'Journey of Death' route on El Camino Real trail sees new life

Updated: 08/18/2014 7:04 PM | Created: 08/18/2014 4:57 PM
By: Richard Estrada, KOB Eyewitness News 4

El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, the 1,500 mile Royal Road of the Interior Land, served as the main route between Mexico and New Mexico for about 300 years. 

The Jornada del Muerto is a ninety-mile stretch of the trail in south-central New Mexico that challenged travelers as they faced a virtually waterless desert basin.

"I've driven the road, which more or less parallels the trail - that was in my air-conditioned Jeep, and it was still pretty brutal," Chris Hanson of the El Camino Real Historic Trail Site said.

Hanson administers the El Camino Real Historic Trail Site near the Jornada del Muerto.

"The El Camino Real historic Site tells the fascinating story of the Spanish Royal Road that had its origins in prehistoric trails," Hanson said.

Today, the desert remains fairly desolate. Ranchers raise their cattle and the railroad pretty much parallels the historic trail.

Spaceport America calls the Jornada home with the promise of sending a new kind of traveler and explorer into space. Ted Turner's Armanderis Ranch covers a good area of the Joranda del Muerto.

But a unique use of the desert is growing in popularity - the growing of grapes for sparkling wine.

"My grandfather was looking to expand out of France, and he always wanted to live the American Dream. So he looked at many states: California, Washington, Oregon, Texas, New York," Sofian Himeur of Gruet Winery said.

25 years ago, Himeur's grandfather from France started with an experimental ten acres in the Jornada near Engle. The soil and the climate proved to be excellent.

"The great thing about where we're at in Engle is it is 4300 feet in elevation on a plateau, and so you have hot days and cool nights - a thirty degree swing - so it is really good for the grapes and the acidity…it is literally a gold mine for growing grapes," Himeur said.

The Spanish brought the first grapes to the southwest over El Camino Real. More of the Jornada del Muerto's and the Royal Road's history can be found by stopping by to see Hanson at El Camino Real Historic Trail Site between Socorro and Truth or Consequences.

"This is a fascinating story that a lot of people don't know a lot about," Hanson said.

From the Jornada del Muerto, the trail heads north along the Rio Grande through the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, through Conrad Hilton's home of San Antonio and onto Socorro.

The El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro was designated as a National Historic Trail in 2000, operated by the National Park Service and U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

On Tuesday, KOB Eyewitness News 4 will follow the trail north to its end in Santa Fe.

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