In the middle of the night in our campground at Trinidad Lake something rather large woke me as it knocked into our awning guy lines and managed to pull up the stakes on our awnings and pull one of the awnings from the side of the Habitat! We speculate: deer, javelina, brontosaurus (no longer a real dinosaur) or Sasquatch…..hmmm. It was gone before we could get a flashlight on it. Because it was pouring rain at the time, we opt to investigate in the morning.
The dawn arrives, the rain stopped yet the clouds are still ominous and it is windy. The awnings have suffered no damage in their late night encounter and we pack them up. We get a warm breakfast in us, review our maps and roll chart for the days travel and head out. Today we will make a big push on our path that will take us South out of Colorado, Eastward through a 60+ mile section of New Mexico, North into the Oklahoma panhandle and into south western Kansas.
We get a few sprinkles of rain as we push for the border town of Branson, CO (Population 60 according to the Post Mistress) but more notable is the strong northerly wind that makes the Jeep feel as though it is pulling to the left and needs an alignment. Our clue that the wind is normal in these parts is the many windmill well pumps dotting the landscape that draw water for area cattle. We roughly parallel the BNSF rail that runs through this part of the country. We pass the small town of Trinchera that looks as though it was intentionally frozen in time to be the Hollywood set of a dilapidated western town from the 1950’s. This part of Colorado is more reminiscent of the high desert terrain of the Coconino plateau in Arizona: Pinion & Juniper trees are predominant and the earth has hues of red. After we stop at the Branson Post Office and a brief visit behind the bars of the historic jail, we make bail and drop down from Island Mesa into New Mexico.
Now into Union County New Mexico we find our path blocked by back hoe parked across the road. We get out to investigate to find two cowboys working to replace a cattle crossing. They tell us that recent rains have taken their toll on the local ranch roads. This particular crossing has also succumbed to rotten timbers that they are working hard to replace. They are happy to take a break from their shovels to share with us their knowledge of the local roads and give us a few travel tips before moving the back hoe and letting us go around through a field. As is often the case, whenever we talk with locals and tell them about our trip, they open right up and are friendly and helpful even if they are a little skeptical of our sanity.
By 1PM we are ravenous. Hunger strikes us at the New Mexico/Oklahoma border, coincidentally at a marker for the Cimarron Cutoff of the historic Santa Fe Trail. This was a special lunch as Lew shared with me that his Great-great grandparents arrived out West via this very same path in the 1860’s. His Great-great grandfather was a Teamster who travelled the route more than once before finally settling in Cimarron New Mexico. The grass is high here and the land is flat as the ocean. Now I understand why they called the wagons “Prairie Schooners”. One of the main differences between Lew’s ancestors’ journey and our is… well frankly, we’re eating better!
The rural roads we are traveling in this part of Oklahoma are laid out in a tidy grid pattern with roads intersecting at exact 1 mile increments. They bisect tracts of farm and ranch land, some with crops of hay or sorghum, some laying fallow, others with grazing cattle. The quality of the road surface can vary significantly: blast smooth hard packed surface for one mile at 60 mph, cross the intersecting road to find goopy sloppy mud on the other side for the next mile followed by soft sand. We stair step our way northward through the Oklahoma panhandle, north a few miles, east a few miles, north a few miles, east a few miles until we finally cross the Oklahoma/Kansas border and stop in the town of Elkhart. We pick up a few food supplies and fuel after which we head to our camp for the night at the Cimarron National Grasslands NP campground. A beautiful and eerily uninhabited campground with a natural spring that was a watering stop for early settlers. We are lulled to sleep by cricket song and the breeze in the trees that sounds like the waves on the ocean.