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Fort Union: The Forgotten Fort

It’s hard to imagine what the reddish adobe rubble once was – the largest military installation in the Southwest. Located north of Watrous, New Mexico, Fort Union became a national monument in 1954 and three military forts are preserved on seven hundred and twenty acres.

Fort Union, New Mexico
The first of the forts, dating back to 1851, was laid out at the crossroads of the Mountain and Cimarron branches of the Santa Fe Trail – a key supply route to the West. Reportedly, Davey Crockett traveled to the log-style fort on his way to the Alamo.

Fort Union, New Mexico
When the U.S. won the territory from Mexico, a second, more substantial earthen-mound fort, was established as a part of the defense line stretching across the Rio Grande Valley. It continued as part of a supply chain and also became a quartermaster depot (or large military warehouse).

Fort Union, New Mexico
In the 1850s, the fort served as base during the campaigns against the American Indians, specifically the Jicarilla Apache, Utes, Kiowas and Comanches, who led raids in the area.

Fort Union, New Mexico
Union forces controlled the fort at the outbreak of the Civil War (1861). The garrison stationed there never saw action, as the Confederates were turned back at Glorietta Pass, twenty miles southeast of Santa Fe. The Confederate troops returned to Texas and were unable to advance any further north.

After the war, a third fort was constructed, and those are the ruins that can be viewed today. Fort Union resumed its supply role, until the railroad replaced the Santa Fe Trail as a means of communication and commerce. By 1891, the fort was abandoned.

A highlight are the ruts carved by the long wagon trains on the Santa Fe Trail. Look for the marker along the walking path.

Wagon Ruts, Fort Union, New Mexico

Santa Fe Trail Ruts

  • Fort Union is located on NM 161, off the I-25, north of Las Vegas.
  • It is open 8-6PM or 8-4PM seasonally.
  • Admission is free. There are restrooms and a visitor’s center. No camping.
  • Leashed dogs are permitted on the paths and in the picnic areas.

Know of a good fort that we can check out?

Paw Print

Two paws — three paws if you like history.  I was allowed but the usual rules apply.



Lane & Juliet

The writing and photography team behind Southwest Compass, the travel blog for the American Southwest.


The Guy

It looks to be in remarkably good condition for a building so old and weathered.
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The Duo

It’s built of stone and adobe. Some of the adobe structures in Taos are 1,000 years old. Amazing, isn’t it? Thanks for the comments.


Beautiful pics. My husband & I love visiting historical military installations. We live on the East Coast so most of it is from the Civil war. When we get back out west we’ll have to check this one out. Thanks for sharing.
– Mom’s Guide To Travel

The Duo

History is part of what attracted us to the Southwest. Thanks for stopping by!

Mary {The World Is A Book}

These are amazing and surprisingly well-preserved. My husband loves military history and these types of structures. We’re hoping to make it to New Mexico soon and hope to see this fort among others soon.
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The Duo

Excellent. Hope he can make it out this way someday.

The Duo

It’s pretty desolate. We were the only people there and no one was working the visitor’s center to ask questions. Since it’s a military installation with a jail and hospital both on site, I assume there’s some paranormal rumblings. Can’t confirm.

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