When the Old Spanish Trail Association met in Cortez last week for its annual conference, several speakers said that the remnants of the Old Spanish Trail from Santa Fe to Los Angeles may well be lost.
One part of the trail goes from Abiquiu, N.M., through Ignacio and Durango and on past Green River, Utah. To help define and preserve the trail, the OSTA wants to form a Four Corners chapter, said Mark Franklin, the group’s treasurer.
Incoming OSTA President Ashley J. Hall said it is the group’s mission that is most important.
“We’re living in the past, working today, doing this for tomorrow,” Hall told the conferees. “The OST has a place in my heart.”
Hall also said the OSTA needs to get more involvement from Native Americans and Hispanics.
Hall retired as a brigadier general from the U.S. Army, was city manager of Las Vegas and now runs his own consulting company.
OST mimics Ute trading routes
Emphasizing Hall’s point, Southern Ute Tribal Elder James Jefferson said, “The Old Spanish Trail had a long history before the Spanish walked on it.”
Jefferson told attendees that the Utes created a portion of the trail through thousands of years of their own trading.
“We came here in the beginning,” long before other tribes such as the Navajo and Apache, whom the Utes call “The Wanderers,” Jefferson said.
He said the Utes don’t have a migration story, like many other Native nations. He said the Uto-Aztecan tribes in other parts of the West do have migration stories – with their origins from this area.
Nathan Strong Elk, acting director of the Southern Ute Cultural Center and Museum in Ignacio, said there is DNA evidence of Utes being in this area for at least 12,000 years. The Utes say it is at least 20,000 years, he said.
“Utes are the longest continuing inhabitants of Colorado,” Strong Elk said.
He said there even is a story of an ancestral Puebloan girl who got lost and was taken in by the Utes.
The OST, more properly called the Old Spanish National Historical Trail under its federal designation, could be a catalyst for development, Strong Elk said. He also said that the museum could be directly involved in displays and education about the trail.
Cortez resident and author Fred Blackburn said there is some physical evidence of Spanish in the area. He said he’s seen two artifacts: a slave (nose) ring and a lance.
“We need to think about integrating the Spanish trail and the Native trail,” he said.
Threats to the trail
There are a number of threats to the trail, several speakers said. One of those threats, ironically, is development of alternative-energy facilities.
“Industrial-scale plants fragment federal lands,” creating a checkerboard of publicly accessible and nonaccessible lands, said Jack Pritchett from OSTA’s Tecopah, Calif., chapter.
Tecopah is an old Mojave Desert mining town near the California-Nevada border. The trail includes a part of a route taken by John C. Fremont in his western exploration.
Pritchett said a company called BrightSource is building a solar-thermal power plant that threatens parts of the trail.
Pritchett and his colleagues have been GPS-mapping portions of the trail, called a mule trace, that dates from around 1829 to 1848.
“The trail passes through pristine desert,” and there are no signs of modern impact with almost no modern artifacts, such as graffiti, broken glass and the like, Pritchett said.
The artifacts that have been found date from the 19th century, and he said it is a previously unrecorded branch of the OST that matches with period documentation.
Information about the OSTA and the trail is available at www.oldspanishtrail.org.