Old Spanish Trail
The Old Spanish National Historic Trail was designated as part of the National Trails System in 2002. The trail connected New Mexico’s frontier colonies to their counterparts in southern California in the early 19th century.
There was money to be made in transporting New Mexico serapes and other woolen goods to Los Angeles, and in wrangling California-bred horses and mules back to Santa Fe. But a viable overland route across the remote deserts and mountains of Mexico’s far northern frontier had to be found. Spain’s colonists had sought an overland route between New Mexico and California for more than 50 years.
Mexican trader Antonio Armijo led the first commercial caravan from Abiquiú, New Mexico, to Los Angeles late in 1829. Over the next 20 years, Mexican and American traders traveled variants of the route that Armijo pioneered, frequently trading with Indian tribes along the way.
The complex network known today as the Old Spanish Trail evolved from a combination of indigenous footpaths, early trade and exploration routes, and good pasture and water for the pack trains and stock drives. After the United States took control of the Southwest in 1848, other routes to California emerged, and use of the Old Spanish Trail sharply declined.
The Old Spanish Trail was primarily a horse and burro pack route between Santa Fe and Los Angeles, which developed partly from a network of American Indian and Hispanic trade routes. Although primarily a trade thoroughfare, it also was used by explorers, trappers, prospectors, and immigrants. In 1847, Mormons initiated wagon travel along the western half of the trail while traveling between Salt Lake City and Los Angeles. The Mormon wagon route replicated or paralleled the Old Spanish Trail for most of the distance between the present-day communities of Paragonah, Utah, and San Bernardino, California.
Two main routes emerged—the Armijo (Southern) Route and the Northern Route. The North Branch of the Old Spanish Trail through the San Luis Valley and Gunnison River country of Colorado and eastern Utah was a variant of the Northern Route. Fur trappers were the predominant users of the North Branch. It is commonly said that the Old Spanish Trail was neither “old” nor “Spanish.” The first documented use of the name came from John C. Frémont in the 1840s, and the name was picked up and used by others, principally Anglo-American travelers. Nineteenth-century Mexican traders in New Mexico referred to it as the "Camino de California," and Californios referred to it as the "Camino de Santa Fe"
American Indian groups have lived for thousands of years throughout what is now the American Southwest. These groups developed an extensive network of routes for travel and trade. As with other western trails, it is likely that segments of the Old Spanish Trail follow some earlier trails and trade routes. Trade and travel along the route, or portions of it, included use by Ute, Paiute, Comanche, and Navajo peoples.
In 1769, Spain established settlements in southern California to prevent ongoing Russian and English encroachments. Supplying these settlements by sea was difficult because of unfavorable winds and ocean currents. The first land route to southern California was extended from La Paz in Baja, California, to San Diego in 1769. In 1775 and 1776, Juan Bautista de Anza led settlers north into California from Sonora, Mexico.
Spain also was interested in establishing a viable overland link between her northern holdings in California and New Mexico. Parts of what would become the Old Spanish Trail were explored from the west when Father Francisco Hermengildo Garcés set out from the Yuma villages along the Gila River in southern Arizona to explore a path to the California missions beginning in 1774. To get there, Garcés traveled north to the friendly Mohave Indian villages along the Colorado River. There, he was offered four guides, who led him along indigenous trails to the Mojave River. Garcés followed the Mojave for several days, reaching Misión San Gabriel via the San Bernardino - San Gabriel Ranges. Some of the indigenous routes that Garcés traveled through the Mojave Desert later became part of the western portion of the Old Spanish Trail.
Spanish colonial interest in trade with the Utes began in the seventeenth century. Fearing renewed hostilities caused by unfair trade practices, eighteenth-century Spanish officials prohibited trade with the Utes. Flaunting the law, traders from New Mexico followed pathways to the land of the Utes. Each illegal expedition invariably furnished knowledge of Ute country. As Spanish frontiersmen ventured beyond western Colorado, they learned different ways to get to the Great Basin. Later, the more experienced served as guides on official expeditions to western Colorado and Utah.
Three officially sanctioned expeditions from New Mexico into Ute country, composed partially of men who had previously traded illegally with the Utes, reflected renewed Spanish interest in Ute country. In 1765, Juan María Antonio Rivera led two parties to explore southwestern Colorado and southeastern Utah. Eleven years later, in 1776, a third official expedition left Santa Fe following Rivera’s route to the Uncompahgre Plateau and beyond to the Great Basin in western Utah. This expedition, led by two Franciscan priests, Francisco Atanasio Domínguez and Francisco Silvestre Vélez de Escalante, was intended to establish a route between Santa Fe and Monterey in California. Although their expedition failed in its objective to reach the coast of the Pacific Ocean, they succeeded in providing more information about the interior land and its people.
In the mid-1820s, Hispanic New Mexicans and Anglo-Americans expanded their trade in Ute country. Anglo-American fur trappers, in particular, were interested in meeting European demand for beaver hats with new sources of fur in the Rocky Mountains. While trapping for beaver, these men explored the region. In 1825-1826 Antoine Robidoux built Fort Uncompahgre (Fort Robidoux) near present-day Delta, Colorado. This fort was a centralized trading area where various Indian groups brought furs to trade; these furs were then transported to Santa Fe or Bent’s Old Fort over routes that later became part of the Old Spanish Trail. Robidoux later built another fur-trade post, Fort Uintah, in northeastern Utah. Occasionally, the North Branch of the Old Spanish Trail was used to supply these trading posts. In late summer of 1826 Jedediah S. Smith led a small party of trappers westward from the rendezvous at Cache Valley, Utah, utilizing portions of what would become the Old Spanish Trail as he headed southwest toward California. After wintering among the californios, Smith and some of his party made their way to the 1827 rendezvous at Bear Lake near the Utah-Idaho boundary. Leaving that rendezvous in July, Smith again headed for California, generally retracing his steps of a year before, but this time several of his men died in a bloody clash with Mohave Indians when they attempted to cross the Colorado River at a Mojave village.
Beginning in the 1820s, several groups of fur trappers made their way from New Mexico to California via various routes through Arizona. Collectively, these routes are sometimes called the Gila Route because most travelers trapped along the Gila River en route. In 1827, Richard Campbell led 35 men to San Diego. While it is sometimes assumed that he went south along the Gila, he later remembered taking a more northerly route using the Crossing of the Fathers and then going north of the Grand Canyon. In 1827, Sylvester Pattie led a group along the Gila to Baja California, where they were imprisoned by Mexican officials and taken to San Diego. Two members of this party, Isaac Slover and William Pope, escaped and returned to New Mexico. They later followed the Old Spanish Trail to live in California. Ewing Young led a group that included Kit Carson—via Zuni and the Salt River and then trapped along the Virgin River in Utah before heading to California in 1830. Some members of these groups, as well as members of other groups traveling via southern routes, stayed in California. In 1829, Mexican trader Antonio Armijo departed from Abiquiú in command of a commercial caravan of 60 men. Armijo successfully established a route to Los Angeles, where he traded serapes and other New Mexican goods for horses and mules. Following known American Indian and Spanish paths, Armijo traveled west through Navajo and Paiute territory, and forded the Colorado River at the Crossing of the Fathers—an indigenous crossing used by Domínguez and Escalante in 1776. Thence, Armijo generally followed the present state boundary between Arizona and Utah until he reached the Virgin River. From the Virgin River, based on the advice from his guide, he passed south of present-day Las Vegas on his way to the Amargosa River.
William Wolfskill and George C. Yount first established the Northern Route of the Old Spanish Trail as they passed through central Utah in 1831. With a party of approximately 20 men, Wolfskill and Yount departed Abiquiú in the winter of 1830, and went to California by a route that Wolfskill would later describe as being “farther north than that adopted by the Spaniards in traveling between California and New Mexico.” The Wolfskill-Yount route headed northwest to a crossing of the Colorado River, then west and southwest through Utah. They returned to the Colorado River and followed it to the Mojave villages, where they rested and fed their animals and traded with the Mojave. The party then proceeded west to Los Angeles.
A major variation of the Old Spanish Trail was established by traders and trappers using American Indian and Spanish colonial routes from Santa Fe and Taos into the San Luis Valley of Colorado, and then west to Cochetopa Pass and the Gunnison River Valley. It provided a corridor into eastern Utah. The route through the San Luis Valley included the main road from Taos and also a western fork that came into greater use after 1848. These trails collectively formed a route that became known as the North Branch of the Old Spanish Trail. In his 1870 book about life in the West, John C. Van Tramp cites a letter he received from trapper, Antoine Leroux. Leroux identifies the North Branch as an alternate route to California from Taos. Its greatest attraction to the trail travelers was the Cochetopa
Pass. Leroux reported that “There is not much snow in this pass, (the Coochetope,) and people go through it all the winter. And when there is much snow on the mountains on the Abiquiu route, (which is the old Spanish trail from Santa Fe to California,) the people of Taos go round this way, and get into that trail in the forks of the Grand and Green rivers.”
As use of Old Spanish Trail segments continued, travelers established numerous other variations to take advantage of better water sources and to shorten the length and time of travel. By 1848, travelers had developed several variations of the route to the Sevier River in order to avoid the Sawtooth Narrows of Salina Canyon. Another variation, developed later still, was the Kingston Cutoff, which led travelers southwest from Mountain Springs, Nevada, to Silurian Lake, California.
As the trail network evolved, partly from indigenous footpaths and partly from newly blazed routes, into a horse and mule trail, and later into a wagon road, several variants were opened through Cajon Pass, north of San Bernardino. Some traffic went over Cajon Pass following what is now California State Highway 152 up to the summit, and descended into the San Bernardino Valley through the area now occupied by the California State University campus. However, the route chosen probably depended on several factors, including party composition, the amount and type of load carried, whether weather was wet or dry, the time of year, and the presence of government inspectors.
The major reason for travel on the Old Spanish Trail was trade between New Mexico and California, primarily by New Mexican trade caravans, which traveled between Santa Fe and Los Angeles between 1829 and 1848. Caravans usually left on the three-month journey in the fall, primarily carrying woolen goods produced in New Mexico. They returned the following year, having traded their goods for horses and mules. The size of caravans seems to vary from year to year. Some of the documented trading parties include: Antonio Santiesteban and 30 men in 1831; José Avieta and 124 men in 1833-1834; José Antonio Salazar and 75 men in 1839-1840; Francisco Estevan Vigil and 35 men and others (possibly about 134 people) in 1841; Tomás Salazar and 170 men in 1843; and Francisco Estevan Vigil and 209-225 men in 1847. Little or no information seems to be available as to the size of the caravans in 1838, 1840, and 1845. There are no annual trade caravans identified for 1834-1835, 1835-1836, or 1846. There were other travelers, such as Santiago Martín, who went to California with 15 men in 1832 for personal reasons rather than trade.
Overall, the available information on the size of caravans, and to a greater extent the quantity of merchandise carried to California tends to be vague. The 1841 Vigil group was reported by a Frenchman, Duflot du Mofras, as consisting of 200 New Mexicans and 60 or more North Americans. Duflot suggested that the annual caravans routinely consisted of 200 men, and they returned to New Mexico with about 2,000 horses. However, the known information as to caravan size (see preceding paragraph) suggests that the size of the caravans and the numbers of livestock (see below) brought back varied from year to year. In some years, the documented number of livestock was more than twice du Mofras’ estimate and in others only a fraction of that amount.
There was considerable legal trade in horses and mules between California and New Mexico. However, data can only be found for some of the years in which trade caravans operated. The numbers vary from year to year. Some of the known groups include Armijo, with 100 animals in 1830; José Antonio Salazar, with an estimated 2,500 animals in 1839; Francisco Estevan Vigil, with 4,141 animals in 1842; John Rowland, with 300 animals in 1842; a group, with 252 animals in 1843; a Frenchman called Le Tard with 231 animals in 1848; and Francisco Estevan Vigil, again, with 4,628 animals in 1848.
Horse and mule theft was common, both by regular traders and adventurers. Americans claiming to be beaver trappers, fugitive Indians from the missions, Indians from the frontiers, and New Mexicans were teaming together to gather horses and mules for the drive to New Mexico. This illegal trade was of great concern in California and resulted in laws to restrict access by New Mexican traders.
In addition to general reports of livestock theft, there are numbers reported for some incidents. The following are some reports of animals stolen and taken to New Mexico: In 1833, Jesus Uzeta and others stole 430; in 1837, Jean Baptiste Chalifoux and his men stole 1,400-1,500 mules and horses; in 1842, John Rowland took 300 stolen animals; In 1844, Jim Beckwourth, according to his claim, took 1,800 horses from California to Bent’s Old Fort in 1844; and in 1846, Joseph Walker took 400-500 horses and mules from California, presumably following the Old Spanish Trail into Utah and then north to Fort Bridger and across the immigrant route and south to Bent’s Fort. In 1848, Miles Goodyear left California with 231 legally obtained animals, but reportedly drove an estimated 4,000 animals to Utah and east to Missouri, where he found declining prices due to increased supply and a decrease in emigration. He returned with the horses to California via the Humboldt River route, where he sold them at a handsome profit due to increased demand as a result of the Gold Rush of 1849. Mountain men such as Beckwourth, Pegleg Smith, and others, and New Mexican traders encouraged Yokuts and other Indians of the California interior to steal horses from the ranchos for resale in New Mexico. The Yokuts, who had already begun stealing horses for food, now stole them for trade. In California the wide-ranging Utes, the Yokuts of the Central Valley, and other Indians struck the ranchos.
Some of the vast fur trade in the West used the Old Spanish Trail. American travelers along the Old Spanish Trail, Gila (Arizona) routes, and other land routes to California were involved in the fur trade. Many travelers were trapping for furs as they went. William Wolfskill and others who stayed in California gave up beaver trapping to hunt sea otters, at least for a while, before becoming landowners. Furs could also be traded for horses and mules. Antoine Robidoux built two fur trade forts, Fort Uinta and Fort Uncompaghre, and used the North Branch as a route to supply the forts. The fur trade activity along the Old Spanish Trail was part of a massive whole extending across the western half of the continent.
Sheep and wool trade was a major economic industry in New Mexico. New Mexico weavers provided the woolen goods that were carried over the Old Spanish Trail to California. Wool was also shipped east on the Santa Fe Trail. Many thousands of sheep were traded south along the Camino Real to Chihuahua and Durango during the peak years of 1821-1846. The trade languished during the Mexican-American War, but with the discovery of gold in California and its accompanying population boom, a new market was opened. In 1849, a gold-seeker named Roberts bought 500 sheep in New Mexico for $250, and took them to California through southern Arizona, where he sold them for $8,000. By 1850, rumors of the new market were common in Santa Fe. William Angney bought 6,000 sheep in 1850 and took them to California via the Old Spanish Trail. In 1852, Richens Lacy “Uncle Dick” Wootton took 9,000 sheep along the North Branch of the Old Spanish Trail, on to Salt Lake City, and then west to Sacramento along a California Trail route.
Old Spanish Trail traders also became involved in the ongoing trade in American Indian slaves. Stronger tribes would raid weaker tribes and take captives for sale to the Spanish, and later Mexicans. The Southern Paiutes were the principal victims of the slave trade, which, early in the nineteenth century, is presumed to have used the eastern segments of the later Old Spanish Trail in New Mexico and Utah. Southern Paiutes may have been slaves in Santa Fe and surrounding communities as early as the late 1700s, and the practice continued as late as the 1860s in some parts of Colorado and Utah.
This trade was illegal, hence written accounts were seldom kept and official records are largely lacking. There is limited documentation of the extent of the involvement of Old Spanish Trail trade caravans with the slave trade. The main market for slaves was New Mexico, and a number of travelers into the Utah country reported on Mexicans engaged in slave trading. Some Indian slaves were taken to California to be sold.
Hispanic New Mexican families, Anglo-Americans from the U.S., and others immigrated to California on the Old Spanish Trail.
Some New Mexicans accompanied American immigrants, such as the Rowland-Workman party. Others accompanied Mexican trade caravans; and some traveled on their own. Historical references may sometimes only refer to the number of families and not to the number of individuals.
In 1837, José María Chávez and his brother Julian Chávez, with family members and several others, escaped New Mexico by way of Utah to California. They had been singled out for execution for siding with Governor Albino Pérez, who was slain in the New Mexico Rebellion of 1837. In California, they joined the rebellion and were captured by government forces under General José Castro. They were later released. José María returned to New Mexico but Julian remained, settling in Chávez Ravine in Los Angeles. In 1838, Lorenzo Trujillo and six other New Mexicans left New Mexico for California. En route, Manuelita Renaga gave birth at Resting Springs on the Old Spanish Trail. These eight individuals became the first settlers in the San Bernardino area. In 1839, 75 New Mexicans arrived in California and settled near Rancho de San José. Several groups arrived in 1842, including a party of 40 from Abiquiú, New Mexico, who settled at Agua Mansa and Politana, and a group of 19 families who eventually settled in San Luis Obispo. In 1843, 10 families accompanied the regular caravan; another 10 families possibly accompanied a group under John Rowland; and five families arrived at Agua Mansa in 1844.
Beginning with the Wolfskill-Yount party in 1830, a number of Americans following the Old Spanish Trail also stayed in California. Approximately 28 Americans (about 21 adult males and eight family members) are known to have immigrated along the Old Spanish Trail between 1830 and 1838. William Pope and Isaac Slover, who led a group in 1837, had previously been to California via the Gila Route. In 1841, the Rowland-Workman party immigrated on the trail. Most of the 26 men in this group were Americans, while several were native New Mexicans. Two of the New Mexicans brought their families. Nine members of the Rowland party did not stay in California. In 1844, Louis Robidoux and Jean Jeantet immigrated to California after traveling with a Mexican trade caravan, possibly along the Old Spanish Trail.
Americans and other foreigners who immigrated to California engaged in a variety of businesses. Although 1828 regulations opened California to settlement by foreigners, there was little land available, and Mexican officials were not supportive of grants to foreigners. With the secularization of the missions in 1834, lands that had been previously closed to settlement became available. In the 1840s, Mexican officials opened large amounts of land to private development, and foreigners were permitted to purchase land in California. Many became owners of large holdings. About one-third of the land in California went to Anglo-Americans. The secularization of the missions also meant that thousands of Indians from those missions were now available as a source of cheap labor. And an outside market existed for products of California ranches, primarily hides and tallow. These factors set off a land rush among Mexicans and foreigners.
Additionally, people were drawn to California as a result of numerous boosters who had written about the area, beginning as early as 1808 with the journal of a sea-otter trader, Captain William Shaler; Hall
Jackson Kelley’s 1839 report to Congress; Richard H. Dana’s Two Years before the Mast,” and others. Tales heard from fur trappers and the published words of hide and tallow traders and travelers who wrote of California helped fuel the American appetite for expansion. Others, such as John Marsh and John Sutter, were also active in luring overland travelers to California.
Some of those who immigrated to California on the Old Spanish Trail became involved in the American underground that worked to hasten the takeover of California. This takeover was generally a goal of the various boosters. John Rowland and William Workman had been involved in the Republic of Texas’ failed 1841 invasion of New Mexico. They became active in annexationist intrigues, joining with many, such as Abel Stearns, who were already in California. Both, along with other members of their immigrant party, were involved in the military uprising in 1845 against Governor Micheltorena, as well as later uprisings.
Soon after settling in the Salt Lake area, the Mormons under Brigham Young began expanding southward with the intent of establishing an outlet to the sea. A series of settlements were established in the late 1840s and early 1850s along the “Mormon Corridor,” including Parowan and Cedar City, which were near beds of iron and coal. In 1852, Young sent a company of 300 settlers, who followed the western part of the Old Spanish Trail to southern California, where they established a city called San Bernardino. In 1855, the Mormons built a fort at the site of present-day Las Vegas, Nevada, and another group followed part of the Old Spanish Trail to settle Moab, Utah. In 1857, fearing an invasion of Utah by the U.S. Army, the colonists from San Bernardino and other outposts left their settlements and returned to help defend against the potential invaders.
Over the years, a number of military groups and expeditions followed portions or all of the Old Spanish Trail.
At the forefront of exploration of the West was the U.S. Army Corps of Topographic Engineers—and the most famous member of that group was John C. Frémont. Like most of his colleagues, Frémont was a firm believer in manifest destiny. Already renowned for his earlier explorations, Frémont led a wideranging expedition across the West in 1843-1844. His primary objective was to travel from Missouri to Oregon. When he reached Fort Vancouver, his official duty was done, but he chose to head south into California, exploring along the way. In southern California the expedition picked up the Old Spanish Trail. It left the trail in southwest Utah, continued north to Utah Lake, went east along the Uinta Mountains and into Colorado, south to Pueblo, and then east back to St. Louis. In his writings, Frémont referred to the trail as the “Spanish Trail,” a designation that was picked up by others, thus leading to the popular name for the trail. Frémont published maps and detailed descriptions of the Amargosa River variant of the Old Spanish Trail.
Kit Carson carried military dispatches on several trips, some of them along the Old Spanish Trail. In late 1847, he carried dispatches west along the Old Spanish Trail. In 1848, Carson again traveled with dispatches east from Los Angeles along the Old Spanish Trail to Santa Fe and on to Washington, D.C. George Brewerton, who accompanied Carson, kept an account of the trip, which contains some of the most detailed stories of travel along the trail.
With the American takeover of California, there was a strong interest in completing a railroad connection to the Pacific, and competition between proponents of different routes to make that connection. A number of expeditions followed various northern, southern, and central routes. In 1853, Congress authorized a government survey of all the principal routes under the direction of Secretary of War Jefferson Davis, who was to submit his report in January 1854.
Lieutenant Edward Fitzgerald Beale led a group along the North Branch and then down the main Old Spanish Trail to California in 1853. Beale had been appointed as Indian Commissioner to California. Senator Thomas Hart Benton secured Beale’s appointment and the funding for his trip. Gwinn Harris Heap, Beale’s cousin and a newspaperman, wrote a widely distributed account of the trip, which was very favorable to the route through Cochetopa Pass.
In 1853, Captain John Williams Gunnison led an expedition to explore a possible 38th parallel railroad route across Cochetopa Pass. After entering the San Luis Valley in Colorado, the group followed the North Branch of the Old Spanish Trail into western Colorado. In Utah, the group followed parts of the Old Spanish Trail. On October 26, after leaving the Old Spanish Trail, a group from the expedition was attacked, reportedly by Paiute Indians; Gunnison and others were killed, leaving only four survivors. The main party reached the scene two days later, and First Lieutenant Edward G. Beckwith led them to Salt Lake City.
Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri, who was a strong proponent of the 38th parallel route for the railroad, secured private funding and sent a survey party led by John C. Frémont behind Gunnison. They followed Gunnison’s tracks on the North Branch and continued into Utah, following parts of the Old Spanish Trail. Entering the Rocky Mountains in December 1853, the group encountered difficulties, forcing them to first walk while the animals carried their supplies, and then to cache all but their most important baggage in order to ride. Eventually, as the animals gave out, they were eaten and their riders had to walk. The travelers suffered severe hardships and one man died. Solomon Carvalho, who wrote the account of the trip, lost 44 pounds. The party finally reached Parowan, Utah. Frémont had also led a previous expedition in 1848 for Benton exploring a 38th parallel route for the railroad in Colorado, which was not on the Old Spanish Trail, and which ended in the deaths of many of the party when the group encountered severe weather and heavy snow.
From November 1857 to January 1858, Captain Randolph B. Marcy’s party of 40 soldiers and 25 mountain men traveled a portion of the North Branch of the Old Spanish Trail en route from Fort Bridger to New Mexico to procure supplies for Army troops under General Albert Sidney Johnson, who was poised to suppress a possible insurrection in Salt Lake City. Marcy’s group suffered from severe winter weather and lack of food. After reaching Fort Union, they obtained supplies and returned via a longer, safer route.
In the summer of 1858, Colonel William W. Loring and 300 men with 50 wagons used part of the Old Spanish Trail and the North Branch to return from Camp Floyd in Utah to Fort Union. Captain John N. Macomb led an exploration into southeastern Utah in 1859. The expedition was looking for a military road and seeking the confluence of the Green and Grand Rivers. They followed a section of the Old Spanish Trail and then deviated from that route, rejoining it farther along. The expedition entered Utah near present-day Monticello and set up a base camp. They returned to Santa Fe across the San Juan Basin. A major accomplishment of the expedition was the scientific observations of geologist John S. Newberry.
In 1860, several civilians were killed, and the Paiute Indians were blamed for the deaths, although the identity of the killers and their tribes was actually unknown. Brevet Major James H. Carleton was put in command of a military unit sent forth to punish the Paiute. The troops reached the Mojave River on April 19, and scouted for Indians in the area and along parts of the Old Spanish Trail until July 3. Two groups of Indians were found and five individuals were killed. The troops found evidence of the Timbisha Shoshone tribe but did not encounter them.
Overall, use of much of the Old Spanish Trail, especially the eastern half, diminished after 1848, as travelers began using other trails such as the California Trail and routes through Arizona. While later wagon roads, and eventually highways, often replicated segments of the Old Spanish Trail, other sections received limited, often local use after about 1850. The establishment of the Intercontinental Railroad in 1869 and other rail routes also resulted in the gradual displacement of many old trails as immigration and commercial routes.
from one of my favorite High Desert, CA websites: http://digital-desert.com/old-spanish-trail/