Fort Union National Monument – Watrous, New Mexico - Atlas Obscura
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Watrous, New Mexico

Fort Union National Monument

The ruins of this abandoned fort now stand as a picturesque reminder of America's march West. 

A former bustling military fort that has lain undisturbed for 120 years still rests on the high prairie of New Mexico despite being made of soft adobe material.

In 1870 Fort Union was a major stop on the 1,200-mile Santa Fe trail, easily the home stretch for caravans starting in Missouri. The Civil War had officially ended but the “Union” army still occupied New Mexico’s Fort Union, which was also a center of trade in addition to being a well-known military outpost. It was populated by a mix of soldiers, locals, travelers, and anyone else who had business on the Santa Fe Trail. This is of course until the railroads came.

The new speedier form of transportation bypassed the fort entirely, turning the once integral trading fort into a veritable ghost town. In a stretch of only 10 years, the fort was essentially left for dead, to bake and crumble under the New Mexico sun. Luckily, before the adobe walls could turn to dust, preservationists in the 1950s shored up the remains of the fort’s structures, and the Fort Union National Monument was born.

Today Fort Union is essentially a ghost town just off an absolutely empty stretch of Route 25 between Las Vegas and Raton. It has two rows of adobe ruins, some old cannons and farming equipment, and wagon ruts in the ground where the Santa Fe trail once ran. Standing in the middle of this empty plain, it’s almost impossible to imagine a thriving military/civilian/commercial village having existed here, which is a major part of Fort Union’s charm.

Know Before You Go

Take route 161 North from Watrous, NM off of Interstate 25. The Monument is free to the public and dog-friendly as long as they are leashed. Be sure to wear a hat and sunscreen and bring some water as it is all outdoors. You can do the self-guided tour or take a guided tour with a very friendly ranger.