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Sentinel of the Southwest

Kim McMahill
Hot Springs, S. Dak.

Following the signs toward Fort Union National Monument, a person can’t help but believe that the vast open space must look much the same as it did when the Fort was originally founded in 1851. There is very little modern development to detract from the experience of visiting this interesting piece of history.

Alone on a barren plain in northern New Mexico sit the adobe ruins of Fort Union and the largest visible concentration of Santa Fe Trail ruts. The chimney spires, stone building foundations, and crumbling adobe walls jutting out of the dry, desolate landscape are remnants of what was once the largest U.S. military post on the southwestern frontier. The Fort’s lonely local made it the most exposed position of any military fort in New Mexico and a crucial link in the military’s network of outposts in the southwest.

Located at the intersection of the Mountain and Cimarron branches of the Santa Fe Trail, Fort Union served as a major military supply depot. In its early years, Fort troops patrolled the trail and provided escorts for mail stages. After the onset of the Civil war, increased Indian hostilities and raids by Texas-based Confederates forced the Fort soldiers to step-up patrols and escorts, and establish subposts to protect travelers and keep the trail open.

Today, Fort Union National Monument and the Santa Fe National Historic Trail are being preserved as an outdoor museum. You can walk along the self-guided trail and listen to the audio-visual accompaniment to the wayside exhibits boom out over the loud speakers positioned en route. The ruins, museum, and talking interpretive displays offer a brief glimpse into the workings of a 19th-century military outpost and a feel for what life must have been like on the wild frontier.

Fort Union National Monument and Historic Trail is located in northern New Mexico about 20 miles north of Las Vegas, off I-25. The Monument is open year round, except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day. Interpretive tours are offered daily, June through August. For more information visit http://www.nps/foun or call 505-425-8025.


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