La Junta

Southwest Chief train at La Junta Colorado
La Junta has long been a transportation hub for the area, and today Amtrak’s Southwest Chief passes through La Junta on its trips between Chicago and Los Angeles. | Photo by Steve Wilson / flickr.com

Staff writer

The aptly named La Junta – Spanish for “junction” – stands at a confluence of geology and human endeavor almost 180 miles southeast of Denver.

The town nestles against the banks of the Arkansas River as it traces its 1,469-mile path from the Colorado mountains to join the Mississippi River. In the arid eastern plains, the river was a magnet for life, animal and human, for centuries.

As human habitation spread through the region, the Santa Fe Trail, one of the nation’s first big trade routes, passed through La Junta before heading south to New Mexico. And, in 1875 when the railroad followed the Santa Fe Trail west, La Junta became first a construction camp and eventually the Colorado headquarters for the Santa Fe Railroad.

In 1881, the small railroad supply town was incorporated as the city of La Junta. When the auto became king, the now historic U.S. 50, the Coast-to-Coast Highway, duly made a pass through La Junta.

Today, La Junta combines a taste of agriculture, ranching and historical tourism, and it sits on the route of Amtrak’s Southwest Chief that runs daily between Chicago and Los Angeles Must-sees in the La Junta area include Picketwire Canyon’s 1,300 dinosaur tracks, rock art and ruins; Bent’s Old Fort reenactments of prairie life; and Koshare Indian Museum’s artifacts and traditional dances.

The rich soil of the Arkansas Valley produces renowned cantaloupe and watermelon crops. Visit the valley in late summer to take home a box of the juicy, sweet fruit from one of the valley’s many farmer’s markets.

La Junta is the second largest market for feeder cattle and calves in the country behind Oklahoma City. Get a real taste of the culmination of a ranching lifestyle by attending one of the cattle or horse auctions.

Attractions
Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site
John Martin Reservoir State Park

La Junta facts
Population: 7,077 (2010 Census).
Land area: 2.9 square miles.
County: Otero (La Junta is county seat).
Altitude: 4,066 feet above sea level.
Climate: Warm summers and mild to cold winters, with abundant sunshine year-round. Annual precipitation of 6 inches, including an average snowfall of 26 inches a year. July averages: 94 high and 63 low. January averages: 44 high and 16 low. More information >>