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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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Conference to Celebrate 400th Anniversary of El Camino Real

LAS CRUCES -- Four hundred years ago, Spanish explorer Don Juan de Oņate led an expedition along what's known today as El Camino Real. New Mexico State University's Rural Economic Development Through Tourism (REDTT) project will sponsor a Heritage Tourism Conference to celebrate four centuries of travel April 20-21 in Truth or Consequences.

"We'll discuss the influence settlers had on New Mexico's trade and culture, and also celebrate a new visitor's center that will be located between Socorro and T or C," said Karen Watson, REDTT project director with NMSU's Cooperative Extension Service. "So not only is the Camino Real a pathway from the past, it's also paving the way for new tourism trends in New Mexico."

The keynote speaker for the conference will be Edson Way with New Mexico Office of Cultural Affairs who directs the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum. Way will discuss activities planned for the 400th anniversary and how his office supports museum programs throughout the state.

Bruce Eldridge from the Museum of the Horse will give details about a statewide museum impact study being conducted in association with the New Mexico Department of Tourism, the Association of Museums and the Tourism Association of New Mexico. The study will estimate the economic impact of visitors to museums in New Mexico, Watson said.

Conference workshops and speakers will include the "Camino Real Binational Project," Ramon Olivas, National Park Service; "Marketing through Partnering with Public Television," Dolores Lenko, KRWG TV; and "Marketing New Mexico through Heritage Tourism," Mike Pitel, New Mexico Department of Tourism.

"We've tried to make this an event where people can get involved," Watson said. "Elmo Baca's interactive workshop will involve a lecture, and then we'll actually hit the streets in Truth or Consequences and look at prospects for tourism development."

Conference participants also will have a chance to tour places like Sierra County's ghost towns. Mike Cook, REDTT technical writer, will lead a group through the historic ranching and mining communities of Monticello, Placita, Cuchillo, Winston and Chloride, where they'll visit the Pioneer Store Museum.

"The tour will allow people to see how Chloride's historic relics are preserved in a local building, and learn how communities develop museums on their own," Watson said. "Participants also will get hands-on experience at Geronimo Springs Museum. They'll visit Callahan's Auto Museum and hear how historic highway routes can be used to promote tourism in small communities."

Tours also will include a stop at Sierra County's winery, Watson said. "This ties into our conference's theme, because the people who settled New Mexico brought wine with them. As explorers and settlers traveled the Camino Real north, they planted their own grapes -- establishing some of the first vineyards in the state," she explained.

The registration fee for the conference is $25 for activities on April 20 and $15 to attend workshops and tours on April 21. For more information, call the REDTT office at (505) 646-5994.