The Dominguez-Escalante Trail
Cedar City and the surrounding areas are full of history. A part of that history is the Dominguez-Escalante Trail and October is the anniversary of the explorers stopping near Cedar City.
The information included in this piece has come from the Bureau of Land Management, the Sons of the Utah Pioneers, Visit Cedar City Brian Head’s Maria Twitchell, and the monument markers themselves. There is also a really cool map of the route on the Washington County Historical Society site here.
The Domingues-Escalante Trail is a segment of the likely route followed by the Dominguez-Escalante exploration party in 1776.
The exploration party from the Spanish colonies in New Mexico was led by Franciscan Friars Atanasio Dominguez and Silvestre Velez de Escalante.
They only made one trip to the area and there are no visible traces of their trail. The route they traveled has been reconstructed by historians based on the journal that was kept by Velez de Escalante.
According to the BLM, white obelisk-shaped stone markers have been placed on public lands throughout Washington and Iron Counties to mark the trail.
The goal of the expedition was to find a route to the Spanish colonies in coastal California that would take them north of the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River.
The trail took them northwest into Colorado and then into Utah. They reached Utah Lake near Salt Lake City and headed southwest arriving near Cedar City in October of 1776. While near Cedar City, they were low on provisions and worried about winter, so they decided to return to New Mexico rather than continue to California. The group arrived back in Santa Fe on January 2, 1777, having spent nearly six months traveling a distance of approximately 2,000 miles.
From the Cedar City Chapter of Sons of the Utah Pioneers October 11th, "The group camped in a pasture eleven miles north of present-day Cedar City, calling it Valley Rio de San Jose”.
Escalante was excited about the possibility of settlements in Cedar Valley. Escalante wrote “It greatly abounds in pasturelands, has large meadows and middling marshes, and very fine land for a good settlement for dry farming. Very close to its circumference, there is a great source of timber and firewood of ponderosa pine and pinon and good site for raising large and small livestock.”
Velez de Escalante’s journal and maps also helped future explorers like Lewis and Clark in 1803 and helped pioneer the Old Spanish Trail, now a designated National Historic Trail.