THE ANZA TRAIL, by Vladimir Guerrero
(Heyday Books, $16.95; release date June 1, 2006)

Posted by Anneli Rufus at 10:37 am, Monday, May 29, 2006

California is so modern — so post-modern — that one hardly thinks of it as a place that needed to be discovered. But once, long ago, the land we now know of as California was unknown to anyone except for a few small bands of Native Americans. The Anza Trail tells a story that for some reason often gets glossed over in the history of America: we hear of pioneers, of Pilgrims, of Lewis and Clark — but how often do we hear the fascinating tale of Juan Bautista de Anza, the Spanish soldier who tromped up and down the state in 1774-5, discovering many of the routes that later became the boulevards and highways of the 20th century? He also coined many of the familiar place names that have survived to this day. While the California coast had already been surveyed by ship, much of the interior was still a mystery by the time de Anza headed off on his journeys. The Anza Trail is the fist accessible book to tell this important story, tracing in detail his excursions, each clearly indicated on a series of very helpful maps. The book’s main drawback is that it gives scant mention to Gaspar de Portola, the first Spanish explorer in California and whose smaller expedition five years earlier laid the groundwork for de Anza. The book would have also greatly benefited from an index, but aside from that it’s a worthy addition to the literature of exploration.

Grade: B+

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