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Celebrating the 240th Anniversary of the Anza Expedition through Griffith Park

CATEGORY: Preservation |
On Jul 31, 2016

Travel has certainly come a very long way in the past 200+ years. Planes, trains and automobiles have increased our ability to get from Point A to Point B breathtakingly fast. Roadways zigzag through communities while interstate freeways traverse the country. Nowadays, motor vehicles are designed to cover great distances in a few hours or a few days.

The situation was quite different in 1772 when Juan Bautista de Anza petitioned the King of Spain for financial support enabling him to explore and lay claim to the northern area (parts of modern-day California, Arizona and New Mexico).

During this era of discovery and colonization, there were a multitude of reasons to venture up the California coastline toward San Francisco Bay. Russian explorers were quickly moving south along the coastline while French explorers were moving westward toward Alta California, so it was essential the Anza expedition arrive first if Spain was to maintain control over these territories and harbors. Ironically, an earlier expedition led by Gaspar de Portola in 1769 had already arrived in the San Francisco Bay area but Portola miscalculated his position, thinking he was in the vicinity of Monterey Bay. He failed to grasp the significance of available natural resources : fertile land, vast woodlands of native trees, clean, clear water and a mild climate suited to crop production nearly year round. Departing the Bay area, Portola eventually traveled back toward San Diego without first laying claim, and in 1770, he traveled back to Spain, never to return to the New World.

Fictionalized mural portrait from LA Central Library.

The first Anza expedition in 1774 consisted of approximately 35 men plus horses, cattle and mules. It was considered a great success and upon his return to Mexico, Anza was promoted and tasked with leading another expedition northward. In October, 1775 Juan Bautista de Anza departed Mexico to journey once more toward the San Francisco Bay. Conditions had not changed — there were still no roads or trails and traveling 1,200 miles by foot or on horseback made the journey long and dangerous for those who participated.

The second, much larger group of colonists consisted of soldiers, their wives and families, accompanied by several padres, muleteers and vaqueros (cowboys).

Unlike today’s camping experience with all modern conveniences, Anza’s journey was made extremely uncomfortable by the lack of available shelters and worse, exposure to the elements. While expedition leaders and padres were housed in their own tents, families were packed into ten tents which meant three or more families per tent. Although cramped, they fared slightly better than muleteers and vaqueros as these individuals were forced to sleep outside throughout the journey. Expedition supplies including clothing, food, cooking utensils, blankets, tools, and munitions were either packed onto mules or hand-carried over 1,200 miles.

The exhausted party arrived at Mission San Gabriel ArcA¡ngel (slightly east of present-day Los Angeles) in January, 1776. According to historical records, they had endured unusually bitter winter weather along the southern route. The expedition then moved northwest toward the California coastline after stopping in the Griffith Park area to replenish water and supplies.

Finally in late March, 1776, Col. Anza’s long, arduous journey to San Francisco Bay concluded. As the Spanish colonists stood on the site of the now-famous Golden Gate Bridge, Anza noted in his diary, “I placed a cross, and beneath the soil at its foot, a notice of what I had seen to serve as a guide to the ships that will enter there… for the establishment of the fort rightly belonging to this port.”

Thanks to all groups and individuals for participating in this celebration: The National Park Service including Santa Monica Mountains Rangers & Rangers from the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail, Anza Trail Color Guard, Los Californios Music & Dance Troup, Tongva flute player, Michael White Horse Aviles, National Wildlife Federation, Nature Conservancy, Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks, and Friends of the Los Angeles River (FOLAR).


Earlier in 2021, boardmember Marian Dodge took part in a FoLAR (Friends of the Los Angeles River) video presentation discussing the de Anza route taken through Griffith Park headed toward San Francisco. This video also included several Native Americans from the Gabrieleño Band of Mission Indians Kizh Nation discussing impacts on tribal lands.


And, speaking of celebrations…

The National Park Service Celebrates it’s First 100 Years

Originally national parks and monuments were managed by the Department of the Interior but on August 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson created the National Park Service “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and wildlife therein, and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”

Currently, NPS manages nearly 85 million acres and since taking office, President Obama has added even more land and helped to promote preservation efforts. Check out “Find Your Park” on the NPS website:

~Kathryn Louyse



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