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
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.
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 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
A trail association now promotes and writes a quarterly newsletter
about the old trail.
© Delbert Trew
"It's All Trew"
September 16, 2008 Column