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Las Vegas And The Old Spanish Trail

When most people plan a trip to Las Vegas, they’re planning on gambling, partying, or relaxing, but rarely a history lesson. For those looking to dig a little deeper into how Sin City came to be, pull up a chair and listen to the story of the Old Spanish Trail…


In 1829, Mexican explorer Antonio Armijo and his caravan of sixty men and one hundred mules set out from Abiquiú, New Mexico. Decades before Nevada was part of the Union, and with no maps to lead the way, Armijo and his team truly were heading into what was literally uncharted territory.


With the intention of travelling to California to engage in the wool trade, this expedition would ultimately become responsible for bringing widespread commerce to the Southwest through what came to be known as the Old Spanish Trail. But unlike today on one of our Las Vegas ATV tours the journey wasn’t easy…


The Long And Winding Road


Thanks to harsh desert conditions, Armijo and his group were forced to take a long, circuitous route that avoided the most inhospitable areas of the Mojave Desert and the aptly named Death Valley. By following water sources in the form of springs and streams throughout the region, the trail that Armijo created was winding, but provided future travellers with the best chances of survival. In the years that followed, the area of southern Nevada traversed by Armijo would become the hospitable setting of the future Las Vegas.


Las Vegas The Oasis


Doing their best to follow water sources, Armjio and his team went great distances between springs or streams. Entering what’s now Nevada near the Muddy River, the group went for the next fifty miles without encountering water, and it was in Las Vegas where springs were finally found. After leaving this area, water was still quite difficult to find until they’d reached California, making Vegas a true desert oasis.


An Ancient Trail


While Armijo and his caravan popularized this trail by using it to bring trade and commerce through the region, he wasn’t the first to use the path. Recorded history mentions Spanish explorers traversing the route as early as the late 16th century, while the Native American peoples of the region were using it for many centuries prior. In such unforgiving climate, ground that can now be easily covered by car or plane was a risky venture each time these travellers sought to take it.


Lasting Impact


Without Armijo and his part in charting this section of the Old Spanish Trail, the history of the Las Vegas area could have been very different. In not becoming part of the Southwest trade route, settlement of the region may have occurred much later, or not at all, with miners and pioneers being drawn elsewhere.


Of course, Las Vegas is now most known for something outside of mining and pioneering, but it’s fitting that the commerce-driven industries of gambling and tourism are …