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.

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