Once the most important settlement on the Santa Fe Trail between Missouri and New Mexico, Bent's Old Fort has been reconstructed as it was during its reign as a major trading post from 1833 to 1849. Located 7 miles east of modern La Junta, this adobe fort on the Arkansas River was built by brothers Charles and William Bent and partner Ceran St. Vrain. It was the hub of trade for Eastern U.S. merchants, Rocky Mountain fur trappers, and plains tribes (mainly Cheyenne, but also Arapaho, Ute, Apache, Kiowa, and Comanche).

As American settlement increased, driving off the buffalo that were the lifeblood of the tribes, the Bents were caught between two cultures. Serious hostilities began in 1847, and trade rapidly declined during a cholera epidemic in 1849. Part of the fort burned that year and was not rebuilt until modern times. Reproductions furnish the 33 rooms, which include a kitchen with adjoining pantry, a cook's room, and a dining room; a trade room with robes, pelts, and blankets; blacksmith and carpenter shops; William Bent's office and bedroom; quarters for Mexican laborers, trappers, and soldiers; a billiards room; and the quarters of a merchant's wife (who kept a meticulous diary).

It's a quarter-mile walk on a paved path from the historic site's entry station to the fort itself, where hosts in period costume greet visitors during the summer. You'll see demonstrations of frontier life, such as blacksmithing, adobe making, trapping, cooking, and medical and survival skills. You can tour the fort on your own or take a guided tour. Tours are offered at 10:30am and 1pm from September through May and more frequently in summer; call for the current times. A 20-minute film on the fort is shown year-round. There's also a gift and bookshop. Allow 1 to 4 hours.