Welcome to the past, present, & future of California creeks
The picture in the header is San Mateo Creek. Today, the headwaters are a vital water supply for San Francisco and the Peninsula, and the reach in the photo is a beautiful urban amenity. However, this place has a special historical significance: in 1776 it was a campsite for the expedition coming to found what is now the city of San Francisco. We can study the past of our creeks to learn how they have evolved in response to civilization and how to conserve them for the future.
We will begin this exploration with a yearlong investigation of the aquatic habitats along the route of the Spanish explorer Juan Bautista de Anza in California.
Anza led two expeditions to California. The first, in 1774, was the first European expedition to pioneer a route across the deserts from mainland Mexico (then New Spain) to coastal California (also New Spain). The second, in 1775-1776, was the first group of colonists coming overland to California to found the Presidio and Mission in San Francisco.
These expeditions were chronicled in several excellent journals. These journals detailed primarily two topics the first was the native inhabitants of the lands and the second was aquatic habitats.
Why aquatic habitats? Put yourself in their shoes. You are responsible for the lives of over 200 people and nearly 1,000-head of livestock in a vast, unknown desert. Your most pressing responsibility is moving from water source to water source. This is followed closely by getting the animals from pasture to pasture which, in the desert, is where freshwater is.
This is reflected in the journals; campsites were all named after the water sources where they camped – some names given officially, others casually. In contrast, mountains were generically referred to as sierra. The water sources were analyzed both as stop-overs for future travelers and, where applicable, as water sources for irrigated agriculture supporting settlements.
We will follow the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail, not necessarily in the order followed by the expeditions, and will include additional routes not officially parts of the National Historic Trail. We thank the National Park Service, the community of Anza scholars particularly Phil Valdez, and you, with whom we will be sharing our findings. So come on along!