El Camino Real Heritage Center
rises from the desert landscape, as different from its environment as from the other New Mexico state monuments. Rather than the story of a military fort, a battle waged or a frontier town, the Heritage Center is a conduit for deeper anthropological understanding between the peoples of Europe, Mexico and what is now the United States. This corridor inspired the exchange of ideas, philosophies, languages, materials, faiths and the introduction of many more aspects of European life to North America,
The physical corridor was originally a trade route traveled for thousands of years by native populations of Mesoamerican and North American tribes. In the 1500s, the Spaniards arrived and traveled its arteries as they ventured north from Mexico City, renaming the route El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, the Royal Road of the Interior.
"Camino de Sueños" (Road of Dreams), a Cultural Corridor Project sculpted by Greg Reiche (shown on right) near the entrance to Camino Real Heritage Center. The sculpture represents the mountains and the river that guided thousands of settlers searching for their dreams in the new land. The Center relates the 500-year history of El Camino Real be Tierra Adentro (the 1500 mile trade route from Mexico City to San Juan Pueblo in northern New Mexico established by the Spanish in 1598. Signage near base of sculpure is given here.
El Camino Real is intermittently visible today (shown on left
), just ruts in the desert floor that lay parallel to the trail's modern successor: New Mexico's Interstate 25 (shown on BLM photo on left
). The architecture of the International Heritage Center presents a metaphor of a ship in the desert, symbol of the corridor between cultures.
Though the area around the monument appears untouched, people have lived here or traversed the region for thousands of years. Remnants of the original trail lie just beyond the Rio Grande, a source of life from ancient times to the present that flows to the east.
El Camino Real Heritage Center, which opened in 2005 and sits on 120 acres donated by the US Bureau of Land Management, brings the stories, music and experiences of El Camino Real to life. Take a journey and realize the incredible confluence that makes this historic pocket of America so unique.
What is Camino Real?
... Spanish Royal Roads were well organized and maintained for use by military and civilians. These were public roads, guarded to ensure trade and safe travel. Parajés provided rest spots and supplies to ease the journey. Evidence of parajés found today might just be a pile of burnt rocks where a campfire existed. The main artery of El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro branched to a network of roads connecting distant regions, all capable of accommodating great ox carts and nude trains.
The International Heritage Center rises at the northern end of the most deadly section of the trail. For about 90 miles between Radium Springs (near Las Cruces) and Truth or Consequences, an unforgiving desert earned the name Jornada del Muerto
(PDF 112 Kb
), the Dead Man's Journey, and claimed the lives of many - man and beast (map of track shown here
). For those who persevered, the desperate dryness eased as the Rio Grande traversed the hostile desert to reach a fertile valley, as it flowed north to Albuquerque.
Spanish Entradas to the New World
... History is everywhere along El Camino Real de la Tierra Adentro:in families, foods, traditions, and the names of towns. Socorro, 35 miles north the Heritage Center, is regarded as the oldest Spanish-named community in New Mexico.
In 1598, as Don Juan de Oñate
(1550-1614) and his exhausted and hungry colonists traveled north from the Jornada del Muerto, they passed several ruined pueblos to eventually arrive at a Piro speaking pueblo whose people offered friendship, food, and gifts. In gratitude, Orate named the place Socorro for the help his people received. Later, the mission built there was named Nuestra Señora del Socorro,
Our Lady of Succor, or help. Farmers, merchants, and freighters prospered from trade along the trail.
Catholic missionaries and affluent Europeans intended to establish an aristocratic lifestyle in the north, similar to the lives they knew in Spain and New Spain. They brought luxuries such as fabrics, sugar, oil, wine, musical instruments, gold and silver implements for the church, tools, an occasional organ and specialty foods, including dried oysters and chocolate. To North America, Spaniards also introduced horses, cattle, sheep, goats, chickens, gunpowder, and iron. They had an impact on Native populations with the acequia system to water crops. They also introduced devastating European diseases.
The Southwestern United States
... El Camino Real played an important role in the establishment of what is now the southwestern United States. Cultural and economic exchanges have long been the heart of this region where many cultures co-exist. Today, trade between Mexico and the United States continues along this ancient corridor that now is US Interstate 25, and on its northern end. El Camino Real Heritage Center sits alongside the federally designated El Camino Real National Scenic Byway and El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro National Historic Trail. (Heritage Center signage shown on right
Trade on El Camino Real
... For thousands of years, tribes in Mexico and North America traded on these routes. Items commonly exchanged were slaves, salt, hides, peyote, minerals, pigments and turquoise. Mesoamericans sent north exotic feathers, live macaws, copper bells and shells used to adorn tribal ceremonial dress. More than exchange of materials, the trading was the beginning of ongoing cultural exchange. (Heritage Center Entrance shown on left
In 1521, when the Spaniard Hernan Cortés conquered the Aztec capital and renamed it Mexico City, native trade routes fell under Spanish military control. The route that came to be called El Camino de Tierra Adentro wound north 1,500 miles to present-day Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo north of Santa Fe. Following the traditional route, the Spanish began to spread northward, settling ranches and mining silver with slaves in Zacatécas (northern Mexico). The guarded Royal Road was forged as pioneers and Catholic missionaries went farther and farther north from Mexico City into new lands.
Text and Image Sources:
Major text of El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro
... Site brochure, New Mexico State Monuments
Road Historical Marker Photo
... U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management
Photo of Royal Road Remnant
... Bureau of Land Management, New Mexico
Map of El Camino de Tierra Adentro
Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge
... Established in 1939 to provide a critical stopover for migrating waterfowl, the refuge is well known for the thousands of sandhill cranes, geese and other waterfowl that winter here each year. Situated between the Chupadera Mountains to the west and the San Pascual Mountains to the east, the 57,331-acre refuge harbors a wild stretch of the Rio Grande, a ribbon of cottonwood and willow trees visible on the landscape from distant mesas. Grus canadensis - Sandhill cranes move among several areas throughout the day to feed, rest, and socialize. Social behavior includes at least ten different types of calls, various threatening postures, and elaborate dances for everything from joy to courtship.
Petroglyphs tell the story of an ancient people that lived and hunted here. The river and its diversity of wildlife have drawn humans to this area for at least 11,000 years when humans migrated along this corridor, sometimes settling to hunt, fish and farm. Artifacts and stone tools found nearby tell us that nomadic paleoindian hunters pursued herds of mammoth and bison in the valley. Today, Bosque del Apache is part of the National Wildlife Refuge System, a national network of lands and waters set aside and managed for the benefit of wildlife, habitat and you.
... Refuge staff depends upon and utilizes various tools to manage the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge for the benefit of wildlife. Management tools used on the refuge include prescribed burning, exotic plant control, moist soil management, farming and water level manipulation. Bosque del Apache Refuge cooperates with local farmers to grow crops for wintering waterfowl and cranes. Farmers plant alfalfa and corn, harvesting the alfalfa and leaving the corn for wildlife. The refuge staff grows corn, winter wheat, clover, and native plants as additional food, supplements for migrating waterfowl and other wildlife.
The refuge uses gates and dams to flood and drain certain wetlands on seasonal schedules. Lowering water levels in marshes to create moist fields promotes growth of native marsh plants. Marsh management is rotated so that varied habitats are always available. Dry impoundments are disced or burned, then re-flooded, to allow natural marsh plants to grow. When mature marsh conditions are reached, the cycle is repeated. Wildlife foods grown this way include smartweed, millets, chufa, bulrush, and sedges.
Many cottonwood and willow bosques that once lined the Rio Grande have been lost to human developments. Salt cedar or "tamarisk," originally introduced as an ornamental plant and for erosion control, has taken over vast areas. It is a plant that little value to wildlife. Salt cedar is being cleared and areas planted with cottonwood, black willow, and understory plants to restore native bosques that are used by wildlife to nest, rest and feed.
Irrigation canals ensure critical water flow. Daily monitoring, mowing, and clearing keeps them functioning. Controlling the water enables refuge staff to manage the habitat. Throughout the refuge, a network of small canals connects different “moist soil units” with the region’s main water supply, which is a 57-mile canal that runs along the river. Each moist-soil unit can be flooded or drained as needed to grow the best mix of wetland plants to feed migrating birds. With wetland plants hearty and thriving, a great diversity of native wildlife -- from prowling coyotes to year-round and migratory birds – continue to live in and around the wetlands.
Bosque del Apache Location Map
Bosque del Apache Refuge Map
Birding Map of Southern New Mexico
Sandhill Cranes (color:airborne)