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Spanish Fork Canyon

     You never know what you'll find when you set off on a journey that begins with a first step or the first turn of the crank

By PAT CHRISTIAN

     SPANISH FORK CANYON - You never know what you'll find when you set off on a journey that begins with a first step or the first turn of the crank. 
     It  may be an adventure. 
     Or perhaps it will be a journey 223 years back in time and an old Spanish coin. 
     I was alone on my mountain bike exploring Spanish Fork Canyon, named for the Spaniards who rode slowly rode through it on horseback in 1776. 
     Spanish Fork Canyon originates at Soldier Summit and drains northwest through Thistle Junction 
     It nestles  Soldier Creek in the folds of its mountains as the creek enters the Spanish Fork River on a journey first to Utah Lake then to oblivion in the Great Salt Lake. 
     I explored Dom'nguez Hill where Spanish Fork Canyon opens to reveal a panoramic view of Utah Valley. 
     I've noticed the white cross on Dominguez Hill before. The Knights of Columbus put there in 1987 to memorialize the Dom'nguez & Escalante Expedition of 1776. 
     But until I rode up close to the hill I'd never realized how big it is.
     "Glory to God in the highest," expedition leader Father Francisco Atanasio Dom'nguez said as he and members of the expedition surveyed what they called the Valley of the Lagunas for a band of Native Americans who lived where the Provo River enters Utah Lake. 
     Expedition cartographer Don Bernardo Miera Y Pacheco called Utah Lake "Laguna De Los Timpanogos" on the maps he charted of the 2,000-mile horseback journey. 
     Dressed in their gray Franciscan monk robes, Father Dominguez and Father Silvestre Valdez De Escalante blended into the landscape, seeming to almost belong, halting to study Laguna Valley. 
     "There is all the water we have been praying for, Brother Atanasio," said Father Escalante. 
    Before man started blocking wild rivers and filing reservoirs,  large lakes were almost nonexistent in the southwest. 
     Puffs of smoke rose in the distance. 
     Dom'nguez ordered the signals be answered immediately. "We must be careful not to frighten these people," Father Dominguez said. 
     "There will be much work to be done here. 
     "I want to take time to make sure they understand we come in peace." 
     As I pedaled up Spanish Fork Canyon, semi-trucks whizzed past me like I was standing still. 
     I found an open-ended Craftsman wrench just past Covered Bridge Canyon and picked it up. 
     The fathers must have been traveling about as fast as I was, I thought. 
     I camped for the night along the Spanish Fork river where the waters of  Diamond Fork Canyon join it. 
     Chewing on beef jerky, I wondered what expeditionaires' nights were like and what they had eaten. 
     Several years ago, 12 modern-day riders retraced the 1776 journey of the fathers. 
    As a writer,  I encountered them camped in Diamond Fork Canyon and I asked Joe Cerquone what was different for him and other modern riders. 
     "One of the most frequent sounds is breaking glass when our horses step on discarded beer bottles," Cerquone said. 
     He said fences, litter and vehicles were the biggest difference for people traveling on horses today. 
     Trail leader Gordon Wallace said modern riders rode 15 to 20 percent farther because of fences blocking logical travel. 
     The 1776 expedition called the Spanish Fork River "El Rio de Aquas Calientes (Hot Water River)." 
     It was probably called that because of the hot spring that were still there in the 1800s when they lured crowds to Castilla, a popular hot-springs health resort. 
     The train stopped here to let clients off. 
     In the 1980s, the springs became a hangout and Utah County Sheriff's deputies used explosives to destroy the hot spring several years ago after a murder had been committed there. 
     While I was pedaling up Billies Mountain, I found a quarter. 
     I picked it up and imagined it could have been a Spanish coin that might have fallen out of the pocket of Andre Munez, a trader and expedition interpreter traveling with the fathers. 
    About half way up Billies Mountain, I stopped to rest at a place where plastic flowers had been put on a concrete barrier near the scene of a fatal accident. 
     Later I saw a plastic-flower cross tied to a mile post near Sheep Creek. 
     Comfortably coasting east down Billies Mountain, I found a penny and not too far away a hemostat. 
     I wondered if the medical clamp had been left by a Spanish Fork emergency medical technician at the scene of yet another accident. 
     I found a 5.5mm socket just past Thistle Junction, and then another socket moments later. 
     Later I found a snake that had tried crossing the road and been killed. 
     You just never know what you'll find when you set out on a journey. 
     Long trail Dom'nguez and Escalante never knew what they would find, either. 
     The 10 men traveled through Spanish territory searching for a new route from Santa Fe, N.M. to Monterey. 
     They were to have started out from  Santa Fe July 4, 1776. 
     But a Comanche raid postponed their departure until July 29. 
     About the same time on the more developed east coast the Continental Congress was busily collecting signatures for the Declaration of Independence and forming the new nationt would ironically wrest control of Spanish territory, including what would later become Utah. 
     Brigham Young and his followers who left the United States to arrive in the valley of the Great Salt Lake would quickly find themselves back in Utah Territory, USA, nearly a year after arriving. 
     The expedition never found its new route to Monterey. 
     Winter set in and they turned around shortly after leaving Utah Lake, returning to Santa Fe in January the next year. 
     But along the way they came down through Spanish Fork Canyon and found Utah Lake, saying it was of the deepest blue and the largest body of water they had ever seen in the new world. 
     Apparently when they saw Utah Lake it was blue not the algae-green it is today. 
     The fathers dreamed of returning to Utah Lake the following year to establish a mission around the lake, but it never happened. 
     Spain still ruled the southwest in 1776. 
     Settlements had been founded in New Mexico as early as 1593. 
     In fact the Spanish explored most of the southwestern part of what is the United States today before any English explorer ever arrived in America. 
     Mass was said by the fathers and the journey began. 
     The fathers were not traveling in utter ignorance, however. 
     Spanish traders had traveled north of Sante Fe, trading with friendlier Indians while trying to avoid hostile ones. 
     Just where and how the traders traveled has mostly escaped written history because unlike Spanish expeditions, the travels of the traders were not recorded with official diaries. 
    But the word got around, and later, mountain men knew and traveled historic Spanish Trails. 
     In fact many of today's highways follow these same logical routes. 
     Munez, a Hispanicized Indian, himself had earlier traveled as far north as the Gunnison River that flows into the Colorado River near Grand Junction just east of Moab. 
     Moab was a logical crossing point on Spanish trails for getting across the Colorado River. 
     Munez spoke the language of the Yutas  (Utahs) who lived in areas far north of Santa Fe. 
   A 1686 report told of Teguayo, a land west of the Colorado Mountains where Indians lived around a lake. This was likely Utah Lake. 
     By the Dolores River near today's Utah border with Colorado, the expedition met an important native American. 
     "We met a Yuta, called Left-Handed, with his family," Father Escalante wrote. 
     It was Left-Handed who led the fathers  to the Lagunas of Utah Lake. Their was a familial relationship between the Colorado Yutas and the Lagunas of Utah Lake. 
     Also riding with them from Colorado  to Utah Lake was a young boy, actually a Laguna from who had been visiting relatives in Colorado. 
     Named Joaquin, by the fathers, the young boy not only rode with the expedition from the encampment in Colorado to Utah Lake, he eventually accompanied them all the way back to Santa Fe, for what must have been the adventure of his young life. 
     I wondered if he ever made it back home? 
     Pedaling eastbound, I paused around mile post 190 to photograph a rock formation north of the highway that reminded me of a mini Bryce Canyon. 
     Nearby I found an old city public transit bus that probably led a busy life in some city somewhere but now just rusted in a field. 
     Another mile post farther, I visited a cave etched out by forces in steep red rock. 
     I made it to Sheep Creek Junction and turned around and pedaled home to Provo. 
     Along the way, I wished I had a time machine and could have gone back and ridden with the fathers.
   A version of this this story appeared in The Daily Herald

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