July 4, 2017
La Junta is a small Colorado town with a lot of railroads, and some farms. It’s very flat, with the smells of feedlots and cattle drifting through town. After the hotel breakfast we stopped at our usual, Sonic, for cherry limeades. We took the north route through town, crossed the Arkansas River, and took a right to Bent’s Old Fort. This was a trading fort on the northern leg of the Santa Fe Trail, about 100 miles north of the Cimarron branch, and was operational from the 1830s through the 1880s. It’s at an interesting place between the high plains and the mountains, and between Native, Mexican, and American territories. We got there probably around 11 o’clock in the morning, put our sunscreen on and went for a short walk to the fort. I had been there before, in 1976 when I was 10, right after the fort was renovated. It still looks pretty much the same as I remembered; a stucco exterior, two-story, and a large courtyard. There were all kinds of items relevant to the period–buckskins, knives, wagon wheels– and people in period garb explaining the functions and activities of an early 19th century trading post. There is a functional blacksmith workshop, a carpentry room, as well as a kitchen and livery with horses and chickens. It’s fascinating to see this place in almost working order. When I was a youngster this place sparked my imagination, I remember writing stories about the Santa Fe trail and the frontier and Bent’s Old Fort. The kids did Jr. Ranger packets, and there were a lot of 4th of July activities; a parade of sorts, the firing of the fort canon, and a reading of the Declaration of Independence in its entirety by one of the people in period garb. We had a good time exploring all the rooms on both levels of the fort. We talked to a nice family from Ulysses, Kansas, who also take their kids to national parks and monuments to engage them in their nation’s history.
It got hot, well into the 90s, and we realized it was almost 3! Time to go, unfortunately.
We headed east to Lemar, took a right and after a quick subway sandwich, headed south through the panhandle of Oklahoma and into Texas. It was really really flat. We did see traces of the Santa Fe Trail cut into the grassy landscape. As we descended south into Texas, large gray clouds were gathering on the horizon. We saw lightning scattering inside the clouds, the winds picked up, and by the time we were just north of Amarillo we saw the most incredible lightning storm we’d ever seen, with flashes almost every second. In the midst of all of this, several towns had fireworks bursting above, which was an odd but amazing sight to see. The rains started in earnest on the outskirts of Amarillo, which made driving difficult. It wasn’t as bad as some Southern storms, however.
We checked into our hotel around 11:30 and went to bed, exhausted.