07-Nov-2002 -- I, Joseph Kerski, Geographer for the US Geological Survey, successfully visited 36 North, 105 West, after the annual conference of the National Indian Education Association in Albuquerque. As I promoted the use of spatial technologies including GPS and Geographic Information Systems at the conference, a confluence visit provided a most fitting end to the week's events. In addition, a more fitting crew to accompany could not have been possible.
Accompanying me to the confluence were Daniel and Vicky Kipp, managers of the Fort Union Ranch, where the confluence is located, Ray Marchi of the Santa Fe Trail Association, and Ruben Andrade, Chief Ranger of the Fort Union National Monument. With such fine companions, we had experts in land use, history, climate, flora, and fauna of the entire ranch and of the national monument that is located in the center of the ranch.
After two unsuccessful attempts on the confluence earlier this autumn, I set up this visit with the Kipps, who manage the Fort Union Ranch. At 95,000 acres, the ranch is the 14th largest in the state of New Mexico. The ranch is owned by a New Jersey corporation and was originally purchased by Benjamin Franklin Butler, former Massachusetts governor, during the 1800s. The Kipps treated me very kindly at their ranch house when I arrived in the evening of 6 November 2002. I stayed in one of their bunkhouses and had a brief tour of the grounds, including the USGS survey benchmark near the artesian well.
Early the next morning, we drove east to the Fort Union National Monument, picked up Ray and Ruben, and set off on a 10 mile trail drive to the northwest. En route, we were treated to the amazing sight of 60 elk leaping one of the fences on the ranch. At 8:15am, we left the vehicle and hiked nearly due west to the confluence, arriving there at approximately 9:00am local time.
The confluence sits near the center of a wide basin on the west side of the Turkey Mountains, near the northern boundary of the ranch. Ground cover includes western wheatgrass, prairie sage, snakeweed, and grana grass. All vegetation was under 12 cm. high as the region has been suffering a drought. Badgers, bears, rattlesnakes, hawks, mice, elk, and antelope roam this area. The ranch holds several hundred head of cattle. The weather was perfect during our mid-November visit--nearly 70 degrees F with a slight breeze from the southeast.
Because the ranch has been under the same ownership for over a century, the terrain looks very much as it did in the 1800s, when settlers and trade moved back and forth on the Santa Fe Trail. The Santa Fe Trail was the main route for decades from Missouri to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Indeed, after spending about 30 minutes at the confluence, we hiked 10 miles down the Santa Fe Trail. The trail passes approximately 1.5 km. to the east of the confluence. Ray Marchi's project that day was to mark that portion of the trail with his GPS unit for the Santa Fe Trail Association. The ruts and terraces from the wagons of people and goods were quite visible on the entire hike, and we occasionally found pieces of metal on the trail.
We arrived at the Fort Union National Monument shortly before 1:00pm local time. The fort was established in 1851 by Lieutenant Colonel Sumner as a guardian and protector of the Santa Fe Trail. It was active for 40 years, and its third fort on the site was the largest in the Southwestern USA, functioning as a military garrison, territorial arsenal, and military supply depot for the southwest. After touring the monument grounds, I bid my companions "adios" and proceeded north on Interstate Highway 25 to Denver, Colorado.