Aztec Ruins Receives Grant to Retrace Part of Old Spanish Trail

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Date: November 21, 2013
Contact: Superintendent Larry Turk, 505-334-6174

Aztec, NM - Aztec Ruins National Monument is pleased to announce that it has received a Connecting Trails to Parks grant for 2014. It is one of only four projects to receive the funding. The park will receive $95,314 to study and develop a part of the historic Old Spanish Trail as part of the North Main Trail Project planned in partnership with the City of Aztec. The funding will also help tell the story of the Old Spanish Trail in images, waysides, and other media.

Connecting Trails to Parks funding is set aside by the National Park Service to link National Historic Trails to National Park units. National Historic Trails, like the Old Spanish Trail or the Oregon Trail, play a vital role in understand the nation's past, but they are often hard to access unless they are developed for public use. The Connecting Trails to Parks program makes it easier for visitors to experience these vital places of American history.

The City of Aztec, the National Park Service, and other partners have planned a pedestrian and bike trail that leads from Aztec's downtown national historic district, across the Animas River, and into the national monument. A major goal of the project has always been connecting visitors to Old Spanish Trail history by developing the national historic trail, but retracing the route was largely speculative. The Connecting Trails to Parks grant will bring historical accuracy and colorful detail to this important partnership project.

Pat Kuhlhoff, Old Spanish Trail Association Salida del Sol Chapter President, says "I think that, of the three major trails in New Mexico, the Old Spanish Trail is the one people know least about. It's always exciting when a piece of it gets brought to public attention. The really nice thing about this pedestrian trail is that they're going to be able to actually walk on or near the historic trail."

LeRoy Hafen's book Old Spanish Trail calls it "the longest, crookedest, most arduous pack mule trail in the history of America." This is one reason the route can be very difficult, and even impossible, to identify on the ground today. The Spanish used the trail between 1829 and 1848 to trade woolen goods from New Mexico for mules and horses from California. All goods were carried by pack animals; the terrain was too rough to bring wagons. With no ruts or other physical traces of the trail left on the ground today, historians use journals and other records to re-discover it based on historic descriptions of the landscape. The Connecting Trails to Parks grant provides funding for this kind of meticulous historical research. The research findings will give the best approximation of the original route and river crossing to incorporate into the trail design, layout, and interpretive media.  

The route through Aztec is particularly interesting as it was used only once. Three different branches ultimately led caravans between Abiquiu, New Mexico and Los Angeles, California. In 1829-30 Antonio Armijo led 100 pack animals through what is now Aztec on the first documented round-trip journey between these locales. The "Armijo" route was deemed too difficult and dangerous, and this branch was never used again.

Besides constructing the national historic trail to allow for retracing the route itself, the other major goal of the grant is to immerse trail users in the Old Spanish Trail story. Waysides and other images can help people visualize how materials moved in this country before USPS and overnight delivery. Glimpses of the trail provide a better understand of the diverse cultures of Northwestern New Mexico and their unique trading arrangements in the 1820s and 30s. The national historic trail development project is expected to be completed during the summer of 2014.

Last updated: February 24, 2015

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Aztec, NM 87410


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