Archive for September, 2008

Saturday, Sept 27 - Clayton, NM

Sunday, September 28th, 2008

Today’s efforts will be to locate and document three Battalion campsites and obtain photos of the route through the area. We move the RV trailer, unhook the Jed Clampett Memorial Port-a-potty Trailer and head off into the wilds. During the day we see at least one hundred antelope.

There won’t be any hiking in today as we expect to drive nearly 200 miles to find these locations. Now, normally, this wouldn’t take too long, but we’re on gravel backroads which we haven’t driven before and for which maps are … well, … not the most reliable. Much of my route planning was done with commercially available routing software and the names/numbers they use for these local roads don’t appear to coincide with the local numbering/naming.

For example; County Road A-005 (software name) isn’t on ANY signposts. Instead, the road is named Campbell Road, so there isn’t a one-to-one correspondence for these maps making navigation difficult. Plus, often there isn’t much difference between the county road and the rancher’s private roads. Some of these guys carried loaded rifles to discourage cattle rustling.

Stop number one is along the Alamos Creek where I take some photos of a stone corral (more about that next week) and the streambed which is also lush with grass and water. Everyone tells us this is highly unusual for September but we’re grateful. Highs are upper 80’s today.

Stop number two is a trail crossing and stop number three is the Battalion’s campsite for September 28.

We take lots of photos along the route and about sundown get to the last campsite we want to find. As we crest a ridge, below us is a broad valley about a mile wide. Here again, there’s enough water to support verdant green grasses and the area could easily hold a few thousand head of oxen, mules and cattle. A few ranches dot the valley and there’s a second, side valley that gives the area its modern name of “Extra Valley.” We wind down the hill into the area and find an area with rock corrals and other ruins.

On our way back to blacktop, we come through the old settlement of Farley New Mexico. Someone is restoring the old yellow and green painted train station and there is an old ranch house that’s being used for cattlemen. As the sun sets, we get a few final photos and we start homeward. We drive for about twenty miles without seeing a single residence light.

Friday, Sept 26 – Cedar Spring, OK

Sunday, September 28th, 2008

This morning we finally make contact with the ranch owner on which Cedar Spring is located. Though he’s covering work for a friend, Alan takes time to drive us to this original Battalion camp location. There are tremendous trail swales that go for miles and we get some great photos of the camp area. It requires us to backtrack but the opportunity is rare and that we feel it’s appropriate to spend the time documenting the area. Beautiful.

Our area of interest rests in a wide bowl a couple miles wide. Imagine a triangle-shaped mesa, pointed north with ravines on the east and west sides. The base is connected to the plains to the south. Off to the north, we can barely see Black Mesa on the horizon, sticking above the local topography. The area gently rolls from ridge to ridge – about fifty feet difference in top to bottom. We find a couple areas sufficiently large enough to camp the Battalion’s wagons and tents and the buffalo grass has been helped by a recent rainstorm.

What is most delightful about this location is to walk to the western side of the triangle mesa to be met by a view of a small creek bed lying between the rock outcrops. The ravine is a couple hundred yards wide completely covered with lush green grass and plenty of water. It extends northward for nearly a mile before we lose sight of it among the turns and twists of the canyon. The scene is truly breath-catching with the greens, tans, reds, blacks and blues we see.

After we’ve satisfied ourselves, we hop in the car and head back – but I manage a wrong turn and we quickly become semi-disoriented. For those of you who haven’t had the experience of being lost on the open prairie without many landmarks to guide you, I must admit it is semi-disconcerting. But, we do a Hansel and Gretel thing and eliminating wrong roads by process of elimination. In other words, we get home in the early afternoon.

Back at the trailer, we finish working on a number of pressing items, pack up and prepare to head to Grenville NM but decide to go to Clayton where we can have some more support facilities. We try to get some gas in Kenton, only to find the station has closed. Dang!

Thursday, September 25 – McNees Crossing, NM

Friday, September 26th, 2008

As you can tell, the internet connection wasn’t up last night.

We make a decent start in the morning and get along. Our route is west today and we are excited to see the “Rabbit Ears” mountain become a real mesa with two peaks rather than just a couple of blue bumps on the south-west horizon. We can see Sierra Grande to the west clearly and we realize we are coming to the end of the Great American Desert. Soon, we will be amongst the western peaks and climbing towards the continental divide.

We quickly exhaust our one county of Oklahoma and pass over into New Mexico. The ruts are just off the roadway and we “stair-step” the roads as they angle southwest towards the Rabbit Ears peaks. For lunch, I drive Denny over to McNees Crossing of the Canadian River. Don’t ask me why a “river” this far south is named “Canadian.” It’s a mystery to me.

We open the gate (closing it behind us) and drive down to the river crossing. Denny and I hike down the eroded swale to the river bottoms and we talk about how the teams would have come down the hill from the east, turned to cross the flat, solid rock bottom shelf, then turned short to the left to climb up the steep, deep sand cut in the western side of the arroyo. With teams behind “blowing their horns” so to speak, the bedlam must have been astounding.

After leaving McNees, we ask permission to hike a private ranch and get to go cross county for about five miles including a section of the Kiowa Grasslands. They are another unit of the National Grasslands like we were hiking the other day and all the same problems apply. Cacti, yucca, stickers. Ouch.

Again, I’m on my own, hiking solo out across rolling hills and gullies with just a few antelope and beeves in the fields. A bird of prey died near a stone marker, the skull having large orbital sockets for large eyes. No other trace remains and I’m not an ornithologist, so I don’t know what kind, but suspect a hawk. I find an old snake skin, shed quite a while ago since it’s falling apart. No sign of the former owner and inhabitant.

Still, it’s with great pleasure that I cross a ridge to see the sun glinting off glass a few miles away. The binoculars are handy at times like these, so I verify it’s Denny, then call her on the handheld radio. We talk and she can see me against the sky in my white shirt beside a ruined stone house. Since the day is getting on towards 5 PM, I start moving more quickly while still staying alert for potential dangers.

Near the end of the hike, I find a set of stone “stairs” – ledges a few inches high that make me think or Rocky Ridge in Wyoming. These ledges aren’t as big or as long but they still presented a challenge to the animals pulling the freight wagons, some weighing upwards of five tons – 10,000 pounds. The story of these pioneer trails is staggering in its complexity and scope.

As we drive back to the campsite, we come across an open cattle gate at McNees crossing – and yes, we did secure it as we left earlier in the day. Two yearlings are out, sampling the greener grass on the other side of the fence – and yes, it IS greener than the pasture they were in. But, not wanting the rancher to be miffed at Santa Fe Trail people who don’t know how to do simple things like close gates, Denny and I turn cowpokes and herd the two waywards home. Then, off to a very late dinner and bed for us. The internet is finally up and I’ll update tomorrow.

Wednesday, Sept 24 – Boise City, OK

Friday, September 26th, 2008

We get off early again and drive north to hike a short stretch of Colorado. Its’ our “token” part of the thirteen miles of the route in Colorado. Access to the Willow Bar crossing didn’t get arranged so we drive as close as we can attempting to photo it up close, Sadly, all the roads are private ranch roads and we don’t push our luck. We are trying to get access to other ranches to hike and see points of interest. These are VERY BIG RANCHES.

To quote Dorothy who said, “Toto, I’ve got a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore” might be appropriate here. We move the trailers to Black Mesa State Park northwest of Boise City (pronounced like “voice” or Boyce) Oklahoma. Lots of antelope which the Battalion said were frequently sighted in their day, but the elk and buffalo are decidedly missing from the area in our time.

Happily, they have internet connections, so we’ll be able to update ya’ll with our doings. We position the units, then drive off.

And so, mid-afternoon, we finally get to hiking and do about twelve miles, all roadway but we’re back on track and still on schedule even if we are burning some of our banked miles.

Speaking of banks – what is happening out there in the real world???

Tuesday, Sept 23 – Cimarron Grasslands, OK

Friday, September 26th, 2008

Today we get a fairly early start because we have some special things to go see and do. Denny hikes while I run catch some photos at Middle Spring and Point of Rocks. These are places the Battalion noted, though not by those names.

We’ve made arrangements to meet with the owner of a place called by various journalists as Cold Spring, Big Cold Spring or Cold Springs. This was a good water source in 1846 and we know the Battalion stopped here for the night. Exactly where on the property we don’t know, but somewhere close at hand.

Another interesting fact about this site is that the water source has eroded out a sandstone wall. Because making graffiti is something ingrained in human nature (from the French cave murals to modern New York subways) we’ve come to see Autograph and Signature Rocks.

The owner is kind enough to spend some time with us as we wander looking at the hundreds of names etched into the sandstone. Water erosion and vandalism has destroyed some, but there are many, many names here – a few famous, but most just normal people on their way somewhere who wanted to leave evidence behind that they came by this place. Some have Christian crosses by the name and speculation is that these are memorials to persons who died on the plains, buried in unknown graves and this wall being a place for friends to write their obituaries.

At Signature Rock, I come up short as I spy the etching “L Dent.” The paymaster for the Battalion was one Lewis Dent. The name is etched eyeball high and is as clear as it can be, like it was begging to be noticed amongst the hundreds of other names. Goosebumps appear on my arms and I scramble for my cell phone to call Max Jamison of the modern Mormon Battalion Association. Max has done quite a bit of work on Dent and we hope to follow up on this potential connection with the 1846 march.

Not bad for a short hiking day and I want to remind our readers that the research is every bit as important as hiking. If we appear to be goofing off, let me assure you we are not.

Monday, Sept 22 – Cimarron Grasslands, KS

Friday, September 26th, 2008

This was one of our less exciting days of the Trek. It was a “moving day” for the trailers and because of the distances involved and needing to conduct some business, it took almost all day. Finally, in the afternoon we did get some quality hiking in and we’d like to share some about that.

The Cimarron Grasslands were developed after the Dust Bowl years. Many properties were abandoned or sold to the government and a strip of about 20 miles has been assembled into the longest government controlled section of the Santa Fe Trail. About 15 miles of it can be hiked.

Denny dropped me off at a trail head and I proceeded down (up?) the trail towards Santa Fe. For those of you keeping track, this is where they marched on September 21 and 22. They passed Middle Spring, described as a “bold spring” and camped a couple miles west of “Point of Rocks.”

Due to the late start, I can’t do the entire 15 miles and have to settle for about 5 miles today – but what a great five miles. It’s the first stretch of land that is essentially as it was in 1846 and there’s only one property owner to give permission – YOU!
The ruts are subtle in some locations, pronounced at others. The winds and water have removed evidence in lots of sections but the Santa Fe Trail Association and the National Park Service have put up limestone markers every quarter-mile or so to help hikers follow the route. There is no clearly defined hiking trail to follow because the area is used so infrequently.

There are lots of prickly pear cactus and a small specie of yucca that has really wickedly sharp spears that itch like crazy when they poke you. There’s a hodge-podge of grasses, many of which don’t appear to belong to our 1846 period, but with a limited budget, I suppose they’re doing the best they can to preserve the trail. There is a “companion” trail – actually a dirt road that parallels the SFT off about a half-mile away, but I want the real rut experience today.

This is hard hiking for a few reasons: first, the trail isn’t always clearly discernable. One has to stop and look around for the ruts, or if they’re not visible, to look for the limestone post trail markers. Second, there are LOTS of prickly pear cactus and a small specie of yucca that has really wickedly sharp spears that itch like crazy when they poke you – and poke you they do. (I know I’m repeating myself, but you get the idea). Third, you really have to watch where you’re putting your feet because of the cacti and grass roots being “clumpy” which will roll your ankles. Fourth, I’m always looking for good photo opportunities, so there are frequent stops to take pictures. And fifth, EVERYONE we meet warns us to watch out for rattlesnakes because, “This has been a BAD year for rattlers.” Which leads to a certain paranoia since I’m hiking solo and in shoes that won’t protect against snake strikes.

WARNING! Do NOT Hike Alone. EVER! Unless you’ve got plenty of backup and proper equipment – even then, it’s kind of stupid to hike alone. But, necessity is the mother of dumb ideas, to wit:

Even though we have now hiked some 800 miles and seen only two live snakes (both non-poisonous) and only one dead rattler just last week, it was entirely predictable that on this particular stretch, when I’m alone and far from support, that I’d run into my first rattlesnake.

Yep – just about sundown, with the wind blowing my hat brim down so I couldn’t see more than ten feet in front of me and when I look up to see where I’m going, the sun is directly in my eyes (remember, I am hiking west), that my blessedly good peripheral vision stands me in good stead once again. A slight motion about eight feet out on the ground stops me cold in my tracks.

It’s a three-plus foot rattler that’s NOT in the mood to rattle. He’s just trying to get out of my way. I, of course, want a photo with my new buddy, so I use my “snake stick” broom handle to bring him back out of the deep grass to where I can get a good shot of him – or maybe so he can get a good shot at me. Either way, I get my photos. Through it all he keeps a fairly good disposition and though he coils, he never strikes OR rattles.

WARNING! Do NOT mess with rattlesnakes, bison, or cows. EVER!

Sunday, September 21 – Garden City/Ulysses, KS

Saturday, September 20th, 2008

I’m posting Sunday’s entry on late Saturday evening based upon our plans.

You see, it’s unlikely we will have internet connectivity for quite a few days – perhaps not until we arrive at Santa Fe, so I’m going to make one last entry before we take off.

You can follow our updated position by going to the following URL:

http://share.findmespot.com/shared/faces/viewspots.jsp?glId=0xCzFkfSrt4NDE2lxYk2y5qghNC7jJba4

Thanks for reading. Thanks for the encouragement and good wishes.

We plan to leave Larned about 8 for Garden City to attend church conference, then high-tail it back to Ulysses to spend time with our hosts, the Johnson’s whom we’ve stiffed for the past three days. We feel bad since they are a nice couple.

I remain YOS -
Ebenezer Brown, 2nd Sgt, Co A, Mormon Battalion
(aka - Kevin “Bud” Henson)

Saturday, September 20 – Larned, KS

Saturday, September 20th, 2008

The new GPS tracker is online!

To follow our progress in “near real time” go to the following URL:

http://share.findmespot.com/shared/faces/viewspots.jsp?glId=0xCzFkfSrt4NDE2lxYk2y5qghNC7jJba4

Save the link. You don’t want to hand enter it – believe me.

Today’s’ events at the Rendezvous –

Wait – before I get to the sessions, may I praise some folks. Jeff Trotman has been a trooper in the Ulysses area and here at the Rendezvous. Thanks Jeff. We’ve caught up with Faye Gaines whom you will meet in a couple weeks and others along the route who have been helpers with our little hike. Most are intrigued by the Trek event and truly wish us well.

1 – Boom Times for Freighting on the Santa Fe Trail (1848-1866). Craig Crease gave a numbers dense review of how the Army needed ever increasing ability to move materials and food throughout the southwest. Cultural changes occurred as ever larger freighting companies took control through government contracts and prices fell for moving supplies. Economic uncertainty and speculation resulted in some dramatic business failures during this period. (Echos of this week’s stock market, eh?)

2 – David Clappsaddle spoke about the eventual demise of freighting along the SFT as the railroad trailheads progressed further westward during the 1860’s and 1870’s. Consolidated freighting services eventually gave way to smaller, regional freighters who freighted what the trains couldn’t yet reach.

3 – Panel discussion with Q&A from the audience.

4 – Demonstrations of frontier freight wagons (circa 1840’s) at Fort Larned. On the parade square, we had a brand new, never before driven Army freight wagon drawn by a four-mule team. BEAUTIFUL! We had a “Pennsylvania Conestoga” style wagon capable of hauling 6,000-10,000 pounds of freight. This empty unit was drawn by just two very patient and beautiful red oxen. Finally, there was a passenger wagon pulled by a couple large draft horses (pardon, I don’t know the breed). It was the first time since they restored the fort that they’ve had freighting wagons and animals on the parade grounds. This truly was a historic event and all we participants were very pleased. Lots of great photos taken by your reporter. Special thanks to the National Parks Service and Santa Fe Trail Center staff members who made it all possible

5 – Dinner. Steak, potatoes, corn, salad, cherry pie, good conversations with interesting people.

We escape the mosquito infestation (lots of rain lately – EAST of the 100th meridian) and make our way back to the hotel to complete our blog update, pack for tomorrow’s return to the trailhead and hit the hay.

Friday, September 19 – Larned, KS

Saturday, September 20th, 2008

We have returned to Larned to attend the Santa Fe Trail Association’s two day “Rondezvous” highlighting how freighting along the Santa Fe Trail evolved. For $25 per person, it’s more than worth the admission.

Today’s sessions were:

1 – Introduction to and overview of freighting on the Santa Fe Trail (SFT). Harry Meyers gave a rousing synoptic overview of SFT freighting, the risks involved, the profits to be made and the cultural changes that occurred during the roughly fifty years of its’ pre-railroad life.

2 – Early freighting (1821-1845) along the SFT. Michael Olsen stressed that commerce along the SFT was an early form of globalization. Cotton was grown in the south, shipped to England, manufactured into cloth which was shipped back to America, up the Missouri River, thence to Santa Fe and points south along various Mexican routes. Most were carried by entrepreneurs who took considerable risk to their lives to make a tidy profit.

3 – Army Freighting During the Mexican War (1846-48). Leo Oliva reviewed the Army’s efforts to save money by hauling its’ own equipment and food during the Mexican War. Despite tremendous improvements in procurement processes by the Quartermaster General’s department, the government just can’t do a job that the private sector can accomplish cheaper, better, faster. The Mexican War proved new supply tactics worked and that led to improved methods used during the Civil War.

4 – Hispano Culture and Transportation. Susan Boyle gave us some insights into the cultural changes wrought by the American conquest of Santa Fe and how that affected all aspects of life. She stressed that there are LOTS of documents undiscovered that will yield significant insights into SFT history, particularly the economic and financial relationships between speculative freighters, banks and producers of goods being shipped. (I think this was one of my favorite sessions)

The information density exceeded that of a neutron stars’ surface. My head hurts. I’ll transcribe my notes later. Someday. Not tonight.

Thursday, September 18 – Larned, KS

Saturday, September 20th, 2008

Today we took care of some pressing matters on the way back to Larned Kansas. Yep, you read that right. We’re backtracking about 200 miles – by car – not walking.

“Why,” you may ask, “are you returning to Larned?”

Well, that’s because the Santa Fe Trail Association is holding their bi-annual “Rendezvous.” It’s a two day academic seminar, dedicated this year to the topic of “Freighting on the Santa Fe Trail.” And we’ll report on the seminar which we’ve not attended before. Besides, we like Larned. There are some really nice folks here and at the Santa Fe Trail Center.

Our evening session at the Center was presented by Dr. Leo Oliva who spoke on the subject of food – one of my personal favorites. He spoke to what kinds of foods were available and consumed on the Santa Fe Trail. I owe him my list of over one hundred kinds of food mentioned by the Battalion journalists.

We’re also happy to report that our new Spot GPS tracking unit has arrived. We will activate it and post our new tracking webpage address starting Saturday.