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.
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.
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!