As the ships, the San Carlos and San Antonio prepared to sail, the land divisions set out. The first in late March of 1769 under Captain Rivera y Moncada and Fr. Juan Crespi. The second on May 15 under the command of Captain Gasper de Portola and Fr. Junipero Serra.
On July 1, 1769, the last of the four expeditions, Portola and Fr. Serra arrived in San Diego. They found a camp of scurvy-ridden men from the San Carlos and San Antonio. This discovery necessitated a change in plans. Those who were well enough to stand and board the San Antonio would sail back to La Paz and Fr. Serra and the expedition’s surgeon, Pedro Prat, would stay in San Diego to care for the gravely ill. The remaining 64 would continue overland on July 14th with Portola and Fr. Crespi.
By October the overland expedition had passed unknowingly by Monterey Bay failing to recognize the area as described by Vizcaino in 1602. They continued all the way to San Francisco Bay before turning south and retracing their steps to two small bays withing five miles of each other. In December 1769, they erected two wooden signal crosses, one by each bay. Buried underneath was an account of the expedition in case someone came upon the crosses.
Portola and Fr. Crespi returned to San Diego by January 24, 1770, finding the settlement in a far worse condition then when they had left six months earlier. But now they were convinced that where they had left the two wooden signal crosses was indeed Monterey Bay described by Viscano.
On March 19th, the final day of a Novena to Saint Joseph, the San Antonio arrived in San Diego with the provisions necessary for Fr. Serra and Portola to make their way back to Monterey.
On Easter Sunday 1770, the San Antonio set sail for Monterey with Fr. Serra and Miguel Constanso. Portola and Fr. Crespi went overland 460 miles and arrived at the bay of Carmel River ahead of the San Antonio. It is here that Fr. Crespi found the cross he had erected near the bay on the bluff above the river. Surrounding the cross were gifts of food and arrows.
Fr. Crespi recorded in his diary of this occasion: “When the neophytes spoke Spanish well enough to be understood, they on various occasions explained that the first time they saw our men they noticed that every one wore on his breast a small glittering cross; that when the Spaniards had gone away and left this large cross on the shore, they dreaded to approach the sacred sign because at night they would see it surrounded by brilliant rays which would even dispel the darkness; that the cross appeared to grow larger so as to reach the skies; that in the daytime, when it stood in its natural size without the rays, they would approach it and offer meat, fishes and mussels in order to enlist its favor, lest it should harm them, and that, when to their amazement they saw that the cross did not consume those things, they would offer their plumes and arrows in token of their desire to be at peace with the people who planted it there.” (1)
This hike, about one mile round trip, is fairly level except for a small climb to reach the actual cross. During this winter and early spring when the mouth of the Carmel River connects with the salt waters of Carmel Bay this trail is not recommended.
The rip-tides on the beach side are very dangerous. When the water covers the sand bar use the hike from Carmel Meadows described later.
At the southern end of the Carmel River State Beach stairs ascend to the top of the bluff.
Here you will find a dirt path that cuts through the coastal sage scrub, mixed with poison oak, to the Portola-Crespi Cross.
(1) The Carmel Mission by Sydney Temple, page 11-12