Thank you to Steve Williamson and the Temecula Valley Museum for sharing with us these wonderful photos from Erle Stanley Gardner’s camera. Gardner used his income from books and his Perry Mason TV show to finance expeditions into and over Baja California, a land he was totally enchanted by!

See also my Choral Pepper photos page. Many Gardner Baja photos there, too!


Erle Stanley Gardner and his ranch foreman, Sam Hicks.

The Butterfly:

The ‘Butterfly’ was the off-road vehicle designed by Paradise, California’s J.W. Black. This 3-wheeler would take Gardner and his companions beyond the reach of the Grasshopper dune buggies also created by J.W. Black.

Nothing could stop Erle Stanley Gardner with the Butterfly’s off-road abilities.

The Caravan and Camp:

Getting to the destination was half the adventure!

Erle Stanley Gardner, working on Perry Mason TV scripts, even when in Baja.

This was the main ‘highway’ to La Paz, before the 1970s. Here, the Gardner caravan is at Bahía Concepción.

Bahía de los Angeles:

Antero (‘Papa’) and Cruz Diaz operated ‘Casa Diaz’ was where you stayed (and ate) before the 1970s. Cruz was called ‘Mama’, but didn’t appreciate it until she relented in later years. Her turtle-steak dinners were legendary.
Casa Diaz, Bahía de los Angeles (drive-in and fly-in accommodations).


The Casa Diaz airstrip was big enough to allow twin engine planes to land. The village would grow and force the closure of this strip that had allowed pilots to taxi up to their rooms.

Erle is in the center and has a hat on.

The village children help J.W. Black get his Pak Jak, towing a heavy trailer, through the sand.

The kids get a treat with a trailer pulled by J.W. Black’s Pak Jak off-road scooter,

The Palm Canyons where a fascination of Gardner. Getting into them wasn’t easy! Read about Cañon Salsipuedes in ‘Hovering Over Baja’.

Before the helicopters were brought in, the crew tried lowering Pak Jaks into the canyon by rope.

Gardner brings helicopters to Baja:

Possibly the Santa María Sky Ranch. More at:

Helicopters were employed to drop the Pak Jak and Burrito scooters into the palm canyons, north of Bahía de los Angeles.
Pak Jaks exploring the canyons north of Bahía de los Angeles.


Captain Francisco Muñoz was a primary pilot during the Gardner expeditions. A rumor says that Erle was so appreciative of Muñoz’s services, he was a major sponsor in the captain’s Baja Air Service.

Beach landings were no big deal!

Flying got you to Baja quickly when there were only dirt roads!


Gardner gets the Goodyear Blimp to come to Baja, in 1967. This event was featured in ‘Mexico’s Magic Square’.



Erle Stanley Gardner talks Goodyear into bringing their blimp into Baja, April 1967.

Mission Santo Domingo:

Mission El Rosario (de Abajo):

Bells and new church, next to ruins.
Mission Rosario’s Bells

Mission Santa María:

Mission Santa María
Mission Santa María once could be reached by VW, mid 1960s.
Helicopters were always an easier way to get to Mission Santa María.

Mission San Ignacio:

San Ignacio mission church.

San Ignacio from the helicopter.

Mission San José de Comondú:

Mission Bell (San José de Comondú)
This 1950 photo by Marquis McDonald seems to be the same bell, at San José Comondú.
The bell on display (in 2017) is a different bell than the one above.

Mission San Borja:

Looking down on San Borja from the top of the mesa.


Mulegé, looking towards the territorial prison.

Mission San Javier:

Loreto, California’s first mission:

The San Felipe hotel, Augie’s Riviera

El Barril & the Villavicencio Family:

The Burrito was a smaller version of the Pak Jak scooter.

El Desengaño, ruins from a 1930s gold mine.


Plane Wrecks

Old DC-3 plane crash (on mountainside near El Crucero)
The same or another plane wreck.
Captain Muñoz inspects another plane wreck.

Mystery ruins???

The next photos are what Erle Stanley Gardner thought might be the Lost Mission of Santa Isabel. In reality, they are the remains of the home of Primitivo Arce at his Rancho San Luis, 29.2762, -114.0486. The adobe has all but vanished in the over-sixty years since these photos.

In the 1961 book, Hovering Over Baja, page 226:

Another remote adobe in Baja.
Mine ruins El Rebaje, north of Pozo Aleman: 28.106033°, -113.429158° (located by Harald Pietschmann)

Natural wall, looks man-made, north of El Barril.

Looking almost man-made, this natural wall is between Bahía de los Angeles and El Barril.

J.W. Black inspects the natural wall.

San Juan Mine?

Impressive ruins in boojum country, but where is this?
Very impressive! Where is this? Could this be the San Juan Mine, south of L.A. Bay?

The Painted Caves north of San Ignacio (Sierra de San Francisco)

Two helicopters were better than one!

San Francisco de la Sierra

Punta Chivato

Bahía de Palmas Resort (Los Barriles)


El Mármol, onyx schoolhouse and quarry:

Onyx schoolhouse at El Mármol

Onyx quarry, El Mármol

Lonely coastline

Dirt airstrip and corral between San Juan de Dios & El Metate:  30.190275°, -115.152391° (located by Harald Pietschmann).

Rare paved Baja California airport! Tijuana

The Gardner (Perry Mason) Writing Staff of Temecula, California:

Erle Stanley Gardner, attorney and author who loved the desert and Baja California!

See also the photos from Desert Magazine editor, Choral Pepper who traveled on many of the Gardner expeditions:

The super kind words Choral Pepper had to say about me (David Kier) in 2001.

Erle Stanley Gardner’s Baja Adventure Books (1948-1968)












Baja California is also mentioned in these two Gardner books:




Back cover, 1968 and 1969 books.

Baja California Wall Map, from Gardner’s time.

Continue to explore Baja California with the passion of Erle Stanley Gardner! Visit