May 1999: Mur and Dave to Santa María and Gonzaga Bay

This adventure took us to the ruins of last Jesuit mission established in Baja, before their expulsion from the peninsula by royal order. The only ‘road’ in is 15 miles of what could easily be the toughest in all Baja! It begins at Rancho Santa Ynez, near Cataviña. We were fortunate to get to the ruins and back out in six hours! Three days later we approached from the Gonzaga Bay side, and got within 3 miles of the mission. We took a side trip to Las Palmitas oasis and later enjoyed a swim in the main Santa María canyon. Finally, we flew over, in a Cessna, for a photo recon of the area! Enjoy the pics!

On the road to Misión Santa María

Palms, boojums, and bad roads….The Best of Baja!

On the peninsular divide, 10 miles east of Santa Ynez.

Baja Mur (in blue) and I stop for the view of Punta Final, on the Sea of Cortez.

Road is all rock!

Between the peninsular divide and the mission the road base is natural granite.

The ‘Widowmaker’ grade on the road to Santa María

Only ‘locos’ drive beyond this point! Most people park here, then hike the last 1.1 miles. Not us, on the return climb out, we both wiped-out here. Baja Mur and I became ‘Baja Blood Brothers’ and I named this grade the Widowmaker!

Mission Santa María de los Angeles, established May 26, 1767.

Located between Cataviña/ Santa Ynez and Gonzaga Bay in a tranquil desert valley with ample water flowing year-round. Thankfully an extremely difficult to get to site, otherwise even less of the ruins would surely remain. Photo by Neal Johns

Can you hear the mission bells?

Think of what it was like 230 years ago… The struggle in a harsh land, as remote as a base on Mars would be today. The mission lasted but two years. The site continued a few more as a rest stop for supply caravans coming up the mountain from Gonzaga for Misión San Fernando. Photo by Neal Johns

Facing east, 5/1/99 at Mission Santa Maria

Photography by Baja Mur

Las Palmitas Oasis, south of Arroyo Santa María, on a side road.

Surrounded by desert, this tiny oasis serves as a cattle watering hole, on a branch off Arroyo Santa Maria. Gonzaga Bay is in the background. Photo by BajaMur

Just a short hike up the canyon to the pools…

We arrive at the Santa Maria ‘river’ where it disappears beneath the sands. Photo by BajaMur

Desert canyons in Baja are fantastic!

Year-round refreshment in the lower Santa Maria canyon. The surrounding barren desert gives no clue to the quantity of water found here.

Aerial photo of pool location, Santa Maria canyon

The pools are located in the bend, approx. 3 miles east of the mission.

Arroyo Santa María (from canyon to Gonzaga Bay)

To the right (south) in center of picture, is the branch wash that leads up to Las Palmitas.

Canyon and old Indian trail (just east of the mission valley).

The attempt to build a road in the 1960’s to Gonzaga Bay, ended here. An old trail continues on. The ‘King’s Highway’ (El Camino Real) is to the north (left) of the canyon. This is the gap between the east and west roads, that awaits another Mur and Dave adventure!

I point the way to an oasis, yet unseen…

Baja is there, waiting to be explored. We didn’t stop just because terrain stopped our ATCs. Hard to believe flowing water was a few minutes walk from here!

I hope you enjoyed this trip page. It was the very first web page I made for the new DavidKsBaja which would become in a couple years (thanks to Doug Means, ‘BajaNomad’). David Kier