WSP 99: Pioneering the Anza Trail
A Present Day Evaluation of Juan Bautista de Anza's Expeditions
Colin Carroll

Juan Bautista de Anza completed two trips from Sonora to San Francisco, the first from January to 22 March, 1774, and another from 23 October, 1775 until 10 March, 1776. In evaluating Anza's impact on the area around the trail he followed, it is useful to consider not only his effect, but how these effects match up with his goals. He had two primary goals: the first was to establish an overland route to Alta California so that Spain could resupply the missions and presidios there in a manner more “predictable and safe” than by ship. The second was to open the route for, and later lead, a group of colonists to San Francisco harbor to combat English and Russian presence in the area. [[#sdendnote1sym|i]]

Encounters and Interviews:
An interesting pattern we noticed on the trip was that reactions to Anza were very polarized. He is not like George Washington, where most people have heard of him, and he is just another fact. The people we met had either never heard of him, or were personally involved in the Trail. Obvious examples of his lasting presence in the area were towns we passed through, such as Anza or San Juan Bautista, as well as all the National Park Service “Anza Trail Auto Route” road signs and the few historical markers we passed. More engaging were the people we met, and his effect on them.
As an example of those who had never heard of Anza, the first person that we met and could talk to was our van driver, Gloria, from Tucson International airport to our host's workshop in Tubac. She had grown up in Nogales, which is the starting point of the American section of the Anza trail, so I thought maybe the trail was a local landmark which she would recognize. Instead, Gloria thought that the Anza Trail was a road I wanted to go to, and said she was sure she could find it if I got her close.[[#sdendnote2sym|ii]]
Some of our hosts along the way had been contacted via the National Parks Service's Anza Trail newsletter (see below), so it was not surprising that they had heard of, and been very enthusiastic about the trail. But it was interesting when we stayed with hosts who seemed like they should know about the trail, but did not. An example of this was Larry, who we stayed with in Coolidge, Arizona. Larry had a National Parks calendar on his wall, and had biked across the country with his kids a few years earlier. Despite this, and despite living within a few miles of the trail's auto route, he had never heard of the trail either. It was clear from our experience with these people, as well as from our home stays with friends and relatives along the trail-all but one of whom had not heard of it either- that this is not a well known trail.
The anonymity of the Anza trail is also well known to those who are invested in it. This is perhaps one reason for the incredible enthusiasm of a number of our hosts. A notice of our trip, asking for places to stay and help along the trail, was posted in the October 2005 edition of Noticias de Anza- a National Parks newsletter distributed to those interested in the Anza Trail (http://www.nps.gov/juba/28.pdf). As a result of this notice, we found help from hosts in Tubac and Tucson Arizona, as well as Borrego Springs and Anza California. Additionally, we were able to meet with the head of the Anza Trail Coalition of Arizona, Richard Williams.
Williams has been the president of the ATCA for years, and acknowledged its lack of publicity. He set time aside in his day- he also works as the owner of a real estate company in nearby Rio Rico- to meet with us at the presidio in Tubac, where Anza began his journey, to speak with us about our plans for the trip, and to talk to us about Anza's trip. In addition to this help and guidance, he later used his time and company to call ahead to newspapers where we were staying, which generated publicity for our trip, and for the trail.
Another group that was very enthusiastic about the Anza Trail was one that we met in Yuma, Arizona, where Anza crossed the Colorado River. We met Tina and Jay Clark through a coworker of a relative of Grant's, and were originally only going to meet them for dinner. We arrived at an old Catholic Church late in the day not knowing what to expect, and finding a welcoming party. Tina is a former professor of Asian studies in San Diego, now Yuma's historian and archaeologist, and is married to Jay, a retired professor of philosophy. They bought the church and converted it in to a cultural center which hosts weddings and other functions. We also met Don Garate here, who is one of the foremost scholars on Anza, and chief of interpretation/historian at Tumacacori national historic park. Additionally he is well known for his “living history” presentations of Juan Bautista de Anza, and was in town to discuss the upcoming Juan Bautista de Anza World Conference. Finally, there was a reporter and photographer from the Yuma Daily Sun there, to write a story on us (http://sun.yumasun.com/google/ysarchive18231.html).
There was a banquet held in the church, with seven more guests invited in addition to themselves and Don Garate. Tina is planning on opening a cooking school in February, 2006, and put that skill to work in preparing a huge banquet for us, and allowing us to mingle with Don Garate and the other guests who cared about the trail. Jay vocalized the feeling we thought many of our hosts had regarding the trail while I was speaking to him: “You guys are helping to publicize the trail. I think someday that the Anza trail will be similar to the Appalachian Trail, where there is name recognition. It is the sort of thing where even if you haven't been on it, you've heard of it.” Whether this was the main reason we found so much hospitality along the trail is debatable, but it is surely part of the reason. Perhaps the relationship between us and our hosts was best put by another guest, who raised her glass and gave a “toast to Anza! Without of him, none of us would have ever met!”
Without a doubt, the most informed and informative person on the life of Anza we met was Don Garate. He has traveled to Mexico, Spain, France and sites of importance in America in order to further research Anza, and has published a booklet about Anza's expedition to San Francisco, translated many of Anza's letters, and published a book on Anza's father, with one on Anza in the works. We were all very impressed by the depth of his scholarship- he cares enough about Anza to have investigated several seemingly minor facts: whether he had a beard (a painting depicts him with one, though it was not in the style at the time), whether it is the Anza or de Anza trail (Anza), and whether they slaughtered a cow on the trip every day or every week to eat. The literature disagrees on this, he told us during dinner, but he changed into his Anza persona later in the night and told us without hesitation that they would slaughter a cow every week or so. The way he has been so inspired by Anza as to clearly revel in the research of the man and his life at least demonstrates the lasting effect of Anza and the expedition on him.
Another way people found out about Anza and his trip was through their other interests. Many equestrian groups wish for this route to be open and have more dirt trail sections so that they can ride on. Certainly this would be in line with the historical use of the trail, although the colonizing expedition had most of their horses stolen by the Apaches in Arizona. Our host in Paso Robles, CA directed us to a section of trail in Atascadero marked by Amigos de Anza which she rode her horses on often. Unfortunately for us, the deep sand and shallow river crossings here that horses could handle were impassable on loaded bikes. In this case, the cause which drew the support for the trail in that area did not support all uses of the trail.
Our host nearly two weeks earlier, Reena Deutsch had also discovered the trail tangentially. She loved exploring the nearby Anza-Borrego desert, especially finding petroglyphs and pictographs there. She heard that there were horse pictographs on some private land nearby, and was especially interested in finding these, since horses did not arrive in the southwest until the Spanish came. After speaking to dozens of people, she found Brad Carey, who owned a ranch near the end of a canyon stretch of the trail, and on whose property the pictographs are. He gave her a tour of the ranch, and she saw an Anza plaque there, marking where he had camped on his first expedition. She really enjoyed herself there, and wanted to go back. Since she was a Sierra club member, she asked Brad Carey if she could lead a tour of the area, then researched the history of the ranch for her tour. In the process she learned more about Anza, and became involved in putting together his story, describing it as a puzzle, where some sources disagreed, but you could still put together a picture.
Reena went to a lecture on Anza, and found that there was a good amount of public interest in him and his expedition, so she got more involved. She signed up for the Anza newsletter, went to an Anza trail advisory committee, and got involved in preserving the Carey Ranch, which has been in trouble in recent years. She wrote articles on the rock art for the publication “La Pintura”, as well as Anza articles related to the Carey Ranch. Additionally, she hosted us, and conducted an interview with us to put in the archives at La Puerta Foundation, and to use when writing an article about us and our trip. The next morning, while we hiked through Coyote Canyon to the Carey Ranch, she drove our bikes and equipment around on the highway, giving up another day to help us on our way. She also put us in contact with Dick Carey, Brad's father, who hosted us the next night.
Dick Carey was another person we met who had become invested in Anza recently. He had been aware of Anza and his trip since his childhood on the ranch, where the Anza plaque has been since the early 1920's. He said he regretted not listening to his father's stories about the Native Americans who had lived in the area, and about Anza, since these two facets of the ranch are part of the reasons it has been preserved since it ran into financial troubles recently. The horse pictographs on the land are believed to be of Anza, since his expedition was the first time the Native Americans on the land would have seen horses. This makes them unique, in that their age can be ascertained more accurately than most pictographs. He also went out of his way to be hospitable to us, coming out to the ranch (he does not live there any more), and opening up the historic private land to us to see. We received a full tour of the land, seeing not only the Anza marker, but also artifacts from the Native Americans who used to live here such as morteros and the pictographs that Reena had been so interested in, in a cave near the house.
Evaluating the Route:
Juan Bautista de Anza, as stated earlier, had another goal in addition to spreading Spanish influence: finding an overland route to the missions on the California coast. Considering our vantage point from the seat of a bike and on two feet, we had a unique opportunity to evaluate how successful he was in choosing this route. Although the terrain has changed a lot, we managed to do about half of our biking in Arizona on trails and dirt roads, and we did nearly all of our running until we neared the California coast on these dirt roads, or dirt paths on the side of the road, following railroad beds and on the side of farm fields. Also, despite how most of our mileage was done on bike, whereas most of the expedition's was done on foot- many of the horses haven been stolen by Apaches- we covered four to six times the distance in an average day as the expedition did, so probably felt a similar level of fatigue.
Our route was planned and advised on the first day by Richard Williams in Tubac, who wanted to help us stay as true to the trail as we could. This desire had to be balanced by the fact that we needed to get to certain places- like host's houses- each day, and so could not spend too much time bushwhacking or traveling slowly. He told us that our job of staying on the trail would be made easier by the fact that there was no line that corresponded to the path that the expedition followed. There were hundreds of people and pack animals, marching in a train a mile long and a mile wide. So long as we were pretty close to the path designated on maps as Anza's, we would be able to make a legitimate claim to be following in Anza's footsteps. We spent two days on sections of trail that were very true to the original which Anza took: a thirty mile stretch through deep sand and tumbleweed on our first day, and a twenty mile hike through Coyote Canyon in the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in California.
The first day was an extremely difficult one, made easier by following our host, Lee Blackwell, who knew the way, and rode with us that day from Nogales on the Mexican border back up to his house in Tubac. We faced many of the problems that we believe that those with Anza must have faced daily on their trip: thorns that we were still picking out of our hands a week later, rivers that we needed to ford without getting our supplies wet and- worst of all- deep sand that would make running hard and biking impossible. We were forced to push our bike that was loaded with a trailer about a half mile through very deep sand coming up to the Tubac presidio, which was a very frustrating and slow way to spend the day. In evaluating Anza's selection of routes though, all the land we saw around us was also covered in tumbleweed and deep sand, and the Tubac presidio was the starting point for his second expedition, so this portion of the route could not be avoided.
After following Richard Williams' advice of not worrying about following in Anza's exact footprints, and instead following the auto route for another week and a half, we had one of our most enjoyable days following almost right on top of where Anza and his expedition must have gone. Entering Borrego Springs, we were faced with very intimidating mountains looming in front of us, and wondered how Anza would have been able to take animals and families over that. What came next is actually a bit of local legend that Reena Deutsch passed on to us.
The path curved until it ran parallel to the mountain, and ran up until it hit another mountain range. On this mountain range is a large area of white (I saw it too early to see whether it was discoloration or a different type of rock), which- according to the story- Anza believed was an angel, pointing to the west. So Anza traveled to the west here, into Coyote Canyon, which was one of the more pleasant ways to gain over three thousand feet of altitude. It was really amazing to compare this climb with something like walking up Greylock, because you never felt like you were walking uphill. We had a GPS with us, and would check it every few miles, to find we had climbed a few hundred more feet, with only one steep section at the end, climbing six hundred feet in a half mile. This took us to what Reena said was called the Door to the Desert, where Anza's expedition left the desert and entered an area with green fields of grass, a virtual heaven compared to the deserts they had been traveling through.
But despite how easy the trek had felt to us, and how well chosen we thought the route was- following a creek that was still running even though the area was going through a drought while we were traveling (we did not travel in rain until the second to last day of the trip, there were light drizzles once we got near the California coast, though)- a marker in the middle of the canyon informed us that Anza had not been so lucky. His expedition was struck by a freak snowstorm, and then a woman gave birth to the (according to the marker) “first white child in California”, marching on the next day with her new baby. Given our eighty degree sunny day, only a month (and 230 years) after Anza had passed through though, a snowstorm would be the last thing I would worry about were I planning a route.
It was occasionally difficult to evaluate Anza's route selection, since we were often on roads, which make no effort to follow Anza's route, but are instead either direct routes between two places, while trying to keep the grade of the road manageable for cars and trucks. For example, we traveled through a valley between Paso Robles and King City which led up to a large dam. Surely the land has changed immensely because of this dam, and the topography that we faced was much different than the one that Anza faced. Another time we followed a very circuitous route along the sides of hills on the road to San Juan Bautista, moving away from the pass at times, trading distance to save ourselves a steeper climb. On both these sections, while they were as pleasant as a long uphill could be for us, it would be hard to say how the settlers would have fared on these paths.
There was one part of our trip where we chose not to follow Anza, avoiding the sparse camping around the east side of Los Angeles, and traveling straight to the coast from Murrieta. This involved taking the Ortega highway over a mountain range from Lake Elsinore to San Juan de Capistrano. This climb was the hardest we faced all trip, and would have been impassable for Anza. The highway clings to the edge of the mountains, swinging around 180 degrees at some sections to get around steep foothills. Parts of the climb are tunnel like, as the route had to be dynamited so the road could be laid. Taking this climb helped us to appreciate the slow, steady climbs that we had while following more closely in Anza's footsteps, as well as to understand why it was a challenge to find an overland route to the missions on the coast.
The memory of Anza and his trip is still alive in the areas he traveled through, though it is quite polarized. People are either very interested in him, or not at all, as seen by Don Garate or Reena Deutsch versus our taxi driver in Nogales. The towns and streets named after him along the way also speak that there is a legacy of his in the area. His route as well was generally well received by our group, by the very fact that we were able to cover it in a single month. The way the route slipped through seemingly impassable mountain ranges was especially impressive. His goals then, were more or less realized, even if California is not the “New Spain” he envisioned.

[[#sdendnote1anc|i]] From http://anza.uoregon.edu/intro/historical.html, accessed 6 February, 2006
[[#sdendnote2anc|ii]] Further stories on the trip can be found at http://anzapioneers.wikispaces.com/, where days and locations can be referenced