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Friday, April 12, 2013

Men on the Mountain: Ashley National Forest

On September 13, 1776, the United States of America was the World's newest nation. Not yet four months old, Washington's Army was being hard pressed in New York, and the future of a free nation looked grim indeed. On this same day in history, Daniel Boone and his stalwart followers were struggling to establish Boonesboro in the Kentucky wilderness. Barely a year old, the crude stockade and log cabins were on the edge of the western frontier, and the country beyond was full of mystery and foreboding to the American people.   But fifteen hundred miles to the west, a small party of men and horses had just crossed a river they recorded in their diary as the San Buenaventura. Dwarfed by the endless landscape of a rocky plain with protruding mesas and countless ravines, the ten men made their way southwest to a small tributary of the river, and then turned west across the empty waste. Over a month earlier, the little party had departed from the Catholic mission at Santa Fe, New Mexico. In charge were two Fransiscan friars, Francisco Antanasio Dominques, and the scribe, Silvestre Vales de Escalante. Seven other Spaniards and an Indian guide were also among the party.

The explorers had set out in answer to an appeal from the church to find a better route to the west coast mission at Monterey. What brought them this far north to the foot of the Uinta Mountains is not definitely known. The most vindicated theory is that they were looking for a westward flowing river that emptied into the Pacific near Monterey, and what was probably the San Joaquin or the Sacramento. The Spanish Fathers on the west coast had heard reports of such a river from the Indians, and had relayed this information to Santa Fe.

Their northern trek ended during the second week of September, and the spot where they camped and crossed the San Buenaventura (now called Green River) was named in their diary "Santa Cruz." At this spot stood six large "black poplars", and for many years, one of these trees bore an inscription made by the men. These were the first white men to ever lay eyes on what is now the Vernal Ranger District. They were the first to see the waters of Brush Creek and Ashley Creek, and in fact, described the latter as a narrow ribbon winding its way through the dry land. As they made their way west along the base of the Uinta Range, they must have wondered what treasures lay hidden on the green hills to the north which must remain for later explorers to discover.

Crossing the Wasatch Range, Dominques, Escalante and their men made their way down the mountains to what is now known as Utah Lake, and then turned south again. Discouraged by negative replies from Indians and other Spaniards, to questioning about the westward flowing river, the little party quarreled among themselves as to whether or not to strike out west across the bleak desert, or head southeast to Santa Fe. Better judgment prevailed, and the expedition returned to their mission without finding the new route to Monterey.

Date of Report: April 3, 2013
Number of Pages: 73
Order Number: G1345
Price: $9.95

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