Santa Fe Trail map.

Santa Fe Trail map.
Map of the Santa Fe Trail.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Into the Shadowlands, Santa Fe Trail book tour, Part Five.

Heading northeast from "Point of Rocks," trail travelers would be looking out for the distinctive landmark "Round Mound." From some angles it looks like just one conical mound growing out of the flat plain like a pimple. But, from other angles, you can see that it is actually two mounds with other smaller hills nearby. Even though my book "Into the Shadowlands" is not set along the Cimarron Cutoff branch of the Santa Fe Trail, I really enjoyed visiting its landmarks. The "Round Mound" was definitely one of my favorite spots. I was lucky enough to get permission from the land owner to 'trespass' (it is on private land) and not only did Fancy and I (and Holly my dog) get to ride around the 'mound,' but we also got to camp near its base and Holly and I hiked to its peak. There are many accounts written about this popular spot in the diaries and memoirs of long ago travelers. Josiah Gregg wrote about it in his wonderful book "Commerce of the Prairies" (1844,) as did George Douglas Brewerton in his book "Overland with Kit Carson" (1848.)


Fancy and I standing near "Round Mound." 

The photo above is deceptive. From this vantage point, the "Round Mound" looks quite small, but it is much taller than it appears. Many a traveler commented on the fact that things far away, looked closer than they actually were due to the clear, high-altitude air. 

"This hill is known as the "Round Mound" ~ a name derived from its circular, cone-like top. It is visible in clear weather from a distance of many miles; and as the optical delusion occasioned by the extreme rarity of the pure and transparent atmosphere of the Great Prairies continually deceives the beholder into the belief that much lesser elevations are close at hand when they are in reality some miles distant, it is by no means an uncommon occurrence for parties of two or three to detach themselves from the passing caravans for the purpose of visiting this remarkable locality. I, for one, have a painfully distinct recollection of the weariness with which my friend Mr. Danvar and myself dismounted to stretch ourselves upon the greensward at its base, after accomplishing the five instead of three miles which we had fondly imagined to lie between us and the object of our curiosity."

George Douglas Brewerton, "Overland with Kit Carson," 1848



Holly and I at the top of "Round Mound," looking towards the south and west.


A sketch by Josiah Gregg of the view from the top of the "Round Mound."

"As the caravan was passing under the northeast base of the Round Mound, it presented a very fine and imposing spectacle to those who were upon its summit. The wagons marched slowly in four parallel columns, but in broken lines, often at intervals of many rods between. The unceasing 'crack, crack' of the wagoners' whips, resembling the frequent reports of distant guns, almost made one believe that a skirmish was actually taking place between two hostile parties."

Josiah Gregg, "Commerce of the Prairies."


The plains around "Round Mound" were at the heart of Buffalo Country.
(Photo taken near Watrous.)

"...although at some seasons (and particularly in the fall) these prairies are literally strewed with herds of this animal. Then, 'thousands and tens of thousands' might at times be seen from this eminence."

Josiah Gregg.

Although Fancy, Holly and I visited "Round Mound" in the spring, when the grass is yellow and dry, most folks who travelled the Santa Fe Trail chose to travel during the summer months. Nobody wanted to risk being caught in a prairie blizzard! Summer is monsoon season in New Mexico and there are frequent thunderstorms and, if we have good rains, everything can be green and lush. 

"But having once reached the summit, fatigue was all forgotten as the delighted eye took in the wide expanse; on every side, a vast extent, probably upward of one hundred miles of country, was presented to our view.  If we had been disposed to linger at our resting-place below, we now felt strongly tempted to make a long stay upon the crest. The distant wagon-covers of the far-off train had dwindled into snowy specks upon a perfect sea of vegetation. The emerald hue of the verdure at our feet faded with increasing distance into bluer tints, which in their turn became gray and misty as they neared the hazy horizon."

George Douglas Brewerton.

George and his friend Mr. Danvar had to cut short their sojourn at the crest of "Round Mound" when they spotted their horses (who had been tethered at the base of the mound) running away towards the caravan! The two men had to scramble as quickly as they could down the steep and rocky hillside to try and catch up with them! I thought of those guys (as well as the many others who had climbed to the summit from a passing wagon train) as I hiked up to the top. I felt a real connection to them as I gazed out at almost exactly the same view. 


At the base of "Round Mound."

I lay here (above photo) for a while, once I had climbed back down from the summit. I thought of George and Mr. Danvar lying right at this spot after they had "dismounted to stretch ourselves upon the greensward at its base, after accomplishing the five instead of three miles...." After enjoying a rest, they had to psyche themselves for the climb which they commenced with "heavy hearts." 

"Such a gettin' up, or, to speak more strictly, such a falling down, I never hope to see again. Thrice we halted upon the way and voted Round Mound a humbug, and our self-imposed excursion a most intolerable bore. Then Danvar would insist upon stopping to give vent to strong expressions; and yet another delay was due to a slip, which destroyed my equanimity and carried away the seat of a pair of buckskin pantaloons at one and the same moment."

Like I said, "Round Mound," has been a real favorite of mine in all of my Santa Fe Trail landmark visits. Not only is it a beautiful spot but I could so clearly feel the ghosts and hear their words as I rested, climbed and enjoyed the far-reaching views.


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