Monday, Sept 22 – Cimarron Grasslands, KS

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!

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