Saturday, February 23, 2013

Paraje de Fra Cristobal Historical Marker: Socorro County

Paraje de Fra (a variant of "Friar") Cristobal is named for Friar Cristobal de Salazar, a member of Oñate's 1598 expedition that founded the Camino Real.

It was said by members of the expedition that the mountain range to the east resembled the friars profile.

This particular paraje, Spanish for "stopping place," was one of the more important stops on the entire Camino Real, which spanned from Mexico City to Santa Fe, some 1400 miles. What made this stop so important is that it was the northern entry or exit point of the Jornada del Muerto (see my post on the Jornada del Muerto marker for more information on this deadly journey by clicking HERE). 100 miles to the south was Paraje San Diego (see my post on that marker HERE for more information). Between these two markers lie the journey of the dead man, a 100 mile trek through open desert with no permanent water source.

This marker sits at a rest stop in sourthern Socorro County about 40 miles south of Socorro (which you can see on a map HERE). There are three other markers at this rest stop that I will be discussing soon, Fort Craig, Vasquez de Coronado's Route, and Women of the Camino Real.

Paraje San Diego Historical Marker: Doña Ana County

On the El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro road that was a heavily used trade trail between Mexico City and Santa Fe (and is responsible for many of the settlements in this area, including Santa Fe itself), there were many parajes, a Spanish word for "stopping place." Back then, travelers could expect to move between 20-40 miles per day, sometimes less depending upon the terrain. Here in present day northern Doña Ana County, the Camino Real deviated from the safety of the Rio Grande and crossed open desert. This journey was known as the Jornada del Muerto. I previously visited that marker, which is actually located right behind this marker. The post for that marker is titled Jornada del Muerto Historical Marker: Doña Ana County.

Paraje San Diego was the final stop before the Joranda del Muerto, a 100 mile journey with no water source that needed to be completed in the shortest amount of time possible due to the dire circumstances. On the other end was Paraje Fra Cristobal. This paraje is considered significant for that reason.

If you'd like to learn more about El Camino Real, please visit my post on that titled Jornada del Muerto Historical Marker: Doña Ana County, there are some resources at the bottom of that posting.

There is also this brochure from the Camino Real Heritage Center.

Check out this marker mapped out HERE.
This last photo looks out east from the rest stop on I-25 where this marker is located. The view is of the beginnings of the Jornada del Muerto journey. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Jornada del Muerto Historical Marker: Doña Ana County

Before I begin telling about the Jornada del Muerto, it's important to discuss the history of the Camino Real. There are other "Camino Real" roads, the one I am referring to in this case and in the case of New Mexico history is El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, Spanish for "The Royal Road of the Interior Land". This heavily used road ran from Mexico City to Santa Fe from 1598 to 1882. This trail, which was in use locally prior to 1598, became the major trade route between the Mexican Capital and Santa Fe, the most important settlement in the northern lands, when Don Juan de Oñate's expedition came through. The Camino Real is responsible for much of the settlements along the route, including El Paso, Las Cruces, Mesilla, Albuquerque, Durango (Mexico), Chihuahua, Juarez, and of course, Santa Fe.

Along the Camino Real were rest stops, where travelers could get water, trade for food, rest, etc. Sometimes there were actual towns and villages to stop at, get water and food, and rest. Other stops, sometimes in the middle of nowhere, were known as "paraje," and there are many of these that have been marked off with historical markers, in fact, the site of this marker is also the site of Paraje San Diego (click the link to be taken to the post for that marker). Paraje San Diego was the last stop before leaving the safety of the Rio Grande River.

The danger of leaving the river was being away from water. However, at this point, some 10 miles north of Las Cruces, the route along the Rio Grande was full of dangerous cliffs and other perils. So the Camino Real stretched off to the west, and for 100 miles, leading up to Paraje Fra Cristobal (click the link to be taken to the post for that marker), had no reliable water source. This stretch of the trail, a "jornada", a dangerous trail between parajes that must be traveled in a single day due to lack of water, became infamously known as the Jornada del Muerto, or "Journey of the Dead Man."

The town of Socorro to the north of the Jornada got its name because of the sad state of many Pueblo travelers once they reached it (Socorro means "help" or "assistance" in Spanish). During the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, Spanish refugees retreated across the Jornada, losing over 800 of their group to the elements.

Today the Jornada del Muerto lives as a testament to the difficult conditions that our ancestors in the area endured to survive, and to show us the resolve they had to reach their destinations.

If you'd like to learn more about the Jornada del Muerto or the El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, please check out the following links, my sources for this post:

Monday, February 18, 2013

Jumbo Nuclear Bomb Containment Device Historical Marker: Socorro County

In the small town of Socorro, in West Central New Mexico on Interstate 25 lies an interesting historical find. If you exit the interstate and head a few blocks into town, you will find the quaint central plaza area that is so distinctive in many New Mexico towns that grew to prominence in the 1800's. While in Socorro, I was delighted to come across some World War II history (you can see this location mapped HERE).

Socorro is known for being fairly close in location to the Trinity Site, the testing site for the first atomic bomb, which was developed 150 or so miles further north in Los Alamos. The final testing site for the Manhattan Project was originally intended to include a large steel structure that would house the bomb.
This was going to be done due to the possibility of a misfire of the nuclear core of the bomb, which would result in plutonium being thrown all over the area for many miles.

As the years went by, the scientists involved decided to scrap the containment device, which became known as "Jumbo." By this time, the device, to much effort, had already been delivered. So they decided to suspend it on a tower some 800 feet from the epicenter of the blast and see what happened.

Nothing happened actually, the 8 to 16 inch thick steel casing survived the blast fully intact, unfortunately its tower did not survive.

Eventually the US Army attempted to destroy Jumbo by placing 500 pounds of explosives inside. All the explosives managed to do was blow out the ends of Jumbo. It was then buried in the New Mexico desert. The majority of it now stands at the entrance to the Trinity Site, with this small (I use that term lightly because this piece has to weigh a few tons) piece placed near the central plaza in downtown Socorro. It's a delightfully dark story for such an interesting piece of American history.

If you're interested in hearing more about Jumbo, please check out my sources for this post:

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Rio Grande Historical Marker in Doña Ana County

This particular historical marker is located on Highway 70 as it intersects the Rio Grande River in west Las Cruces (map this location HERE). I'm sure there are other Rio Grande markers throughout the state, but this is the one that is nearest my home.

The Rio Grande has had an historically significant impact on the settlement and growth of the Mesilla Valley, and much of New Mexico (and west/south Texas as well). The old flow of the river took it through the village of Mesilla and immediately west of the settlement of Tortugas in south Las Cruces. Of course now the river flows further out to the west, about three miles further west than it did 100 years ago. This is due to the Elephant Butte river dam system.

Now the river sits dry for a good portion of the year, primarily during the fall and winter months. But even at its peak, this isn't a river that would be familiar to many back east. Even when it's flowing in all of its majesty, it's a shallow, muddy river. I've canoed the rio and have gotten out of the canoe in the middle of the river and usually found that I'm only in water up to my knees.

No matter the state of the river, it's always had an impact on our area, and people are always quick to mention their favorite memories of being out on the river, be it wading in it as a child, participating in the areas rafting challenges, or driving dune buggies in it during the dry months.

Friday, February 1, 2013

San Augustin Pass Historical Marker

San Augustin Pass sits on US Highway 70 about 10 miles east of Las Cruces, immediately east of the village of Organ. The pass, classified as a gap, sits between the Organ Mountains to the south and the San Augustin Mountains, a sub range of the San Andres Mountains, to the north. The pass peaks at 5,710 feet, and offers sweeping views of the White Sands Missile Range to the east, with the ability to even see the western slopes of the Sacramento Mountains some 40 miles across the basin floor. To the north, the world famous White Sands can be seen. To the west, views of Las Cruces all the way to the Gila National Forest, including the Robledo Mountains, Doña Ana Mountains, Picacho Peak, "A" (or Tortugas) Mountain, and even as far as the Portillo Mountains further off to the west on a clear day.

The pass is the primary route between Alamogordo and Las Cruces. Anyone traveling the pass may notice that the historical marker reads SAN AUGUSTIN PASS, while many other area signs read SAN AGUSTIN PASS. San Agustin is the Spanish translation for Saint Augustine, the namesake of the pass.

There are references in history of the gap being used by the Spanish and Natives to the area as far back as the 1500's. The pass in its current form has been utilized since the area grew in population in the mid-1800's. It was then, and still is today, the primary route between Las Cruces / Mesilla and Lincoln County, a prominent and important area in the 1800's.

If you're ever in the area, I recommend a drive to the top, it's the best view in the area, hands down. At 5,710 feet, it's not the highest point in the New Mexico highway system (the highest point is in northern New Mexico, and is almost twice as high), but it does stand nearly 2,000 feet above the valley floor, making the views quite impressive.

Here are the pages I referred to trying to find more history on the pass (it wasn't easy, there's not much out there):