1870 – 1873
The Kansas Pacific (formerly the Union Pacific Railroad) reached Kit Carson, Colorado in March 1870. The primary connecting route between there and the main Santa Fe Trail was a 66-mile freight route that went southwest to the site of Bent’s Old Fort. The trail length from Kit Carson to Santa Fe, via the freight route, was 358 miles — 66 miles from Kit Carson to Bent’s Old Fort site and 292 miles from the fort site to Santa Fe, New Mexico.
A new railroad — the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad, was also building west from eastern Kansas and began to compete for Santa Fe Trail traffic in July 1873 when it reached Granada, in eastern Colorado. Most trail traffic then began running over the Granada-Fort Union wagon road, although some traffic continued through Trinidad. The trail length from Granada to Santa Fe was 323 miles — 224 miles on the connecting road and 99 miles along the main trail right of way. For all intents and purposes, the days of the Santa Fe Trail as the main transportation route were over.
1873 – 1875
The Kansas Pacific Railroad, in a bid to stay competitive with the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad, completed a 58-mile spur line in October 1873 from Kit Carson to Las Animas, Colorado located adjacent to the Santa Fe Trail. For the next two years, significant trail traffic continued to move over two separate routes. The trail length from Las Animas to Santa Fe was 304 miles.
In September 1875, Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad tracks reached Las Animas, Colorado and for the next several months, both railroads had railheads in the same town. Virtually all Santa Fe Trail traffic now went over the main route via Raton Pass, and the Granada-Fort Union wagon road, as far as Santa Fe Trail traffic was concerned, was abandoned. The trail length from Las Animas to Santa Fe was 304 miles.
1875 – 1876
Kansas Pacific track crews, building westward from Las Animas, reached the boom town of La Junta in mid-December 1875, and within two weeks Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad tracks reached there as well. For the next several months, both railroads were in an equally competitive position to serve points in southeastern Colorado. The trail length from La Junta to Santa Fe was 285 miles.
1876 – 1878
Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad tracks railroad track crews, building westward from La Junta, reached Pueblo in March 1876. Just one month later, the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad completed a line south from Pueblo to El Moro (5 miles northeast of Trinidad). As a result, mail traffic and some stage passengers began their Santa Fe Trail journey south from El Moro, but, Santa Fe bound freight traffic continued to run southwest from La Junta. The trail length from El Moro to Santa Fe was 207 miles.
1878 – 1879
Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad tracks reached Trinidad in September 1878. Construction of this line had begun at La Junta in May, following a February confrontation south of Trinidad that resulted in Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad tracks crews gaining the right to build over Raton Pass. The Santa Fe’s victory at Raton Pass eliminated the Kansas Pacific as a railroad competitor, and the Kansas Pacific route between Kit Carson, Las Animas, and La Junta was abandoned soon afterward. The Santa Fe Railroad bought “Uncle Dick” Wootton toll road to use for the train. Santa Fe was 202 miles.
Santa Fe tracks reached the top of Raton Pass and entered New Mexico on November 30, 1878, the first locomotive came over Raton Pass on December 7, 1878. In February 1879 crews extended the tracks to Otero. This impromptu camp, near the old Clifton House stage station (just south of present-day Raton), served as the temporary railhead while construction crews pushed toward Las Vegas, New Mexico. The trail length from Otero to Santa Fe was 176 miles. On July 7, 1879, a tunnel was completed under the pass. The use of the Mountain Branch of the Santa Fe Trail greatly decreased.
1879 – 1880
Santa Fe railroad tracks reached Las Vegas, New Mexico on July 1, 1879, and the first train entered the city three days later. Las Vegas served as the railhead and eastern trail terminus for the last few months that the Santa Fe Trail served as a long-distance route. The trail length from Las Vegas to Santa Fe was 64 miles.
The first Santa Fe railroad train entered Santa Fe, New Mexico on February 9, 1880, via an 18-mile spur track that Santa Fe County voters had funded in an October 1879 bond election. The entire 835-mile Mountain Route of the Santa Fe Trail, from Kansas City to Lamy and on to Santa Fe, could now be traversed by rail. After this date, the Santa Fe Trail either served local needs or fell into disuse.
In 1906, the Daughters of the American Revolution begin erecting Trail markers. In 1985, the Santa Fe Trail Association was formed to help preserve and promote awareness and appreciation of the trail. Two years later, in 1987, Congress designates the Santa Fe National Historic Trail under the National Trails System Act.