The temperature reached 103 as we crossed the Kansas short-grass prairie region on part of the historic Santa Fe Trail. But 70 mile-per-hour air was blowing up the open cuffs of my riding jacket to my armpits to keep my core cool. I tried to imagine what it was like to walk for weeks from Independence to Santa Fe along side of my wagon and team of oxen.
I didn’t remember much about the Santa Fe Trail, but a stop at Fort Larned reminded that from 1821 to 1880 it was one of America’s most important overland routes. It provided the first southwestern “melting pot” of Native Americans, Mexicans, and Europeans. Of course, it was fraught with conflict, but the troops at Fort Larned, still a beautifully preserved mid-19 century fort, helped keep the peace to bring the cultures together.
Why visit Fort Larned? It is one of nearly 500 National Park Service (NPS) sites scattered across the country. The NPS does a great job of interpreting our history, and we learn so much with just a short visit. These sites also give us intermediate destinations as we traverse the country on our motorcycles. Furthermore, my riding buddy Richard reminds me frequently: “Every stop is a good stop.”
After Fort Larned, we visited the Sand Creek Massacre Site, “a windswept place haunted by violence and broken promises:“ The 1864 massacre of Cheyenne and Arapaho people opened the last phase of a broader conflict between Native Americans and a rapidly expanding nation.
“By the dim light I could see the soldiers, charging down on the camp from each side…at first the people stood huddled in the village, but as the soldiers came on they broke and fled.——George Bent, son of trader William Bent and Owl Woman, a Cheyenne, who survived the massacre.
We gained an hour as we crossed the Kansas/Colorado border, allowing a quick stop at the village of Kit Carson, CO, where Kit had a trading post for a number of years. The old train station is now a local museum with an eclectic collection of pioneer history and life on the prairie. Carla, the museum curator, a gregarious, cheerful woman, shared her own Kit Carson experiences having been born and raised there. She blushed when Richard, ever the provocateur, warned me about getting too cozy with her as he took our photo.
As we passed the village of Wild Horse (no services) for the last 100 mile stretch into Colorado Springs, a sign warned: “No services for next 70 miles.” We proceeded down route 94, an open, lonely road. “Hey Jim,” I heard in my helmet intercom speakers from the BMW K-bike rider following me, “My fuel light just came on!”