Monthly Feature Content
March 5, 2004
In 1994, Larry Mix discovered computers. He began slowly at first, but as he learned more he merged his love of history with technology. Then he found Microsoft Research Maps. He used the technology, developed by Tom Barclay and Jim Gray from the San Francisco lab, to follow the path of the Santa Fe Trail.
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"I guess you could say I've been in a rut since 1965. That's the year I gave the book "Dodge City, the Cowboy Capital" to my wife as a birthday present," said Larry Mix, a retired service dealership manager from Kansas.
"Tucked away in this book by the historian Robert M. Wright, we found a collection of microfiche maps and notes about the Santa Fe Trail. I'd always been a local history buff, so I started looking for sites along the trail. Before long, I discovered that it actually crossed the section of ground where we lived. Knowing that this piece of history was in my own backyard inspired me to start doing some research."
Larry learned right away that, unlike the well-known Oregon Trail, the Santa Fe Trail had mostly been forgotten. No one knew anymore where a lot of the important sites along the trail were. Or even the location of the trail itself. Rediscovering the lost history of the Santa Fe Trail has been his passion ever since.
"Another unexpected thing I came across was satellite images. Four years ago I was searching the Web for maps and found the Microsoft® Microsoft Research Maps. http://msrmaps.com/ Microsoft Research Maps, a Microsoft website, includes more than three terabytes of USGS high-resolution aerial maps. You can see the trail in those images, sometimes better than you can on the ground. I'm still amazed by this tool, the amount of information it contains is mind boggling," said Mix.
Microsoft Research Maps helped Mix locate and document several miles of the trail. If he wasn't completely sure of the trail location around Dodge City, he'd go to Microsoft Research Maps, call up a one-square-mile image of the Dodge City area, and then move square-by-square until he hit something that looked like the trail. Then he'd go out in the field with his wife and check it out. More often than not they found the trail.
"If you visit www.santafetrailresearch.com/ our Santa Fe Trail website, you can see why I'm so excited by Microsoft Research Maps. I've posted images of most of the major sites along the trail all the way from Franklin to Santa Fe. Some of those sites you can't even really detect from on the ground or even access," said Mix.
"So why have I been in a rut? The settlers' wagons wore ruts into the ground that are still visible 175 years later. That's because the ruts collect water so the grass grows better. Over the last 35 years, my family and I have logged thousands of miles exploring those ruts and walking in the path of history."
That path has provided all kinds of surprises. One of the things Mix remembers the most is traveling to retirement homes in the region in the late 1960s and actually talking to people who had traveled the trail in covered wagons.
"If researching the trail is my main passion, sharing what I've learned is a close second. That's why I built the website, even thought I'm not exactly a computer person. I got started with computers in 1994. Right now, we get about 200 hits per day on the home page. We get a lot of students. It's especially thrilling to be able to share this history with young people who are researching the trail; after all, they are the future of the trail. I really want to be able to pass on what I've learned and discovered, and this is just a great way to do that."
"My wife and I are planning another trip along the complete length of the trail in the very near future. I hope that we'll see you in a rut along the way. Don't forget to bring your laptop," said Mix.
Santa Fe Trail Research Site
"E-Mail & Home Page"
Larry & Carolyn
St. John, Ks.