Camino de Sueños,
sculpture, by Greg Reiche
An old car winds its way down La Bajada Hill, on
El Camino Real.
El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro (Royal Road to
the Interior) International Heritage Center.
Traveling back along El Camino Real
Heading north on I-25 after a weekend in Truth or Consequences,
we stopped at a rest area. Looking out across the vast expanse to
the east, we noticed an impressive sculpture that invited further
We got back on I-25, took Exit 115, went east to Highway 1, drove
south about a mile, turned left on County Road 1598, and pulled
off next to the sculpture. A plaque said that the thirty-foot sculpture
Camino de Sueños (Road of Dreams) is the work of Placitas
artist Greg Reiche. It is an entryway to a step back in time as
you continue down the road another two miles to the El Camino Real
de Tierra Adentro (Royal Road to the Interior) International Heritage
Center. You can’t miss it: it’s the large modern building
in the middle of nowhere.
Greg Reiche told me later that his sculpture, commissioned by
the state, is fabricated from fifteen tons of steel, with a natural
rust finish and three tons of glass. Reiche said, “My final
inspiration came when I hiked about five miles and camped out near
Black Mesa. I wanted to immerse myself in the site and experience
what it must have been like for the first travelers moving through
the wilderness at the speed of their slowest pig.” He said
that it is designed to reflect the grandeur of the landscape. The
glass opens to the sky, enticing people to move through a passageway
and follow their dreams—and explore the heritage of the Camino
The center (admission $5) contains state-of-the art exhibits and
self-guided audio tours that take visitors back in time to the adventure
that was El Camino Real, North America’s oldest and longest
trail. The center is just across the Rio Grande from the trail,
which extended fifteen hundred miles between Mexico City and the
Española Valley, north of Santa Fe. On display are artifacts,
art, and devotional items used along the trail that initiate anybody
who never thought much about it into the scope of the Spanish colonization
of the Southwest. In 1598, settlers traveled into the unknown with
a caravan of carts, livestock, and soldiers.
In October of 2000 Congress added the Camino Real to the National
Historic Trail System; then in 2002, the Bureau of Land Management
transferred ownership of 120 acres to the state of New Mexico. It
took a couple of years to build the center, which opened a year
ago, operated as a state monument by the Department of Cultural
Affairs. Because of its isolation, it could be viewed as a sort
of government boondoggle. But it is just this isolation that makes
the trip back in time seem so real.
The International Heritage Center is over a hundred miles south
of Albuquerque, but rest assured that there is a lot more to see.
Head back north for a few miles on Highway 1 (which as it turns
out, is the El Camino Real Scenic Byway), shift gears to the 1850s,
and turn right on County Road 273 to the ruins of Fort Craig. The
fort was built by the Americans in 1854 to protect traders from
Apache raiders on a segment of Camino Real called the Jornada del
Muerto (Journey of the Dead Man). It housed Union soldiers who fought
the confederates nearby at the Battle of Valverde. After the war,
the fort’s activity was again focused on the Indian campaigns,
which included the black regiments known as the Buffalo Soldiers.
Fort Craig was abandoned after Geronimo surrendered, in 1885.
The annual battle reenactment in February would be a good time
to visit Fort Craig. Visit www.swcp. com/~pvtpappy/PageMill _Resources/4thTXNewsletter.html
The next stop on Highway 1 is the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife
Refuge, a popular destination for bird watchers, especially when
the sandhill cranes are migrating. It was filled with thousands
of snow geese when we visited. A famous green-chile cheeseburger
at the Owl Bar in San Antonio capped a great afternoon of exploring
unexpectedly special places.
During the 2006 Festival of the Cranes, activities were linked
between Bosque del Apache and the International Heritage Center.
Enthusiastic education specialist Claudia Gallardo said that the
center is getting busier all the time, mostly due to word of mouth.
Mike Bilbo, outdoor-recreation specialist at the Socorro office
of the BLM, says that the area around the Scenic Byway has some
of the states’s best, yet relatively little-known recreational
opportunities. He says a lot of people travel the country’s
historical trails. Camping is not permitted at any of the places
mentioned above, but a visit to the BLM Web site points out plenty
of other places nearby.
Turn north eleven miles east of San Antonio on Highway 380 and
follow County Road A-129 for twenty-four miles down the Quebradas
Backcountry Byway, an unpaved county road traversing about twenty-four
miles of rugged, colorful landscapes east of Socorro. Camping and
hiking are available all along the gravel road, which returns to
I-25 at the Escondito exit.
This scenic byway is just a glimpse of the Royal Road.
For more information about the International Heritage
Center, visit www.elcaminoreal.
org or call 505-854-3600. The BLM has a Web site at http://www.nm.blm.gov
A guide to the Camino Real
You can tour the Camino Real from the comfort of home by visiting
an interactive map at www.caminorealheritage.org.
Zoom in, zoom out, and click on icons to learn about the historical
sites, the people, and recreational opportunities along the historical
Maybe then you’ll be ready for a road trip to see it all
for yourself. Start by picking up a copy of Following the Royal
Road, by Hal Jackson. Jackson takes his readers from historical
sites in Santa Fe to the northern terminus of the trail, then all
the way south to Mexico City, and north again along a later route
of the Camino Real to Chihuahua.
Placitas resident Hal Jackson is a retired professor of geography
at Humboldt State University and is currently an adjunct faculty
member at the University of New Mexico. He has just returned from
following the Royal Road for the fifth time, in preparation for
a bus tour through Mexico that he will be guiding in March. For
more information, visit tourelcaminoreal.com.
The guidebook has sixty maps, drawn by the author, that make it
fairly easy to find obscure remnants of the trail. It also includes
historical vignettes and narrative accounts collected from a variety
of primary sources.
Jackson worked with Martha and Joe Liebert of the Sandoval County
Historical Society to explore details of the road’s vital
links through the Signpost reading area. Following the Royal Road
takes readers on an excellent day trip from Bernalillo through the
pueblos to a trail to the top of La Bajada Hill.
Following the Royal Road is available at bookstores or
directly from the University of New Mexico Press. To order, call
(800) 272-7737 or visit www.unmpress.com.