El Camino Real
International Heritage Center
El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro Trail
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Santa Fe
El Paso
Santa Fe Trail (1821-1880)
El Camino Real
 del Tierra Adentro
(1598 - 1885) 
Spanish explorer Hernßn CortÚz discovered Mexico in 1518, conquering the Aztec empire by 1521.  CortÚz renamed the captured capitol city of Tenochtitlan to Cuidad de Mexico, or Mexico City. 
CortÚz' invasion route, from the port city of Veracruz to Mexico City, became the first leg of El Camino Real.  Ships sailed between Spain and Veracruz, connected the new world city of Mexico City to Spain.
Silver was discovered in the Zacatecas mountains.  So much silver, that smelters and mints were built in Mexico City for stamping coinage and silver ignots, most of which were shipped to Spain.  The heavily traveled road from Mexico City to the silver mines at Zacatecas became the second leg of El Camino Real. This route had originally been an Aztec foot trail.
Juan de O˝ate received permission from the King of Spain to conduct the first colonization expedition far into the interior of what is today New Mexico, 1,500 miles away.  Departing Zacatecas, the O˝ate Expedition passed through the dry Chihuahuan Desert and crossed the Rio Grande at today's El Paso in early 1598.  O˝ate continued through the Jornada del Muerto desert to the San Juan Pueblo, declaring it the capitol of New Spain, then to Santa Fe in 1603.
O˝ate's trail from Zacatecas to Santa Fe became the third leg of the Royal Road into the interior land, or El Camino Real del Tierra Adentro. By the early 1600s, El Camino Real was in regular use bringing colonists, missionaries and supply caravans to the growing Spanish settlements along the Rio Grande. 
Brief Description
El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro
The Royal Road to the Interior
(Map) El Camino Real del Tierra Adentro ran from Mexico City and the port city of Veracruz to Santa Fe, a distance of over 1,500 miles.  Many of New Mexico's early settlers sailed to the new world from Cadiz, Spain, considered by some to be the actual beginning of El Camino Real.  For 300 years, people from Mexico and Spain settled New Mexico along the famous trail.
From Santa Fe, some settlers continued northward along both sides of the Rio Grande, extending El Camino Real to Taos, and into the San Luis Valley in Colorado, though less recognized.
El Camino Real predates the Santa Fe Trail (1821-1880) by over 200 years. The railroad arrived in New Mexico 1880-1882, making both El Camino Real and Santa Fe trails obsolete.
Mexico City
These early days of the trail also brought friars and priests into New Mexico, building missions among the native pueblo people, converting them to Christianity.  Dozens of missions were built at the larger pueblos.  Many of today's New Mexico towns are the original sites of these Indian pueblos and missions.  Many of these old El Camino Spanish missions are still in use today.
For 300 years, El Camino Real was the only road into New Mexico and the Southwest, bringing thousands of settlers from Mexico and Spain into the region.  Even the famed Santa Fe Trail did not come along until 1821, connecting New Mexico to the United States for the first time.  This is why so many of the people in New Mexico today are of early Mexican or Spanish decent.  It was their ancestors that settled along the Rio Grande by way of the long, dusty trail called El Camino Real.
El Camino Real began to wane in the mid-1880s with the arrival of the railroad, transporting people and supplies along the Rio Grande in hours that used to take weeks. As a result, most historians cite the use of El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro was from 1598 through 1885.  However, in the early 1900s, automobiles traveled El Camino Real, serving as the first highway from El Paso to Santa Fe, restoring life to the old trail for a short time.
Interstate highways I-10 and I-25, from El Paso to Santa Fe, is today's El Camino Real, closely following the route of the historic trail - except between Las Cruces and Socorro, I-25 follows the Rio Grande, rather than the 90-mile waterless shortcut through the Jornada del Muerto.
M E X I C O.
del Muerto
Quick facts
about the trail
The first colonists along El Camino Real arrived in New Mexico with the O˝ate expedition in 1598 -- 22 years before the Mayflower landed at Plymouth Rock.
The Pueblo Revolt in 1680 caused the Spanish and many settlers to flee. 
Settlement of New Mexico resumed in 1698.
Santa Fe was the capitol of New Spain, flying the Spanish flag for over 200 years (1603-1821)
The Spanish empire fell in 1821; the region became part of Mexico.  El Camino became known as the Chihuahua Trail.
New Mexico became a territory of the United States in 1848 and statehood in 1912.
El Camino Real "died" in 1885 with the arrival of the AT&SF railroad.
El Camino Real is the oldest and longest used "highway" in Mexico and the U.S.
Home                   El Camino Real International Heritage Center 
Brief history of El Camino Real Trail.  Map of Camino Real.