old road "Camino Real" or Royal Road may not be the oldest road
in America but was completed in 1598, a long time ago.
begins at the San Juan Pueblo in northern New
Mexico, goes 400 miles south to El
Paso then on another 1,200 miles to Mexico City. The mileage varies
as many segments had alternate routes depending on the water holes and warring
Indian tribes living along the way. Every trip seemed to have its unique problems.
the early boom days of discovery when many silver, lead and gold mines were worked
by the Spanish, the old road was called The Silver Road as pack trains
and wagon trains carried the treasure to Mexico City to be assessed by the king's
The Spanish government designated many trails as Camino Reals throughout
early Texas and the Southwest but sooner or later each one intersected the old
road at some point.
The founder of New Mexico's colonies, Juan de Onate, is given
credit for blazing the final northern segment from El
Paso to San Juan Pueblo. The earlier segment in Mexico began with the huge
silver discovery at Zacatecus. The original trail was worn down over the years
into huge ruts while carrying silver from the mine to Mexico City.
discovery and the road segment made it easy for Onate to organize his historic
journey north into today's New
Mexico hoping to find other rich new strikes as they traveled north. By 1598,
regular traffic traveled the entire road from beginning to end.
the only goods hauled were products from the mines and supplies needed for such
operations. Later as mines played out, merchandise for the colonies and trade
with the Indians became the focus of the freight.
The most dramatic change
in freight hauling on the road came in 1821 when the Santa Fe Trail was opened
from Missouri to Santa Fe. This allowed American-made goods to be hauled into
Mexico where profits remained good for many years.
history of 300 years of travel along the Camino Real would fill volumes. At any
moment during this period, dozens of caravans of pack mules, carts and freight
wagons would be en route to some destination or other with goods for delivery.
Travel was always dangerous and uncertain in spite of military-guard details,
numerous forts and presidios built along the way for road protection. Between
bandits, dry water holes and the normal trip hazards for livestock and equipment,
few caravans or travelers made it through without delays.
1998 the U.S. and Mexico agreed to preserve and cooperate in recognizing the Camino
The U.S. designated it a National Scenic Byway and in November
of 2005, an International Heritage Center was opened 35 miles south of Socorro,
N.M., interpreting the dramatic history and importance of the Camino Real. This
facility also became the sixth New Mexico state monument.
A trail association
now promotes and writes a quarterly newsletter about the old trail.
"It's All Trew" September 16, 2008 Column
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