Plaza areas, where there is a designated Santa Fe Trail site. The La Castenada Hotel is a must see landmark of Las Vegas' post-Santa Fe Trail era.  The 1898 building, once housing one of the famous Harvey House Hotels, faces the railroad tracks in the 500 block of Railroad Avenue.  Marked as Private Property and closed today, you can still take in the beauty of the architecture.  Across the street you'll find the Rawlins building, which was once the residence for the Harvey Girls who staffed the hotel's dining room.

Plaza Hotel, Las Vegas NM
The historic Plaza Hotel, built in 1882, is still operating today and was once the center for commerce in a young New Mexico.  It was renovated in the early 1980's, but keeps it's charm as the Belle of the Southwest.  It's also said to be haunted by one of its former owners, Byron T. Mills, who has been seen in room 310..... BOO!

This stop along the Santa Fe Trail is a great destination for history lovers and we could easily see why early westward travelers would consider Las Vegas a welcome site after 600 miles across Kansas.

Puebloan Ruins
After Vegas we headed down I-25 to Pecos National Historic Park. The Pecos Valley has seen continuous human culture for over 10,000 years, including Pueblo and Plains Indians, Spanish conquerors and missionaries, Mexican and Anglo armies, and settlers traveling the Santa Fe Trail.  Stopping at the visitors center, you are given a guide to lead you through a mile and a quarter trail that takes you to Pueblo ruins and an old Spanish Mission.

Spanish Mission at Pecos National
Historic Park
Along the hike you will see Kivas, which are large pits that you can actually climb down into.  Puebloan peoples considered these social and ceremonial places located between the underworld where people had their origin, and the world above where they live now. Back at the Visitors center you will be invited to watch a film about the Park and history of the area.  Overall, we thought this to be a great stop for the price of admission ($3 per person as of this writing).

While at the visitors center, be sure to ask about the Glorieta Civil War Battlefield, which is another section of the park.  A new experience for us was the fact that they had to give you directions to the Battlefield, and a combination for the lock on the gate, with specific instructions on
Glorieta Civil War Battle Field
how to unlock and lock it.  It was worth the seven and a half mile drive from the visitors center to the battlefield though.  This two and a quarter mile looped hiking trail (listed as moderately strenuous) will take you through 14 interpretive trail stops, teaching about "The Gettysburg of the West".  It was here in the spring of 1862 that Union troops thwarted Confederate plans to expand westward. After losing the Battle of Glorieta, Confederates never again attempted action in the West.  Worried about the trail?  There's an accessible trail just over a half mile that cuts through the middle of the loop, allowing visitors to "bail out" so to speak.

Kozlowski Trading Post & Stage Stop
On your way from the visitors center to the battle field you will run into Kozlowski Trading Post and Stage Stop on the Santa Fe Trail just off the road.  While there is an historic marker there and original buildings, we had the impression this building was closed to the public. Never the less, it was a good photo op.

We literally stumbled out of the Battlefield and onto Route 66.  Yes, Route 66 once had an alignment (before 1937) that ventured up from Santa Rosa to just south of Las Vegas, then over to Santa Fe and back down to its later
An old business on Rt 66 near Rowe
alignment.  We just happened upon the section on what is now Highway 50, and decided to follow the original road back toward Las Vegas as a way to end our day trip.  We only found a couple of markers along the way, so we had to "guess" a bit on how to follow. In short, we took 50 to Pecos, then 63 til it turned into "Old Las Vegas Highway" at Rowe.  Once on that road, it pretty much follows I-25 until you reach Highway 84 south of Las Vegas, where it veers off to Santa Rosa.

It was a great day for our Summer 13 Adventure, and an great way for us to wrap up our Santa Fe Trail history.  Next blog we leave Las Vegas, travel the old pre 37 alignment of 66 to more Mother Road, headed for Tucumcari, then more Old West history in the Texas Panhandle.

Don't forget to follow us in pictures via our Facebook photo album To New Mexico & Texas.

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