Hundreds of years ago, there was only one route through New Mexico, the El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, a 1,600-mile trail stretching from Mexico City up to El Paso, Albuquerque and, finally, San Juan Pueblo.
Now a portion of the famed Royal Road of the Interior Lands has become a living history lesson.
Local officials gathered Tuesday to celebrate a new educational walking path that follows the El Camino Real along Edith Boulevard near Martineztown Park and Longfellow Elementary School. Albuquerque Public Schools, the City of Albuquerque, Citizens Information Committee of Martineztown and the National Park Service collaborated on the effort, which took over a decade to bring to fruition.
“This happened because of the support we have gotten from our elected officials and from all of the staffs in the city, the mayor, Superintendent (Raquel) Reedy,” said Frank Martinez, a longtime Martineztown leader who spearheaded the plan. “We couldn’t have asked for more.”
Reedy said she was happy to be involved and recalled hearing her grandmother’s stories about El Camino Real during her childhood in Laredo, a Texas border town.
In the old days, travelers would spend six months to a year traversing the entire route, and Reedy wondered why it would take them so long.
“I could not imagine it,” Reedy added. “It wasn’t a freeway. It was a difficult process, but our ancestors were strong and they saw it through.”
Thanks to the new landscaping, interpretive signs and public art, Albuquerque children can immerse themselves in El Camino Real’s history, Reedy said.
That history goes back to the late 16th century, when conquistador Juan de Oñate led an expedition that helped establish the road, once the longest in North America. Oñate, a colonial governor from 1598 to 1610, aimed to establish Catholic missions and explore the territory that would become New Mexico.
On Tuesday, Edward L. Romero, former ambassador to Spain and a descendent of Oñate’s bookkeeper, said the Royal Road supported the development of the entire area.
“Study your history – history is most important to help you realize what you are, build your confidence and show where you might go,” he added.
Longfellow Elementary fourth-grader Isaak Bowers said the new educational trail has made him feel more connected to the past.
Bowers had never heard of El Camino Real before he started rehearsals for a short historical play presented during the celebration.
His friend, Ethan Michelman, portrayed a dying ox and agreed that he had learned a lot.