There’s a well-known saying about the Old Spanish Trail: it isn’t old, and it isn’t Spanish. But from 1829 until 1848, more or less, it was an important trade route linking Santa Fe to Los Angeles. Mexican traders (and others) loaded strings of pack mules with woolen goods in New Mexico, trailed them to California, and traded for horses and mules. The animals—many thousands of them—were trailed back to New Mexico then sold on to Missouri, Old Mexico, and other markets. Thieves also raided California ranches for horses and mules for the same purpose, as well as selling them to the U.S. Army for use in the Mexican-American war. Traders in Indian slaves used parts of the route as well.
Not long ago, I had the privilege of exploring the Old Spanish Trail through Utah with the Utah Westerners. Through slickrock and sagebrush, deserts and mountains, sand and shadscale, we followed the route as nearly as possible, almost from border to border. Along the way, we were guided and educated by well-informed local historians as well as members of the Westerners.
The Utah Westerners set off on such a field trip every summer, but this was my first with the group of historians and history buffs. It will not be my last.
(Thanks to Utah Westerner Steve Berlin for the photos.)