October 13, 1776: “we set out southward from the small river and campsite of Nuestra Señora del Pilar (“Our Lady of the Pillar” – Kolob Canyon of Zion Canyon National Park)…” and “We traveled a league and a half to the south, descended to the little Río del Pilar (Ash Creek) which here has a leafy cottonwood grove, crossed it, now leaving the valley of the Señor San José and entered a stony cut in form of a pass between two high sierra…” “We continued without a guide, and having traveled with great difficulty over the many stones for a league to the south, we descended a second time to the Río del Pilar and halted on its bank in a pretty cottonwood grove, naming the place San Daniel – Today five leagues south.”
Franciscan Fathers Atanasio Dominguez, Sylvestre Velez de Escalante and eight other members of a daring exploration party departed the Misión de Santa Fe, New Mexico on July 29, 1776, in an attempt to establish contact with the Franciscan mission at Monterey, California. Following previous expeditions into the Spanish borderlands they were able to cross the Colorado River near Grand Junction, Colorado, and entered the unexplored regions of the Great Basin near Spanish Fork, Utah. They then proceeded southward along the Wasatch Mountains expecting a westward flowing river that would eventually take them to the Pacific Ocean. Disappointed and facing the reality of winter snows they “cast lots” at a point near Cedar City, Utah, on October 11, 1776, and elected to return to Santa Fe by a southern route. Their encampment here at “San Daniel” represents the first recorded entry of non-native people into Washington County, Utah. The Fathers arrived back at the Santa Fe Mission on January 2, 1777, having traveled over 1800 miles and recording one of the greatest explorations in American history. Their observations and maps were instrumental in the opening of the American Southwest to further exploration and commercial use of the National Historic Old Spanish Trail.