El Paso Del Norte
History hiding in plain sight. El Paso Del Norte as seen from Tortugas Mountain in Las Cruces. The Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, including El Paso Del Norte, was the road used by the Spanish explorers/invaders (depending on your perspective) to travel from Mexico City to Santa Fe and points north.
Long before Europeans arrived, the various indigenous tribes and kingdoms that had arisen throughout northern Mexico had established the route that would later become the Camino Real de Tierra Adentro as a major thoroughfare for hunting and trading. The route connected the peoples of the Valley of Mexico with those in the north. By 1000 AD, a flourishing trade network existed from Mesoamerica to the Rocky Mountains.
In April 1598, a group of military scouts led by Juan de Oñate, the newly appointed colonial governor of the province of Santa Fe de Nuevo México, became lost in the desert south of Paso del Norte. A local indigenous person they had captured named Mompil drew in the sand a map of the only safe passage to the river. The group arrived at the Río del Norte just south of present-day El Paso and Ciudad Juárez in late April, where they celebrated the Catholic Feast of the Ascension on April 30, before crossing the river. They then mapped and extended the route to present-day Española, where Oñate would establish the capital of the new Spanish province.
To this day, this location is still a major trade corridor with both modern-day Interstate 10 and Union Pacific rail lines going through the pass. Seated at the crossroads of North America, just to the east of the continental divide, the Paso Del Norte offers the most efficient overland trade route between the Pacific and Atlantic coasts and from the Bajío region in central Mexico into New Mexico and on to the Front Range of the Rockies.