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Old 04-05-2014, 02:27 PM   #1
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Riding El Camino Real - El Paso to Santa Fe

El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, the Royal Road of the Interior Land, is America's oldest (1598) and longest (1500 miles) road. The Camino stretches from Mexico City to Santa Fe, and beyond. For 400 years the Camino lead north for conquistadors, priests, merchants, soldiers, pioneers, and dreamers.
I headed south out of Colorado on a KLR to El Paso to trace the Camino north, as the Spanish did. My starting point was San Elizario church, pictured here, about 30 miles south of El Paso. Built in 1882, it is the fourth building on the same site. This is as close to the Camino' s crossing of the Rio Grande as practical, since the river changed courses many times over the centuries with flooding. The church was full on this Sunday morning and mass was in Spanish. From here, the Camino is lost in places as it enters the urban sprawl of El Paso. I pick it again just over the border in New Mexico.
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Old 04-05-2014, 02:39 PM   #2
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El Paso del Norte to Las Cruces, NM

In 1598, Juan de Onate, the legendary conquistador, crossed the Rio Grande and headed up the river valley. The Camino follows the river closely for water and flat terrain. The Camino is well documented in Las Cruces and passes through the New Mexico State University campus.
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Old 04-05-2014, 02:56 PM   #3
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Camping out on the Camino

As I moved north out of Las Cruces, the Camino splits, later to rejoin. Walking or riding, travel was difficult, hot in summer, cold in winter, and the constant threat of attack. Parajes, or rest stops, we're established every 15 - 20 miles to sleep, eat and care for the livestock. Natural campsites were chosen for protection and access to the river. Two of these campsites, Paraje San Diego and Paraje Robledo are well documented and saw thousands of travelers over the centuries. From this sign, at 20 miles per day, the Camino traveler was about 70 days out of Mexico City. Many died along the way and it is said by some that roadside memorials we see today had their origins on the Camino Real.
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Old 04-05-2014, 03:24 PM   #4
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Jornada del Muerto - Journey of the Dead Man

Near Truth or Consequence, NM, the Camino veers east, away from the Rio Grande, into a flat, hot, waterless desert. This route was not used in summer when temperatures are well over 100 degrees. The gravel road that parallels the Camino, and the BNSF railroad line, is in bad shape and sandy. This was the most difficult area to ride. I could see the shadow of the Camino, slight indentation, rocks kicked to the side. I walked the Camino here, and in other places looking for artifacts and debris, pot shards, nails from the carts, anything that spoke of human contact. Never found a thing. This route headed north to Socorro, with a stop at the Owl Bar in San Antonio where the builders of the atomic bomb hung out and told the locals to look east that morning in July, 1945.
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Old 04-05-2014, 03:41 PM   #5
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Pueblos and Presidios

The pueblos, or villages were indian in origin and expanded by the Franciscan missionaries, for better or worse. The number of pueblos greatly reduced over the centuries due to disease, specifically smallpox. Also a source of towns were the Presidios, small forts established to guard the Camino. Many of these towns are here today. Many are gone, the adobe structures blown away.
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Old 04-05-2014, 03:49 PM   #6
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Albuquerque

Moving north into the urban mess, the Camino is lost to roads and buildings. I stopped at the Plaza, as did the Camino. It was a trade route, and traders and others needed to eat, as did I. The food in New Mexico is good, and the menus are often only in Spanish.
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Old 04-05-2014, 03:58 PM   #7
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El Camino Real and Route 66

South of Santa Fe, the Camino and Route 66 run over the same ground. The original 66 was dirt and built over the Camino. Seems logical, as parts of Interstates 25 and 40 are on Camino and 66 roadbeds.
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Old 04-05-2014, 04:08 PM   #8
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Salinas Pueblo Missions

The Spanish padres pushed religion hard - real hard. Some of the pueblo churches are huge, built with Indian labor. The salinas missions traded salt from nearby lakes and made a good living at it. There are several church ruins in the area worth a visit. Most were used for a couple centuries, some never completed. Apaches were tough enemies and often drove the settlers away. It took until the 1880s to subdue them
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Old 04-05-2014, 04:14 PM   #9
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Three Rivers Petroglyphs

Petroglyphs, rock carvings, are abundant in the southwest and here at Three River there are 20,000 of them. Most are about 1,000 years old. Nice to touch something that a fellow human made that long ago.
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Old 04-05-2014, 04:23 PM   #10
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Santa Fe

El Camino Real terminates, some say, at the Plaza in Santa Fe. Goods were traded, ideas exchanged, and accounts settled at the Palace of the Governors, the oldest public building in the USA. This place is loaded with 500 years of history.
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Old 04-05-2014, 04:30 PM   #11
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Agua Fria Street, Santa Fe.

Agua Fria Street runs on the Camino, and has been a thoroughfare for hundreds of years. There are a few pull offs with history lessons and explanations of the land grant villages along the way. The land was granted by the King of Spain and much of it remains with the original families.
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Old 04-05-2014, 04:37 PM   #12
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Pueblo San Juan

Pueblo San Juan, 40 miles north of Santa Fe is, some say, the end of El Camino Real. Others say the end is Taos Pueblo. Here is the Plaza at Pueblo San Juan. I tried to get into the Taos Pueblo, but it was closed. This was the end of the Camino for me. Next, I will ride the Camino, from El Paso to Mexico City.
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Old 04-06-2014, 10:02 AM   #13
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Heading north to Colorado

After 10 days of riding, I ran out of Camino in northern New Mexico, time to drift home. The Rio Grande canyon is worth a visit, few canyon of this depth have a bridge running over them. The weather turns to snow and wind at the bridge and I put on electric chaps, gloves, and vest. This keeps me comfortable on into the San Luis valley.
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Old 04-06-2014, 11:06 AM   #14
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Very cool!

Interesting report! I'd like to try to see at least some of the El Camino Real!
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Old 04-06-2014, 11:35 AM   #15
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Following the Rio Grande

The story of El Camino Real is tied closely to the Rio Grande. Where there's water, so go the people. The Rio Grande begins high on the eastern slope of the San Juan mountains in south Colorado and also drains the Sangre de Christo range. Huge amounts of snow melt would tear up New Mexico before dams made flow more controlled. At this time of year, the river is frozen and calm, the melt a few months away. I followed dirt roads heading north with abundant migrating Sandhill cranes.
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