Spanish Fork Canyon
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
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
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
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
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
expedition surveyed what they called the Valley of the Lagunas for a
of Native Americans who lived where the Provo River enters Utah
Expedition cartographer Don Bernardo Miera
Y Pacheco called Utah Lake "Laguna De Los Timpanogos" on the maps he
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
"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
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
"There will be much work to be done
"I want to take time to make sure they
we come in peace."
As I pedaled up Spanish Fork Canyon,
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
nights were like and what they had eaten.
Several years ago, 12 modern-day riders
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
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
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
In the 1980s, the springs became a hangout
and Utah County Sheriff's deputies used explosives to destroy the hot
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
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
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
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
I found a 5.5mm socket just past Thistle
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
the Declaration of Independence and forming the new nationt would
wrest control of Spanish territory, including what would later become
Brigham Young and his followers who left the
United States to arrive in the valley of the Great Salt Lake would
find themselves back in Utah Territory, USA, nearly a year after
The expedition never found its new route to
Winter set in and they turned around shortly
after leaving Utah Lake, returning to Santa Fe in January the next
But along the way they came down through
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
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
part of what is the United States today before any English explorer
arrived in America.
Mass was said by the fathers and the journey
The fathers were not traveling in utter
Spanish traders had traveled north of Sante
Fe, trading with friendlier Indians while trying to avoid hostile
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
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
relatives in Colorado.
Named Joaquin, by the fathers, the young boy
not only rode with the expedition from the encampment in Colorado to
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
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
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.