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Preserving the Tracks of History

By S. Mathur

The Santa Fe Trail is a historic trade route that ran westwards from Missouri to Santa Fe in New Mexico. The Trail built on older routes used by Native Americans and the Spanish, connecting with the road running south to Mexico City. From 1822 to 1880, it was the major trade route westwards, until it was replaced by the railroad. While the Trail is famous in history, film and music, its actual physical traces are disappearing fast. The Santa Fe Trail Association works to preserve them.

Mike Pitel and Joy Poole of the End of the Trail Chapter of the Santa Fe Trail Association believe that it is important to educate people about this important piece of local and national history. Citing George Santayana's famous dictum "To know your future you must know your past," they are alarmed at the rate at which the historic traces of the Trail are being lost: "New developers and home buyers have been building new homes and renovating and expanding homes which are destroying visible historic Santa Fe trail ruts with garages and guest houses behind 'Elvis' gates."

906 Trail Cross Court, courtesy Ron Winters

Pitel and Poole point out that Santa Fe was both the end and the beginning of the trail. It is an essential part of Santa Fe and US history: "The narrow streets, traditional architecture, and building materials along with historic districts and historic trail corridors are what make Santa Fe special. The sensitivity to historic preservation for the last remnants the Santa Fe Trail is key to preserving the past. The Santa Fe Trail Association provides homeowners plaque awards to preserve their historic ruts. We have recommended to the city to consider protective covenants."

920 Old Santa Fe Trail, courtesy Ron Winters

There is an urgency to preserving these tracks, they say, because "There is so little of the Santa Fe Trail in Santa Fe County publicly accessible, that in order to see and understand the diaries, journals, and books of traders, one needs to understand the physical challenges and hardships while travelling this 900 mile long international commercial trade route between 1821-1880. There are still dozens of campsites, landmarks, watering holes, and pilot knobs that once guided travelers back and forth."

The Santa Fe Trail is still one of the most historic travel destinations in America, with sites that cover different periods of history as well as areas of interest - Hispanic and Anglo traders, the routes, military events, transportation, Native Americans. Picking a favorite site can be difficult, but Pitel and Poole settle on a section at the end of the trail: "Pecos National Historical Park which has six to seven uninterrupted miles of trail to hike. There are campsites, landmarks, wayside exhibits and a first class visitor's center. In Pecos NHP there are the remains of the Spanish mission ruins and Indian villages." There are also two stagecoach stations - Kozlowski's and Pigeon's - between Pecos and Santa Fe that Pitel and Poole recommend checking out.

As well as actively working to preserve the remaining traces of the Trail, the End of the Trail Chapter hosts regular meetings for its members which include lectures, guided tours and field trips.

For more information, contact Joy Poole, La Alcadesa of the End of the Trail Chapter at at 505-820-7828 or go to www.santafetrail.org.

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