Baja – Day 1-3 beaches, missions, caves

We met our friend Bob Steichen just outside San Antonio Del Mar, where he and Peggy live. Our first stop was at the Santo Thomas Winery for “supplies”. The drive down to San Quintin was uneventful but getting used to driving in Baja left the feeling for a much-needed beer at the port bar Molino Viejo. San Quintin was an old port and agricultural area settled by the English in the 1880’s where they wanted to start a grist mill. The remains of it and the remnants of a railroad they built remain. Drought caused them to leave and the port is a sport fishing site now with a hotel, bar and restaurant. The bay is surrounded by extinct volcanoes which make for beautiful seascapes.
The next day we entered the real Baja. – land of Cirios (Boojum) and Cardón. Our first stop was at the ruins of Mision San Fernando on the Camino Real. This mission was established in 1769 and was the only mission founded by Franciscans in Baja California. This would be Father Junipero Serra’s first mission before moving north to Alta California. Driving from there we left the highway for dirt roads the next ~225 miles on our way to San Francisquito. Cactus, buzzards, lizards and open range cattle were the only other living things we saw. It was like you’d want the untamed Baja to stay. We bypassed the old mining town of El Arco. Bob then led us to the first cave, Cueva de Leon. This was small but had impressive cave paintings. Clearly not a tourist place and well protected from the elements, the paintings of men, women, a turtle, a deer and a mountain sheep were in excellent shape. It was very cool how the Indians used the rock features to enhance the paintings of the deer and sheep, giving them a 3D effect.
After exploring, we headed to San Francisquito on the Sea of Cortez. About an hour from our destination, we topped a very steep hill and saw an old overloaded pick-up parked sideways in the road, blocking our descent. The first gringo thought was, “Banditos, we’re gonna die.” It turned out that it was a poor fisherman, Carlos and his young son (more on them on day 3). Their well overloaded truck could not make it up the hill. It was too full of firewood, tools, and about 200 lbs of fish. He needed help and Bob towed his truck up the hill and I drove the tools and fish up. He said he was fine after that, thanked us, and we drove on to our campsite, trying to make it before dark.
San Francisquito is a pretty run-down fishing camp, but in a beautiful spot. The damage from a hurricane several years ago left the camp in bad shape and there has not been enough fishing traffic to warrant significant repairs. We rented a camp space for the truck adjacent to a palapa for Bob and had a pre-dinner drink watching the night come over the sea. The camp cat adopted Bob for the evening. We did have running water (cold) and electricity for a few hours. The proprietor prepared a nice meal after which we sat on the beach and watched the stars over a glass of tequila.
The next day’s adventure was all 4WD and our goal was to find Los Corrales, which Bob believes to have been a re-supply port for the old missions north of Loreto. Well we were rejected by a large locked fence. Within the past few years the property must have been bought and posted to protect some endangered species from predators like us. The original plan was to find Rancho Santa Barbara near Los Corrales where there was supposed to be a trail to the mission. Then Uwe and I were to hike the 10 or so kilometers over the Sierra to Mision Santa Gertrudis. But Uwe didn’t make this trip, so this adventure is yet to be done.
We stopped in Rancho Escondido for Bob to re-acquaint himself with the Villavicencio family he and Al knew long ago. The Villavicencio family name goes all the way back to the 1730’s during the mission era. The current family have become well known ranchers in Baja. Oscar and his family now have a working guest ranch. We had drinks with them at the ranch. We mentioned our encounter with Carlos and the stalled truck. Oscar knew exactly who we were talking about so Carlos has had truck troubles before. Oscar reminded Bob of another very remote small cave with strange circle paintings. We drove off and found that small cave with well-preserved paintings. From there we took off 4WD to Mision Santa Gertrudis. After a grueling 6-8 miles of off road driving, mostly along a very rocky river bed, we found the well-preserved mission. This was a Jesuit mission established in 1752 and abandoned in 1822, then restored to its original character in 1997. We returned via the tough 4WD road finally making it back to pavement and on to San Ignacio. This was the starting point to visit the great mural cave paintings of the Sierra San Francisco. (Please click on any picture to enlarge to see slide show)

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