Trails Across History: Juan Bautista de Anza Trail

By Carla Charter

The Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail, created in 1990, begins in Nogales Arizona and ends in San Francisco, California, encapsulating a little over 1,200 miles.  “Back when Anza travelled the trail, it was on foot and horseback,” according to Miguel Marquez, Interpretive Specialist at the Juan Bautista de Anza Trail. Today the trail consists of hiking, biking and auto trails.

“In 1775, Spain wanted to expand it’s frontier.  Spain had explored California before but by ship. It was very treacherous for ships,” Marquez said.  Anza’s expedition of 240 men, women and children were charged with creating the first overland route to San Francisco.  “While the colonies in the east were becoming independent from Great Britain, Juan Bautista de Anza was making discoveries on the West Coast,” Marquez said.

Juan Bautista de Anza was a Spanish soldier who became a captain in what was then New Spain and is now present-day Mexico. “He enlisted in the military and came up through the ranks to became a captain.”

After recruiting soldiers, families and three Padres from as far as Sinaloa, Mexico, the expedition gathered in Tubac, Arizona, along with 1,000 head of livestock including horses, cattle and mules. “They were like a travelling town,” Marquez stated.

Along the route, Anza and his expedition encountered many tribes along the way.  Some of the Natives became guides and interpreters for the expedition.  Native Americans very instrumental in helping Anza along the way,” Marquez continued.

Anza and two of the Padres, Father Pedro Font and Father Francisco Garces, all kept daily journals. “That is how we know what California looked like back then and how the expedition interacted with the natives,” Marquez continued.

Along the historic trail there are many points of interest including the Tumacacori National Historic Park, which includes a historic mission which was there when Anza came through with his expedition and the Tubac Presidio State Park, Presidio being a Spanish word for Army fort.   Once in San Francisco, Anzo and his expedition built the Mission Dolores and the Presidio of San Francisco. among the Ohlone Native Americans living in the Bay area at the time.

Mission Dolores is now the oldest intact building in San Francisco and Presidio of San Francisco is now a national park.  Over the centuries, three flags were flown over the Presidio, the Spanish, the Mexican then the American.

“It is very important to preserve the trail as it tells part of American history that is not always taught in

history class,” Marquez said.  More information on the Juan Bautista de Anza Trail can be found at



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