Monday, July 12, 2021

Fort Union, New Mexico


                                                                                   Something that is probably quite ineffable:

                                                                   The backward look behind the assurance

                                                                   Of recorded history . . .

                                                                                       -- T. S. Eliot, "The Dry Salvages," Four Quartets

Last week my friend, Bruce, and I took a day trip to Fort Union National Monument in northeastern New Mexico, about 150 miles from Albuquerque.  Fort Union was a key U.S. military outpost on the Santa Fe Trail in the 19th century.

The now-historic Santa Fe Trail was a major but dangerous conduit for commerce between the United States and Mexico from about 1822 to about 1879, when the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe railroad reached Santa Fe.  

The trail stretched 900 miles from Missouri to New Mexico, with two branches -- the Mountain Route (northern branch) and the Cimarron Cutoff (southern branch).  The Cimarron Cutoff was the shorter route, but was more hazardous because it had few sources of food and very little water.

The two branches reconnected in northeastern New Mexico about 90 miles from Santa Fe, and in 1851 -- three years after the end of the Mexican-American War -- the United States constructed the first of three incarnations of a military post called Fort Union to protect commerce and settlers.

The second version of Fort Union was built in 1861-2 as a defensive outpost during the Civil War, and was the only obstacle between the Confederates -- who had moved up the Rio Grande and captured Santa Fe in March, 1862 -- and the gold fields of Colorado.  U.S. soldiers from Fort Union, augmented by volunteers from Colorado, met the Confederates at the Battle of Glorieta Pass, about halfway between Fort Union and Santa Fe.  The U.S. troops prevailed; the Confederates retreated back to Texas; and the western reaches remained secure for the rest of the Civil War.

The third Fort Union was built in 1862, and served not only as security for the Santa Fe Trail, but also as a supply depot for military posts in New Mexico, Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas, and Arizona.  Fort Union received, off-loaded, inventoried, stored, and redistributed tons of supplies from 2,000 to 3,000 wagons a year . . . not to mention repairing many wagons in the "Mechanics' Corral" (see photo below) after their arduous trips on the Santa Fe Trail and beyond.

The fort was constructed in the traditional "territorial" architectural style with native stone (for foundations), lumber (for framing and trim), and clay (for bricks and adobe).

Mechanics' Corral
(photo courtesy National Park Service)

Officers Row
(photo courtesy National Park Service)

In 1891 the fort was abandoned and was left to decay.  It became a national monument in 1954.  But over 130 years, time has taken its toll.  All that's left are roofless, crumbling adobe walls . . .

. . . often supported by steel bars or guy wires . . .

The National Park Service works continuously to preserve what they can . . .

. . . but it's a losing battle.  The only things that have fared somewhat better are fireplaces and chimneys . . . 

and the buildings with walls of stone (rather than adobe), like the jail . . .

and the supply depot . . .

To give you a sense of the scale of the fort, and the devastation of time, here's the earlier image of Officers' Row residences . . .

and what it looks like now:

For me, Fort Union has the look and feel of an American Stonehenge:  ancient monoliths on a vast open plain whose original purpose, though in this case known, has been transformed by time and the elements into something mythical and mysterious.

If you would like to see these images (and more) in a larger format, please visit my photography website, Todos Juntos Photography, by clicking here.

Thursday, July 1, 2021

Covid Respite #22 - Cerrillos Catholic Cemetery


                                                                      But at my back I always hear

                                                                             Time's winged chariot hurrying near . . .

                                                                                      -- Andrew Marvell, "To His Coy Mistress"

The Covid pandemic isn't over by a long shot, but as vaccinations have increased and states allow businesses to move toward pre-pandemic in-person service levels, my photography road trips become less about respite from Covid restrictions and more about the photo opportunities that come my way.  So this post -- just over a year since I began the "Covid Respite" series -- will be the last one with that title . . . I hope.

My friend, Alan, and I took off one afternoon to see if we could intercept some rainstorm clouds, but we started late and they outran us:  spur-of-the-moment decisions aren't always the best; lesson learned.  So we motored up NM 14 on the north end of the Turquoise Trail National Scenic Byway to an old mining town called Cerrillos.

Early Native American inhabitants of the area valued the turquoise they found in the hills; in the late 19th century, silver and lead were discovered and the town boomed for about 20 years until the mines fizzled out.  But the town remains, with a few buildings, a post office, a church, and -- of course -- a cemetery.

The Cerrillos cemetery is like many other small-town cemeteries in New Mexico:  clean and well-tended in some parts . . . 

. . . scruffy and overgrown in other parts.

Many of the gravestones bear Eastern European and Middle Eastern names -- presumably miners (or children of miners) who came to seek their fortunes.

The one below for Nick Dominovich even says "Iz Dalmacije," which means "from Dalmatia."

Of course there were also familiar Hispanic names, like Martinez and Sandoval . . .

But most interesting to me were the headstones that were clearly hand-carved by people who were not artisans . . . simple blocks of stone or concrete with lettering that did not always break logically or fit neatly within the boundaries:

(In the picture above, look closely at the end of the first line to see that the "3" of "1923" falls around the corner of the stone onto the side face.)

                                                     The inscription on the one above says

                                                                              In  Me-

                                                                        mory of Brijida

                                                                         Coriz died the

                                                                         Day 11 of July

                                                                       at the age 21 year

                                                                          the year 1909

May they all Rest in Peace.

If you would like to see these and other images in a larger format, please visit my photography website, Todos Juntos Photography, by clicking here.