Almost 250 years ago, two friars set out from northern New Mexico to find a northern route to a new settlement and the related missions in Monterey, California. The idea of a northern route was to see if there might be a way to avoid the difficulties of the Grand Canyon and the Mojave Desert.
The expedition was organized in Santa Fe. The two Franciscan friars, Father Silvestre Vélez de Escalante and Father Francisco Atanasio Domínguez were the leaders of the project. They were unsuccessful in reaching California, turned back and returned to Santa Fe the next year. However, their efforts were significant in many ways, including the fact that their maps and observations of natural landmarks were used to guide other explorers who came later to the Four Corners area.
Domínguez was in charge and organized the expedition, engaging the help of Escalante. They began their journey near the end of July, 1776 with provisions, some weapons and other individuals. They first headed north into what is now Colorado. They soon encountered the Yutas (Utes) and persuaded two of them to join the group as guides. Northwest of what is now Durango, Colorado, the party came across some pueblo ruins later given the names of the Domínguez and Escalante Pueblos. They were excavated many years later and found to date back to the Anasazi period as early as about 1100 AD.
They continued heading northwest until they turned west into what is now Utah when they had reached the southern part of what is now known as the Dinosaur National Monument by about the middle of September. They continued west, again encountering more of the Ute band and engaged one of them to act as a guide. However, their providence was not to last. That far north, winter arrives earlier than in the more southerly climates and their newly engaged guide abandoned the group reportedly after witnessing the mistreatment of one of the servants.
Running low on provisions, facing winter and being without a guide, the party voted and agreed to endeavor to return to Santa Fe, continuing south along the Colorado River. Along the way, they were forced to consume the remainder of their livestock. They also killed and ate many of their horses.
They finally arrived in Santa Fe in early 1777 with the benefit of provisions from the Hopi and other tribes along the way. Artifacts from the expedition include a map by artist and cartographer Bernardo de Miera y Pacheco and Escalante’s journal. Bernardo de Miera y Pacheco is a name that will be familiar to some as he was one of the first people of European descent to reflect Chaco Canyon on a map, which he did in 1774. He was born in 1713 in Spain and died in 1785 in Santa Fe.
Domínguez was born in Mexico City. In 1777 he was recalled to Mexico and served as chaplain of presidios in Nueva Vizcaya. He was at Janos, Sonora, Mexico, in 1800. His exact place of death and date of death, but he died sometime between 1803 and 1805, presumably in Mexico. The Dominguez Pueblo in southwestern Colorado is named for him.
Escalante was born in Spain in 1750 and died in Parral, Mexico, in April 1780, while returning to Mexico City for medical treatment. Escalante namesakes include Escalante Desert, Escalante River, Escalante (town in Utah), Escalante Pueblo (Colorado), Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, and the Escalante Elementary & High schools (Rio Arriba County, New Mexico).
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