By 1880, the railroads reached Santa Fe, and the old trail was no longer necessary. Remarkably, even though it’s been 130 years since wagons jostled their way through this area, the ruts they left behind in the prairie are still visible… somewhat.
I had a hard time spotting the ruts, for a couple of reasons. First, it was bitterly cold, and the ever-present prairie wind was cutting through me. A few minutes in those conditions can make you stop caring about wagon ruts, quite fast. It also didn’t help that the prairie had recently burned, so I couldn’t look for changes in the vegetation that often point to the presence of a rut. Instead, I looked toward the horizon, and watched for lumpy spots that should otherwise have been smooth.
I’m fairly certain some of what I saw was part of the old Santa Fe Trail. At the very least, I was in the right neighborhood. Wagons didn’t always travel single-file, since having several wagons next to one another helped provide security during an attack. So, I wasn’t looking for just one set of ruts, but several, running side by side.
The viewpoint also points out the site of an old irrigation canal that came to be known as Soule’s Ditch. The canal ran along the right side of the picture above. It was designed to carry water from the nearby Arkansas River into the somewhat dry farmland nearby. After several decades of leaks, dam breaks, and damaging flash floods, the project was unofficially renamed “Soule’s Folly”, and abandoned.
Note: This trip was first published in 2008.