In English, El Camino Real means the King’s Highway but refers to the Spanish King, Charles II. It stretches from Mexico City to the little town of Natchitoches in north east Louisiana – 2,500 miles in length. I find it difficult to imagine my Spanish ancestors traversing this route with just horses that had been shipped from Europe. Even more astonishingly it followed an existing trade and travel route used by indigenous Americans. In 1690 Alonso de León followed the trail and consequently it became El Camino Real. (There is another El Camino Real route in California.) The Texas route wavered at various points in time depending on relations with the local Nations and flooded rivers. Missions were established all along the route, mostly notably the Alamo in San Antonio. Austin and Houston were non existent at this time – strange to imagine, eh? El Camino Real was used extensively as a trade route from Mexico to Texas and Louisiana until the 19th century. Louisiana had been settled by France in the late 1600s.
On our first little trip since the pandemic, we traveled from our home traveling north east, eventually joining El Camino Real after Lufkin. It was my first long drive in 2 years (4.5 hours) and I was surprised how well I managed. The road was quiet for most of the length and it went through miles and miles of Piney Wood Forest. Most drivers were considerate – it is a simple two-lane road for most of the section near Louisiana but with a speed limit of 75 mph on long stretches.
I have a fear of long low bridges over water and the Pendleton Bridge tested me to my core. I just focused on the road ahead and let Teddy enjoy the spectacular view on 2.5 miles of bridge. You can see the bridge on the map above marked SH 6 aka El Camino Real. The center of the Sabine River is the border between Texas and Louisiana. You have to be careful entering into Louisiana as the speed limits change and a Texas driving plate is just begging to be stopped!
After we crossed into Louisiana, we stopped briefly at this little village, below, named Robeline. It was a little down at heel as are many little towns in the hinterland. I was fascinated by the abandoned Masonic Hall which had a hand written sign. Most halls I have seen in the States are very elaborate structures. Robeline was the area where Louis St Denis, who established Natchitoches, led a party of missionaries and Spanish soldiers to initiate trade with the local Native Americans (Caddo Nation) in 1717. Robeline didn’t become a village until the arrival of the rail road in the 1800s. I wondered if it may have had a heyday but I read this quotation, on Natchitoches.net regarding Robeline, “The village also has a history of rough and rowdy crowds. Once known as “Robbers Lane” the area was full of these types of crowds.” Sounds like some places I have lived before…👀
References: Natchitoches.net, Wikipedia and Texas Fish and Game