History of the El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro

During the colonial years, New Mexico was tied to the outside world by a single thoroughfare that descended the Rio Grande valley from north of Santa Fe, dropped through the natural gate at El Paso, and wended its way via the provinces of the old Viceroyalty of New Spain to Mexico City, some twelve hundred miles to the south.

This artery of commerce and travel was known as El Camino Real which meant Royal Road or King's Highway... Of the great highways leading north, this was the oldest, having been extended by segments throughout the 16th century. For a time it also enjoyed the distinction of being the longest road in North America.

Parts of the Camino Real had their earliest beginnings as Indian trails. Later, sections of the route were traversed by Spanish conquistadors and colonizers. Finally, with the coming of Juan de Onate's expedition in 1598, the full length of the trail was defined. During the subsequent 300 years it witnessed increasingly varied traffic as quantities of trade goods and representatives of different cultures traveled it, bring with them currents of change which would forever alter the face of this land.

Largely forgotten in modern times, New Mexico's Camino Real needs now to be recognized and valued as a richly informative cultural and historic resource.

Source: "El Camino Real: Un Sendero Historico" catalogue accompanying the exhibit at El Camino Real International Heritage Center (Socorro , NM). Camino Real Project Director: Gabrielle G. Palmer, Ph.D.

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Top Photograph: Bird's eye view of the city of Santa Fe, N.M. 1882 (Library of Congress)
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