Jornada del Muerto

Jornada del Muerto

The Jornada del Muerto ("Journey of the Dead Man" in Spanish, often mistranslated as "Journey of the Dead") in the U.S. state of New Mexico was the name given by the Spanish conquistadors to a desert basin and the particularly dry 100-mile (160 km) stretch of the route through it leading northward from central New Spain (modern-day Mexico) to the furthest reaches of the colony in northern Nuevo México. This route became El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro. The Jornada del Muerto runs between the Oscura and San Andres Mountains on the east, with the Caballo Mountains and the Fra Cristóbal Range on the west. The name Jornada del Muerto Volcano refers to a shield volcano and lava field, about 10 by 15 miles (16 x 24 km) in size and reaching an elevation of Convert|5136|ft|m|0|abbr=on, located at the northern end of the desert basin.


The name, "Journey of the Dead Man" probably originated with a German man who died there while fleeing the Inquisition in the later 1600s, although due to the complete lack of water, grazing or firewood the route through this area already had a negative reputation. Although quite flat, the Jornada del Muerto took several days to a week to cross and presented great difficulties to the earliest Spanish travelers who were on horseback, with wagons pulled by oxen or on foot.

After passing the "Jornada del Muerto" the earliest Spanish encountered, not the Seven Cities of Cíbola, but the humbler walled villages of the Pueblo dwellers, who had a well-developed agriculture and a peaceable tradition. At the first crossing the Jornada del Muerto in 1598 they named the first pueblo they came to Socorro (Spanish for 'help' or 'assistance').

In 1680, during the Pueblo Revolt the Spanish settlers were forced to retreat southward, along the Jornada del Muerto, together with Indians from the Isleta and Socorro Pueblos. Of the more than 2000 who left Socorro fewer than 1200 survived the crossing. The survivors resettled on the Rio Grande around and just north of El Paso del Norte, 'the Pass to the North', which is now separated between the Mexican city of Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, and the U.S. city of El Paso, Texas. In 1692, Diego de Vargas led a new group of settlers north across the Jornada del Muerto to northern New Mexico.

Homesteaders in the 1860s to 1920s tried to ranch in the Jornada del Muerto, digging wells for the cattle. The first well was at Aleman, dug by Lt. John Martin, and it appears to be the last of the homesteads to be abandoned at the end of the twentieth century.

In 1945 the Jornada del Muerto, as desolate as ever, was picked as the site for the first atomic bomb.


The Jornada del Muerto is a long stretch of flat, essentially waterless land about 100 miles (160 km) from north to south that remains almost entirely uninhabited and undeveloped to this day. The two small mountain ranges on the west, the Caballo Mountains on the south end and the Fra Cristobal Range on the north, prevent access to the Rio Grande which is the most stable water source in the area.

The Jornada del Muerto trail leaves the Rio Grande at old Fort Selden, just north of Las Cruces, New Mexico, and the last intermittent water is at Paraje Perillo. The trail passes Point of Rocks which is the southern most point of the closed Jornada basin. The trail heads basically north through mesquite scrub land to Aleman, named for a German merchant who died of thirst there in the 1670s. There is an old homestead there now. Further north the trail crosses a number of small dry lake beds, the largest of which is Laguna del Muerto.

At the upper end of the basin the trail is squeezed between the Fra Cristóbal Mountains and the Jornada del Muerto lava fields. The waterless portion of the trail ends at Paraje Fra Cristóbal, but the trail continues north across a small portion of the lava fields which originally reached across the Rio Grande. This large lava field, over 170 square miles (440 km²) in size and called the Jornada del Muerto Volcano by volcanologists, erupted about 760,000 years ago. It produced a slow and viscous aa lava which has a very rough surface, making travel across it even more difficult.

Located just to the east of the southernmost portion of the Jornada del Muerto is the Jornada LTER station, used for study of desert ecology, land management, plant physiology, and related topics.

ee also

*Rio Grande Trail


* [ "Jornada del Muerto: Retracing the Dead Man's Journey" by Douglas Preston] New Mexico Magazine, September 1994, p. 24-31.
* [ "Jornada Del Muerto — 90 miles of hell" by Sally Bickley]
*cite web| title = Volcanoes of New Mexico: Jornada del Muerto Volcano| url = | accessdate=2007-03-27
*Crumpler, L. S., and J. C. Aubele, (1990), Jornada del Muerto, New Mexico, in "Volcanoes of North America", C. A. Wood and J. Kienle. eds., Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, p. 309-310.

External links

* [ Jornada del Muerto Complex]

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