Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site, Colorado

The fort is about a quarter mile from the parking lot. I saw two signs as soon as I got out of my car. The first said that the gate closes at 4:00 and any cars in the lot at that time would be locked in.

This was the second sign.

 I was the only visitor for most of the time I was there. Two rangers dressed in period costume met me as I walked in the front gate.

I like strolling around historic buildings soaking up the ambiance. What I don’t like so much is watching films or reading lengthy displays when I can be seeing things. Plus, I knew I wouldn’t have much time at Bent’s Fort, especially since I wanted to bird while I was there. I read quite a bit of the history of the site before I went and collected several brochures to read later. I spent about 45 minutes wandering about taking photos.

The original fort was built by brothers Charles and William Bent and their partner Ceran St. Vrain in 1833. It served primarily as a trading post on the Santa Fe Trail. The owners and local Indian tribes swapped goods shipped from the east for furs, mostly buffalo. It also served as a haven of civilization for trappers, traders, explorers and soldiers. Charles was killed by Indians in 1846. In 1849, William moved 40 miles away and opened another post. The old fort was burned, and the remains were carted away by settlers as building material. The reconstruction was built in 1976 on the exact site using similar materials based on research of historical documents and archeological studies.

Only Indians from friendly tribes were allowed inside the fort. Others had to trade through a small window in a separate trade room.

The two rangers were sitting by an open fire in the courtyard. The smoke from their fire, combined with the smell of the corral and the clean air of the desert made it easy for me to get the feel of the place, especially since there weren’t any other tourists around until just before I left the fort.

I kept hearing this loud squawking that I was unable to identify. When I got near the corral, I discovered the noise was being made by a peacock. The Bents kept a few at the fort to amuse the Indians and perhaps to act as “watchbirds.”

When I left the fort, I began the first of what I came to think of as my “Adventures in Time Management.” A trail led from the fort to the river, through a grove of cottonwood trees and around a marsh. I’d read that it was good for birds, and in particular Lewis’s Woodpeckers, which would be a lifer for me. I hadn’t gone far before I realized the trail was longer than I’d anticipated. I had about half an hour to get my car out of the lot and a mile and a half to walk.

It was a pretty nice day, but it was also the heat of the afternoon, the worst time to see birds. I didn’t see many and those I did see were common species I’ve seen on walks by my house — except that the Meadowlarks were Western and not Eastern. I didn’t get a hint of a Lewis’s Woodpecker.

I had to walk fast for the final half hour and made it to the parking lot with just two minutes to spare. A family of four had just pulled in and were strolling toward the fort, but they had no sooner reached it than they came hurrying back in the wake of the two rangers who were riding in a golf cart to lock the gate.

I pulled out and immediately saw a small parking lot by the road next to this structure.

There was also a sign that informed me that I could use the trails at my own risk even when the fort was closed. I was tempted to make another circuit, but my first had been so unfruitful that I decided to head to my next objective. But if I’d known about this other lot and parked there to begin with …

Anyway, the fort was well worth the trip even though I still hadn’t seen a wild rattlesnake.

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