Finding El Camino Real in Baja


EL CAMINO REAL in Baja, Part 1


"El Camino Real" means The Royal Road or as Harry Crosby calls it "The King's Highway". There actually are many Camino Reals in the New World, built after the Spanish conquered most of the Western Hemisphere.

The purpose was to connect important points and population centers in the new territories. Gold and other treasures, including tax revenues, were transported back to the king, in part on the various "Royal Roads".

In California, we are most familiar with El Camino Real as the route Franciscan padre Junipero Serra traveled when he established a chain of missions here, beginning in 1769. Today, four-lane paved expressways bear the name El Camino Real wherever the new street was built on or near the old trail.

Junipero Serra and the El Camino Real both began not in San Diego, but 700 miles further south, in LORETO.

In fact, long before Serra and his Franciscan brothers came to Baja California, the chain of missions and the connecting Camino Real were well established by the Jesuit Order (Society of Jesus) of the Catholic Church, starting in 1697!

After the end of the mission period in Baja, much of the Camino Real continued to be the main route of transportation until the automobile arrived on the scene.

Highway 1, from El Rosario to Tijuana is built on or very near the original trail with only a couple of exceptions.

Three modern travel writers have documented the El Camino Real to help us find the old trail as it winds through Baja. Unlike Alta California, almost no signs or paved roads show the route in Baja from Loreto to El Rosario.

The first modern travel account was written by Arthur North, in 1905, named Camp and Camino in Lower California . North is considered to be the first "tourist" to travel the length of Baja for adventure and research.

The next detailed account is an unpublished report (with maps) by Howard Gulick in 1955. Gulick was researching Baja for his future Lower California Guidebook . He noted the location of older trails he saw crossing the newer auto dirt roads both from the ground and from aerial photos he was privileged to take. Gulick and co-author Peter Gerhard rode with mules on sections of El Camino Real, as well.

The unpublished report and personal conversations with Gulick was of great assistance to the third author, Harry Crosby in his research for The King's Highway in Baja California , published in 1974. Crosby traveled the entire route of the old trail by mule with local guides. His book contains many photos and maps of the entire Camino Real.

>From the above named authors, I will attempt to provide you with details of the location of El Camino Real in the following installments. Have your Baja Almanac handy, see: Baja Almanac web site.

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