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Also in 1776, two New Mexico Franciscans tried to locate a northern route directly from Santa Fe to Monterey in California. Though the official head of the expedition was Father Atanasio Dominguez, the Superior of the New Mexico Franciscans, it appears that Father Silvestre Velez de Escalante, the missionary at Zuni, was instrumental in the genesis of the project. At least it was Escalante who kept the journal of the expedition, and, whether justified or not, it is the diarist that history usually remembers.

The Dominguez-Escalante expedition failed to find a trail to California. The party traveled from Santa Fe into western Colorado, then into Utah. At a camp in western Utah, Escalante and Dominguez decided to give up and return to New Mexico. It was early October, the weather had turned colder, and they already had experienced a heavy snowfall. The mountains all around them were covered with snow, and they had failed' to find a pass through the rugged San Francisco Mountains, a route which Escalante thought the best to Monterey. A number of the expedition's members nevertheless disagreed with their leaders' decision and wished to continue toward California.

At this point, the party might yet have earned the distinction of being the first to reach California by a direct route from New Mexico. Or it might have earned the questionable honor of being the first party of white people to die in the snows of the Sierra Nevada. To decide the issue, the two sides agreed to "inquire anew the will of God" by casting lots. The dissenters, noted Escalante, "with fervent devotion... said the third part of the Rosary and other petitions, while we said the penitential Psalms, and the litanies and other prayers which follow them." That done, the lots were cast, and the leaders won the toss. Escalante thanked God, the dissenters accepted the result, and the expedition returned to New Mexico.

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These items are historical in scope and are intended for educational purposes only; they are not meant as an aid for travel planning.
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