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Visiting Ft. Craig Historic Site

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This Mother’s Day was extra special for us as we decided to tick off a long-standing item on our bucket list. Amidst a scenic road trip dedicated to celebrating Mother’s Day, we made a delightful detour to Fort Craig Historic Site in New Mexico. Nestled in the rugged beauty of the New Mexican landscape, Fort Craig was not just a stop but a journey into the past that promised to be both enlightening and memorable.

Fort Craig has always intrigued us with its rich tapestry of history and its whispers of old battles and ancient tales. What better way to spend Mother’s Day than exploring the vast, open stretches where soldiers once marched, and pivotal moments in history were crafted? As we pulled up to the site, the excitement was palpable. Not only were we stepping into a page from our history books, but we were also creating new, cherished memories together.

Fort Craig Historic Site

Visiting Fort Craig

The first thing to note is that this is a a very small historic site. We spent about a hour and a half and we took our time and read all the placards and took a lot of pictures. It’s also a bit out of the way. If you check a map it looks like it’s only a few miles off the highway, but the exits to get there aren’t close. This probably explains why we didn’t see anyone else there. It does have a really nice visitor center and picnic area, which you will probably have to yourself.

When you arrive at Fort Craig, you can explore the area via a self-guided interpretive trail that takes you through the ruins and offers educational insights through various interpretive signs. This trail is accessible every day from 8 a.m. until one hour before sunset, allowing plenty of time for photography, hiking, and picnicking. Which is great because the surrounding landscape is amazing and there are plenty of lizards and other critters to sit and watch.

It does have a visitor center which we didn’t visit, clean restrooms, and drinking water available, but we recommend bringing your own water. This is New Mexico and it’s always a good idea to have plenty of water on hand just in case. One thing we appreciated was how wide and well maintained the paths were. Most of the trails felt very accessible but there were some of the further areas that were a bit overgrown. There is also a raised area with beautiful views that requires stairs to reach which is unfortunate.

Our Pictures of Fort Craig #2.Our Pictures of Fort Craig #3 - Officers QuartersOur Pictures of Fort Craig #4 - View of Black MesaOur Pictures of Fort Craig #5 - Flag pole that looks like a ships mast

Wildlife Around Fort Craig

The wildlife around Fort Craig Historic Site adds an extra layer of excitement and natural beauty to the experience of visiting this historical landmark. The arid landscape is home to a variety of animals, particularly reptiles, which thrive in the desert environment.

One of the most common sightings are lizards, which scurry across the trails and bask on the sun-heated rocks. Among the different species, the iconic horny toad, or horned lizard, is a fascinating find. These creatures, known for their distinctive, spiky appearance, are adept at blending into the rough terrain, making a sighting a delightful surprise for visitors. During our visit, we were lucky enough to spot a horny toad, its unique shape and texture providing a perfect photo opportunity and a memorable moment from our trip.

Birdwatchers might also find the area rewarding, as the site supports a variety of bird species adapted to desert life. From soaring raptors to small songbirds, the avian life here complements the historical exploration with a vibrant touch of nature’s resilience.

Our Pictures of Fort Craig - A Horny Toad.Our Pictures of Fort Craig - A Very Fast Lizard

The History of Fort Craig

Before visiting we had no idea that there were any Civil War battles in New Mexico (we’re not history people apparently). However after visiting we did some more research and learned a bit more. This is just a summary but hopefully it’s enough to get you interested like it did us. If you want to learn more I would recommend the following book, and there are some reference links down below.

product image from Amazon

New Mexico and the Civil War Although the New Mexico Territory was far distant from the main theaters of war, it was engulfed in the same violence and bloodshed as the rest of the nation. The Civil War in New Mexico was fought in the deserts and mountains of the huge territory, which was mostly wilderness, amid the continuing ancient wars against the wild Indian tribes waged by both sides.

Fort Craig Historic Site in New Mexico, established in 1854, served as one of the largest and most strategically significant military forts in the American Southwest. The fort was strategically positioned on the west side of the Rio Grande to protect the El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, a major trade route between Mexico City and Santa Fe. This location made it a pivotal outpost for protecting travelers and settlers from Apache raids and during the Mexican-American conflicts.

During the Civil War, Fort Craig became crucial in the defense strategy of the Union Army in the Southwest. It was the site of the largest Civil War battle in New Mexico, the Battle of Valverde in 1862, where Union forces clashed with Confederate troops led by General Henry Hopkins Sibley. Although the battle was indecisively won by the Confederates, they were unable to capture the fort itself, preserving the Union’s control over the region. This victory played a key role in thwarting Confederate plans to head further north and seize gold fields in California.

Post-Civil War, Fort Craig continued its military role, focusing on the Apache Wars. It served as a base from which the U.S. Army conducted campaigns against Apache leaders like Geronimo, Victorio, and Nana, who were adept in guerrilla warfare. The presence of the fort contributed to the eventual decline of Apache resistance and the expansion of American settlements in the territory.

Fort Craig was eventually decommissioned in 1885 as the need for such a large military presence waned with the diminishing frontier conflicts. The fort was abandoned and fell into disrepair. In the 1930s, it was excavated and later listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1970. Today, managed by the Bureau of Land Management, it stands as a historic site open to the public, offering a glimpse into its storied past through ruins and interpretive displays.

Our Pictures of Fort Craig #6 - Guard House RuinsOur Pictures of Fort Craig #7 - Store House RuinsOur Pictures of Fort Craig #8 - Dry moat and fortificationsOur Pictures of Fort Craig #9 - More fortifications

References to Learn More

As I mentioned, this was a very brief overview of the history of the fort. If you want to dig in deeper here are the three links that we found most helpful.

  1. Bureau of Land Management Page on Fort Craig
  2. National Park Service Page on Fort Craig
  3. Wikipedia entry for Fort Craig

In Conclusion

Our visit to Fort Craig Historic Site turned out to be more than just a walk through the echoes of history; it was a celebration of Mother’s Day enveloped in the vast, beautiful landscapes of New Mexico. Nestled between Socorro and Elephant Butte Lake, Fort Craig offers not only a peek into the past but also sits at a crossroads of adventure, with opportunities to explore the surrounding natural wonders.

Just north of the fort, you’ll find the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, a splendid area for bird watching and enjoying the tranquil beauty of New Mexico’s wild spaces. Whether you’re interested in hiking, photography, or simply enjoying a peaceful picnic, the area around Fort Craig is brimming with opportunities.

For those fascinated by history, wildlife, or the great outdoors, Fort Craig and its neighboring attractions provide a rich, varied experience that makes it well worth the visit. We left with hearts full of memories from our Mother’s Day adventure, reminded of the deep connections between our past and the natural world, and we encourage every history buff and nature lover to explore this remarkable part of New Mexico.

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By Summer and Bill

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Summer and Bill are the dynamic duo behind Adventureite.com, a blog dedicated to inspiring others to explore the great outdoors. With a combined lifetime of experience traveling and adventuring across America, they have a wealth of knowledge to share. From hiking to camping, kayaking to travel, Summer and Bill are passionate about helping others discover the beauty of the natural world.

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