The Spanish empire's influence on the American southwest began long before the 1776 journey of Dominguez and Escalante. Indeed, Spanish conquistadors, in search of gold and silver, explored the region as early as 1540. Santa Fe, the capital of New Spain's northern province of New Mexico, was founded in 1610, three years after the English landed at Jamestown and ten years before the Pilgrims' arrival at Plymouth Rock. As the English and French frontiers of the Atlantic seaboard expanded west across the Appalachian Mountains, the Spanish frontier moved north into the American Southwest. prior to 1776, countless expeditions marched north from Santa Fe into the land of northern New Mexico and southern Colorado, searching for precious minerals, spreading Christianity, and pursuing runaway Indian slaves from New Mexican settlements.
Eleven years before Dominguez and Escalante camped on the river bank just east of this site, Don Juan Maria de Rivera explored as far north as the confluence of the Gunnison and Uncompahgre Rivers. From this point west, until their return to New Mexico, Dominguez and Escalante were the first explorers of European ancestry to visit the land and record their discoveries.Although they failed in their primary goal of establishing a route to California, Father Escalante's detailed diary contained a wealth
of information and a vivid description of the American southwest in 1776. In the diary, Escalante named many rivers, mountains and other prominent geographical features. In addition, Don Bernardo Maria y Pachecos map of the explored region served to cement Spanish land claims to the territory.
Equally significant, Fathers Dominguez and Escalante made their 2,000-mile journey without firing a shot or incurring the wrath of the Indian people they encountered. Indeed, the padres message of Christianity was well-received among the Utes of Grand Mesa and Utah Valley.
The 1776 journey of Dominguez and Escalante emphasizes that even as the world focused its attention on Thirteen Colonies in revolt, another nation struggled to expand its empire in the New World.