Working Together on the Fish Lake Cut-off

Release Date: Feb 4, 2010  

Contact(s): John Zapell, 435.896.1070

RICHFIELD, UT- The Fishlake National Forest and Richfield Field Office are working together to mark the general route of a portion of the Old Spanish Trail known as the Fish Lake Cut-off that crosses public lands administered by the two agencies.

In addition to marking the trail, efforts are underway to interpret the story of this commercial “highway”. Interpretive displays will be placed at Red Creek near the Ivie Creek Rest Stop on I-70, the nearby mouth of Red Creek, off of SR-25 in the Johnson Valley area, at the Doctor Creek Trailhead, the SR-24 Rest Stop by the Koosharem short cut, and at the Paiute ATV Trailhead in Kingston Canyon.  

At these points visitors will be able to read about John C. Charles Fremont, Capt. John Gunnison, Kit Carson, Lt. George Brewerton and the Ute Chief, Walkara.   Silhouette, life-sized pack trains can be found at the Johnson Valley and Doctor Creek interpretive panels. Completion of the project is scheduled for early this summer.

Interpretive materials will tell that between 1829 and 1848, traders from New Mexico stitched together a series of trails left by Native Americans and Spanish priests. The route, from Sante Fe to Los Angeles, was later named by John Charles Fremont as the “Great Spanish Trail”. It stretched 1,200 miles through what are now the states of New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Nevada and California.   It entered nearly waterless lands scorched by unceasing heat and then climbed rocky, rugged mountains. 

According to Fishlake National Forest Archeologist Bob Leonard, the Old Spanish Trail has been described as the “longest, crookedest, toughest pack trail in North America.” The mule was the hands-down choice for the beast of burden and as riding animal.

Simply put, mules are stronger, tougher and more intelligent than horses. Their hooves are incredibly dense and they never needed to be shoed. Kit Carson, famous American scout, soldier and Indian agent, never rode anything but a mule.

So what did the pack mules carry? Typically, they carried woolen goods from New Mexico to California where they were traded for Spanish mules and horses. One to two blankets would get you a horse while three to five blankets were demanded for a good mule. On the return trip, caravans could employ 200 to 300 men who drove thousands of animals back to New Mexico. One caravan or “caballado” had over 4,000 animals when it left California.