Early Trails, Wagon Roads, and Auto Routes
Long before the first Anglo-Europeans began to explore and settle in the Intermountain West, long distance trails had been developed by Native Americans across this region, as they traveled to obtain scarce resources, such as salt or obsidian, and to trade. In the late 18th century, when Spanish colonists in New Mexico sought travel routes to the California colonial settlements, they engaged Native Americans to guide them on their westward explorations. Their Indian guides led them along the well-traveled footpaths that they followed to trade with tribes living along the California coast for shell beads and other products. Between 1820 and 1850, the stock trail known as the “Old Spanish Trail” between Santa Fe and Los Angeles was regularly traveled by New Mexico traders, fur trappers, and hardy immigrants. After 1850, Mormon settlers, who had arrived in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847, and “49ers” headed to the California gold fields took ox and horse-drawn wagons over this trail and created alternative routes to avoid terrain that could not be negotiated by wagons. Wagon roads proliferated in the Intermountain West during the latter half of the 19th century, as silver mining districts in this region boomed and new Mormon colonies were established in Utah, Nevada, and Arizona. By the first decades of the 20th century, “horseless carriages” were replacing horse-drawn wagons and new roads had to be constructed to accommodate this mode of travel.
Several of the widely-known early trails, wagon and automobile roads crossed Washington County. These include the Dominquez-Escalante Trail, the Old Spanish National Historic Trail, the Old Mormon Wagon Road, the Honeymoon Trail, and the Arrowhead Highway. To learn more, click on the links for each travel route.