Fort Union lies about twenty miles north of Las Vegas, and was closely linked to the development and prosperity of the town. Built to protect travellers on the Santa Fe Trail from Indian raids, it also served as a major supply depot for Union troops during the Civil War.
The first fort here was built in 1851 from wood, and a second ten years later – a massive earth fortification. The present ruins are of the third fort, built in 1862 of adobe brick on top of stone foundations. It would have been an impressive structure that greeted travellers on the Santa Fe Trail, but when the Trail was replaced by the coming of the railroad, trade declined and the need for the fort with it. Fort Union closed in 1891 and was abandoned. The buildings gradually fell into ruin, until it was established as a National Monument in 1956 and efforts started to preserve what remained.
When we visited the place was almost deserted and perhaps no wonder – there was a cold wind blowing across the plains and it was spitting with rain. Determined to see at least a bit of what had brought us here we paid the $3 per person entry (good for seven days) and had a look around the displays in the Visitor Centre. These include displays on what life was life for soldiers and civilians stationed at the fort, and a number of artefacts from when it was at the height of its activity.
Outside you can do a 1.6 mile, self-guided interpretive trail or a shorter .5 mile one. We set off on the latter but in the end opted for just a quick look at a few things that especially caught our eye and were in the immediate vicinity – a replica covered wagon, the ruined hospital looking stark against the threatening sky, the traces of the old wagon ruts still visible in the grassland.
One thing the bleak weather did give us was a strong appreciation of how life must have been for those stationed here. The climate can be harsh and unforgiving – extremes of temperature (which according to the park website can vary within 50 degrees Fahrenheit within a 24-hour period), summer storms and winter blizzards.
This is my last tip; if you want you can return to my Intro page
Directions: Take exit 366 from Interstate 25 and follow the signs
Protecting the Santa Fe Trail was Fort Union. It was located on the edge of the Prairies where the mountain route and the plains route rejoined after leaving the Arkansas River near modern Dodge City, Kansas.
Here the soldiers could patrol the most dangerous passages along the trail.
Glorietta Pass: was the last obstacle before Santa Fe. Although not a difficult crossing, it was potentially a place where a wagon train could be easily stopped. It was the entry way to the Rio Grande Valley for marauders, both white and red.
The Plains route: was a direct line from the southern bend of the Arkansas River towards Glorietta Pass. It was a very dangerous way to go. It's near level pathway made for easy wagon travel. It's lack of water would kill those who did not come prepared. This was Comanche country. The Comanche were known for their ferocity in protecting their homelands from intruders.
The Mountain route: over Raton pass was well watered and free of significant predators