Mountain Branch of the Santa Fe Trail in New Mexico



Santa Fe Trail Routes in New Mexico

Santa Fe Trail Routes in New Mexico

Trail Sites:

Raton Pass

Willow Springs/Raton

Clifton House


Maxwell Ranch


Ocate Crossing



Santa Fe Trail travelers on the Mountain Route entered New Mexico via the road over the rugged Raton Pass. The two branches of the trail — the Mountain Route and the Cimarron Route converged near the modern town of Watrous, New Mexico. From there, the trail continued onwards to Santa Fe.

Raton Pass, New Mexico

Raton Pass, New Mexico postcard

Raton Pass – Sitting astride the Colorado-New Mexico border, this pass was difficult to cross until the Army made improvements during the Mexican-American War, but it was not widely used until “Uncle Dick” Wootton started improving it in 1864 as part of his toll road. The improvements prompted many travelers, including the stagecoach line, to switch to the Mountain route instead of following the Cimarron route. The pass today is the route of the railroad and I-25. See full article HERE.

Willow Springs/Raton – The city of Raton was founded at the same time that the days of the Santa Fe Trail ended after the railroad crossed Raton Pass. However, there had long been a site called Willow Springs that had existed here. This spring was at the south end of Raton Pass and was the site of a travelers’ campsite and forage station for the Army. See full article HERE.

Clifton House – An important overnight stage stop on the Mountain Branch of the Santa Fe Trail, the Clifton House was located on the Canadian River about six miles south of Raton. It was built in 1867 by Tom Stockton, a rancher, using materials and furnishing that were brought overland from Dodge City, Kansas. Also called the Red River Station and Red River Hotel, the two-story building was made of adobe, and had a raised half-story basement. There was a veranda supported by Doric posts along the front and sides of the building, which created a promenade balcony on the second floor. Interior features included a large parlor, sleeping rooms with fireplaces, and a high-ceilinged dining room.

The site first served as headquarters for cattle roundups and gained a post office in 1969. In the 1870s the building was leased for a station of the Barlow-Sanderson Stage Line, which added a blacksmith shop and stables. During the time it served as a stage stop, cooks and waiters were hired to take care of the guests. At some point, a trading post and saloon were incorporated. The area around the hotel grew into a small settlement known as Clifton.

For a brief period of time, Clifton House was the headquarters for the English company that purchased the Maxwell Land Grant from Lucien B. Maxwell in 1870.

Allison shoots Chunk Colbert

Allison shoots Chunk Colbert

On January 6, 1874, the Clifton House was the site of a gunfight between two gunfighters Clay Allison and Chunk Colbert in which Colbert was killed. Previously, the local sheriff accidentally killed a waiter at the hotel while trying to apprehend Colbert.

The Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad arrived in Otero, two miles to the north in March 1879, and stage service on the Santa Fe Trail ceased. The same year, the post office closed and before long, the Clifton House was abandoned. It was destroyed by an arsonist in 1885.

Today, all that is left of this once busy stop is part of an adobe wall and scattered foundation stones. It is located on private ranch land adjacent to the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad tracks.

The site is located at mile marker 344 of U.S. Route 64, just off exit 446 on Interstate 25.

Cimarron – Cimarron, New Mexico was not only a stop along the Santa Fe Trail but was once the seat of Colfax County and the headquarters of the largest land grant in U.S. History — the Maxwell Land Grant. There are several Santa Fe Trail era sites that still exist in this small town including Swink’s Gambling Hall, the Aztec Mill, the St. James Hotel and the Cimarron Plaza and Well. See full article HERE.

Rayado – Located about 10 miles south of Cimarron on New Mexico Highway 21, Rayado was founded by Lucien B. Maxwell in 1848 at the end of the Mexican-American War, as the first settlement in Colfax County, New Mexico. Though it was the only settlement for miles around, Maxwell had difficulty in attracting settlers as the area was subject to raids by the Apache, Comanche, and other Plains tribes. He then tried to convince his old friend Kit Carson to move down from Taos in 1849 to lend an air of safety to the area. See full article HERE.



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