Spanish conquistadores claimed California in the early 16th century, but geography and political issues elsewhere conspired to prevent colonization until the late 18th century, when Spain learned that its completely undefended province was in danger of capture by other foreign powers. In response to this threat King Carlos ordered, and financed, expeditions of Franciscan missionary priests from Mexico, led by Father Junipero Serra and his soldier-escorts, to erect agricultural outposts and forts. The result was 21 missions along the coast of California, built between 1769 and 1823, from San Diego to Sonoma. In 1822, Mexico won its independence from Spain, receiving California as part of the war-spoils. Some say that the Mexican regime lacked the treasury to sustain the missions; others claim that the new government grew jealous of the missions’ success and power. In the early 1830s, the order was given to secularize the missions—that is, remove them from the control of the Catholic Church in favor of private, non-religious ownership. Most of the missions fell into ruin, although today most have been restored. This year and next the Native Daughters of the Golden West are sponsoring and participating in The California Mission Ride, “a 600-mile horseback journey through the past and for the future.” The Mission Ride is a two-part trip of 7 horse riders who will start at Sonoma, headed for the Mexican border. The first, northern part covers August 18– September 16, 2012, from Sonoma to San Miguel. In 2013, the southern route from San Miguel to San Diego begins in mid-August. Follow the trail and support the Native Daughter’s California Mission Ride at www.thecaliforniamissionride.org.