Ruins and sacred places: Fort Union National Monument
Old Fort Union is one of those travel destinations you don’t just wander into by accident. It’s eight miles out a dead-end road off of I-25, NE of the town of Las Vegas, NM. Those who plan a visit will be rewarded with an opportunity to amble through an extensive series of windblown ruins of barracks, quartermasters storehouses and officers’ quarters dating from the mid- to late-1800s.
The military outpost actually had three distinct incarnations – the first a group of crude log structures erected against wooded bluffs to the west of Wolf Creek in 1851; the second a series of star-shaped earthworks thrown up hastily in the early years of the Civil War (in part to protect against invading Confederates from Texas); and the third a more elaborately-planned and laid out complex of army post and quartermaster depot buildings that served as a major supply hub for westward travel in the era of pioneering expansion.
The post actually sits astride the Santa Fe Trail, the rutted remains of which can still be viewed on the drive out 161 to the monument itself. (In some places the “ruts” appear more like a dry watercourse, so deep were they worn over the course of years of frontier travel.) Distant peaks of the Sangre de Cristo mountains can be seen to the west and northwest, while the site itself resides in a sea of prairie grass.
On a blustery spring day when the weather had decided to revert back to more wintery temps, Fort Union took on an air of lonely isolation that seemed appropriate, given its ruined condition. The crumbling adobe walls and slowly disintegrating wagons hinted at a time in the not-too-distant future when the prairie would overcome this abandoned outpost once and for all, leaving nothing behind but—perhaps—the whispers of spirit bugles calling the post to assembly.