If there is one thing to be said about Arizona, it's that we have plenty of trails to hike to better absorb the beauty surrounding us, despite being in such a dire drought for so long. It is only recently the higher elevations have been reopened for visitation, and many of those trails still remain closed, particularly in areas that have experienced catastrophic fires.
That leaves us with lower elevation trails. There is one trail located in the lower realms of elevation, though it does go into mountains, but should probably only be attempted during the cooler months of fall and winter. If you want to do the whole route, you should probably set aside about two months and a few days.
The Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail is a hike that not only takes you through several different regions and elevations, but three states and two countries. It retraces the path taken by Juan Bautista de Anza who dreamed of creating a land route to California.
Born in 1736 at the Fronteras presidio where his father was Presidial Captain, de Anza grew into his position of explorer as a result of his family's military background. He was eventually given the title commandant of the Tubac presidio in 1760 and received special mention from the Marques de Rubi for the evenhanded treatment his administration be-stowed upon the occupants of the presidio and those in the surrounding area. His suggestions were given serious consideration.
One of those ideas he kept bouncing around was carrying out an expedition between Sonora and Alta California. The idea was to secure an inland route to supply the infant colonies of San Diego and Monterey in California from Sonora and Sinaloa. There was also a plan to found a mission and presidio in a large, bay area. The Spanish were keen on doing the latter since the Russians and British were now starting to move into the unsettled areas of Northern California.
Fray Francisco Garces, who headed the mission of San Xavier del Bac, was said to "enthusiastically" support de Anza's endeavor to create this overland route. Garces had done some exploring himself, having followed the routes first taken up by the Jesuit Priests of Sedelmayr, Keller and Kino, which wound their way up into the Gila River country and beyond to the Colorado River.
Garces was keen on establishing missions to serve the Pima and Yuma Indians as well as other Colorado River tribes. An overland route would do much to increase the likelihood of this proposition being carried out.
It was in January of 1774 that Capt. de Anza, Fray Garces and several soldiers moved out of Tubac presidio and meandered their way through the Magdalena and Altar Valleys, then turned northwest near the Mission of Caborca. The wayward travelers made their way through Papagueria, made it across the Colorado River near present day Yuma and dragged themselves into the Mission of San Gabriel in California by the latter part of March.
After proving such a crossing could be accomplished, the now promoted Lt. Col. de Anza set out again on another expedition, only this time with greater expectations. Having recruited more soldiers and also settlers from Sonora and Sinaloa, the new expedition left the presidio of San Miguel de Horcasitas (near present day Hermosillo, Sonora) and headed north on September 29, 1775, arriving in Tubac by the middle of October.
There they were joined by more settlers and soldiers and 1000 head of cattle, horses, goats and a few mules and donkeys. Now more than 240 strong, this large entourage left Tubac for the presidio of Tucson (which was established in August of that year) and points beyond. This 1775 expedition led north to the Gila River and followed it to the confluence of the Colorado River where they were met by Yuma Chief Salvador Palma, who helped them across the river and sent them on their way to cross the desert and arrive in San Gabriel by early January, 1776.
Lt. Col. de Anza arrived just in time to meet up with Alta California's Governor Fernando Rivera y Moncada, with a request that de Anza help crush a rebellion of Native peoples near San Diego. Lt. Moraga took charge and led the settlers on to Monterey. Two months later de Anza was up in the San Francisco Bay area exploring the best location for a presidio and mission and, as they say, the rest is history.
A fine location was set down and eventually one of the most beautiful and seismically challenged cities developed there. De Anza himself headed out and returned to Mexico City to report to the viceroy, but Lt. Moraga brought the settlers to San Francisco in June and the presidio was officially established on Sept. 17, 1776, nearly one year after having left Sonora, followed by the Mission Francisco de Asis, which was established on October 9th.
The trip was not all fun and games, as Fray Pedro Font so aptly shows us in his diary:
"In the morning we found eight beeves and one of the vaquero's mules frozen to death, for since they came so thirsty, and gorged themselves with water, the bitter cold of the night killed them.
"At noon the sergeant arrived with the second division of the people of the expedition and the second pack train. They came half dead with cold from the cruel weather."
So even a winter hike would not be without its discomforts, but certainly more desirable than in the darkest days of our Arizona summers. The Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail was established by Congress in 1990 and covers 1,260 miles from Tubac to San Francisco. There are places where the original trail of de Anza, the Butterfield Overland Mail route, and even the Mormon Battalion route come together. In fact, many of the original pioneer trails followed the route first established by Juan Bautista de Anza.
In 1975-76 several people from the United States and Mexico left Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico and traveled 1,480 miles to San Francisco to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the expedition as well as the Bicentennial of the United States. It took more than two months for them to reach the Bay Area.