Park Unit #4 - Fort Union National Monument - Watrous, NM
Established in 1851, the Fort Union is known as a guardian of the Santa Fe Trail. Let’s see how this National Monument was born! The Formation of the Fort Union National Monument
When it comes to the formation of the Fort Union National Monument, few possible reasons are given. One reason includes the desire of the new district commander known as Colonel Edwin V. Sumner to evacuate the troops from the negative or morally degrading influence of Santa Fe. Another reason was of course – the economy. The commander moved few New Mexico barriers out of rented quarters and ordered self-supporting operations. Troop-constructed buildings were soon initiated.
In 1870, the National Monument was a main place of rest on the Santa Fe Trail. Considering the fact that Santa Fe was long 1200 miles it was an ideal region for caravans of Missouri as well. The area around the monument was a highly popular center of trade and industry. It was populated by locals, travelers, soldiers, and anyone else who traveled on the Santa Fe Trail in covered wagons and on horseback. Once the railroads came, the history begins to change.
Even though these new transportation forms were faster, they avoided the fort, turning the once highly popular trading spot into a ghost town. Luckily for us, in the 1950s efforts to preserve the remaining foundations were made. Preservationists decided that this would be an important monument. This is how the Fort Union National Monument was born.
The Third Fort Union
There are three versions of the forts. The earlier building footprints can be made out by observing the mounds. The third and the final Fort Union is considered to be the largest one in the Southwest. It was built of adobe and stone with real windows made of glass. The third Fort Union functioned as a territorial arsenal, military garrison, and also a military supply armory for the American Southwest. The fort remained guarded, until 1891, when it was officially closed. Today, tourists and visitors can explore the fort and see the breathtaking ruins of the third Fort Union. The Santa Fe Trail tracks can be still seen there. It isn’t hard to imagine all the activities that must have taken place there.
A Final Word
Today, the Fort Union is located between Raton and Las Vegas . If you stand in the middle of Route 25 you can almost imagine the military and the civilians that once existed there. The park plays trumpets over a speaker every few minutes; you can almost see all the activity that took place there.
Operating Hours - General Info
Fort Union has seasonal hours of operation.
The monument grounds and Visitor Center are open:
8:00 AM – 4:00 PM Labor Day – Memorial Day
8:00 AM – 5:00 PM Memorial Day – Labor Day
CLOSED – Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, New Year’s Day
There are no entrance fees for this monument.
Pets are allowed in the park and on the Monument trail.
Fort Union Visitor Center: 505-425-8025
Children can become a Junior Ranger at Fort Union download the book in advance of your visit. The park also has junior ranger camps available.
Location coordinates 35.8998° N, 105.0132° W
Things To Do
Self-guided tour walking the grounds.
There are also ranger-led tours
10:00 AM Fort Tour Join a ranger on a 1.25 mile walk through the monument grounds and discover the broad influence Fort Union had on the shaping and development of the Southwest during the 19th century. Tours last approximately 90 minutes. Visitors are encouraged to wear sturdy walking shoes and weather appropriate clothing.
2:00 PM Fort Talk These 20 minute talks range in topics from the Santa Fe Trail, fort life, the military campaigns Fort Union was involved in, and the various components and structures of Fort Union.
Here is the 2017 Special Events Schedule
Fort Unions Walking Trails – there are pathways through the Fort’s remains.
Camping & Lodging
This is more of a day stop than a destination. I stopped on my way to Taos from Santa Fe. You could also go up to Capulin Volcano National Monument from here and stay overnight there.
Food & Gas
The best bet is to bring food and snacks with you.
Best Time To Visit
Fort Union is situated at 6,760 feet above sea level. Daytime temperatures between June and September may exceed 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Winter temperatures often drop below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures may vary within 50 degrees in a 24-hour period. During the winter, it is not uncommon for the temperatures to drop below 0°F (-18°C.) During the summer, expect high temperatures, intense sunlight and extreme low humidity.
Drives & Scenic Overlooks
The entrance road delivers you to the visitor center and monument grounds.
The main photo ops are of the Fort’s remains. They occasionally have a parks at night program where you can capture the Fort under the stars.
My Trip Report
This was an interesting stop; I felt a connection to the past here. With the trumpets playing and the fascinating stories of the Fort’s inner workings, it almost felt alive. Soldiers were seldom granted permission to marry; but a few convinced their wives to work in the laundry unit to be able to be together.
Have you been to Fort Union National Monument? Did I leave any must-dos or must-see sights off the list? Let me know in the comments below.
By The Numbers
Pets Allowed? Yes
We Are The Parks - Get Involved!
We all have the responsibility to help protect and preserve this important legacy. Here are five things you can do to minimize your impact and help protect the parks for future generations:
- Follow the Rules. A new story about bad behavior in our national parks comes out almost every day. With people regularly doing things like walking on geothermal features, getting far too close to wildlife, illegally using drones, and vandalizing priceless natural and cultural treasures, NPS resources are stretched. We can all help the NPS and protect valuable natural resources by following established rules.
- Practice Leave No Trace principles. With visitation to NPS sites at an all-time high, it is even more important for all of us to be good stewards of the places we visit. An easy way to reduce your personal impact in learning about and practicing Leave No Trace principles.
- Petition & Vote. In addition to supporting petitions and sending letters to your congresspeople. Consider the preservation, protection, and adequate funding of public lands when voting for local, state and federal officials consider. If these things are a priority for you as well, check in with your local and national conservation organizations to see how politicians in your community view the protection of public lands before you cast your votes.
- Get Involved. There are many ways to volunteer including artists-in-residence and citizen science programs.
- Support. Consider making a donation to the National Park Foundation. The NPF is the official charitable partner to the National Park System.