Spring comes grudgingly to the Northern Plains. Last year it didn’t arrive until the middle of June! So I often manage to find excuses to escape to warmer climes in an effort to mitigate the effects of winter doldrums and sunlight deprivation.
I never thought of New Mexico as one of those sun break locales. I realize it’s part of the southern tier of states, but I’ve been there numerous times and know it to be a mountainous state, which I equate with cooler temperatures – at least at the higher elevations.
I was therefore pleasantly surprised on my recent visit to find mild temperatures and leaves budding on the trees, green grass underfoot, and even lilacs bravely facing sometimes fierce March winds. For the record, New Mexico IS a mountainous state. But it also contains desert and several different climate zones which have helped inspire nicknames like “the city different” (Santa Fe) and “Land of Enchantment” (the state’s logo). Known for Native American culture, the world’s largest balloon fiesta, green chili, Billy the Kid, Kit Carson, and alien landings (well, at least one), New Mexico is also the home of one of North America’s first trading routes.
Beginning in Mexico City in 1598, El Camino Real was explored, extended, settled and finally concluded just north of Santa Fe. After Spain opened up Mexico to American trade in 1821, it provided a link with the Santa Fe Trail resulting in an extensive trade route all the way to central Missouri.
I arrived with a sketchy itinerary and seven days to invest in exploring the southern and central parts of the state. The time was well-spent as I gathered details on where to stay, what to do and where to eat along the historic El Camino Real.
We strive to make our tours not only instructive but fun every step of the way. Part of my research when mapping a new Vanishing Trails Expedition is finding books and resources to recommend to participants. These must be not only historically accurate but interesting as well, because if it isn’t entertaining, what’s the point?
Our recommended reading is provided to participants in advance so they have a chance to get to know some background material in anticipation of their trip. I am delighted when I find clusters of newly introduced participants deep in conversation about the adventure ahead on the very first night! They already share a commonality – a particular interest – to begin a friendship without the usual awkward preliminaries.
All this is by way of introducing our newest Vanishing Trails Expedition: El Camino Real. Watch for it on next year’s schedule. I’m thinking spring!
Shebby Lee is a historian, writer and tour operator specializing in the historic and cultural heritage of the Great American West. Her early training was in the theatre and she served a tour of duty as an entertainer with the USO. She is also an Admiral in the Nebraska Navy.