One of the toughest parts about searching for Santa Fe Trail ruts is that you can be standing right next to them and not be able to see them. Even in places where the ruts are intact–places where they haven’t been tilled up or paved over or filled in with trees–they are usually covered with prairie grasses and can only be seen in certain kinds of light.
Jim and I have driven by the trail ruts near Black Jack Battlefield several times, but it wasn’t until last weekend, when the winter sun was only an hour away from setting, that we could really, truly see them. (The link above goes to Google Maps, where you can see them easily from the satellite image.)
It turns out that these ruts are part of the Ivan L. Boyd Prairie Reserve, which is located next to the Black Jack Battlefield historic marker. A bridge from the parking area off of U.S. 56 and E 2000 Rd will take you to a path that leads right to the trail ruts.
The Santa Fe Trail ruts are part of the Ivan L. Boyd Memorial Prairie Reserve.
Cross the bridge to access the trail ruts.
We followed the path up the hill and saw this:
The low winter sun outlines the trail ruts in shadow.
Curved solid lines indicate the width of each rut. The dashed lines indicate the path.
When you’re driving by, it’s harder to see these ruts because the tall grasses smooth out the lines. At the Ivan L. Boyd Prairie Reserve, the foot path path takes you right into the ruts, which are much deeper than they look from the road.
Standing by the sign in the middle of the trail ruts.
The sun was setting quickly, so we headed back toward the bridge, following alongside the third of the deep trail ruts.
This rut runs north-northwest toward modern-day U.S. 56.
Should you find yourself in Douglas County on a winter afternoon, stop by the Ivan L. Boyd Memorial Prairie Reserve and take advantage of the sunset, which shows off the Santa Fe Trail ruts to the fullest.