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Historic Trails

Dominquez-Escalante Trail, 1776-1777

A segment of the likely route followed by the Dominquez-Escalante exploration party in 1776 is found on public lands managed by the St. George Field Office. As this small party of hardy explorers from the Spanish colonies in New Mexico, led by Franciscan friars Atanasio Dominguez and Silvestre Velez de Escalante, made just a single trek here, there are no visible traces of their trail. The route that they traveled has been reconstructed by historians, based on the journal that was kept by Velez de Escalante. White obelisk-shaped stone markers have been placed on public lands to show the general trace of the Dominquez-Escalante party through central Washington County.

In July of 1776, the two friars, accompanied by eight volunteers and outfitted with saddle horses, pack animals, and some beef cattle “on the hoof”, left Santa Fe, New Mexico, on a journey of exploration. Their goal was to find a route to the Spanish colonies in coastal California that would take them north of the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River. By such a route, they would avoid the Indian Tribes that had been hostile to prior Spanish explorers and travel through less arid lands. The trek of the Dominguez-Escalante party took them northwesterly into Colorado, then to Utah, crossing the Colorado River near Moab. Relying on information from Indian guides, the explorers reached Utah Lake, near Salt Lake City, proceeding from there in a southwesterly direction. They arrived near Cedar City in October of 1776.

Low on provisions and fearing that the approaching winter, the party decided to return home, rather than press on to California. They traveled south along Ash Creek to its confluence with the Virgin River, near modern-day Hurricane, in Washington County. Escalante’s journal suggests that the party camped on top of Sand Mountain, before traveling south along Ft. Pearce Wash. From this point, they continued on a meandering course east, fording the Colorado River near today’s Navajo Bridge, turned south to visit the villages of the Hopi and Zuni Tribes, and eventually headed north along the Rio Grande River to Santa Fe. Arriving in Santa Fe on January 2, 1777, the Dominquez-Escalante party had spent nearly six months traveling a distance of approximately 2,000 miles. Fray Escalante’s maps and journal, which described the landscape and Native American tribes that they encountered, were used by future explorers, including Lewis and Clark in 1803. One of the routes that Dominguez-Escalante helped to pioneer by their travels was the Old Spanish Trail, now a designated National Historic Trail.

Source for More Reading: Hafen, LeRoy R. and Ann W. Hafen 1993 Old Spanish Trail: Santa Fe to Los Angeles University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London NE.

Bolton, Herbert E. (Editor) 1951 Pagent in the Wildernesss; the Story of the Escalante Expedition to the Interior Basin, 1776 Utah State Historical Society, Salt Lake City, UT

Dominquez-Escalante Concrete Trail Marker