Bent's Old Fort N.H.S., CO…

Last Friday we stopped by Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site.  Located in south-east Colorado, this park is part of the Sante Fe Trail, and is a reconstructed fur traders adobe fort (fur traders – just up our alley!).   

We got there in the morning, excited for a fun day of old west living history.

The parking lot is a little ways away from the fort; near the parking lot is a restroom that is earth covered and also serves as a tornado shelter (my kids had to take pics of it! LOL!), also nearby are covered benches, informative plaques, and an in-park phone that you can use to call for a ‘shuttle’.  We didn’t.  What would we say?  “hey there!  would you mind sending 3 shuttles down?”  LOL!  Besides, it wasn’t much of a walk (1/4 mile), so we put the littles in strollers and headed out…

When we arrived at the fort, a few minutes later, we found several old wagons and a cannon outside.  We were greeted by a costumed interpreter (still not sure if she was a park employee or a volunteer), and the kids got their Jr. Ranger books.

I must say, this was one of the oddest parks we have ever been to.  And they must be really short on funds, because when we went in to show our parks pass to cover our entrance fees, she said that we would still have to pay for all the kids (?).  Apparently, if it is a walk-in park (guessing because the parking lot is so far away?), your pass only covers up to 4 adults.  We had never heard of such a thing (course, I’m not sure we have ever been to a walk-in park, either), and while she found someone to check with, we checked out the bookstore.  Vaughn came in and said that we did indeed have to pay for the kids (over 6yo), so I went back and showed them that I had a parks pass also, and suddenly we didn’t have to pay anything (tho I insisted on paying for one child per their initial rules).  It was just weird, at least it was weird how big of a deal it was; then, after we paid, we didn’t see another soul (park employee) even though there were at least 3 reenactors and 3 park rangers there that day.

There were a few other cars in the parking lot, but the kids joked that we were at a ‘Ghost Fort’ (which happens to be much more interesting than a ghost town!).  The only living history happening at this fort was the camp fire that was burning near the entrance (and which we warmed up by a couple of times! 🙂 ) Of course we had to check out every inch of the fort, including peering out from the bastions…

This park has 6 living history weekends that they host each year, each with a different theme – we would LOVE to come back in June for the trappers camp event!

We watched a short film on the site, giving us a general history of the area, which was really nice as we are quite familiar with the Oregon Trail, but not the Santa Fe Trail. 

The fort is not original, but was rebuilt by the park service in 1975-76.  Every room (except the back wall, which is bookstore, restrooms, and park offices), has been reconstructed to look like it did in the 1840s.  The park has self-guided tour books which tell you a few paragraphs about each room, what it was and what purpose it served, even a few interesting facts.   We toured the entire structure, taking turns reading about the different rooms.

They have a few animals that visitors to the fort in the 1840s may have either brought with them, or found when they arrived.  We saw a couple of cows, a horse, chickens, and a peacock.  There were also several fort cats running around that the little girls gushed over (they seem to be on a bent to get me to say yes to another camper cat.  not happening. LOL!)

After we toured the fort, we walked the 1/4 mile back to the camper and made lunch while the kids finished up their booklets.  After eating, we walked back to the fort to turn in the kids’ finished work.  I don’t know if the lady that met us at the gate the first time heard the kids joking about the ghost fort, or what, but this time, when the kids came in, she was talkative; she even praised them for their work in their books, and then took them on a tour of the trappers room, which was full of pelts…

This would have been one of our fav national parks ever if the rangers had been a little more involved (accessible).  We didn’t expect a tour (tho they are supposedly provided), but it would have been nice to have been able to find someone to ask questions about.  Maybe it sounds spoiled, but we are used to rangers that are excited to see kids out enjoying the parks.  With all the talk of the needing to get kids involved and interested in the parks (so they will want to fund them when they grow up to be the taxpayers and funding decision makers), there sure wasn’t much interest in getting the kids vested in this park (there was another family there the same day that appeared to be having the same experience).  Anyway, it was still cool, even if we didn’t learn as much about it as we would have liked.  and we would still like to go back on a living history weekend – this park would be incredible then!   (if you ever get the chance to visit this park, you should – sorry I didn’t take more pics to share more of it with you…)

We had a fun day despite the deflated history lesson  🙂  tho it made the boys pine for back home and cold weather and a trap line.  Hopefully, we can get them interested in a trot line instead.  Texas catfish, watch out, here my boys come (oh, yeah, we are already here! LOL!)

We’ve only been gone, what, 3 weeks?, if that, and Greg has already had to chew me out for being behind on the blog (sorry, honey!).   I’m afraid that some things will never change…

This picture from our day at Bent’s Old Fort has nothing to do with the Bent brothers, but it’s definitely my favorite pic of the day…


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  1. Rick Wallner says

    Greetings from Bent’s Old Fort,
    Someone shared your blog with us recently. Thanks for writing about your experiences here. It appears to me all was done properly concerning the use of your national park passes. Our park is a little different in that we collect our fee under a different fee authority – hence children 6 or older are charged for touring the fort. We do however honor the park passes for the passholder and up to three other people. Hence, all but one of your group was covered.
    I find that the park staff almost always does a great job of greeting and interacting with our visitors, including children. Even when they appear otherwise occupied with some historic task, they are happy to answer any questions. At the time of your visit, the staff was having a meeting regarding an upcoming national event the park will be hosting. This might explain why there may not have been as much activity or as many interpreters available. Though in the off-season, are staff is always small in number.
    Ultimately, we are glad you recommended people to come to see for themselves. We believe the fort does offer visitors a chance to “step back in time” and learn important lessons about our nation’s history. Coming during a living history weekend, when 40 or 50 folks are living in the fort, is an even better time to visit. Hope you can make it for one of those in the future.
    Rick Wallner
    Chief of Interpretation
    Bent’s Old Fort NHS

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