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Texas | Columns | "It's All Trew"

Camino Real
known as
Scenic Byway

by Delbert Trew
Delbert Trew

The old road "Camino Real" or Royal Road may not be the oldest road in America but was completed in 1598, a long time ago.

It 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 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.

During 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 officials.

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.

This 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.

At first, 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.

The 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.

In 1998 the U.S. and Mexico agreed to preserve and cooperate in recognizing the Camino Real.

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.


Delbert Trew
"It's All Trew" September 16, 2008 Column
E-mail: trewblue@centramedia.net.




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