El Camino Real International Heritage Center
At a Glance:
Open 6 days a week, 8:30 am – 5 pm. Closed
Tuesdays. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, and Easter
Adult single visit, $5.00. Sundays free for NM residents with ID.
Wednesdays free for NM resident senior citizens (60+) with ID. Children 16 and
younger free. School groups free. Free
for Museum of
NM Foundation and ECRIHC
Thirty miles south of Socorro, I-25, Exit 115, east to Hwy 1 frontage road, south 1.4 miles, turn east onto County Road 1598 2.7 miles to the Center.
Call (505) 854-3600 for more information.
El Camino Real International Heritage Center, a joint project of New Mexico State Monuments and the United States Bureau of Land Management and supported by the El Camino Real International Heritage Center Foundation, opens as the sixth New Mexico State Monument. The state-of-the art facility rises from the pristine desert, as different from its environment as from the other state monuments. Rather than the story of a fort, a battle waged or a history borne upon its premise, the International Heritage Center presents a 400-year history of trade and cultural exchange between Mexico, America, Spain, Europe and Asia.
The Monument presents an historic corridor of trade, immigration and ideas. This corridor originated as a series of indigenous trails used to exchange goods between Mesoamericans and Native Americans, centuries before the arrival of the Spanish. The Spanish expanded the northern portion of the road, claiming the New Mexico Territory for the Spanish crown. El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, the Royal Road of the Interior Lands, is recognized as the first European road in North America and one of the most important historic trails in the United States. It is also one of New Mexico's most important cultural treasures.
Present day I-25 parallels the historic camino and continues to serve as an economically viable and important north/south corridor for trade, commerce and cultural exchange.
The mission of the Heritage Center is to inspire all people to engage in lifetime learning about El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro - its worldwide impact and importance in linking the diversity of culture, people, and place to the past, present, and future.
The Focus of El Camino Real
International Heritage Center
Joseph P. Sánchez, Ph.D.
Superintendent, Spanish Colonial Research Center
and Petroglyph National Monument
and courtesy El Camino Real International Heritage Center
The significance of the Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, or Royal Road of the Interior, is based on its historic use and the resulting demographic pattern that evolved in the history of two countries. Equally significant is the evolution of the Camino Real as an interconnecting network of modern roads and railroads that are international in scope and character. In the broad facets of U.S. history and Mexican history, the Camino Real played a role in immigration, trade and commerce, settlement patterns, war, and transmission of cultures. The history of the Camino Real de Tierra Adentro is the focus of the Camino Real International Heritage Center.
Native American trails were precursors of El Camino Real
The Camino Real de Tierra Adentro evolved from Indian trails that crisscrossed the interior lands between Mexico City and northern New Mexico. The prehistory of routes that formed the Camino Real touched many indigenous cultures. One of the many Aztec trade routes went north from the Valley of Mexico and formed a great south to north trade trail that branched out through the meseta central, the interior central corridor between the Sierra Madre Occidental and the Sierra Madre Oriental. Aztec pochtecas or merchants traded as far north as Paquimé in present Chihuahua, which, in turn, traded with the Indian Pueblos of the Río Grande. The Camino Real later paralleled most of those routes throughout its historic development. Thus the location of the Camino Real was not accidental, for Spanish colonial frontiersmen tended to follow Indian trails in their explorations as well as in their trading enterprises.More than an emigrant route
Historically, the Camino Real, which ran from Mexico City to Santa Fe in New Mexico, played a role in the Spanish empire as the main thoroughfare into the interior of the Mexican Viceroyalty. The Camino Real was more than an emigrant route; it was at once a 1,500 mile-long linear frontier of settlements that included mining frontiers, missionary frontiers, commercial frontiers, military frontiers, and tribal lands. It was complemented by other caminos reales that traversed the viceroyalty, for all roads led to Mexico City. Its long history intersected with that of the United States, which today owns 400 miles of the 1,500- mile long Camino Real and shares in its history and heritage. Onate’s route and the settlement of New Mexico
One of the most famous historical personages associated with blazing portions of the Camino Real is Juan de Oñate, who founded Spanish New Mexico in 1598. Today, the portion of the Camino Real between Ciudad Chihuahua and El Paso is known as “La Ruta de Oñate”—Oñate’s Route—as it was blazed by him and his settlers. Another portion of the road blazed by Oñate’s settlers was the nearly 80-mile long, waterless Jornada del Muerto or Deadman’s Journey. It was developed for use by cart caravans because it was along flatter land than that straddling the Río Grande. Indeed, Oñate's settlement at San Juan de los Caballeros was the first capital of New Mexico and the terminus of the Camino Real. By 1600, the capital and its town council (cabildo) were moved to San Gabriel. The ruins of both places are located at present Ohkay Owingeh (San Juan Pueblo) near the confluence of the Río Chama and the Río Grande. The Spanish settlement of New Mexico and its establishment of a town council with both elected and appointed members predated Jamestown by nine full years. Later, in 1609, the capital was moved to Santa Fe, which historically served as the terminus of the Camino Real throughout the Spanish Colonial Period. In 1680, the Pueblo Revolt forced fleeing Spanish settlers south along the road. Twelve years later, a Spanish army under Governor Diego de Vargas, traveled up the Camino Real to re-conquer New Mexico.El Camino Real becomes known outside of New Spain
In 1821, Mexico declared its independence from Spain. In a sense, the Camino Real ceased to be “royal” for once Spain and its monarchy were replaced by the budding Mexican Nation, the Camino Real became a Camino Nacional of the Mexican Republic. The corridor of the old Camino Real continued to serve as an immigration and trade route for many more decades. Near the end of the Spanish colonial period, in 1807, Zebulon Montgomery Pike, captured by Spanish troops in 1807, was taken to Santa Fe. Pike and his men were next escorted along the Camino Real to Ciudad Chihuahua so that officials could determine whether to punish Pike and his men for trespassing on Spanish soil, or release them. In the end, Pike was released by way of San Antonio in Texas, but not before he was inadvertently given a tour along the Camino Real de Tierra Adentro and the colonial road to Saltillo, thence north to San Antonio. His journals were subsequently published, revealing, to the outside world, one of the first outsiders' view of the Camino Real and the Spanish frontiers of New Mexico, Chihuahua, Nuevo León, Coahuila, and Texas. Anglo-American traders also use El Camino Real Between 1821 and 1846, Anglo-American traders engaged in trade with Santa Fe.
Notable among them was Josiah Gregg whose account Commerce of the Prairies: The Journal of a Santa Fé Trader described New Mexico and life along portions of the old Camino Real during the 1830s and 1840s. Gregg’s description of New Mexico offers a colorful window to the past. Military use of El Camino Real
In the Anglo-American period following 1846, General Stephen Watts Kearney, commander of the Army of the West, led his force to New Mexico during the Mexican War. His second in command, Alexander W. Doniphan led troops southward along the Camino Real to capture Chihuahua. Although Hispanic rule of that portion of the old Camino Real had come to an end, the legacy of its past lived on and continued with a new history. In 1848, under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, Mexico ceded half of its territory to the United States inclusive of California, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas and parts of Utah, Montana, and Wyoming. In 1853, the Gadsden Purchase Treaty completed the map of the United States when land south of the Gila River lying between Mesilla and Yuma were acquired from Mexico.
Less than sixteen years after the Mexican War, another army moved through the corridor of the old Camino Real from El Paso: Confederate forces under Henry Sibley who captured Albuquerque and Santa Fe during the Civil War. During New Mexico’s Territorial Period, U.S. military forts were established along the route to protect travelers and settlers in the area surrounding the road. Indeed, the Camino Real had been the stage for a pageantry that passed through it for over two-hundred sixty years.Cultural and material traditions transmitted by El Camino Real
The Camino Real de Tierra Adentro transcends time and place, for its contribution to the history of two nations cuts across cultures as Indian, Spaniard, Mexican, and Anglo-American have all left their trace on this ancient road. Historically, the Camino Real served as a conduit for the transmission of culture. Historic, ethnic, and cultural traditions were transmitted through the Camino Real. Aside from Western Civilization cultural values, a significant Hispanic culture survives today in the form of music, folktales, folk medicine, folk sayings, architecture, geographic place names, language, Catholic Religion, irrigation systems, and Spanish law. Such cultural values and institutions were transmitted through the Camino Real as were foodstuffs. Among the many food exchanges along the Camino Real was the red chile pepper, introduced into New Mexico, ironically, by Spanish settlers from Mexico. Another product was the apple and other fruits, which together with chile, are important in today's economy. The Camino Real was also a transhumance route through which cattle, oxen, horses, mules, sheep, and goats—not to mention cats and dogs—were taken north to the New Mexican settlements. Among the legal concepts presently utilized in the American legal system which were transmitted through the Camino Real are community property laws, land grant administration, first-priority in terms of water usage, mining claims, and the idea of sovereignty especially as applied to Native American land claims.
Santa Fe becomes the focal point for commercial and immigrant trails Just as all roads led to Mexico City at the southern end of the Camino Real, so too did all roads lead to Santa Fe at the northern end of the old road. At Santa Fe, two other roads met. One of them, the Santa Fe Trail from Missouri joined the Camino Real segment known as the Camino de Chihuahua. Thus the Santa Fe Trail continued southward to Chihuahua as a commercial and immigrant trail. Together, the fusion of the two historic roads became known as the Santa Fe-Chihuahua Trail. Another road, one leading to Los Angeles by way of southern Utah, joined both roads at Santa Fe. That road was known as the Old Spanish Trail left Santa Fe in a northwestward direction to southern Utah, thence westward to Las Vegas, Nevada, and finally to Los Angeles, California. In the end, these trails served to encourage Anglo-American migration and commerce into the Greater Southwest.El Camino Real yesterday and today
The United States shares in the heritage of the Camino Real with Mexico and Spain. In particular, the United States and Mexico share a common history and a common culture throughout the borderlands. Born from prehistoric Indian trade routes, the Camino Real in turn spawned the development of the Greater Southwest of the United States and the central corridor of Mexico. Today, railroad lines, Interstate 25, county roads, city streets straddle or parallel the historic corridor of the Camino Real de Tierra Adentro as it crosses the U.S.-Mexico border on its way northward to Santa Fe.
Info and images courtesy El Camino Real International Heritage Center