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Old Spanish Trail Monument Marker at Grand Junction, CO

Welcome to the
Old Spanish Trail Association

Arrieros - 1836 lithograph
Mexican arrieros depicted in a 1836 lithograph - Frédéric Lehnert/Carl Nebel

Protecting, Interpreting and Promoting the
Old Spanish National Historic Trail

Old Spanish Trail Adventure Video!

Recently, three American Conservation Experience (ACE) interns working for the BLM-Utah National Trails Program embarked on a truly unique adventure. Trekking more than 400 miles along the Old Spanish Trail in Utah. Watch their ADVENTURE VIDEO!

BLM Adventure Video

mule Explore the most arduous and famous pack mule route in western history, crossing the beautiful but dangerous terrain of the American Southwest.

mule Revel in the lives of travelers such as Kit Carson, Antonio Armijo, Chief        Walkara, John C. Fremont and William Workman, and how they survived the        Trail’s daunting rivers, canyons, deserts and mountains.

mule Consider how the cultural and political intrigue of the Trail’s heyday        continues to challenge and instruct us.

mule Let OSTA assist with your personal discovery of the spirit and adventure of        the Old Spanish Trail.

Experience the National Historic Trail with our Interactive Travel Adventure Map

Interactive Map Demo

Download Free Copies of the Spanish Traces Journal

Members of the Old Spanish Trail Association enjoy three issues of Spanish Traces each year. Archived samples are available as free downloads. Become a member and start your subscription to Spanish Traces today!

Spanish Traces Front Cover

Background on the Old Spanish National Historic Trail

For traveling Mexican caravans between 1829 and 1848, the Old Spanish National Historic Trail was known as the shortest path to riches between Los Angeles and Santa Fe. It was a trail of commercial opportunity and western adventure as well as slave trading, horse thieving and raids. The Old Spanish Trail route was established along a loose network of Indian footpaths that crossed the wide expanse of the Colorado Plateau and the Mojave Desert. With time, this newly established trade corridor attracted frontiersmen and U.S. military expeditions.

For a lucky few, the Old Spanish Trail represented fortune. Quality woolen goods produced in New Mexico were traded for a surplus supply of horses and mules raised on California’s ranchos. These valued stock animals commanded premium prices in New Mexico and the western frontier of the United States. Traders and their mule caravans typically began their annual journey from New Mexico in late fall to take advantage of low water river crossings and cooler temperatures across the hot Mojave desert.

Old Spanish Trail Map

The map above illustrates the variant routes that developed as merchants developed their trade with the Rocky Mountain and Mojave Desert peoples, and the rancheros of coastal California. In 2002, the Old Spanish Trail received designation as a National Historic Trail and today it is widely known as the longest, most arduous and crookedest pack mule route in America. All who took the trail—frontiersmen and young boys with a winter to spare, a handful of hardy families moving West, military expeditions, Indian guides and conscripts—shared the adventure of a lifetime in the Southwest’s rugged back country.

The 2,700 miles of trail which linked Santa Fe with Los Angeles pushed mule caravans to the limit. In the first week on the trail alone, the mules scrambled, swam, or dragged their handlers through more than a dozen river crossings. By the time the pack trains reached Los Angeles, they had crossed dune fields in California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado, found their way around the Grand Canyon, skirted the continent’s harshest deserts at Death Valley, and slaked their thirst at Stinking Springs, Salt Creek, Alkali Canyon, Bitter Spring, and the Inconsistent River.

Forged By Mexican and American Traders

The trail takes its name from the old Spanish colonies in northern New Mexico and southern California which were linked by this rugged route. The Spanish outpost of Santa Fe, NM was founded in the early 1600's ten years before the Plymouth Colony was established by the Mayflower pilgrims. The presidio of Monterey was founded in 1770 and the San Gabriel Mission in 1771. But it was not until 1829 that a suitable land passage between these colonies in the interior of New Mexico and the California coast became established and regularly used. Today, only a few remnant traces of the trail can be seen where hundreds of fast trotting mules and their tired muleteers once traversed the high country of New Mexico and Colorado on their way to California’s fertile trading fields.



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3 issues of Spanish Traces per year and other membership benefits.

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News Updates

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OSTA E-Newsletter

Old Spanish Trail-Armijo Route DedicationNew Highway 89
Armijo Route Interpretive Sign Installed


March 20, 2015
OSTA Board Meeting
Page, AZ

March 20, 2015
Public reception at the Powell Museum
6 pm
Page, AZ

April 8, 2015
Los Angeles Corral of Westerners
Speaker: Jack Prichett “Identifying and Preserving the
Old Spanish Trail.”
Rowland Heights, California

April 18, 2015
Salida Del Sol Chapter
Annual meeting
Speaker: Tom Jervis speaking on Naturalist William Gambel and his 1841 travels on The Old Spanish Trail.
Santa Fe, NM

May 1-3 2015
Annual Meeting of the Archaeological Society
of New Mexico
Speaker: Mark Henderson
"The Old Spanish National Historical Trail: Legislative Fact - Archaeological, Historical, and Architectural Fiction
Taos, NM

June 20, 2015
Salida Del Sol Chapter
Field Trip - Cebolla to El Vado Lake
New Mexico

September 17-20, 2015
Santa Fe
Convention Center
First ever joint conference of three historic trail associations:
Santa Fe Trail Association (SFTA)
Old Spanish Trail Association (OSTA)
El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro Trail Association (CARTA)
Santa Fe, New Mexico

September 20-26, 2015
Trail Association
Annual Convention
Lake Tahoe, California


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