For those Santa Fe caravans that took the Cimarron Route, their passage through the grasslands of today's Oklahoma Panhandle was dictated by the scarcity of water. The Cimarron River, which gives the route its name, flows through southwestern Kansas and northwestern Oklahoma. It was one of the principal sources of water on the Trail's otherwise dry section that began once caravans had crossed the Arkansas River on the Cimarron Route. With sparse grass and scarce water, the sandy Cimarron River, as well as infrequent oases like Cold Spring and Flag Spring, defined the landscape as one of the riskiest sections of the entire Trail. For much of its length, the Cimarron was often without visible water, but it could frequently be found by intrepid travelers who were willing to dig in its sandy bed.
The Cimarron Route or Cimarron Cutoff, followed the Mountain Route until it reached the Great Bend of the Arkansas River. It turned southwesterly to traverse present Cimarron County in the Oklahoma Panhandle and northeastern New Mexico, rejoining the Mountain Route near Watrous, New Mexico. The Cimarron Route through Oklahoma also passes by the rock fortifications of Camp Nichols, constructed in 1865 by Colonel Kit Carson to help protect caravans from Indian raids—another peril that made this section of the Cimarron Route challenging.
Today, the remoteness and empty spaces of the region make it one of the best places for the modern traveler to capture something of the feel of what it must have been like traveling the Santa Fe Trail during its active days.
Depending on where the trail left the Arkansas, it was a journey of fifty or more miles to reach the next reliable water at the Cimarron River. This stretch, called the jornada, was a much-dreaded, waterless area. Autograph Rock (on private land) still displays the names that scores of travelers carved into the ledges at the springs. Containing a permanent water source, this was considered to be a major stopping point on the journey. Wagons were repaired, and the livestock was rested before continuing. Today, the Sharp family owns the ranch on which Autograph Rock, and nearby Cold Springs, are located. The owners are committed to historic preservation. They allow visitors onto their property to view Autograph Rock and the immediate area at certain times between May and September (though Cold Springs is not accessible). Contact the Cimarron Heritage Center in Boise City (580) 544-3479) to make arrangements.
Boise City is home to the Cimarron Heritage Center Museum (mentioned above). There is also a Santa Fe Trail DAR marker placed by the High Plains Chapter-DAR. To find the marker and related signage: From Boise City on Highway 325, about a mile before 325 before curves north turn south N0130 Rd, one mile south to E0200 Rd, turn west to OK/NM border. Marker at curve.