Camino del Norte: How a Series of Watering Holes, Fords, and Dirt Trails Evolved into Interstate 35 in Texas

Camino del Norte: How a Series of Watering Holes, Fords, and Dirt Trails Evolved into Interstate 35 in Texas

Camino del Norte: How a Series of Watering Holes, Fords, and Dirt Trails Evolved into Interstate 35 in Texas

Camino del Norte: How a Series of Watering Holes, Fords, and Dirt Trails Evolved into Interstate 35 in Texas


Some five hundred miles of superhighway run between the Rio Grande and the Red River--present-day Interstate 35. This towering achievement of modern transportation engineering links a string of Texas metropolises and some 7.7 million people, and yet it all evolved from a series of humble little trails.

The I-35 Corridor that runs north-south through Texas connects Dallas and Fort Worth with Austin, San Antonio, and Laredo en route to ancient towns in Mexico. Along its path lie urban centers, technology parks, parking lots, strip malls, apartment complexes, and vast open spaces. In this fascinating popular history, based on extensive primary and secondary research, Howard J. Erlichman asks how and why the Camino del Norte (the Northern Road) developed as (and where) it did. He uncovers, dissects, prioritizes, and repackages layer upon layer of centuries-spanning history to, in his words, "solve the mystery of I-35."

His chronicle focuses less on the physical placement of I-35 than on the reasons it was created: the founding of posts and villages and the early development of towns. Along the way, he explores a number of circumstances that contributed to the location and development of the corridor: pre-Columbian cultures, Mexican silver mining, road and bridge building techniques, Indian tribes, railroad developments, military affairs, car culture, and pavement technology, to name a few.

Presently, a variety of new highway projects are underway to address the dramatic expansion of I-35 traffic generated by population growth and business enterprise. Those interested in the economic development of the state of Texas, in NAFTA links and their precursors, and in touring the Interstate itself will find this book informative and useful.


The subject matter of this book started out as an interest. Then it developed into a hobby. Eventually, the historical puzzle of Interstate 35 in Texas became nearly an obsession. I discovered that the central question—how and why did the magnificent I-35 Corridor develop as (and where) it did?— could be answered only with investigation and research. Fortunately, thousands of excellent books and articles on Texas and North American history would provide the critical foundation for this effort. Unfortunately, most of the existing scholarship had either ignored the subject entirely or offered detailed slices of history too specific, too disjointed, or too local to ease my path. Layer upon layer of centuries-spanning history would have to be uncovered, dissected, prioritized, and repackaged to chronicle the developments that led to I-35.

The physical highway itself, approved as a U.S. interstate in 1947 and largely completed by 1970, would be of little help. Nor would much illumination come from the glittering skylines of San Antonio, Austin, Dallas, and Fort Worth, the technology parks, warehouses, frontage roads, parking lots, strip malls, apartment complexes, and pasture lands that blanket the roadscape between Laredo and the Red River crossing in Cooke County. Yet the towering achievement of I-35, the string of metropolises that it connects, and the nearly 8 million people residing along its path had not just happened on its own. If the puzzle were to be solved—at least for myself—I would have to write my own book.

That I-35 connects relatively recent settlements in Texas with the ancient communities of Mexico added greatly to my interest. the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has placed I-35 and Mexico in the headlines since 1994. But how could regional, cross-border trade (and trade trails) not have developed over the preceding centuries, or even millennia? Since the Rio Grande appears significantly wider on most maps than it does in reality, why would this arbitrary political boundary present a greater obstacle to trade flows . . .

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