While the Santa Fe Trail originated in Franklin, Missouri, and ended in Santa Fe, New Mexico, more than half of it ran through Kansas, and combining history with recreation, there is something for everyone along the trail in Kansas–even today. The Great Bend area has many historic points on the Santa Fe Trail, including Fort Zarah, the Walnut Creek Crossing, and Pawnee Rock.
Fort Zarah is commemorated today in a roadside park which is located near one of the two original locations of the fort. The park is east of Great Bend on Hwy. 96. The original fort site was established in 1864 to help protect mail service along the Santa Fe Trail. The second Fort Zarah was built in 1867 and was a more permanent post, comprised of a large stone building with quarters for officers and troops, kitchens and mess halls, storerooms, and other functions. This post was abandoned in 1869 when it was felt that the Indian threat was not sufficient to warrant a second post so close to Fort Larned.
The Walnut Creek Crossing included a trading ranch, toll bridge, and military post. When the creek flooded, wagon trains camped on its banks for several days waiting to cross. It was one of the first streams in the region to have a toll bridge.
Pawnee Rock was one of the best known natural landmarks along the Santa Fe Trail. It was sometimes referred to as the “Citadel of the Prairie.” Although some of the rock was removed by settlers and the railroads for construction materials, one can still enjoy a panoramic view across the prairie from this relatively high landmark.