Traveling West on The Old Spanish Trail Highway

New Mexico


The Old Spanish Trail, largely what would become U.S. 80 through the southern part of New Mexico, was officially decommissioned some years ago, but continues to exist in many parts of the state under slightly different state highway numbering systems.  The highway leaves Texas as "Texas State Highway 20" and enters New Mexico as "State Highway 478" and disappears for scores of miles before leaving New Mexico as "State Highway 80."

On the map above (part of the 1930 Cosden Road Map of Arizona and New Mexico) you can see the old route of U.S. 80 (the Old Spanish Trail) and how, for some miles, it coexists with U.S. 70 (the old "Atlantic to Pacific Highway" that joins up with U.S. 60, the "National Old Trails Highway," as it enters Los Angeles).

The old road from El Paso to Las Cruces continues to be fairly heavily traveled and connects several small towns to various marketplaces but primarily ly to Las Cruces and to El Paso.  It goes through Anthony, Vado, Mesquite and Tortugas before brushing the side of Old Mesilla in Las Cruces.  Along the way, the road is mostly called Main Street and that's what it is called for most of the route through Las Cruces.

If we remember that the first car did not successdfully navigate all the way across the United States until 1909 and that news of technology in automotive engineering was reported regularly in Scientific American as well as in specialty car magazines, it should not surprise us that the institute that would become New Mexico State University would have an Auto Department as a part of its engineering offerings as early as 1914:

(photo courtesy of Special Collections and Archives NMSU)

Some small traces of the old road continue to exist west of Las Cruces. State Highway 549, running slightly to the south of IH-10, was the OST until it reaches Akila; and whenever IH-10 gets close to a small town, selected parts of the OST that were the main streets of those towns continue to be active.  OST continues past Akela as State Highway 549 for some miles.   It becomes Motel Drive and then Pine Street through Deming and then IH-10 takes over the road bed again.

After Lordsburg, though, the Old Spanish Trail becomes important once again as it dives south along the New Mexico/Arizona border. This is the only route south to Rodeo, NM, and Douglas, AZ, and then north from the border town of Douglas in southern Arizona to Bisbee and Tombstone.

New Mexico Highway Journal (1926) photo from "Rio Grande Historical Collections, NMSU

This is the same stretch of OST (July, 2009)


South from Lordsburg there is hardly any traffic:  only empty desert and mountains, but the route is filled with wild beauty. Modern travelers who want to move quickly avoid the old OST to travel from Point A to Point B by interstate highway.