Colorado Plateau Hike & Camp 2014 travel blog

The Santa Fe Railroad follows the old Santa Fe Trail through New...

Map: Santa Fe Trail from Fort Dodge to Santa Fe showing Rabbit...

Rita Blanca National Grasslands in New Mexico preserves short grass prairie lands

Map: Detail showing Cimarron Route of Santa Fe Trail through Oklahoma

Tumbleweeds trapped by fences

Map of Santa Fe Trail with dashed lines showing where wagon wheel...

Las Vegas, NM KOA (we already miss PA's lush green campsites)


Wednesday 7-May, Dodge City, KS to Las Vegas, NM

Trip miles: 361.6 miles

Route taken: US-50 W → US-400 S → US-56 W → I-25

US-50 and US-56 in Kansas are both 65mph highways with good surfaces and very little traffic. US-56 in Oklahoma is a 60mph road and does not have as good a surface as in Kansas, but there was still very little traffic. I-25 in NM is a 75mph highway with a good surface. Much of our route today followed the Cimarron Route of the Santa Fe Trail. An Auto Route guide is available for the Santa Fe Trail.

Average Gas mileage: 25.5

Weather: sunny and very windy. The heat of Kansas diminished as we gained elevation in New Mexico.

Elevation: 2493 ft.→ 6470 ft.

Highlights:

- US-56 in Kansas cuts through the Cimarron National Grassland and in Oklahoma through the Rita Blanca National Grasslands, which aim to restore the short grass prairie habitat to what it was before European farmers arrived.

- A roadside store in Boise City, OK provided a good stop for bathrooms and ice

- Clayton, NM has a variety of traveller services, including a Tourist Info Office and the Rabbit Ears Cafe

- Fort Union Rest Stop on I-25 in NM offers some interesting history about the nearby Fort Union site. We did not drive to the Fort for the full tour.

A few miles after leaving the Gunsmoke RV Park we left US-50 and cut over on US-400 to US-56, heading southwest towards Oklahoma. The scenery changed from very flat crop farms to rolling hills where cattle grazed. We passed many large stockyards in Oklahoma and a large herd of antelopes. There was a dead elk by the road but we didn't see any live ones. Oklahoma has covered picnic tables at intervals along the highway but no bathroom facilities or water at those stops. The Santa Fe and Sangre de Cristo mountains of NM came into view long before we left Oklahoma.

We gained an hour leaving CDT in Oklahoma, going to MDT in New Mexico. We reached the NM State Line at about 11:30 MDT and drove into Clayton looking for a picnic table, but we couldn't find a spot with enough of a wind block to make a sandwich. The Tourist Info staff said we could find authentic NM food at Rabbit Ears so we opted for a stuffed sopapilla and a taste of both red and green chile sauce on the side (New Mexico's specialty). The small cafe seemed to be a favourite with the locals. All the tables filled up soon after we ordered. The sopapilla is a round dough that puffs up when deep-fried. It is eaten as a side dish or stuffed with ground beef, lettuce and tomato to make a very filling lunch.

Did you know?

.....the New Mexico State question is “Red or Green?”

.....more than 77,000 tons of chiles were produced in the state in 2012

.....the chile industry now contributes more than $350 Million annually to the New Mexican economy


Driving US-56 was the first time our car had ever been attacked by tumbleweeds. Once we reached the I-25 Fort Union rest stop we were not the only ones pulling tumbleweeds from the grill of their car, where the force of today's headwinds had lodged them.

If you have time: Visit Fort Union, only 8 miles from the I-25 Exit 366. Between 1851 and 1891 this was the largest fort on the southwestern frontier. While Americans were exploring what is now Missouri, after the Louisiana Purchase, the Mexicans won their independence from Spain. Their 1821 freedoms allowed them to trade with Missouri, building strong economic ties. The fort was built after the Mexican-American War of 1846-48, to secure increasing levels of commerce between migrants, Spanish descendants and Tribal Nations. In 1891, at the start of the Civil War, the wooden fort was upgraded to an earthen-star fort, manned by volunteers of Spanish-speaking New Mexicans. It contributed greatly to the outcome of the Civil War in the Southwest. After the Civil War the fort was again upgraded by skilled craftsmen to an adobe structure, the largest military presence west of the Mississippi. Troops provided security along the Santa Fe Trail for mail and passenger stagecoaches. The fort was a main distribution hub for military supplies to other forts in the region. In 1879 the railroad bypassed Fort Union.

Between the wicked headwinds/crosswinds and a gradual elevation gain of about 4000 feet it is no wonder the Subaru with its cargo box on the roof did not get good gas mileage. Even though we didn't push the Subaru to 75mph into the strong headwind in NM we still arrived at the Las Vegas KOA before 16:00 MDT. The wind made it very difficult to set up the tent and some of the stronger gusts pummelled us with grit. Even the locals were complaining about the conditions. How the tiny hummingbirds managed to hover around their feeder is a mystery.

Our short walk around the nature trail convinced us that the best activity was to get indoors and check email. To the laundry room! If a campground has a laundry room it seems to be the hub of all social interaction. We chatted with a young Belgian couple just completing a 2-month trip of the western USA and Canada and met a nurse from Boston who is on a trip similar to ours but only 1 month long. We are sure our paths will cross with her again before the end of May.

By 20:00 the wind had died down enough that we could sit outside to eat our yogurt and blueberries. Then it was time to wash the grit out of our ears and settle into the tent. The temperature is expected to be about 36F – cold enough that we had to use the sleeping bags and longjohns tonight. It won't be easy climbing out into the cold tomorrow morning.

About the campground: The Las Vegas NM KOA, south of the city of Las Vegas was difficult for our GPS to find. It has clean, well-maintained bathrooms, a dishwashing sink in the covered cookout space, wi-fi and a laundry room . The owners are friendly and helpful. The tenting area has some sites with sandy pads and some without, but none have very good windblocks for the prevailing wind.

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