Santa Fe Trail's history forever in a rut

February 21, 1993|By Knight-Ridder News Service

DODGE CITY, Kan. -- In the years following the Civil War, more than 5,000 covered wagons a year jounced along the ruts of the old Santa Fe Trail west of Dodge City, hauling families and their dreams westward.

Today, most travelers whizzing by in cars on U.S. 50 don't realize that just over the next hill, they can still see the long, deep gouges carved into the prairie by steel-banded wooden wheels.

Thanks to a new agreement between Boot Hill Museum and the National Park Service, the historic wagon ruts should be around a lot longer, inviting tourists to walk along the route that pioneers traveled.

"Boot Hill has taken good care of the ruts," said David Gaines, chief of the park service's branch of long-distance trails in the Southwest. "They now become an official component of the Santa Fe National Historic Trail."

The Boot Hill Museum owns the 143-acre tract that contains the remnants of the trail.

"It's one of the better areas of Santa Fe Trail ruts," said Mike Armour, executive director of Boot Hill Museum. He said the wagon tracks are a natural tie-in to other elements of Dodge City's Old West history and give tourists one more thing to see while in the area.

The wagon tracks become the 17th certified site on the 780-mile trail, which was in use from the 1820s through the 1880s between Independence, Mo., and Santa Fe, N.M.

The site will be listed in federal guidebooks and publications and will be eligible for technical assistance in interpreting and preserving that part of the trail.

"There are places on the trail that are being eroded right now. We want to be able to stabilize those ruts using vegetative techniques," Mr. Gaines said.

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