Jornada del Muerto

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Jornada del Muerto is the upper third of the image, oriented with the top to the northwest.
The Tularosa Basin is the lower half of the image, with the dark streak of lava north of White Sands the Carrizozo Malpais. The Trinity atomic site is northwest of the Malpais. The forested Sacramento Mountains are to the right-east.[1]

The Jornada del Muerto (Spanish for "single day's journey of the dead man"[2][3] hence "route of the dead man"[4]) in the U.S. state of New Mexico was the name given by the Spanish conquistadors to the Jornada del Muerto Desert basin, and the particularly dry 100-mile (160 km) stretch of a route through it.

The trail led northward from central Spanish colonial New Spain, present-day Mexico, to the farthest reaches of the viceroyalty in northern Nuevo México Province. The route later became a section of the El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro.

Natural history[edit]

The Jornada del Muerto Desert ecoregion, in the Deserts and xeric shrublands Biome, is a wide and long stretch of flat desert landforms and xeric habitat about 100 miles (160 km) from north to south. The desert runs between the Oscura Mountains and San Andres Mountains on the east, and the Fra Cristóbal Range and Caballo Mountains on the west. The western mountains block access to the Rio Grande, the most reliable water source in the region.

The Jornada del Muerto Desert remains almost entirely uninhabited and undeveloped to the present day. Located just to the east of the southernmost region of the desert is the Jornada Basin LTER station, used for study of desert ecology, land management, plant physiology, and related topics.


The Jornada del Muerto volcano and malpaís are located at the northern end of the desert's region and basin. The Jornada del Muerto Volcano is a shield volcano, reaching an elevation of 5,136 ft (1,565 m). The volcano's lava flow created the large Jornada del Muerto malpaís lava field, about 10 by 15 miles (16 by 24 km) in size.

Cultural history[edit]

The route of Jornada del Muerto trail.
Click on Map to View

The name Journey of the Dead Man probably originated with a German man who died there while fleeing the Inquisition in the later 17th century, 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 20th century.


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 southernmost 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 a'a lava which has a very rough surface, making travel across it even more difficult.

Atomic test[edit]

On July 16, 1945 the first detonation of an atomic weapon occurred at the Trinity nuclear test site, approximately 40 miles NNE of the Jornada Del Muerto.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Earth Sciences and Image Analysis, NASA-Johnson Space Center. 29 December 2003
  2. ^ Wormser, Richard Edward (1966) The Yellowlegs: The Story of the United States Cavalry Doubleday, Garden City, N.Y., page 70, OCLC 952640
  3. ^ Wislizenus, Frederick Adolph (1969) Memoir of a Tour to Northern Mexico: Connected with Col. Doniphan's Expedition, in 1846 and 1847 Rio Grande Press, Glorieta, NM, page 38, OCLC 51436, originally published in 1848 by the U.S. Government, Tippin & Streeper, printers, Washingtonb, D.C.
  4. ^ But recently historian Fray Angélico Chávez of Santa Fe has pointed out that the Spanish phrase actually means the "Route of the Dead Man." Simmons, Marc (1978) Taos to Tomé: True Tales of Hispanic New Mexico Adobe Press, Albuquerque, N.M., page 28, ISBN 0-933004-04-4


External links[edit]

Coordinates: 32°50′50″N 106°53′49″W / 32.84722°N 106.89694°W / 32.84722; -106.89694