South of Colorado Springs, I-25 begins to slope downhill as it hits the Huerfano County line. A pristine landscape unfolds -- to the east, never-ending prairies, to the west, the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. To the south, the snow-capped Spanish Peaks rise majestically out of the early morning haze.
Trinidad's 10,000 inhabitants live at an elevation of 6,053 feet at the base of these peaks. Its idyllic location has more in keeping with its landscape and storied past than the superficial highway on which today's travelers pass through.
But travel is what links this southern Colorado city to its past. First settled in 1842 by Mexican traders, Trinidad lies on the Santa Fe Trail, the historic trade route that connected Missouri to New Mexico. From its small beginnings, Trinidad grew rapidly as trade increased to service the developing West.
Trinidad became the largest city in Las Animas County and its story has been influenced by events throughout the region. Notably, during 1913-14 when southern Colorado was embroiled in a battle over miners' rights, the Great Coalfield War took place just 12 miles north at Ludlow.
A visit to Ludlow is a sobering experience. On April 20, 1914, hundreds of striking miners and their families were camped there when the state militia opened fire with machine guns, killing 20 people and overrunning the camp.
That massacre is commemorated by a 15-foot high gray-granite monument, dedicated in 1917, contained within a wrought-iron fence that also contains the infamous "Black Hole of Ludlow" -- a pit where 13 women and children suffocated during the attack. Currently, part of the monument has been removed for repairs after it was desecrated last year (to read more about the massacre and the desecration of the monument, see "Almost like they massacred them again," at www.csindy.com/csindy/2003-06-26/cover.html). To visit Ludlow take exit 27 off I-25 and head west for three-quarters of a mile.
Before arriving in Trinidad, ascend Simpson's Rest, a sandstone promontory that lies just north of the city. The 6,462-foot rocky summit is topped with a Hollywood-style "TRINIDAD" sign that can be seen from most parts of the city. At exit 15, turn right on Goddard, right again on Arizona and then left on North Avenue.
The view from the summit is spectacular and looking out over the city you see that Trinidad is cradled between Simpson's Rest and Fisher's Peak, the 9,626-foot flat-topped volcanic peak that lies to the southeast.
After descending Simpson's Rest, head south on Arizona Avenue and Commercial Street to arrive at the town center.
The Trinidad History Museum presents Trinidad's history in three historic buildings on one city block. Two of the buildings are grand homes that belonged to founding families: the Bacas and the Blooms. The third building was the Baca's servants' quarters that now house the Santa Fe Trail Museum.
The Baca House was built toward the end of the Santa Fe Trail era in 1870. Workers constructed the two-story adobe house using Hispanic building techniques. Felipe and Dolores Baca, wealthy sheep farmers, purchased the home in 1873. Next door, the Victorian Bloom Mansion was built for the cattle baron Frank Bloom and his wife Sarah in 1882 to a French design. Both houses can be visited on guided tours that commence each half-hour.
The Santa Fe Trail Museum documents the history of Trinidad and the trail through the different characters who left their mark here, from Native Americans, who originally carved out the trail, to the infamous explorer and renegade Christopher "Kit" Carson and famed lawman Bat Masterson. Each period in Trinidad's history is investigated through artifacts and wall plaques along with an array of black-and-white photographs.
After a morning of reliving the past, the Main Street Bakery Caf is a welcome respite for American fare in a bright, open space that features an interesting street-scene mural. Or try Nana & Nano Monteleone's Deli and Pasta House just one block east of the museum. As well as an Italian caf, it has a delicatessen that's perfect for preparing a picnic for the grassy, tree-shaded Kit Carson Park at San Pedro and Kansas avenues.
Downtown Trinidad features charming shops and buildings best appreciated on foot. To enhance the experience, the Trinidad Historical Society has erected markers to commemorate various points of interest, such as the spot from which the famous union agitator Mother Jones led a miners' march.
Finally check out the "terror of the seas." Partial skeletons of two Mosasaurs, sea-dwelling dinosaurs, are displayed at the Louden-Henritze Archaeology Museum at the Trinidad State Junior College. Along with other clues, including some shark teeth, these relics support the theory that millions of years ago Colorado was covered by an inland sea.
For the return journey, pick up State Highway 12, the "Highway of Legends," and loop west to Walsenburg through old mining towns, the luxuriant Purgatoire River Valley and the San Isabel National Forest. The green valleys and tree-lined alpine lakes will help you forget dry Colorado and appreciate its fertile past.
-- Wayne Young
Simpson's Rest, open daily 8 a.m. until sundown
Trinidad History Museum, 300 E. Main St. Opens 10 a.m., last entry at 4 p.m. Adults $5, under 16 $2.50
Louden-Henritze Archaeology Museum, 600 Prospect St. Open Monday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission free.
Main Street Bakery Caf, 121 W. Main St. Open until 3 p.m.
Nana & Nano Monteleone's Deli and Pasta House, 418 E. Main St. Open Tuesday-Wednesday, 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Thursday-Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.; closed Sunday and Monday.
Information on Trinidad: www.trinidadco.com
Information on State Highway 12: www.trinidadco.com/Main/HighwayofLegends.asp.