A Journey Back in Time
LLast winter, I traveled from my current home in central Florida to my hometown of Tucson, Arizona, specifically to get in some serious riding. Happily, some of the best times in the saddle took place with Kathryn Wade, my dearest friend and trusted riding partner from long ago.
As teenagers, we spent countless hours together on our horses, Yuma and Cameo, exploring Southwestern desert trails, jumping every natural obstacle we could find and, on those glorious occasions when the arroyos flooded, swimming with our horses.
On this visit, one of our outings included riding a portion of the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail in a beautiful area of the state just north of the Mexican border.
Since my Paint Horse gelding, Ben, was home in Florida, I rode Kathryn’s Quarter Horse, Gunner; she rode her Paint Horse, Joe. Both geldings are solid, experienced trail horses.
Riding along Southern Arizona’s Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail takes you back to the region’s rugged early days.
An Intriguing History
It’s always more interesting to ride a trail when you know its history. The Anza Trail has an intriguing story.
The trail is named after Spanish Lieutenant Colonel Juan Bautista de Anza. In 1774, Anza personally financed an exploratory expedition, charting a safer course from Arizona to the San Francisco Bay area than had previously been forged.
Determined to establish outposts in Northern California, government officials in Spain selected Anza, a charis- matic leader, to lead a group of 240 friars and settlers, as well as colonists and their families, to resettle in the San Francisco Bay area to hold the port.
At the time, Anza was captain of the Presidio San Ignacio de Tubac, built in 1752 to protect settlers and residents of the neighboring Tumacácori Mission, established in 1691. ( Presidios were military forts built by the Spanish to protect its missions.)
On October 23, 1775, the group set off on the daunting 1,200-mile journey, with saddle horses, broodmares, young horses and burros, and more than 300 head of Texas Longhorns. Provisions were packed on 165 mules, rather than on wagons.
The journey followed the Santa Cruz River on its northward course, then crossed the Sonoran Desert, swung south of the Gila River, and eventually crossed the Colorado River at the Yuma Crossing.
The group traveled through what’s now known as Mexicali, Mexico, and onward through what’s now California’s Imperial Valley. Anza’s expedition reached San Francisco Bay on March 28, 1776.
Today, the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail crosses both public and private lands. The modern trail extends from Nogales, Arizona, on the United States-Mexican border, goes through Southern California’s desert and coastal areas, then follows the coast north to San Francisco. It was designated a National Historic Trail in 1990.
Every October, history repeats itself during Anza Days, a reenactment of the expedition’s ride from the Tumacácori Mission to Tubac. (For more information, see page 58.)
Cynthia McFarland aboard Gunner, a Quarter Horse gelding owned by her Arizona friend, Kathryn Wade. KATHRYN WADE PHOTO
CYNTHIA MCFARLAND PHOTO The trailhead to the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail in Southern Arizona is adjacent to the beautiful Tumacácori Mission, established in 1691.