Step back in time to the 1800s and travel along the Santa Fe Trail with the pioneers of the Old West. The Santa Fe Trail was blazed in 1821 when William Becknell, in financial trouble and needing hard currency, organized a trading party and left Missouri for Santa Fe, Mexico. His trip was a resounding success with a tidy profit, so he followed it up the next year with wagon-loads of merchandise. Word spread quickly and soon the Santa Fe Trail was a major "highway" between Independence, Missouri and Santa Fe, Mexico.
Traffic on the trail increased over the years and by 1846, when the United States invaded Mexico, military travel along the trail was extensive. In 1849, with the discovery of gold in California, prospectors and fortune seekers by the thousands traveled along the trail. Traders, trappers and homesteaders used the trail extensively from the 1820s until 1880, when traveling by Conestoga wagon and buckboards was replaced by the trains.
For Santa Fe Trail travelers heading south, the changing horizon from plains to mountains was a major milestone on their journey. One of their guiding landmarks was the distant Spanish Peaks, which came into view along this section of the trail. A short walk up the side of a bluff at Sierra Vista Overlook will give you a commanding view of the Rocky Mountains and surrounding prairie, much like what the early travelers saw. Hikers can follow a 3 mile section of the Santa Fe National Historic Trail to Timpas Picnic Area. Stone posts mark the trail, beginning from the shelter.
Timpas Creek was the first source of water for Santa Fe Trail travelers
after leaving the Arkansas River heading southwest.
Between 1869 and
1871 the Metcalf Ranch, previously located here, served as a stage coach
station. A 1/2 mile loop nature trail will take you to Timpas Creek and
back. Stone markers indicate where the Santa Fe National Historic Trail
passes through the area.
Iron Spring was an important water stop for travelers on the Santa Fe Trail. Depending on the season or weather conditions, several different routes to the spring were used. Between 1861 and 1871 Iron Spring was also used as a stage coach station. Trail ruts are still visible just west of the parking lot.