In 1776, Franciscan Fathers, Francisco Atanasio Dominguez and Silvestre Velez de Excalante and eight companions, explored what is now southern Colorado, Utah, and northern Arizona, as men of peace.
Between August and December, 1776, Dominguez and Escalante and a small group of men attempted to find an overland route between the Spanish villages in New Mexico and the Spanish missions in California.
The expedition crossed the La Plata River near what is now Hesperus. On August 10 and 11, 1776, Escalante wrote:
"... we swung west through the valleys of very beautiful timber and abundant pasturage, roses, and various other flowers.... We were not able to move camp because Father Fray Francisco Atanasio awoke very weak.... For this reason we were not able to go to see the veins and metallic stones of the sierra, although they were nearby, as we were assured by a companion who had seen them on another occasion."
Although Dominguez and Escalante did not reach California, they are recognized as the first Europeans to traverse and map what is now central Utah and cross the mighty Colorado River, (northeast of the Grand Canyon.) Members of the expedition walked or rode horses nearly two thousand miles as they explored a relatively unknown land. Throughout their journey they encountered a dozen native tribes, yet they never resorted to violence toward their fellow man.
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An 18th Century monstrance used by Franciscan Fathers in what is now California and New Mexico. A monstrance was used to hold the Eucharist during church services.
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Expedition cartographer Bernard Miera Y Pacheco accompanied Dominguez and Escalante and drew this map of the region in 1778.
- Courtesy of Utah State Historical Society
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Dominguez and Escalante followed a route used by Juan Maria de Rivera in 1765. After crossing the Gunnison River, however, they ventured into a land that had never been seen by Europeans.