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Imperial County, CA

Across the Desert to San Sebastian

Anza followed the Colorado River south into what is now Mexico. The 1775/76 colonizing expedition remained south of the present border for several days to rest before crossing the desert in three groups (plus a fourth with the cattle). They looped back into what would become Imperial County, California 132 years later. They then continued north to the San Sebastian Marsh, turned west and followed San Felipe Creek. (See the historical background.)

Driving Auto Route

Continuing on the auto route from Yuma County, at Yuma, Arizona, the historic route dips into Baja California, Mexico, and then turns north through the California desert on Bureau of Land Management land to arrive at the San Felipe Wash. The auto route takes the driver from Yuma to the San Felipe Wash on roads well east of, but parallel to, the historic route. Follow I-8 west from Yuma to CA 98. In Calexico, turn north from CA 98 to CA 111. At Heber Road, turn west on CA 86. Turn west on CA 78 which parallels San Felipe Wash, the historic trail. The climate of this route is one of the most extreme anywhere along the Anza Trail. Summertime temperatures frequently reach over 120 degrees for extended periods of time. To continue on the auto route, see San Diego County.

Hiking & Biking Ideas

Thirty-eight miles of the Anza Trail are marked within Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands in the Yuha Desert area west of El Centro. Always carry drinking water, and seek shade if needed. The Plaster City and Ocotillo Wells State Vehicular Recreation Areas allow off road vehicles in designated areas. The Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge is a great place for bird watching.

Points of Interest

Mission Purísima Concepción - Expedition Camp #42

Expedition Campsite

Expedition Camp #42 was just south of Pilot Knob. Along their way, Font and Anza paused at a granite bluff to view the Colorado River plain on December 4, 1775. Nearby, in 1780, Father Garcés founded Mission Purísima Concepción, only to have it destroyed by the Quechan uprising of July 1781. In the process, Father Garcés, Fernando de Rivera y Moncada, and many soldiers and settlers were killed. The mission site (32°43.833’N 114°36.937’W) is probably where the St. Thomas Indian Mission stands today (on Picacho Rd, Fort Yuma, 1 mile South of Winterhaven).

San Sebastián Marsh/San Felipe Creek - Expedition Camp #49

Expedition Campsite

San Sebastián Marsh is the site of prehistoric villages and represented a stable water source in the desert environment. It was a campsite for both the 1774 and 1775-76 expeditions. Named for Anza’s Indian guide, Sebastián Tarabal, it is located 18 miles northwest of Westmoreland in the vicinity of the junction of state highways 86 and 78. Ironically, the nearby Salton Sea, formed when a canal broke in 1905, is today a 35 mile long desert oasis and includes a National Wildlife Refuge.

Santa Olalla - Expedition Camps #43-46 (Baja California)

Expedition Campsite

Although these camps in Baja California are not part of the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail, they are marked as Ruta Histórica (Hwy 2). Camp #44 (Santa Olalla) was where Anza wrote a letter to Viceroy Bucareli during the 1774 expedition, telling of its difficulties and the trustworthiness of the Quechan and their chief (Palma). During the 1775/76 expedition, the second fandango was held here, and Anza wrote five letters. In one to Bucareli, he tells of two births, the one death, and the expedition’s difficulties. It was here that the local natives (probably the Cocopah and Cajuenches tribes) gave the colonists fish and watermelons which Anza thought improved the health of those who were sick. It was also here that the expedition split up into three groups to cross the desert without depleting the watering holes.

Wells of Santa Rosa (Yuha Well) - Expedition Camps #47 and #48

Expedition Campsite

The well, called Santa Rosa de las Lajas (Flat Rocks) by Anza, was used on March 8, 1774. On December 11-15, 1775, the three divisions of Anza’s colonizing expedition used this site as the first good watering spot beyond the Colorado River. It is about 7 miles northwest of Mexico’s Mount Signal, on the southwest side of Dunaway Rd. in the Yuha Desert. California State Historic Landmark No. 1008 plaque is found at the Eastbound Sunbeam Roadside Rest Area, between Drew and Forrester Rds., on I-8 near Seeley. The Vista de Anza Historical Marker is found off Hwy 98 northwest of Calexico, 6 miles south of Coyote Wells. Camp #48 was near the Plaster City OHV (Off-Highway Vehicle) area. (See Father Font’s map in new window)

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Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge


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Vista de Anza Historical Marker


Found off Hwy 98 northwest of Calexico, 6 miles south of Coyote Wells. Camp #48 was near the Plaster City OHV (Off-Highway Vehicle) area.


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BLM El Centro Field Office

1661 South Fourth St., El Centro, CA 92243


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Cocopah Indian Reservation

County 15th and Avenue G, Somerton AZ 85350


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Fort Yuma Quechan Nation

P.O. Box 1899, Yuma, AZ 85366


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Port of Entry at Mexicali


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Port of Entry at Algadones


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Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge

906 West Sinclair Rd., Calipatria, CA 92233 9744


St. Thomas Indian Mission

Indian Hill on Picacho Rd., Winterhaven, CA 92283