Dry Cimarron Scenic Byway

 

 

The Dry Cimarron Scenic Byway New Mexico and Oklahoma

The Dry Cimarron Scenic Byway New Mexico and Oklahoma

Raton

Sugarite Canyon

Yankee

Bell/Johnson Mesa

Folsom

Travessier

Kenton, Oklahoma

 

Dry Cimarron River

When we traveled this route last time the “Dry Cimarron” River, actually was flowing with water. Kathy Weiser-Alexander.

Why Dry Cimarron? 

There are actually two reasons. First, it was the settlers traveling along the Santa Fe Trail, who after experiencing 60 miles without water, gave it the nickname.

The other reason is that the area actually has two Cimarron Rivers very close to each other. The other Cimarron River flows through Cimarron Canyon State Park where it joins the Canadian River. Some locals still refer to the other river as the Wet Cimarron.

In the past, the Dry Cimarron River was sometimes known as the “disappearing river” because of its notable feature of sinking and rising again further on. It flows from the foot of Johnson Mesa, cuts a deep canyon across the northern part of Union County, crosses a corner of Oklahoma, and finally empties into the Arkansas River near Dodge City, Kansas.

This multi-state byway travels through Cimarron County, Oklahoma and Union County, New Mexico, featuring rugged mountain canyons, high plateaus, nature preserves, unusual geological formations, volcanoes and ghost towns. The byway also has several tributaries that venture into Oklahoma and Colorado, as well as various routes in New Mexico.

When the wagon trains of the early settlers came through, the Cimarron River was often dry, with the travelers frequently crossing the riverbed without even realizing they had been there.

The lack of water, coupled with Indian attacks made the trip a hazardous one. Thunderstorms were also a problem when claps of thunder and lightning caused stampedes of horses and cattle. Wagon wheels bogged down in the deep mud when streams flooded.

Raton, NM. Photo courtesy New Mexico Film Office.

Raton

Raton has several attractions that visitors enjoy including The Santa Fe Trail Willow Springs Forage Station Overlook on the Old Raton Pass off Moulton Avenue which provides a scenic introduction to the geologic wonders ahead. While on historic First Street, visit the Raton Museum, Old Pass Gallery, the old railroad depot, the Scouting Museum, and take the National Historic District Walking Tour. See full article HERE.

From Raton, the Dry Cimarron Scenic Byway makes its way east on New Mexico Highway 72 across I-25 for about 5 miles to its junction with NM Highway 526 and turns north along Highway 526 1.7 miles to Sugarite Canyon State Park.

Sugarite Canyon

Ruins of the old Sugarite School House, by Kathy Weiser-Alexander.

Ruins of the old Sugarite School House, by Kathy Weiser-Alexander.

Sugarite Canyon (pronounced “shug-ur-eet”) sits in a sparsely-populated region consisting of a stream valley flanked by cliffs, mesas, cone-shaped volcanoes, and old lava flows.

Coal mining in the canyon began in 1894 and the town of Sugarite was established as a coal-mining town in 1912. Sugarite, a “company town”, was just one of seven towns in the Raton area built by the St. Louis, Rocky Mountain, and Pacific Railroad. In its heyday, it boasted up to 1,000 residents, a school, a theater, the Blossburg Mercantile Company, the Bell Telephone Company, an opera house, a physician, a justice of the peace, and a music teacher.

In addition to its history as a coal mining area, nature enthusiast will appreciate the abundance of wildlife, birds, butterflies, and wildflowers among the lakes, creeks, forests, and meadows. A number of outdoor recreation activities are possible including fishing, boating, hiking, horseback riding, hunting, and camping. See full article HERE.

Continue the journey along the Dry Cimarron Scenic Byway by returning to New Mexico Highway 72 and continuing east about five miles to the Yankee area.

Yankee, New Mexico area, courtesy Google Maps

Yankee, New Mexico area, courtesy Google Maps

Yankee

When settlers first moved west along the trails to this area, the grass was so tall and thick that at times it was necessary to navigate with a compass. On a knoll to the south, there used to be a mansion built by Yankee entrepreneur A.D. Ensign after the turn of the century. Before the settlement of Yankee was formed, farmers from nearby Johnson Mesa dug coal on the slopes of the mesa for their own personal use. In 1904, the Chicorica Coal Company, backed by a Wall Street brokerage firm and the Santa Fe Railroad, promoted by the entrepreneur A. D. Ensign, developed the coal beds on Johnson and Barela Mesas. As the Yankee mines continued to develop, frame houses were built and the population grew to several thousand residents by 1907 featuring a school and numerous businesses. The mansion that Ensign built was a beautiful two-story home that featured solid mahogany, velvet furniture, oriental rugs, and marble statues. But the Ensign estate changed hands several times and by 1923 its treasures had been sold and the mansion fell into a state of disrepair. All traces of Yankee have vanished and the site is now occupied by a cattle ranch.

Atop Johnson Mesa in New Mexico

Atop Johnson Mesa in New Mexico. Click for prints & products

Bell/Johnson Mesa

Highway 72 twists and turns as the road climbs up to Johnson Mesa. Along the eight-mile drive, visitors will often see deer, turkey, and bear on this climb, as well as gorgeous views to the lower elevations. Suddenly the road takes a turn and travelers find themselves on an enormous plain. On top of this high, grassy plateau, once sat the small community of Bell, a progressive farming settlement, whose residents established the first telephone connections in New Mexico. Read our full article HERE.

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