Sometimes things that aren’t lost are pretty hard to find. And once you discover them, you realize you’ve simply got to tell everyone you know because the treasure just might disappear forever if other people don’t know about it. This is how we felt about finding Fort Union National Park about thirty miles north of Las Vegas, New Mexico. It is just off I-25, about 90 miles east of Taos.
My son studied New Mexico history, like every student in New Mexico, and for the last couple of months he has been talking to me about different places around the state. Fort Union came up, and together we looked it up on the map. Seemed like a good day adventure. So we headed out of the pass toward Mora, and followed the Santa Fe Trail. The ruts along the road are still visible along the route.
Once we arrived at Fort Union, we got a serious history lesson from my son, but also from the national park itself. The brick chinmeys pierced the landscape while the June wind whipped the prairie grass, and we walked the Santa Fe Trail. Trail travelers generally ventured between 12-24 miles a day (between a 1/2 and full marathon at todays standards). From this major outpost, Santa Fe was still two days travel at least. Beautiful to consider, what it must have been.
More than 3,000 people lived at the Fort in the early 1800’s. There was a major hospital on the grounds that was the best in the region. The hospital had over 126 beds over its life. This Fort was a booming place. And we, along with the one National Park Service Ranger, had it to ourselves.
It takes just a few hours to explore the ruins and trail in this area so we drove into Las Vegas afterwards for lunch at the historic Plaza Hotel. It is worth the 30 miles drive south to see the plaza. The Plaza Hotel was built in the 1880’s when the railroad was built.
Fort Union National Park is a beautiful little day trip to explore the southern end of the Santa Fe Trail. It is definitely worth the stop, taking a break from a long drive along I-25, or as a day trip from Taos, Santa Fe or Albuquerque.