A Hidden Desert Railroad
When one visits Bahía de los Angeles for the first time, a little locomotive engine on display in the town plaza may seem an odd attraction for a fishing town. Before commercial fishing began, around 1930, the local industry was gold and silver mining which started in 1889. Behind the Las Flores train engine is a mine cart that came from the mule powered San Juan railroad where they used a different gauge railroad and that explains why the cart does not fit on the tracks under the engine.
The San Juan mine was about 15 miles south and on top of a 4,000 foot mountain range. Ore was originally carried down the steep slope using mules. The Las Flores ore mill was built five miles north from the bottom of the slope where sufficient well water was found. A town of 300 people was established there.
The inventor of the San Francisco cable car system sold the ore bucket wire ropeway to the San Juan Mines, in 1892. By 1894, a 2.5 mile-long cable bucket tramline was operating to replace the dangerous mule trail down the mountain. Up at San Juan, a mule driven 30” gauge rail line about 1.3 miles long, connected the mine tunnel with the top of the tramline.
Down on the desert floor, a 24” narrow-gauge railroad, powered by the steam engine, ran 5 miles to Las Flores from the tramline terminal. In December of 1895, the railroad was operating but the following two years with a drop in silver values, the mine was shut down. In 1898, the San Diego Union reported the mine was being worked once again. There were plans to extend the railroad to the shore of Bahía de los Angeles. The final blow to the San Juan mine and Las Flores mill came during the start of the Mexican Revolution of 1911 when foreign business was no longer welcome. $2,000,000 (dollars) in gold and silver were produced. This mine did not run out of ore as is typical when mines close down.
Today, only the jailhouse at Las Flores, some tailings from the mill, and graves nearby, mark the once prosperous town. The railroad bed is easy to see as it is slightly elevated and lined with rocks, just west of the jailhouse and heading south. To find Las Flores go south from the pavement in Bahía de los Angeles 9.7 miles and look west to the small building, which was the town jail and perhaps gold and silver bar storage.
Continuing south on the graded road to Punta San Francisquito, go 2.3 miles to a curve in the road. Here the railroad bed is easy to see to the left (east) and a small road continues south leaving the graded road at the curve. This small road is best traveled in a 4WD or ATV as it is very overgrown. 2.3 additional miles is a fork and you take the right branch. The railroad line not easy to see but it is crossed at 2.4 miles (from the graded road) and crossed again at 2.5 miles. Stop here and walk to the right (north) and the elevated bed comes into view as you walk it to the terminal platform where the ore buckets dropped their load into the train carts for the trip north to Las Flores. The small road ahead soon ends, and one can hike the steep trail up 3,000 feet+ to San Juan.
More reading: las_flores_ghost_town
The Las Flores Train and San Juan cart in the plaza of
Bahía de los Angeles.
The jailhouse at Las Flores.
Railroad bed near the terminal platform.
The terminal platform where the ore was transferred to the train
A giant wire wheel was once here.
The Las Flores railroad map from
John A. Kirchner’s ‘Baja California Railways’ 1988.
GPS track: Blue arrows at railroad crossings.
Red arrow at terminal platform.