By: Douglas Love, Grand Historian
One of the glories of our native state is its diversity. From the redwoods of the coast to the snowcapped peaks of the Sierra to the golden foothills and to the deserts of the Arizona border, California has an entire continent’s worth of geographic and climate zones contained in a single state. From our beaches to our mountains and deserts, people have been coming here for hundreds of years to find their special place in California. Today, one can work on their tan at the beach and go skiing at a world class ski resort all in a single day. Yet, this was not always the case. For most of its history, California was inhabited by native peoples, living of the riches of a rich land and it was remote and mysterious; a land apart.
European exploration of what would become California began with Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo’s search for the Northwest Passage in 1542. By 1565, the Manila Galleons were making landfall in the vicinity of Cape Mendocino and then sailing south to Mexico. Next was Sir Francis Drake in 1579, who landed on the coast of California near Drake’s Bay and claimed the land for England and named it “Nova Albion.” In 1602, Sebastian Vizcaino sailed as far north as Monterey Bay, which he named. It was not until Gaspar de Portola’s expedition of 1769 that the Spanish, or anyone else, seriously began to explore and colonize California. It was Portola who was the first European to sight San Francisco Bay in 1769. While portions of Portola’s expedition travelled by land from Baja California, no one had travelled a land route from New Spain to Alta California.
Enter Juan Bautista de Anza. In January1774, De Anza left the Tubac Presidio, south of Tucson, Arizona, to reach Alta California by land. He followed the Gila River to the Colorado, across the Sonoran Desert and entered the Imperial Valley. He reached Mission San Gabriel Archangel in March and Monterey in April. He then returned to Tubac in May, proving that it was possible to reach Alta California by land. In October of 1774, Bautista was ordered to lead a group of colonists into Alta California and his second expedition began a year later. He reached Mission San Gabriel in January of 1776 and pressed on to Monterey. Bautista located the sites for the Presidio of San Francisco and Mission San Francisco de Asis. He went on to explore the shore of San Francisco Bay as far as present day Antioch before returning to Mexico City in 1777. De Anza would go in to become Governor of Nuevo Mexico in 1777, a position he would hold until 1787. He was then appointed Commander of the Presidio of Tucson in 1788 but died before taking office.
Today, due in large part to extensive irrigation with water from the Colorado River, the Imperial Valley is one of the major agricultural areas of California. It is home to the cities of El Centro and Holtville. The surrounding Sonoran Desert is now the play area for sand rails and dune buggies. Nearby is the Salton Sea, created by accidental flooding in 1915, once a glamorous spot for movie stars and water skiers, now slowly evaporating.
Each year, De Anza Parlor hosts the De Anza Trek in February to coincide with the Holtville Carrot Festival and to commemorate the deeds of Juan Bautista De Anza. The Brothers of De Anza Parlor march in the parade every year and then have a wonderful feed. Lately, they have also hosted a dedication and initiation. Along the way, you may want to visit the Mojave Air and Space Port, home of the Rotary Rocket and Spaceship One. The extreme south eastern part of the state is one which is sparsely populated, rarely visited and yet is rich in the early history of our state.
Merge onto US-101 S. Follow US-101 S to Riverside Ave in Paso Robles. Take exit 230 from US-101 S. Take exit 230 for Pine St. Follow CA-46 E to CA-99 S in Kern County. Take CA-58 E to US-395 S in San Bernardino County. Get on I-10 E in Whitewater from CA-18, Old Woman Springs Rd and CA-62 W. Follow I-10 E, CA-86 S and Forrester Rd to S Dogwood Rd in El Centro. Take exit 116 from I-8 E to El Centro.