Golden Belt Route
The Golden Belt Route was the shortest route to the Rocky Mountain goldfields from St Louis, MO. After the Kansas Pacific RR completed their rails to Denver in the fall of 1870, they heartily promoted the route. Beside the railroad tracks, the wagon ruts grew as travelers followed beside the rails and the railroad was hauling freight and passengers west. For travelers in the 1870’s it was an express route west.
A variety of little towns had been built by the railroad to serve their trains and hopes that people would settle the area becoming customers. With the arrival of the automobile, the wagon road next to the rails became a highway. The Golden Belt Route became US Highway 40 as it crossed Kansas into Colorado. Then the government rerouted US 40 and in some places little towns were left high and dry as the highway was over there someplace. No longer did the traveler pass through the little villages the railroad had built along their route to the gold fields.
With the highway realignment, the towns began to fade and soon were ghost towns. There is a small section of this route that is pretty much like it was in the 1870’s. When the highway was changed, the ranchers and locals continued to use the old highway as did the railroad, keeping the old route intact. Civilization has not changed the area much.
There is open range and cattle stroll down the country road that winds its way cross country next to the railroad tracks. Few of the old concrete bridges from the 1900’s are still used, a few have been removed and replaced by culverts. For the most part it is where the wagons of the early 1800 have rolled followed by the new fangled horseless carriages. Bouncing along this bumpy country road is like stepping back in time. Here one can imagine the wagons rolling along, listen to the whistle of the train as it passes, buffalo on the ridge, the prairie is the same as it was over a century ago.
This old portion of the Golden Belt Route begins where the town of Clifford once was and ends at Aroya an empty ghost town. The dirt road passes through three town, two stage stations and lots of Indian folklore. Here I can wander along, quietly, listening to the song birds of the plains, watch the eagles, falcons or hawks circle overhead. The deer stand in the gully warily eyeing the interloper and on the ridge is the antelope sentential, watching.
In the spring of 1870, the Indians launched a series of coordinated attacks on the railroad workers and stage stations. Numerous workers were killed and wounded fleeing back to the army post at Kit Carson seeking safety. These attacks brought General Custer out to patrol the rail line and prevent further attacks by the Indians. There were no mare attacks for the Indians had fled north and would meet up with Custer on another day.
So when I bounce along the dirt road I have all this to ponder and my mind goes back to the 1870’s when all this was happening. I can look at the land and wonder is that where the Indians hid for their attack. Where were the railroad workers? What would it of been like working on the western frontier? The mind is a fertile place to conjure up stories about what was happening 150 years ago.
I drive past where the stage stations had been, now it is barren vacant land sitting in silence. The little creek flows under the bridge as I cross over headed for the next town. One family still lives there calling it home, they are third generation ranchers in the area. Birds sit on the fence line watching the approaching pick-up. The railroad tracks are silent ribbons of steel awaiting the next train. It is a quiet adventure as I bounce along the road, cattle ahead lounging on the roadway. As I approach they get up and move out of the way.
The occasional rancher rolls down the road to check on his cattle, the letter carrier pauses by the country mailbox and a railroad pick up parks on the road making notes of the rails. Otherwise it is a moment in time that passes back to centuries before.