The Missions, Asistencias, and Presidios


El Camino Real (literally The Royal Road or the Highway of the King) in Baja California and along the coast of Alta California was part of Spain’s linked system of trails throughout the Southwestern United States. The trails connected New Spain’s center, what we call Mexico City today, with its outposts in Santa Fe, New Mexico; El Paso, Texas; and Missions in California.

Throughout the United States, especially east of the Rocky Mountains, modern highway systems are etched over ancient “Traces” or ancient trails, trade routes or buffalo migratory paths. These Traces criss-crossed the nation and were used by Native Americans for cultural and trade exchanges and transportation.

In California, the trade routes were largely a web which spread out from the San Joaquin Valley. It is difficult to understand today, but the northern and southern routes was not directly connected on the Central Coast because the Cuesta Grade in San Luis Obispo formed a natural barrier between regions of the Central Coast.

When the Spanish conquistadores and padres journeyed northward to establish their military occupancy of Alta California and their religious mission, they found the old trade routes did not necessarily travel where  they wanted to go. For the most part, the Spaniards, marched overland in Alta California without the aide of pre-existing routes and established their religious and colonial missions

On the Central Coast, north of Cuesta Grade, there was an exception, in that the El Camino Real mostly followed an ancient trading route originating in the Southern San Joaquin Valley. It ran from the area where the town of Santa Margarita is located today, and, then, roughly followed the Salinas River north to the Monterey Bay. Here, multiple missions were built. This is the Traces of the Past project area. 

Of the 21 missions established by the Spaniards, the Trace of the Past Missions (going from south to north) were: 

  • The Santa Margarita de Cortona Asistencia,
  • San Miguel (Mission San Miguel Arcangel),
  • San Antonio, (Mission San Antonio de Padua),
  • Soledad (Mission de Maria Santisima, Nuestra Señora de la Soledad), and
  • Carmel (San Carlo Borromeo de Carmelo).

It is interesting to note that four of the Spanish missions were located in what was to become Monterey County (which now includes San Benito County). These missions were: the Carmel, San Antonio, Soledad and San Juan Bautista. 

The Traces of the Past route terminated where the Monterey Presidio is located today. 

Insert maps and link. 

Books and References

Anderson, Burton. The Salinas Valley: A History of America’s Salad Bowl. Monterey County Historical Society. 2000.