On Walkabout At: Ft. Union, New Mexico

One of the things I like to do living out in the American West is to go and check out the remains of the old US Cavalry forts that still dot the landscape.  The American Southwest is home to many Native-American tribes that had been in conflict with Spanish settlers ever since the days when the first Conquistadors entered New Mexico.  After the Mexican-American War ended in 1848 the United States took control of the present day American Southwest which opened it up to be settled by American pioneers.  With the increase of settlers entering into the Southwest this brought greater conflict with the region’s Native-Americans who fought over land and resources.  Due to the increasing conflict with the Natives the US Army was tasked to protect settlers and secure the various wagon trails through the region.  To do this the US Army created various outposts to improve security throughout the American Southwest from the Indians.  Fort Union is one of these outposts that was established to provide security along the northern New Mexico section of the Santa Fe Trail:

Ft. Union is located about two hours north of Santa Fe just off of I-25 on the high prairie grazing lands that dominate this part of the state:


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When driving towards Ft. Union the remains of this historic fort can be seen for quite a ways because of how flat an open this land is:

Picture from Ft. Union, New Mexico

When I first saw the fort the first thing I thought was how much it look like the remains of one of the ancient Native-American cities that are scattered around New Mexico.  However, this fort is of a much newer vintage since it was first established in 1851.  Once I seen how eroded these ruins were despite their relative newness it made me appreciate even more the building skills of the ancestral Native-Americans who built cliff dwellings that were a thousand years of more older than Ft. Union and remained in better shape despite the many additional centuries of erosion.

Something nice about visiting Ft. Union, is that for people like me who like to stamp their National Parks Passport you are able to get two stamps here; one for the Fort Union National Monument and the other for the Santa Fe National Historic Trail:

Picture from Ft. Union, New Mexico

My wife and I pulled into the national monument and parked near the remain of what we later learned was the post hospital:

Picture from Ft. Union, New Mexico

Like the other National Park Service buildings in New Mexico this one was well maintained and the staff was very friendly and helpful:

Picture from Ft. Union, New Mexico

The view from the visitor center just shows how wide open and vast this part of the state is:

Picture from Ft. Union, New Mexico

Picture from Ft. Union, New Mexico

My wife and I ended up having the whole park to ourselves since we had the only car in the parking lot:

Picture from Ft. Union, New Mexico

We then went inside and checked out the displays inside the visitor center which were very informative:

Picture from Ft. Union, New Mexico

Here is the view after exiting the visitor and looking towards the ruins of Ft. Union:

Picture from Ft. Union, New Mexico

Near the exit to the visitor center there is a small display that shows how the first US Cavalrymen to arrive in this area would have lived in tents and wagons before being able to construct a fort:

Picture from Ft. Union, New Mexico

The ruins of Ft. Union today are not the actual original remains of the fort.  Just a short walk from the wagon a sign indicates that these dirt mounds are in fact all that remains of the original fort built here:

Picture from Ft. Union, New Mexico

We next walked over to the remains of the building that we saw from the parking lot:

Picture from Ft. Union, New Mexico

These ruins are of the old post hospital that was constructed in the 1870′s.  and had enough beds for 36 people.  Here is the view from the hospital looking back towards the main area of Ft. Union that is backdropped by the beautiful Sangre de Cristo Mountains:

Picture from Ft. Union, New Mexico

As my wife and I walked from the hospital towards the main post we happen to cross right over the Santa Fe Trail:

Picture from Ft. Union, New Mexico

To this day the depression from all those wagons from all those years ago crossing these plains can still be seen:

Picture from Ft. Union, New Mexico

Here is the view of the Santa Fe Trail as it heads north from Ft. Union:

Picture from Ft. Union, New Mexico

A short walk from the old Santa Fe Trail found us looking at the Ft. Union parade field that was lined on each side by the remains of former buildings:

Picture from Ft. Union, New Mexico

For example these ruins were once the homes of married enlisted men:

Picture from Ft. Union, New Mexico

I guess it makes sense that the sturdiest building in the whole camp was the post’s jail:

Picture from Ft. Union, New Mexico

These rooms are tiny and it had to horrible to be confined long term in such a place.  Anyway looking across the post the jail was really the only building left standing:

Picture from Ft. Union, New Mexico

The picture above is actually of the post company quarters which were office space for the cavalry’s various units as well as barracks for its non-married soldiers.

Here is a picture of the remains of the homes of married non-commissioned officers (NCO’s) that appeared to be a little bigger than the enlisted men’s homes and had sturdy fireplaces:

Picture from Ft. Union, New Mexico

Here is where sewage was dumped at from the post’s homes and buildings:

Picture from Ft. Union, New Mexico

There was no indoor plumbing in a place like this back then thus forcing people to use bowls as their toilets which they would then walk over here and pour into the whole.  This place had to be extremely stinky and I would hate to be living in one of the homes nearby.

All around the military base there was stone sidewalks that had been built by the soldiers that assuredly made walking here less of a muddy ordeal during wet weather:

Picture from Ft. Union, New Mexico

From the privy I then followed this sidewalk out to the Santa Fe Trail again:

Picture from Ft. Union, New Mexico

I wonder if people parked their wagons out here and then followed this sidewalk into the military base?  Here is the view from the end of the sidewalk looking back towards Ft. Union:

Picture from Ft. Union, New Mexico

We then walked back to the post and while walking along the ruins I noticed that some of the buildings had what appeared to have been outlets for water gutters:

Picture from Ft. Union, New Mexico

I next walked into a courtyard known as a mechanic’s corral:

Picture from Ft. Union, New Mexico

This courtyard would have been like a modern day military motorpool but instead of Humvees and tanks being parked there are wagons.  Here is the door I passed through to enter the courtyard:

Picture from Ft. Union, New Mexico

Here is a look at a sidewalk along the side of the post’s commissary:

Picture from Ft. Union, New Mexico

Here is the entrance to the commissary that would have been stocked with all kinds of canned, bottled, and perishable foods:

Picture from Ft. Union, New Mexico

On the back side of the commissary the old cellar that would have been used to help cool perishable goods such as potatoes and just for general storage could be seen:

Picture from Ft. Union, New Mexico

Here is a view of the back side of the commissary:

Picture from Ft. Union, New Mexico

From the commissary I then continued to walk to the far western side of the parade field.  On this end of the parade field was a circular foundation which I’m not sure what it once was:

Picture from Ft. Union, New Mexico

By the time my wife and I walked around to this far side of the camp it really began to set in how expansive this fort was.  It really is quite a walk to traverse the entire trail around Ft. Union.  As we got on the southern side of the post we began to walk by the various homes which were once quarters for officers and their families:

Picture from Ft. Union, New Mexico

As we went further down the path the higher ranking the officers homes were and thus larger in size:

Picture from Ft. Union, New Mexico

At the end of the row of officers homes we then found ourselves back at the visitor center.  All in all it was a very interesting visit that provided much insight into how the US Cavalrymen lived all the years ago in the Old West.  These forts really were an outpost of American civilization in what was then still largely an untamed wilderness.  However, now these bases just like the prior ruins of the ancient Anasazi civilization are just relics in the history of the American West.

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2 Responses to On Walkabout At: Ft. Union, New Mexico

  1. Vincent Lynch says:

    REally nice job! Excellent photos! I will be heading down there in a couple of days, and I hope my pics turn out that well!

    Vincent

  2. Dobbs says:

    Vincent, I am glad you liked the pictures. I hope your trip turned out to be a fun and informative one. I always enjoy walking around these old relics of American history.

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