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Hundreds Follow in Explorer's Footsteps

Trek: More than 200 years after Juan Bautista de Anza left Mexico for the Bay Area, Californians call attention to namesake historic trail.

November 12, 1996|ERIC SLATER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It could have been a scene out of 18th century California, with explorer Juan Bautista de Anza, his wide-brimmed black hat cocked just so, hoisting the red and gold crest of Carlos III, king of Spain.

An epic scene, except for the inline skaters, joggers and mountain bikers.

Two hundred and twenty-one years after De Anza led a collection of colonists from Sonora, Mexico, to settle the Bay of San Francisco, hundreds of Californians are retracing his steps to call attention to the national historic trail named for him.

"Historically, it is correct to be on a horse or foot," said Jeannie Gillen, Southern California chairwoman of the Heritage Trails Fund. "In this day and age, it's correct to have trails be multiuse."

As the group stopped, appropriately, at Juan Bautista de Anza Park in Calabasas on Monday, there were two Juans. The one clad in the more rugged field uniform had just led the group through the morning's leg across the west San Fernando Valley. The second, dressed in the formal uniform of regal blue, would take a new contingent of 100 the 8.8 miles into Ventura County.

The commemorative trek began Oct. 12 in Hermosillo, Sonora, which De Anza left in the fall of 1775 with 240 settlers and 1,000 head of livestock.

Only Gillen and Nancy DuPont, executive director of the Heritage Trails Fund, are completing the entire journey, on horseback. But hundreds of others have joined as the group has made its way from Mexico, across southern Arizona and into California, riding or running or skating along before passing on to the next group a mochila, or saddlebag, containing welcoming proclamations and reproductions of other historical documents.

Although some portions of the trail--which cuts mostly invisibly through public and private property in two countries, two states and 20 counties--are marked, most are not.

One reason for the trek is to remind people that the trail exists mainly on a map and to encourage them to maintain it, mark it and, where it crosses private property, make it accessible to the public.

After local politicians delivered speeches and one Juan passed his authority over to the other Juan, the group in Calabasas prepared to move out.

The mountain bikers checked their digital speedometers and, for a few moments, the sound of a jetliner passing overhead blended almost harmoniously with the cheerful tune of a mariachi band.

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