That’s the way it looked on May 17, the last time we were out there. Better than the way it looked, to tell the truth, but close enough. The location is south of Cimarron, somewhere between the Philmont Scout Ranch headquarters and Rayado, on a stretch of NM 21 that follows the original Santa Fe Trail from St. Louis. Gives me goosebumps just to be there. It probably looked the same in the 1840s except for having a lot more grass.
We’re going back on Sunday. It’s my birthday and that’s what I picked. A fine lunch at the St. James Hotel in Cimarron is part of the deal, but first we have to get there. (See this post about another time we went.) The drive out from Taos is beautiful and just a little dangerous. You’re in the mountains the whole time. From where we live at 7,056 feet, it’s over Palo Flechado Pass at 9,109 feet (2,776 m), down switchbacks and hairpin turns to an immense mountain valley, a lake, a long wooded canyon with a river rushing through, and a slow descent to the edge of the plains. It takes about an hour and a half to get to Cimarron. There is no such thing as “traffic.”
The St. James Hotel itself is something of a hoot and will make you think you died and went to cowboy heaven. Jesse James used to stay there, and so did Wyatt Earp. Buffalo Bill Cody was a regular. The place is haunted by the ghosts of patrons gunned down in the bar. The salt and pepper shakers at the restaurant tables sit in holders made of welded spurs and horseshoes.
Weather and karma permitting, we’ll end up at the Kit Carson Museum in Rayado. (Check out this review.) The post office in Rayado closed in 1919, so the museum isn’t hard to find, if you catch my drift. Land baron Lucien Maxwell established the place in 1848 but found it hard to attract settlers due to Indian raids. The next year he lured Kit Carson out from Taos by giving him a ranch and things improved. Free land, my god! That might have worked for me, except for getting shot at.