The historic Santa Fe Trail (SFT) enters New Mexico at the top of Raton Pass, about ½ mile west of I-25. Then, along side the freeway and the railroad, the SFT descends the canyon into Raton. The Scenic Byway starts at the bottom of Raton Pass at the first Raton exit from I-25. Much of the modern-day 2nd Street, the main north/south road through town, evolved from the original Santa Fe Trail. After seeing the sites in Raton, follow 2nd Street south and get onto I-25 headed south of Raton.
A RATON SUNSET
The SFT (indicated in Gold on the map) ran to the west of the freeway. To rejoin the Scenic Byway, Exit I-25 at US Hwy 64 and continue south to Cimarron. The SFT and the old Denver & Santa Fe Stagecoach road traveled parallel to Hwy 64 and are occasionally visible between the highway and the mountains. Along the way you will pass by the location of the old Clifton House, as well as the NRA Whittington Center, Maxwell National Wildlife Refuge, and the ghost towns of Dawson, Colfax and Koehler.
The Scenic Byway takes you to the frontier town of Cimarron. Food, shopping and points of interest are located on both sides of the main thoroughfare. Be certain to stop at the Visitor Center for a map of the Historic Walking Tour and directions to historical sites. The Scenic Byway then follows NM Hwy 21 (and the Santa Fe Trail) south through the very interesting Philmont Scout Ranch on its way to the old settlement of Rayado. You will find that the museums operated by the Boy Scouts of America are first class, including the Villa Philmonte, Seton Memorial Library/Philmont Museum and the living museum in Rayado (home of Kit Carson and Lucian Maxwell).
LOOKING SOUTH FROM WHITTING CENTER
The Scenic Byway continues south along NM 21 and follows along the approximate location of the SFT. A few miles south of Rayado, NM 21 takes a sharp turn to the east. The SFT continues due south cross-country toward Fort Union. The Scenic Byway is forced to detour east through Springer, where you will find good food and the Santa Fe Trail Museum. In Springer you will be joining up with the Cimarron Cutoff Scenic Byway for the trip south to Fort Union. From Springer, the Scenic Byway heads south on old US Hwy 85 (the frontage road to the freeway) all the way to the town of Wagon Mound. Along the way you will pass by the ghost town of Colmor. At the Rock Crossing of the Canadian River, one branch of the SFT split off from the older Trail and headed directly toward Fort Union. That segment of the Santa Fe Trail followed the river next to Colmor and crossed the Scenic Byway just up the hill to the south of Colmor. As you continue south on US Hwy 85, you are situated right between the Cimarron Cutoff to the east, and Mountain Route to the west, as they both angle toward Watrous.
The Scenic Byway passes through the historic town of Wagon Mound, where you join up with the Cimarron Cutoff of the Santa Fe Trail. The Mountain Route is still several miles to the east, working its way southward toward Fort Union. As you pass through Wagon Mound, the frontage road changes from US Hwy 85 and becomes NM Hwy 120. Continue south on NM Hwy 120 to the town of Watrous. Keep your eyes open for wagon ruts. Some of the best-preserved Santa Fe Trail ruts can be seen winding along this highway between Wagon Mound and Watrous. Refer to the map for its location.
Just up the hill from the village of Watrous, you intersect NM 161. Turn right (west) along NM 161 for 8 miles to the historic Fort Union National Monument, where you are reunited with the Mountain Route of the Santa Fe Trail. At Fort Union, you can actually walk across the Santa Fe Trail.