The Wonders of Willow Creek, Part 2: The Armijo Route

This is Part 2 of a 5-part series of posts entitled, The Wonders of Willow Creek.To start at the beginning, CLICK THIS LINK. To read the next post in this series, CLICK THIS LINK. Thanks for reading!

The Armijo Route

Who knows what they called themselves, or this spring, when humans first discovered what we now refer to as Willow Spring? Bipeds have lived, hunted, and died here for at least 8,000 years. But before Europeans arrived, the most recent occupants were the Shoshone and Paiute, who resided in a village they called Yaga. Their number was about 70.

About 12 million years ago, a basin formed in the Willow Spring area. For the next 3 million years, it caught run-off water from the surrounding mountains, and filled with layers of mineral-rich sediment more than a thousand feet deep. Pictured is some of that ancient sediment.

Their mark remains, in both the names encountered here, and in some of the denizens. For instance, the nearby town of Tecopa was named by miners in 1872, after the Paiute Chief Tecopa, for his help in preserving the peace. And the town of Shoshone lies just nine miles north of Tecopa. And many of the residents in this area are descendants of the Shoshone and Paiute, possessing the genes and physical features of their more nature-oriented ancestors.

About 5 million years ago, Lake Tecopa formed near the Willow Spring area. Pictured is its ancient lake bed. It was fed by the Amargosa River, and it had no outlet. Thus, the Amargosa was trapped, and terminated at Lake Tecopa.

The first Europeans to set eyes and feet on this spectacular piece of real estate were guided by a Spanish explorer and merchant, named Antonio Mariano Armijo. At just 25 years old, he became famous for leading the first commercial caravan between New Mexico and California.

Armijo was the first to blaze a complete route that traveled the entire length of the Old Spanish Trail, which connected New Mexico to California. But it wasn’t easy, and it involved a lot of convoluted directional changes, leading the traveler from one watering hole to another. This route he blazed was such a crazy maze, that it developed a reputation as the “longest, crookedest, most arduous trail in the West.”

He and his men completed their epic journey on January 31, 1830, when they arrived at Mission San Gabriel, near Los Angeles. But shortly before completing their journey, they passed through Willow Spring, and made this watering hole a part of the Armijo Route of the Old Spanish Trail.

Lake Tecopa gradually grew in size until it reached its highstand 186,000 years ago, when it submerged 91 square miles of land, and plumbed at 330 feet deep. That’s when it overflowed and disappeared, like a breached dam. At last, the Amargosa River was free to flow toward Lake Manly, in Death Valley. But in the cataclysmic flooding that followed the breach of the lake, it gouged a 16-mile-long gorge in the earth. This gorge, pictured above, is called Amargosa Canyon.

Now that the Armijo Route had been established, it was time to exploit it for profit. And that honor fell on the Los Chaguanosos. These were a motley gang of outlaws, consisting of Americans, Mexicans, and Indians, sporting colorful names such as Pegleg Smith and Walkara the Ute Raider. But they also included more reputable pioneers who ventured occasionally into lawlessness, such as Old Bill Williams (a trapper who also guided pioneers), and Dick Owens (for whom the Owens Valley is named).

The Los Chaguanosos recognized that horses and mules were in short supply in New Mexico and points east. And they saw that horses and mules were in abundant supply at the rich, Mexican ranchos in California. Hmm. When crimes of opportunity knock, the criminal mind eagerly opens the door.

The gorge of Amargosa Canyon, created by the breach of Lake Tecopa, exposed mineral rich sedimentary layers that had developed around Willow Spring, millions of years before. Also, the gorge steepened the drainage in the area. That accelerated erosion, which carved out the spectacular topography that now surrounds Willow Spring.

And so these raiders would steal these animals, drive them along the Armijo Route, and sell them for big profits in New Mexico. They were often chased by posses, but by the time they reached the Willow Spring area, the posses gave up.

They waged their largest, most daring raid in 1840, when they stole 3,000 animals from various Mexican ranchos. A large posse made fierce pursuit, forcing them to drive the animals hard. By the time the raiders reached Resting Springs, about five miles north of Willow Spring, over half the animals were dead, and the Mexican posse was less than a day behind them. In desperation, they hurriedly drove the remaining animals to Stump Springs and over the Nopah mountains to Charleston View.

The Nopah mountains, near the location where the Los Chaguanosos crossed over to Charleston View, to escape the posse.

Luckily, the posse gave up at this point, ensuring their escape to New Mexico. There, they fetched more than $100,000 from the sale of the surviving animals. This was one hell of a haul, and it attracted more raiders to the Old Spanish Trail.


48 replies »

      • Now I have to worry about storing files for a million years? I am not sure my memory card is that good. Maybe OneDrive will still be around then, Microsoft did just hit a $2Trillion valuation.

        Liked by 2 people

        • I don’t think you have to worry. I’ve heard that anything that’s ever been on the internet, never disappears. That’s why so many celebrities keep getting in trouble for tweets and posts they made many years ago. So all the fine photos you’ve been posting on your blog should still be around in a million years.

          Liked by 2 people

          • I try to think of the most ancient person that anyone really knows anything about aside from their skeleton, and I don’t think we make it back more that about 3 thousand years. Though there are cave painting or art going back tens of thousands of years, but we don’t know the artist personally.

            Maybe I should have my body encased in amber so that a mad scientist can clone me in 50 million years.

            Liked by 2 people

            • Wasn’t there a frozen body recovered in the Italian Alps from some dude who died about 10,000 years ago? As I recall, they think he was murdered.

              But I guess no matter how famous we might become, sooner or later we’ll be forgotten by this world. And even when famous people are remembered, they’re often misremembered and mythologized over the years.

              You can have your amber. I’m going to be cremated. Hopefully, my spirit will move on, and I’ll be able to forget this world as quickly as it forgets me, and have new adventures in some other world.

              Liked by 1 person

  1. the Los Chaguanosos must have had a course in basic economics and learned about the concepts of supply and demand. And you gotta love the spirit of adventure of 25-year old Antonio Mariano Armijo…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think I could do a good job of making a maze out of a trail! Can’t say where you may end up at!
    Betsy should have been on that ranch, she would have set the thieves straight!
    Sad about all the animals that died.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You might give Search and Rescue a big challenge.

      Yeah, Betsy wouldn’t have tolerated all those animals dying. Yes it is sad. Just think of how much more money those thieves could have made if all the animals they stole survived the journey.

      Liked by 1 person

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