Tag Archives: National Monument

Bent’s Old Fort NHS – La Junta, Colorado


Along the Santa Fe Trail

Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site


Fort Interior - N

As we pass through heavy wooden doors in the thick adobe wall we enter the world of a 1840s fur trading post along the Santa Fe Trail, Bent’s Old Fort. Positioned on the north banks of the Arkansas River in current day eastern Colorado the fort was truly an outpost between two worlds 170 years ago.

The south side of the river was Mexico. Independence, Missouri, the starting point of the trail, lay 530 miles to the east. Santa Fe was still a month away for the trade wagons pulled by oxen and mules. This was the Western Frontier – Indians roamed the plains in search of diminishing buffalo herds, hunting and trapping.

Brothers Charles and William Bent and Ceran St. Vrain partnered to establish a trade business. Construction began in 1833 on an adobe fort near the Santa Fe Trail’s Arkansas River crossing.

Guide with Wheel - N An accredited living history program helps today’s visitors relate to the time when the fort hummed with activity. Anvil pings rung through the blacksmith shop as a smithy repaired wagon wheels and shod tired animals. Beaver and buffalo hides were pressed into 100-pound bales for shipment to St. Louis. A resident doctor administered to the ill and injured. Trappers, traders, travelers and Indians bartered in the Trade Room.

Today the fort is filled with artifacts and replicas recalling the 16 years when Bent’s Fort was the headquarters of a thriving trade empire. Visitors relive those days on either guided or self-guiding tours. An introductory film offers background and overview.

Moving through the rooms we realize this was essentially a village. Image the scents of foods cooking over the cottonwood fire, the pleasure of eating at a table in the dining room after weeks on the trail. The three warehouse areas would have been filled with boxes, barrels, and bundles of supplies from guns to tobacco. The Council room served as the place for trade term agreements and solving grievances as interpreters communicated between sign language and English.

Indian Room In Indian Agent Thomas Fitzpatrick’s quarters we study the “Winter Count”, a Cheyenne picture history painted on an elk hide. Our guide points out important events such as the meteor shower of 1833, the murder of Charles Bent and outbreaks of illnesses.

Up the stairs we visit living quarters of the Doctor Hempstead, visiting trappers including Kit Carson, clerks and partner Ceran St. Vrain. Recreation could be found in the billiard room as well as “drinkables”. From the two corner bastions we scan the plains for  miles in all directions and watch the animals  in the corrals behind the fort. Today a single tepee standing in front of the fort represents the Cheyennes and Arapahos who camped just outside the walls.

When You Go: Bent’s Old Fort NHS is open daily except for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. Hours are 8am-5:30pm June 1 – August 31, 9am-4pm September 1 – May 31. Guided tours are available at 9:30am, 11am, 1pm and 2:30pm in summer and at 10:30am and 1pm September through May. The fort is a 1/4 mile walk from the parking area. Don’t miss the well stocked Western National Parks Association bookstore and trade room.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument – Arizona

Magical History Tour

Canyon de Chelly National Monument

canyon-de-chelly-2The Thunderbird Lodge in Canyon de Chelly National Monument announces  the “Magical History Tour” available March 1 through October 31, 2009. The two-night package offers a way for visitors to learn about this magical canyon’s 2,000 years of human existence and to take in the canyon’s incredible landscape.

The “Magical History Tour” two nights lodging at the historic Thunderbird Lodge, continental breakfast for two each morning, a canyon tour for two, a copy of a DVD called “Canyon de Chelly: American History, Heritage and Tradition” and a 10 percent discount in the gift shop. Choose either a full-day or half-day tour. The package cost including the full-day tour is $415, cost with the half-day tour is $363. Rates are for two people based on double occupancy.

thunderbird-truckTours are led by knowledgeable Navajo guides driving six-wheel drive vehicles. Half-day tours take visitors into the lower halves of Canyon de Chelly and Canyon del Muerto, the two canyons which comprise Canyon de Chelly National Monument.

The full-day tour travels a 60-mile route through Canyon del Muerto to Mummy Cave and through Canyon de Chelly to Spider Rock. The tours stop frequently so guides can provide details of the canyon’s fascinating history and point out prehistoric dwelling sites as well as petroglyphs and pictographs etched and painted onto rocks throughout the park.

One of the most sobering stops on the full-day tour is at the Massacre Cave Overlook. The cave received its name after more than 105 Navajos were killed at the site in an all-day battle to defend their land from encroaching Spanish settlers.

Located on the Navajo Reservation in northeastern Arizona, Canyon de Chelly is jointly operated by the Navajo Nation and the National Park Service. The monument is home to about 80 Navajo families who continue to live and farm in the canyon.  With the exception of only one hiking trail, Visitors to the monument are permitted into the canyon only in the company of an authorized Navajo guide with the exception of one hiking trail. 

thunderbird-lodge-sign1Thunderbird Lodge provides group tours and is the only lodging facility within Canyon de Chelly National Monument. The lodge is located on the site of a trading post built around the turn of the 20th century. 

When You Go: Thunderbird Lodge is open year-round. The “Magical History Tour” is available March 1 through October 31, 2009.