The Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service will hold one of a series of public meetings to develop a management plan for the Old Spanish National Historic Trail at the San Bernardino County Museum on Wednesday, May 10 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
The plan will address preservation of the historic trail routes, important landscapes, and the trail’s significant places. How visitors and local communities will experience the trail and how the trail story will be interpreted is also under discussion. The museum meeting will also include a brief presentation on national historic trails and comprehensive management plans, an overview of the Old Spanish Trail, and information on work ongoing at the Agua Mansa Cemetery in Colton.
Designated as part of the National Trails System in 2002, the trail route crosses six western States—New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, and California—and links some of the West’s oldest communities from Santa Fe, New Mexico, to Los Angeles, California, including the twin communities of Agua Mansa and La Placita along the Santa Ana River between present-day Riverside and Colton. Agua Mansa Cemetery is a San Bernardino County Museum historic site.
The Old Spanish Trail, once thought to be the shortest path to riches between Los Angeles and Santa Fe, took traders and loaded-down mules on a six-week trek across some of the toughest country on the continent. From 1829, when the first pack trains set out from northern New Mexico, to 1848, when the traders stopped making annual trips, a lucky few made their fortune by swapping New Mexico’s woolen goods for the horses and pack stock raised on California’s ranchos. All who took the trail—a handful of hardy families moving West, military expeditions, Indian guides and conscripts—shared the adventure of a lifetime in the Southwest’s rugged back country.
The trail has been called the “longest, crookedest, most ornery pack trail in the history of the United States.” The 2,700 miles of trail route that wind their way from Santa Fe to Los Angeles pushed pack mules to the limit. In the first week on the trail alone, the mules scrambled, swam, or dragged their handlers through more than a dozen river crossings. By the time the pack trains reached Los Angeles, they had crossed dunefields in California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado, found their way around the Grand Canyon, skirted the continent’s harshest deserts at Death Valley, and slaked their thirst at Stinking Springs, Salt Creek, Alkali Canyon, Bitter Spring, and the Inconsistent River.
The trail takes its name from the old Spanish colonies in northern New Mexico and southern California that were tied together by the rugged route. Although explorers from Spain’s early years in the New World tried to find a land passage between her colonies in the interior of New Mexico and the California coast, the Old Spanish Trail itself was forged by Mexican and American traders in the 1820s. Only a few traces of trail can be seen today where hundreds of fast-trotting mules and their tired muleteers once traversed the high country of New Mexico and Colorado on their way to California’s fertile trading fields.
The San Bernardino County Museum is at the California Street exit from Interstate 10 in Redlands. Parking is free. For more information, visit www.sbcountymuseum.org.
The San Bernardino County Museum is accessible to persons with disabilities. If assistive listening devices or other auxiliary aids are needed in order to participate in museum exhibits or programs, requests should be made through Museum Visitor Services at least three business days prior to your visit. Visitor Services’ telephone number is 909-307-2669 ext. 229 or (TDD) 909-792-1462.