The Declaration of Independence was not the only progress to be made in America in the year 1776. Spanish explorers Dominguez and Escalante became known as the first Europeans to document travels in what would become Utah Territory. Their initial intention to convert Natives on their journey towards California made way for future explorers to discover the Utah Territory.
In 1776, two Spanish friars, Silvestre Vélez de Escalante and Atanasio Dominguez, chose to traverse the American West in search of a northern route to the missions of California. At the time, both Mexico and Spain claimed ownership of the territory. The journey became known for its historical success thanks to Escalante’s journal, which contains the first map of Utah. Beginning the exploration in Santa Fe, Dominguez and Escalante observed and recorded landmarks that would help future explorers find their way. These recordings also helped governments know and understand the rich opportunities that lay in these lands. The journey was full of dangers for the small group, and they crossed many western states such as Utah, Colorado, and Arizona, among others. The explorers ventured through modern-day Dinosaur National Monument, down through Strawberry, Utah and eventually made their way through Spanish Fork Canyon. This path directly influenced the erection of Escalante’s Cross in Spanish Fork, Utah.
These two Spanish missionaries paved the way for other explorers such as John C. Fremont to encourage The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints to one day settle in Utah. Escalante’s cross, located in Spanish Fork, was dedicated May 1, 1981, sponsored by The Knights of Columbus Father Escalante Council to honor Dominguez and Escalante’s expedition. It was recently restored on October 31, 2015 thanks to a member of the Woodland Hills Scout Troop’s Eagle project. The cross majestically overlooks the entrance to Spanish Fork Canyon and stands brilliantly white against the mountain range beyond.
Today, the site seems like an almost forgotten piece of history. However, one sign remains in the form of a plaque at the base of the cross. It has become a beloved hike here in Utah because of the landscape’s beautiful greenery and various paths leading from the cross. Escalante Cross stands as a reminder to Utah residents of earlier explorers who literally put Utah on the map.