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Matmail:

I was in St. Augustine, Florida, and saw a cement sphere designated as the start of the Old Spanish Trail. It also said that the trail ended in San Diego. Do you know where it ends in San Diego and if there is any plaque there?

-- Don, the net

Before the mid-1700s, the southern U.S. was lousy with old Spaniards on trails. It's hard to find a city between St. Augustine and Sonoma that doesn't have a street named Camino Real or a footpath called the Old Spanish Trail. For the most part, these were the roads connecting Spanish missions. Before that, many had been Indian trails. Spain never had much luck in Florida while they owned it, but they did manage to establish a town at St. Augustine in 1521 and build a passel of missions across the panhandle to Pensacola. By the early 1700s, the trail extended into southern Alabama and Mississippi and up through New Orleans to Natchitoches, Louisiana. At that point, you could pick up a trail that turned southwest to San Antonio and became a tangle of routes that would take you as far as Mexico City; Santa Fe, New Mexico; San Francisco; or San Diego, via Los Angeles. When the friars left and the Fords took over, many of these routes would become a town's main street or a highway.

So now it's 1929, and people are crazy about cars. A few motorheads in St. Augustine got the idea that they wanted to drive a cross-country auto route to San Diego that would follow old Spanish mission routes. This was long before any interstate highways existed. They named themselves the Old Spanish Trail Association and hit the road.

Once out of Florida, the route went through Mobile (AL), Biloxi (MS), New Orleans, Thibodaux (LA), Lafayette (LA), Beaumont (TX), Houston, San Antonio, Sonora (TX), El Paso, Las Cruces (NM), Douglas (AZ), Tucson, Yuma, and San Diego. When the group returned to St. Augustine, they put up the globe monument that you saw, made of coquina (shell-and-coral limestone), with the plaque marking mile zero of their camino real. The end point would have been the Mission San Diego de Alcalá, but there's no marker. Apparently they didn't feel like making the bumpy drive all the way back to put one up.

Matthew Alice Exposed as Fraud!

Pinhead! Idiot! Oaf! Just some of the epithets flying around Alice Acres this week. Once again the truth police show up and take me into custody. I plead nolo cerebrum, so all I got was community service: Go downtown and polish the plaque marking the San Diego end of the Old Spanish Trail, which happens to be in Horton Plaza, in front of Planet Hollywood. (The other end is in St. Augustine, Florida, if you missed the original question.) Among the plainclothes squad sent out to cuff me: Dan Czarnecki; Michael Hone, Explorer at Large; nameless, the phantom of the San Diego Opera; and Kim from Golden Hill, who suggests that the elves might be developing a drinking problem. If so, they're obviously not doing it at Planet Hollywood.

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