Santa Fe Trail - Fort Union
The road home from Colorado follows the Santa Fe Trail across northern New Mexico. On the way home this past week, I stopped at Fort Union, a major stopping point along the Santa Fe Trail.
Though I knew about the Fort from reading I had done, I had no idea just how large a place it had been until I saw it from the road on the way in. The ruins are quite extensive. I'm hoping that you can get an idea of how large it is from this pananrama shot.
Most of the ruins visible are actually from the third fort built at this location. A few ruins of the first fort are visible across the broad valley and you can walk out onto the earthen embankments of the second "star" fort. The third fort was built in 1863 and remained in use until 1891. The fort was built of adobe and today, the chimneys, topped by fired brick which protects the adobe, are the prominent features.
Also still standing are the storehouse walls and foundations. Deep stone foundations and tall walls topped with brick provided storage for food goods from the east. The outer walls still show marks from the hands that created the walls.
Looking through layer upon layer of windows gives you a glimpse of how extensive this Fort was. These windows are all from the storehouses.
This area is known as the Mechanic's Corral. Here they fixed wagons and equipment for the military and civilians on the Santa Fe trail. It must have been a busy place in it's heyday.
Throughout the years following the Fort's abandonment, residents in the region removed the windows and doors and other useable parts, which sped up deterioration of the adobe walls.
This stone path leads from the fort, past what used to be the corral and out to the Santa Fe Trail.
Standing on the Santa Fe Trail looking to the north, one can sense what it might have been like to be one of the early travelers on the trail. The vastness of the landscape... the quiet of it... is immense. I stood here for a long time taking it all in.
The only intact building on the Fort property today is the Prison. Made of stone blocks it has weathered the elements very well.
A wooden door remains on one of the prison cells, hanging on massive iron strap hinges. One can imagine what a dark and uncomfortable place these stone cells must have been.
Standing in the midst of the ruins, with a little imagination, it was easy to imagine what a bustling and busy place Fort Union was at its peak. Now, the vacant doorways open up to a remote landscape. Here, one can grasp the vastness of the country and gain a true admiration for the men and women who traveled the early wagon trails for months at a time to cross this land in search of a better future.
Fort Union, is 8 miles north of I-25 near Watrous, New Mexico. Allow at least an hour or two to walk among the ruins. The above panorama is a 365 degree view from the top of the 2nd Fort earth works. Click on it to see a larger version on Flickr!