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The Old Spanish Trail was a major trading route in the early days of the American southwest. From the 1820ís to about 1850 it was the major link between the Spanish capital of Santa Fe in New Mexico and the colony of Los Angeles in California. It has been called the longest, crookedest, most arduous trail in America, and it severely tested those who traveled along it. The portion that crossed the Mojave Desert went from water hole to water hole out of necessity, even if it was not always the straightest route.

China Ranch was a watering stop on the trail. Famous figures in American western history traveled the trail, people such as John Fremont, Kit Carson, Brigham Young, and many others are known to have passed through here. The history of the Old Spanish Trail is a fascinating one. Traders from Santa Fe would load their mule trains with finished goods such as blankets, tools, and clothing and head west. In Los Angeles, they would trade these much needed finished products for horses and other livestock, making a tidy profit. They would then drive the livestock east, where in Santa Fe there was a perennial shortage of stock to sell at a huge profit to the ever advancing Americans. Traffic on the trail declined after 1849, when the discovery of gold in California created a profitable local market for the livestock previously sent to Santa Fe.

There is a wealth of information about the trail, and publications are available at the ranch bookstore as well as the local museum in the town of Shoshone. The Old Spanish Trail was recently recognized as a national historic trail, and federal land management agencies are hoping to do interpretive sites where appropriate along the route. China Ranch is helping with this effort by serving as a public trailhead and partnering with the Bureau of Land Management to construct an interpretive kiosk on the property in the future. If you enjoy walking in the footsteps of pioneers, the Old Spanish Trail offers a fascinating glimpse into our history.