Old Spanish National Historic Trail

During the time we were at Pipe Spring and in southern Utah, we lived and visited sites along the Old Spanish National Historic Trail.  Pipe Spring, Navajo National Monument, Grand Canyon, Glen Canyon, Grand Staircase-Escalante, Frontier Pioneer State Park, Aztec Ruins, Santa Fe and Taos, New Mexico, all stretch along the 2,700 miles of the various routes of the trail.

The Old Spanish Trail began in 1598 when Don Juan de Onate established the first Spanish settlement in New Mexico.  From this small beginning, the trail grew through Santa Fe in 1610 and into Colorado and Utah in 1765.  In 1776, Franciscan priests Dominguez and Escalante followed the trail trying to establish a trade route from Santa Fe to California.  Los Angeles began settlement in 1781 as the end of the trail.

Painting of Arijo’s journey on the trail by artist Carl Nebel, 1836

The Old Spanish Trail’s rugged terrain discouraged the use of wagons.  It was a pack route, used by men and mules.  Trade started with the fledgling United States in 1821.  Traders carried goods from the eastern US to Santa Fe and Los Angeles over the trail.  The first round-trip journey from Santa Fe to Los Angeles and back was made by Antonio Armijo in 1829.  The trail stopped being used when the United States acquired the territory in 1848.  Easier wagon routes were available further north.

The Old Spanish National Historic Trail was designated by Congress in 2002.  The trail’s various routes run through New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, and California.  The National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management work together to administer the trail.  There are stamps for the trail at all the sites I mentioned above.  The trail runs through private property, Indian reservations, and across land owned by state and federal governments.

You can find out more about the Old Spanish Trail at oldspanishtrail.org.  You can also find bits of it scattered through the National Park sites.  Tom and I ran across it quite a bit as we traveled in this part of the United States.  I gathered seven stamps for the Old Spanish Trail from the different places we visited.  The trail reminds us that Spain and Mexico were just as important in establishing the United States as Great Britain.