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In 1598, Don Juan de Onate led 500 colonists through the remote and unfamiliar country now known as New Mexico, and the route Onate followed became El Camino Real, "the royal road.” 

The byway begins just north of Las Cruces, in Fort Selden, built in the mid-1800s to protect local settlers and travelers on El Camino Real, and continues to cross 90 miles of flat but waterless and much more dangerous desert, the Jornada del Muerto ("journey of the dead man") before reaching Socorro. The road then heads north to Albuquerque and Santa Fe, finally reaching its end at San Juan Pueblo, the first capital of New Mexico and the end of Don Juan de Onate's journey.