On New Mexico's Royal Road

Article excerpt

A pastoral drive just south of Albuquerque

From the time of the conquistadores to the coming of the railroad, El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro provided the only link between Santa Fe and Mexico City. Over this 1,800-mile trail came yearly caravans carrying not only tools, seeds, and other worldly goods, but also news of the outside world. Archaeologists have retraced the original route of El Camino Real, or the Royal Road, and, where contemporary roads overlap, sections have been recently designated part of a National Scenic & Historic Byway. A driving tour of the villages of the Rio Abajo, the middle Rio Grande Valley region south of Albuquerque, follows parts of the ancient route, evoking its flavor.

Head down State 47 through Isleta Pueblo, which stood on this site in 1540 when Francisco Coronado marched by. The Camino's path meanders on toward Tome Hill, an old road marker and sacred site--you'll see ancient petroglyphs and more recent crosses. Just south of the hill, you'll find a massive sculpture, La Puerta del Sol, celebrating the three cultures of this region: Indian, Spanish, and early European settlers.

Here, the countryside is pure New Mexico pastoral, with horses grazing in cultivated fields fed by ancient acequias, or irrigation ditches. …