Summer is road trip season, and we’ve mapped out a historic and educational road trip for you and yours to adventure on this summer. The Southwestern region of the United States was once a breeding ground for adobe forts, which served as a commercial place for merchants, hunters and trappers to conduct trade and protect their goods. Today, many of these forts have been restored and now serve as must-visit historical monuments. From Colorado to New Mexico and all the way to Arizona, we’ve picked out some of our favorite sites to stop at during your next road trip.
Bent’s Old Fort was once a thriving place of trade for Anglo, Cheyenne, Arapaho and Mexican trappers to barter supplies such as animal skins, wagon wheels and firearms. The death of Charles Bent, epidemics, war and the decline of the buffalo population ultimately led to the demise of Bent’s Old Fort. In 1960, the National Park Service reverted to original sketches, diaries and blueprints to rebuild the adobe structure that once held the famous fort. Today, visitors can explore Bent’s Old Fort on self-guided tours, speak with living history interpreters, view a documentary film and more.
Just two hours west of Bent’s Old Fort is Fort Garland, located in the San Luis Valley. A frontier outpost constructed by Hispaño artisans and U.S. soldiers, Fort Garland was originally made up of 22 adobe buildings along a path used by traders, trappers and Utes. However, once the railroad was built in the area, Fort Garland was no longer needed as a center of commerce and most of its buildings were demolished. The Colorado Historical Society acquired the site in 1945 and eventually restored five adobe buildings, which visitors can now walk through. Campsites and fishing areas are also located nearby for visitors.
Next, make your way south of Colorado to northeastern New Mexico, where Fort Union National Monument stands. Fort Union is set apart from additional adobe forts because it is preserved in a state of ruin, rather than being completely restored. Many fragments of adobe walls and chimneys are scattered throughout the prairie, where they were originally built along the Santa Fe Trail. Before it was abandoned in 1891, Fort Union was used for living quarters, storehouses, corrals and a hospital complex.
Continuing through New Mexico, Fort Craig National History Site stands along the west bank of Rio Grande. What once used to house U.S. troops fighting local American Indians is now a well-maintained area of fort storehouses, barracks and walls that visitors can explore via pathway.
Crossing state borders one last time, our ideal tour of historic Southwestern forts ends at Fort Bowie. As the first fort established in the Southwest during the American Civil War, Fort Bowie was built to defend Apache Pass from Chiricahua Apaches. The U.S. Army soldiers built a second Fort Bowie just four years later, in 1868, which still stands at the top of the Apache Pass. Those visiting can hike throughout the site, which includes adobe ruins, stone foundations of the first Fort Bowie and a mail stage station.
The Fort Restaurant
Once you return from your tour of historic adobe forts, visit The Fort restaurant, an authentic replica of Bent’s Old Fort and member of the National Register of Historic Places.
In the 1950s, the ruins of Bent’s Old Fort were excavated by the Colorado Historical Society in an effort to reveal the original adobe foundations. In 1962, Sam Arnold purchased land in Morrison and hired William Lumpkins, a top adobe architect who developed the first blueprints of Bent’s Old Fort by analyzing the excavations, alongside civil engineer James Albert and a team from Taos, New Mexico, who hand-made more than 80,000 bricks from the clay on which The Fort now stands. Together, the team built the first replica of Bent’s Old Fort, which opened as a restaurant in 1963. Today, we proudly serve truly Colorado food and drink, including bison, Rocky Mountain Oysters, The Hailstorm (Colorado’s first documented cocktail) and more.