Fort Union National Monument

Round Trip Distance: 0.5 - 1.9 miles
Difficulty: Easy
Elevation: 6753 - 6797 feet
Cellphone: 0-3 bars
Time: 45 - 90 mins.
Trailhead: Fort Union Visitor Center
Fee: none
Attractions: Historic Fort/Santa Fe Trail

Fort Union National Monument is located 19 miles north of Las Vegas, New Mexico and 8 west of Interstate 25. The adobe walls and stone foundations of the sprawling fort lie along the Mountain Branch of the Santa Fe Trail where countless wagons have worn long troughs into the landscape that mark the course taken by many a pioneer.

To get there head north from Las Vegas, New Mexico for 19 miles on Interstate 25 and take exit 366, or south from Raton, New Mexico for 84 miles. After taking exit 366 follow NM-161 for a little less than 8 miles to the Visitor Center. Along the way there is a roadside attraction for the Sante Fe Trail and a short interpretive trail that leads to on overlook with a far away view of Fort Union.

Fort Union has no fee and is open daily between the hours of 8AM and 5PM. The trails are accessed through the main entrance of the Visitor Center. On the outside of the building you will find restrooms with running water and flush toilets and a nice shaded picnic area.

Fort Union is a massive complex. To walk all the way around the first Fort Union (1851-1861) and also include a stroll out on the star-shaped Civil War fort (1861-1862), plus a short excursion over to the Santa Fe Trail that ran down the eastern boundary of Fort Union comes out to 1.9 miles round trip. Shorter routes that are closer to a half mile round trip are also available.

Going to the left from the Visitor Center the trail passes a static display made up of several items from that era including a well loaded wagon of freight and an authentic field canon.

Along the west side of the fort the trail passes by the remnants of Officers' Row as it stretches out along the Parade Ground where the United States flag waved over the fort. Periodically as you walk along the path you will hear bugle calls being played over a nearby speaker.

Out in the open between the Quartermaster Quarters and the Mechanics Corral is a sundial. We wonder whether soldiers used the sundial to set the time on their pocket watches.

As the trail turns back toward the Visitor Center it passed through the fort's Storehouses where the walls of the structures seem to be much larger.

Various branches of the Santa Fe Trail, that left ditch like impressions in the earth, pass by and through the fort. Fort Union was established after the Spanish-American War when the US acquired the New Mexico Territory to protect American interests in the Southwest, including travelers along the Santa Fe Trail, from American Indians.

Void of any lumber or adobe the rock solid walls of the Prison have withstood the passage of time better than any other structure. The prison proved valuable in bringing law and order to the area where otherwise horse thieves and the like operated with impunity.

Back near the Visitor Center stands the remains of what once was 'The Best Hospital in 500 Miles'. At a cost to build of $45,000 it charged 50 cents a day to treat the civilians that made up 40% of the 425 patients that it treated on average each month.

Inside the Visitor Center is a small museum that displays numerous items from the era. Fort Union was the largest military post of its time between Kansas and California and for many years it not only brought protection to the area but a degree of prosperity. Today, along with a small stretch of the Santa Fe Trail, it is preserved as a National Monument where its story unfolds to those who visit. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.