Posts Tagged ‘El Camino Real’

Behind the Scenes with Richard: El Camino Real

January 9th, 2010

Imagine taking a 1500 mile walk from Mexico City to Santa Fe (or visa versa).  Something you would want to do?  Well after “exploring” this 7-month “hike” I can tell you it is not something I would look forward to doing but thousands of people did over a couple of centuries to find new homes and a new life in Northern New Mexico.

The “Royal Road” was in use long before Columbus landed in North America and was fraught with hardship and death.  Stretches of this amazing highway, which was a primary trade route between South and North America, were so thick with brush that clothes were torn, shoes destroyed and animals injured. Long stretches were void of water.  It wasn’t an easy hike but people continued this long walk until the railroads entered the scene in the mid-1800’s and shortened the trip from months to days and offered a ride in what was then the lap of luxury.

We stopped at the new International Heritage Center located just off Exit 115 of I-25 and received our first glimpse into what life must have been like way back when.  This is a fascinating new addition to New Mexico’s Department of Cultural Affairs and a place that really gives you a chance to look back in time and explore life a couple hundred years ago and even further back.  You can’t see this new building from the highway but the signs make it an easy trip.

Just north up the Frontage Road is Fort Craig.  I’ve always been intrigued by our early fortifications and was really interested in seeing what remains of one of New Mexico’s Civil War battle places.  The South was heading for California to find gold to help finance their portion of the war and the North was ready to stop the trip.  What the Northern troops (both regular army and volunteer’s number over 2,000 strong) did to “discourage” the Southern troops with actual weapons and slight of eye is really amazing.  This was not a place you wanted to be stationed.  Wool uniforms in the summer were incredibly hot and the cold winters along the Rio Grande made this a less than desirable post.   While there, be sure and ask about the huge food storage bunkers that were uncovered … and the thousands of rations of rice stored there.  Rice?   Yes, I asked the same question … how did it get there and why so much?  You’ll have to get those answers yourself.

Staying on the Frontage Road just a few miles north you’ll drive right into Bosque del Apache …one of those magical places you want to see at dawn or dusk when the wildlife … especially the birds … are flying in and out.  And I’m talking thousands and thousands of birds … not just your backyard variety either. Mid-November is prime bird watching time for Snow Geese and Sand Hill cranes not to mention Bald Eagles and hawks, too.  Four footed critters, as you might imagine, are also present.  I had no idea what I was in for when people started telling me about the annual crane migration but I have to say that this is one spectacular (director, Chuck, and producer, Frank tell me I use that word too much but it does describe what you’ll see) place to be year round … and if it is easier for you, you can stay right in your car and not miss a thing while you take in all the sights and sounds.

Behind the Scenes at the Bosque Del Apache

Behind the Scenes at the Bosque Del Apache

San Antonio is next along the Frontage Road and just a couple miles north of the Bosque.  I love San Antonio … and here’s why.  Two great green chile cheeseburger places … the Owl Café, home of the original green chile cheeseburger, and the Buckhorn Tavern, home of another great green chile cheeseburger. Both have received their fair share of national attention and it’s tough to decide which is best so don’t count on me telling you which one you need to try.  Do what I did … have them both and make sure you add green chile cheese fries to your order.  Come on … it’s not like you’re treating yourself to these delicious delicacies seven days a week!

Next to the Owl and across the street from the Buckhorn is a quaint little gas station that just happens to have the best home made fudge I’ve ever eaten.  Multiple flavors and I’ll bet you won’t leave with just one piece of one kind.  You’ll be sampling and loading up.  Another reason to forget your diet and waistline for a couple hours!

These three unique stops make San Antonio one of those places we always make plans to spend time while traveling north or south on I-25.

Socorro lies directly on the El Camino Real and was a major stop along the way to Santa Fe.  We actually spent three days in Socorro using it as our base of operations while we traveled in all four directions to check out all the things above and many other sights.  Check out our Socorro videos for more info on what you can see heading west out of Socorro … and our Socorro TV show, which will air again over the next few months.  We have great memories of getting after hours help fixing a flat tire there and how gracious the Mayor and the Convention and Visitors Bureau folks were to us.  A great little city along the Royal Road!

Next it was off to Old Town where you can truly imagine what Albuquerque was like when the Rio Grande really was the Rio Grande!  I can’t imagine too many of us who live in New Mexico who haven’t visited … and spent time in this great place that is such a huge part of our heritage here.

And the same applies to Santa Fe where the Royal Road ended for us.  We had a great tour of the Palace of the Governor’s and I had to take a few minutes to imagine what Lew Wallace, one of our early governors, was thinking when he wrote the epic novel, Ben Hur!  And he didn’t even know Charlton Heston when he wrote the book!!!  Moving on … the brand new New Mexico History Museum that opened in 2009 is next door to the Palace of the Governor’s are these are two places you can spend hours tracing New Mexico’s history from the earliest days of Spanish and Native American inhabitants through today’s modern settlers.  The History Museum is a very powerful 3 ½ floors of what we were yesterday and what we are today.

Behind the Scenes at the New Mexico History Museum

Behind the Scenes at the New Mexico History Museum

Why the Royal Road?  Primarily trade and the search for gems and gold.  Turquoise, silver and gold both have been sought after for hundreds of years.  And early pioneers from Mexico took the El Camino Real to seek their fortunes.

Take the journey to New Mexico’s Royal Road with your family and you’ll find more wealth than you ever imagined.  I know I did!

Fort Craig in Socorro

September 30th, 2009
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Fort Craig, established in 1854, was one of the largest and most important frontier forts in the West. Set in the rugged beauty of Socorro County, N.M., it was one of the eight forts situated along the primary north-south road in the Rio Grande Valley. Fort Craig played a crucial role in Indian campaigns and the Civil War. Military excursions from Fort Craig pursued such notable Apache leaders as Geronimo, Victorio and Nana. The Fort has a rich multicultural history, full of stories of courage, honor and sacrifice.

The Fort was home to Buffalo Soldiers of the 9th Cavalry and 38th and 125th Infantry, the predominantly Hispanic New Mexico Volunteers and New Mexico Militia, and household names like Kit Carson, Rafael Chacón and Captain Jack Crawford.

Fort Craig played a significant role in 19th-century New Mexico history. The fort was situated on El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro (the Royal Road to the Interior Lands) – the 1,200-mile Spanish colonial trail from Mexico City to Santa Fe. This road served as New Mexico’s lifeline with Mexico for 223 years and was recognized in 2000 as a National Historic Trail.

In the mid-1800s the New Mexico territory was crossed by a large number of trails. Located along the travel routes were numerous military forts, designed to protect travelers and settlers. These outposts played a key role in the settlement of the American frontier.

Fort Craig was host to the largest U.S. Civil War battle in the Southwest.

It was was the epicenter of a battle that involved thousands of Union and Confederate troops, many of them New Mexico volunteers under the command of Kit Carson. Troops from Fort Craig included companies of Buffalo Soldiers who were garrisoned here while involved in struggles with Native Americans deemed at the time to be hostile.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Fort Craig remained a Union Army Post manned by regular army troops. In 1862, troops under the command of General H.H. Sibley continued up the Rio Grande after capturing military installations to the south. On February 21, 1862, Sibley’s troops engaged Union troops led by Colonel R.S. Canby. The Battle of Valverde took place upstream from Fort Craig at Valverde Crossing. Although many consider the battle to have been a Confederate victory, Union forces succeeded in holding the fort and half of the Confederate’s supply wagons were destroyed. The loss of the remaining supplies at the Battle of Glorieta, east of Santa Fe, on March 28, 1862, forced the Confederates to retreat to Texas and ended Southern aspirations for military conquest in the West.

After the Civil War, troops stationed at the fort resumed their attempts to control Indian raiding. By the late 1870s, these efforts began to succeed and the surrounding valley prospered under military protection. The fort was temporarily closed from 1878 to 1880 and, because the fort’s military function was no longer necessary, the fort was permanently abandoned in 1885. Nine years later, Fort Craig was sold at auction to the Valverde Land and Irrigation Company, the only bidder. The property was eventually donated to The Archaeological Conservancy by the Oppenheimer family Fort Craig is about 35 miles south of Socorro. Take I-25 to the San Marcial Exit, then east over the Interstate, and south on old Highway 1 (about 11 miles). Then follow the signs to Fort Craig and was transferred to the Bureau of Land Management in 1981. The site is a BLM Special Management Area and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Visit for more information.

Ed Note: Thanks to Michael E. Pitel for contacting us with regard to Fort Craig history. His comments to us follow:

The site of the largest Civil War battle in New Mexico wasn’t Fort Craig.

It was at what was then known as Valverde Crossing, a ford on the Rio Grande a few miles north of Fort Craig, whose troops were involved in the Feb., 1862, engagement.  The Texas Confederate victory became known as the Battle of Valverde.  Today that remote battlefield, on the east bank of the river, is buried beneath 20-25 feet of river silt at the upper end of Elephant Butte Lake.

El Camino Real Heritage Center

September 30th, 2009

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El Camino Real International Heritage Center
(ECRIHC) is one of New Mexico’s newest State Monuments, dedicated in November 2005. The Center contains award winning exhibits, interpretive learning center, and artifacts presenting the history and heritage of El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro – the Royal Road to the Interior. Colonists from Mexico and Spain entered New Mexico from 1598 until about 1885 along El Camino Real. Many of the people living in the Southwest today are decendents of these early settlers along the trail, extending from Mexico City and the port city of Veracruz to Santa Fe and beyond, a distance of over 1,500 miles.

Today, Interstate 25, from Las Cruces to Santa Fe, closely parallels the route of El Camino Real through New Mexico. El Camino Real is our country’s oldest, and longest continuously used “highway,” bringing European colonists to “New Spain” (New Mexico) beginning 22 years before the Mayflower. It has been designated a National Historic Trail.

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