For thousands of years, Native Americans and historic peoples were drawn to Sears Point, an isolated area of black mesas along the Gila River. Protected within the nearly 4,000 acre Sears Point ACEC¹, the Sears Point area lies at a crossroad of historical events and cultures. It embraces a wide array of archeological sites, including rock alignments and aboriginal trails. This fragile evidence of human history spans thousands of years with some dating as far back as the Archaic Period. Numerous petroglyph panels carved by travelers at various times in history make up the core of this fascinating body of evidence. These petroglyphs attest that the Gila River has long been an important route for travel through Arizona.
The Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail provided an overland route to Alta California for use in transporting supplies and colonists from the outermost reaches of northern New Spain. The King of Spain wanted the Viceroy to initiate a strong colonizing effort in "Alta California" in order to combat recent encroachments by other European powers (most notably England and Russia) and to ensure Spanish control over the recently rediscovered San Francisco harbor.
Kearney's Mormon Battalion camped at Sears Point on December 30, 1846 along what came to be known as the Mormon Battalion Trail. The trail was later used by the Butterfield Overland Mail Route, which followed the course of the Gila River as it wound its way past Sears Point. The Butterfield Overland Mail Route provided the first overland mail service route from the Mississippi River to San Francisco.
Both of these trails followed the Gila Trail, which itself had been used by prehistoric peoples. In the 1840s many thousands of people all used the Gila Trail as a route to the gold fields in California.
¹ ACEC stands for Area of Critical Environmental Concern. It is an area of public land where the BLM has determined (through land use planning) that "special management attention is required . . . to protect and prevent irreparable damage to important historic, cultural, or scenic values, fish and wildlife resources and other natural systems or processes, or to protect life and safety from natural hazards."