I had some fun teasing you with my last “vintage” trip report. Now it’s time for one that’s a little more current.
My folks were once again on the road in their fifth wheel last fall so the DH and I decided to rendezvous with them for Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, I’d come down with a cold several days before we were to leave, making it difficult to get all the preparations done. But finally everything was ready and, although my cold had morphed into laryngitis, off we went. Two quiet days later we crossed into northeast New Mexico on Hwy 87.
Just west of Clayton we passed this business with a display of interesting metal artwork.
Further down the road in what appeared to be the middle of nowhere I spotted a pullout with a small marker. “Stop here,” I managed to croak.
In this way I found that we were crossing the Santa Fe Trail. The pullout was poorly maintained and the plaque had been vandalized but there was no litter or evidence that the pullout was used much.
A bit further down the road we stopped for lunch at a picnic area with a view of the Capulin Volcano National Monument. We passed right by the extinct volcano but didn’t stop as I was anxious to meet up with my folks further down the road.
We made it to our destination, the NRA Whittington Center near Raton, and joined my folks in the West Campground. This facility is open to the public and offers gravel sites with full hookups. Best of all, the campground features a beautiful view!
You do have to be careful where you go when you explore the Center though.
The Whittington Center is no longer operated by the NRA but has quite an array of shooting ranges.
Here’s one of them. “Dear, hand me the shotgun.”
I’d read, not surprisingly, that one may have to put up with noise from the shooting ranges during the day but the nights are quiet. Since we were visiting in late November and in the middle of a week we never heard a shot and were able to enjoy a peaceful sunset.
The next day we drove over to Cimarron. My DH has been to the Philmont Boy Scout Ranch there many times and wanted to show the folks the sights. We started with the Philmont Museum and Seton Memorial Library. Do you think they wanted to make sure folks knew they were still open?
The museum consists of a couple of rooms with scouting memorabilia.
The DH said he’d sung this song many a time on the trail in the Philmont back country.
I love books and there were some beautiful ones in the Ernest T. Seton library collection. There was also the skin of Lobo, the wolf, on the far wall. If you have time, click here to read the interesting story of Seton and Lobo. In short, Seton’s pursuit of Lobo contributed to his development into a naturalist and provided fodder for some of his artwork.
After browsing through the museum and library and purchasing a book from the gift shop, we wandered over to a nearby shed with a display of old wagons …
… such as the kind used on the Santa Fe Trail. Hmmm, the Santa Fe Trail. I believe I remember seeing something on the Santa Fe Trail earlier in this trip.
Leaving the museum/library/gift shop, we drove past the part of the Ranch where scouts begin and end their visit. The DH told us the sign at the right is often used when taking group photos.
From a nearby hill, the scout ranch buildings could be seen strung out onto the plain.
The DH took us a dozen miles down the road to Rayado, a town founded by Lucien B. Maxwell and Kit Carson in 1848. Maxwell cobbled together the largest land grant in New Mexico, nearly two million acres, purchased for just a little over two cents per acre. (It was his sale of this land to a foreign syndicate in 1872 that led to the historic Colfax County War.) He and his wife Luz lived in the original part of this home for ten years before moving to Cimarron. The home now serves as an interpretive center but was closed for the winter.
The reconstructed home of Kit Carson can also be seen in Rayado. Carson helped Maxwell and the other residents protect the little community from raids by the resident Apache and Ute tribes. The building serves as the Kit Carson Museum but of course it was also closed for the winter. Rayado also contains a pair of stucco structures that once serviced stage coaches and wagons traveling the Santa Fe Trail as it passes through the community and a small Catholic chapel.
Traveling back towards Cimarron we had a good view of the impressive Tooth of Time (right) and the oddly named Betty’s Bra (far left) rock formations.
The DH is very fond of the “Tooth” having hiked to the top of it several times.
Passing back through the scout facilities we paused at the Villa Philmonte, summer home of Waite Phillips in the late 1920s to early 1940s. This self-made petroleum industry magnate created the Philmont Scout Ranch with his donation of 127,000 acres of the old Maxwell land grant. I’ve been by the Villa several times; sadly always during the off season when it is not open for tours. This time I’d missed it by less than a week! Every time I’ve been by there’s been a herd of deer camped out on the lawn and this time was no exception.
Our explorations had worked up our appetite so back in Cimarron we stopped in at the St James Hotel. The hotel with its restaurant and saloon was built in 1872 by a former White House chef, Henri Lambert. It was the scene of many a barroom brawl and more than two dozen fatal encounters. Not surprising then that many consider the place to be haunted.
One enters the restaurant through the hotel lobby. The batwing doors straight ahead lead to the hotel rooms. The door to the restaurant is just to the right of this photo.
Here is the old bar area with its tin ceiling still sporting bullet holes from the old days.
The facility had been recently renovated and was very well done, keeping just enough of the old features and tastefully blending in the new features. There was even a “window” behind the bar that provided a view of the old adobe bricks that make up the walls.
The folks both ordered the chicken fried steak. It was huge and, they reported, tasty which was a good thing because they ended up with enough leftovers for their supper the next day.
After lunch we ventured through the batwing doors to take a peek at the downstairs hotel rooms kept open for curious visitors. Each of the rooms is named after a famous person who stayed at the hotel in its early days … Bat Masterson, Buffalo Bill Cody, Jessie James, and others.
Transom windows over each room’s door has a painted scene that glows with life when lit from behind.
After lunch we did a little shopping, finishing off with a stop at the DH’s favorite store here, the Cimarron Art Gallery. This little store is part art gallery, part trading post, and has one more appealing feature … my DD homed right in on the old 1937 soda fountain counter in a front corner. “I’ll bet you don’t know how to make a dusty road sundae,” he joked with one of the owners. With a smile, she promptly whipped one up and handed it to him. Not perfect he said but close enough to put a big smile on his face and bring him back for another the next day. Meanwhile the DM and I checked out some of the locally made jewelry. I picked out a necklace to remind me of this trip. Then, with all tired from the day’s activity, we returned to the campground.
The plan for the next day was to drive Highway 64 west to Taos and back. This route follows the Cimarron River and passes by cliffs called the Palisades Sill.
Hey, look, Kohldad! Here’s a pedestal for you to climb up on and take a picture!
We reached the lovely Moreno Valley where the Cimarron River had been dammed to form Eagle Nest Lake. For you fishermen/women, note the last sentence on the sign.
We didn’t see any eagles but we did spot a hawk watching the area for prey.
On a hill within the Moreno Valley in which Eagles Nest Lake is located is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial State Park. How did such a place come to be here in this remote valley? Because the distraught parents of a fallen soldier were brave enough to go against the anti-war attitude of the late 1960s, honoring their son and others who had been killed in the war by building a chapel on their land here.
Dr Victor and Jeanne Westphall overcame many hurdles to construct this unique chapel (at right). An amphitheatre and visitor center (at left) were constructed later, after first the Disabled American Veterans then the State took over the memorial. Two conditions of its transfer into the state park system were that they do not charge a fee and the chapel is to be kept open 24 hours a day.
This statue is titled “Dear Mom and Dad” and depicts a soldier endeavoring to write a letter home. Behind the statue can be seen the gravesite of Dr and Mrs Westphall.
This plaque spoke of what must have been a very spiritual journey made by Dr Westphall when he traveled to the site where his son lost his life.
There is a Huey helicopter on display. I’m too young to remember the events of the Vietnam War as they occurred but it seems every story of this war includes these workhorses. I read later that this particular helicopter was called the “Viking Surprise” and it was one of the first equipped to provide a smokescreen for moving troops.
The visitor center was buried in the hillside so it doesn’t detract from Dr Westphall’s beautiful chapel.
Inside we watched a film on the Vietnam War and the creation of this Memorial then studied the informative and moving displays.
Lastly, we visited the chapel designed and built by Dr Westphall. Inside and out it appears to soar up to the sky. The stated purpose of this Memorial and Chapel is to educate people on the Vietnam War and to provide a place for reflection and healing.
We were all quietly reflecting on our visit to the Memorial as we continued on our way.
When we came into Taos it was lunchtime so we stopped first at a restaurant I’d found on the web, Graham’s Grille. After we were seated, the waitress quickly took our drink order and returned shortly with them. My DH took a sip from his glass. “This tea tastes funny,” he proclaimed. He tried one more sip, made a face of distate, and set the drink down. I picked it up and tried a sip but couldn’t detect any off flavor. When the waitress came back the DH told her his tea tasted funny and asked if he could have a glass of water. “What,” the waitress replied, “you don’t like our prickly pear tea?” We all got a good laugh out of that one! Prickly pear tea aside, the meal was good.
After eating, since the folks had never been to Taos we walked over to the touristy but quaint central plaza.
This beat up old truck fit in with the ambiance of the plaza better than the newer vehicles.
On the way home we had one last look at Eagles Nest Lake. I had been using my voice sparingly the last few days and the laryngitis had finally healed so I could talk normally this day. Thank goodness!
On Thanksgiving Day I considered doubling back to the Capulin Volcano National Monument but I found it would be closed on the holiday. So we decided to take a drive into the mountains instead. I remembered Bluegoat’s post with his beautiful photos of the Valle Vidal area so we decided to see how far up that way we could get. We paused for a moment at the ruins of the Colfax community.
We saw more pronghorn antelope on this trip than I’d seen on any trip west before. Let’s see, I know they’re around here somewhere.
Ah, there they are!
We turned off US Route 64 and headed up State Route 204.
The road had the washboard thing going early on but even driving slow it didn’t take long to move out of the flat plains into the foothills.
As we climbed higher cactus and junipers gave way to conifers. Then another few miles down the road we spotted snow capped mountains in the distance. Eventually we passed a sign that indicated we were on Forest Road 1950.
Still climbing, we started to come across patches of snow. Then we spotted a herd of elk browsing amongst the trees.
We traveled a little further until we came upon this beautiful view. Since it was midday we decided we’d gone far enough on this day trip. I’d seen enough to know that I’d like to explore further with the camper though. I’ll definitely be back someday!
Arriving back on the plains we spotted a large herd of bison in the pasture alongside the road. This is part of Ted Turner’s huge Vermejo Park Ranch. Hey, guys, I’ll see you later at Ted’s Montana Grill!
All except for you, little gal. You look like you’ll be a prime breeding cow one day.
I couldn’t help but admire the obvious strength and hardiness of these large animals.
Back at the campground, we were treated to another beautiful sunset.
The next day it was time to change our base of explorations so we headed west on I-25. The road climbed steadily up onto a high plain.
We took exit 366, turning north onto Hwy 161. I’d seen a red square on the map that I wanted to explore.
We ventured into the visitor center and studied the displays then watched the informational film. I learned that Fort Union was the largest military fort in the southwest, holding as much as four companies of cavalry and infantry and with a quartermaster depot large enough to supply all of the other forts in the New Mexico territory. It was strategically located near the junction of the Mountain and Cimarron branches of the Santa Fe Trail.
Once done in the visitor center, we started along the pathway towards the fort. This plaque provides a schematic of the fort buildings.
The fort was established in 1851 to protect travelers along that early trade artery, the Santa Fe Trail. It was purposely situated out on the plains to keep the soldiers away from the distractions of the city of Santa Fe and to keep attackers from sneaking up on the fort. The remnants of the fort on display are actually of the third fort at this site. The first fort was sited closer to the ridge seen in the distance but was of such poor design and construction that it was abandoned after ten years and a second fort was built. The second fort, a star-shaped fort, was of a better design but it too was abandoned when it was proven that shot from cannon on the ridge could reach it and the third fort and final fort at this location was built.
There were showers off in the distance but what struck us was not the rain but the wind. Boy was it blowing! Probably just a light breeze to you Westerners but nearly a gale to us Easterners.
This row of buildings is where the officers lived. The fort was constructed with stone foundations and brick, adobe, and wood structures. There is not a lot left of the wood or adobe.
Here you can see three of the different materials used to construct the fort.
The National Park Service has its job cut out for it to keep what remains of these old walls standing. The arrival of the railroad in 1879 was the beginning of the end for the Santa Fe Trail and Fort Union. The latter was closed in 1891 and soon fell into decay, hurried along by the scavenging of materials by the locals. The fort finally received protection in 1956 when the Fort Union National Monument was established. You can read here for more on the interesting history of Fort Union.
And what would a fort be without … latrines! I’ll bet you didn’t want to stand downwind from these back when the fort was full of people.
The folk’s Snowbird and our Bigfoot in the visitor center parking lot.
Hmmm, where should we go from here? Stay tuned for the last half of our trip!
Back in June 1981 my scout troop (I was the scoutmaster) visited Philmont ranch for a week of hiking. Getting up to the Tooth of Time trail was via a bunch of switchbacks. We carried 40# back backs. Still have the belt buckle and coffee cup. Great time had by all. Can hardly wait for the last part of your trip.
2000 32' HR Vacationer with Banks
1998 Subaru Outback Ltd. 5 spd
Brake Buddy & Blue Ox Aventa II tow bar
FMCA #266040 HRRVC #84109