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Walking from Sonora, Mexico to San Francisco in 1775

Walk with me. It's 1775 and we're in New Spain, in what is now the country of Mexico. We will be walking with Captain Juan Bautista and his soldiers up to what is now San Francisco. I will use modern terms, but really, we're just walking across the desert, and then along the ocean. Lets walk...

Of course we're speaking Spanish, because we're from Spain. Bautista is guiding people like us to colonize the area called Alta California, which now is usually just called California. It's a long walk, so let's get started.

Yes, we have carts, and horses and mules, but we'll walking. In movies, people rode in wagons, but the reality is that the wagons carried things, and people carried themselves, even the women and children. And our route will take us from places where we can get water, and cross rivers. Bautista says he knows the way, and all we have to do is follow him.

We're heading north towards Tucson, Arizona, which was just established that year, and we're headed for the Pima Villages, so once we get past Picacho Peak, we start to head northwest.

The Pima Villages are at what is now the city of Maricopa, which is south of Phoenix. The Pima people are not nomadic, or warring, they're agricultural. They've been living along the Gila River for hundreds of years, and without them, we wouldn't have had a chance to make it even this far. Some day the Pima people will help with the establishment of Phoenix, but that would be up in the Salt River Valley, which is a war zone, protected by the Apaches, so we don't go there. We need to cross the Colorado River, so we need to follow the Gila River going southwest.

The only crossing of the Colorado River is at what is now called Yuma. It was quite nice along the Gila river, which gave us some fresh water, even though it was muddy. Now that we've crossed the Colorado River we are walking now across the desert heading due west for what will someday be San Diego. I understand the weather there is nice, so I'm anxious to get there!

Once we get to San Diego, we need to go north along the coast. Missions will be established every thirty miles or so, starting with San Diego. The Pacific Ocean is so beautiful! Spain has been sailing along this coast for about a hundred years, so from this point on we really do know where we're going. We just need to stay along the coast, on what will someday be called El Camino Real - the King's Highway, and the Pacific Coast Highway, California Route 1. If we just keep the Pacific Ocean on our left we'll be fine.

Modern view of Southern California, near Calabasas. This about what it would have looked in 1775, but the trail wouldn't have been as clearly marked.

Our journey takes us past what will someday be Los Angeles, Ventura, Santa Barbara, and Monterey. Our final destination is a great bay, which some day will be where the city of San Francisco is.

Thank you for walking with me.

Image at the top of this post: Mission Dolores in San Francisco. Founded in 1776, it's still there. Photo by Roger Hall, used with permission.

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