DAY 5: San Francisco de la Sierra and Visita de San Pablo

Breakfast at the La Huerta in San Ignacio was good and we were on our way north. I was the only one in the group to have gone up to San Francisco de la Sierra, before.

As in 2017, the paved road begins at KM. 117.5 (16 miles south of Vizcaíno) and climbs steeply up to the top of the mountain, 22 miles to the village. The paving ends 4 miles before the village, however. In 2017, the road surface was rough and rocky. Now, there is a layer of dirt over the rocks making for much smoother driving.

2.7 miles after the pavement ends is Cueva del Ratón. The pathway to it is behind a locked gate as you need to hire a guide. Just under a mile past the cave, is the Hostel Buenaventura (bunk rooms, meals, and arrange to get guides and permits to see cave art here). 1 km. past the hostel is the village of “Rancho San Francisco” or San Francisco de la Sierra.

We go to the village first (elevation 3,740′), take some photos, and find out about how to see the cave art… We are told to go to the hostel where an INAH rep has a desk and can radio for guides to come.

We go there and find out the details, arrange for a guide, learn it is one guide for every 4 people, and 150 pesos per person for the permit, (I don’t remember how much for each guide). They also charge to use the toilet there. Several of the people in our group have lined up to sign in and began paying for their permits, Cameron asked the lady taking the money, how much more for everyone and the lady said it was six hundred and some pesos for the rest of the permits, guide cost, etc. and Cameron gave her 1000 pesos and told her to keep the change.

While we waited for our 4 guides to arrive, we made lunch at our trucks. When the guides showed up they got in the trucks with us and we drove to the cave, 0.9 mile away. The guides were all Arce men (naturally) and none spoke English so I was asked to translate as I spoke more Spanish than anyone else. It was all very interesting and we took photos of the art and the guides. When I name-dropped the three mule riding ladies I know, the Arce men were all animated and gave me hugs and asked that I send greetings to them: Baja Bucko (Teddi), Trudi Angell, and Eve Ewing are the three I mentioned, plus I am friends with Edie of the new book, The Mission Walker.

Cameron told the Arce men that he will be back in late June with 60 guests (Trail of Missions 2019) and that he would provide a feast for the whole village, asked what kind of food would they like. He also asked if they would like him to bring them anything. Two of the men asked for small tents so that when they take people down into the canyons on mules, they wouldn’t have to sleep in the open. Cameron asked that they not tell the villagers about the feast so it would be a surprise.

One of the trucks returned the Arce men back to the hostel while we headed down the mountain. Approaching one of the ranches passed before dropping down the mountain, a man was by the highway, a hatchet in one hand and a walkie talkie in the other, waving his arms.

It seems that the INAH rep wasn’t happy with the money she charged us, or the extra Cameron gave her and demanded 350 more pesos! She radioed that rancher to stop us and get more money. LOL. We gave him 350 pesos and just had to roll our eyes. She also knew there was a group of 60 coming in a month thanks to Cameron…

Old church at San Francisco. It can be seen in better shape twenty-one years earlier, for 4 seconds in the 1998 film, ‘Bajo California’ (at 1-hr:28-min:39-sec, near the end).
New community center at San Francisco.
The man at the hostel was selling a candy made from goat cheese. Curt LeDuc bought a jar.
Cueva del Ratón
Oscar Arce was the lead guide.
L to R: Jason Scherer, Curt LeDuc, Cameron Steele, Ángel Arce Arce, Oscar Arce Arce, David Kier, and Filiberto Arce Ojeda.
The top of San Pablo Canyon as seen from the San Francisco village road.

Visita de San Pablo

The Visita de San Pablo is one of the mission sites I have not been to before. I tried in 2017 only to find a locked gate just as I entered San Pablo Canyon.

Baja Nomad members have been there, XRPhil in 2010 and Kevin (Baja Okie) about 10 years earlier. I have historic photos from 1950 and the 1926, as well. The visita building looks a lot like Mission Santa María in style and made of adobe bricks upon stone. Some (even INAH) have mistaken this ruin as a mission and even called it Dolores del Norte, a mission that only existed on paper and whose name was changed to Santa Gertrudis upon being founded in 1752. San Pablo was probably attached to Santa Gertrudis but being midway from San Ignacio, it is possible that Padre Consag of San Ignacio was involved here?

In my TRIP #5 report from June 2017, I detailed the road from Hwy. 1 to the locked gate, which is south of Prosperidad, the big brick building from 1916, made by the Boleo copper mining company, near Guillermo Prieto.

Driving south on Monday, we stopped at the Vizcaino auto parts place (by the bank) where Curt LeDuc knew the owner and he knows the town’s people. We asked about a guide to take us there. One of his customers at the counter (Junior) pulled out his phone and showed us San Pablo visita photos he had recently taken… We had our guide! He has access to the gate key so we told him we would be back on Thursday. His automotive shop is next to the Hotel del Sol/ Hotel Martitha (they are either one and the same or one is right behind the other. Both signs are on the front).

The casona (large house) at Prosperidad built for the Boleo/Santa Rosalia mine workers as a cattle ranch.

The road from the locked gate south of Prosperidad to the ruins is 8 miles long, it is very rough and slow driving. A goat ranch is midway in.

We stop to visit with the rancher. Curt LeDuc checks out the branding irons hanging in the tree.

The road comes right to the front door of the visita.

My photo from May 2019, looking north.

Going back in time…

Phil Lang’s July 2010 photo.
Kevin Clough’s 1998 photo.
Marquis McDonald’s 1950 photo
Edward Davis 1926 photo.
Drone flyover 2019 by Jimmy Lee Cook. South at top and stone corral at left.
Visita de San Pablo plan from INAH (erroneously named Dolores del Norte)
Stone walls of the corral.
Ricky Brabec at the Visita de San Pablo. Six months later he became the first American to win Dakar!

Some decent road work by the San Pablo ranch people.
Curt LeDuc and I at the gate and blinded by the sun!

DAY 6, Friday: Guerrero Negro to Mexicali

We had an early start, 6 am (MDT) and as we drove 2 miles north and passed the Eagle Monument, that would be 5 am + the drive time from the Malarrimo Hotel. The objective was to get some morning tv shots on Laguna Chapala of the Raptors “turning money into dust” (a Curt LeDuc quote).

Highway 1 nearing Laguna Chapala.

I made a point to photograph each washed out bridge detour between Gonzaga Bay and Puertecitos, plus any other major road damage or interesting image. Here are just a couple…

New pavement on the soon to be opened section of Highway 5.

Mexicali East border, last turn for northbound into the USA.

That ends the trip report. Six days, 3,000 miles, lots of fun and new sites to see for all of us. I was so happy to finally see San Bruno and San Pablo, too.

The Trail of Mission tour that this recon and filming was for is the last week of June. Cameron has 60 guests, so maybe up to 25 Raptors and other 4x4s? The cost now $7,000 per vehicle (2 adults and children), and this includes rooms and meals, with AB Catering the meals in remote locations (Alek’s food is awesome). The requests to join the tour are so many Cameron has to turn people away.

The TV show of the tour will be on ABC on Sept. 7, 2019. This is the 6th Trail of Missions tour.

I was on the first Trail of Missions in 2014, for 3 days, flying to join the group and returning in the helicopter flown by Jim McCoy out of El Cajon. I talk briefly at two missions (Minute 5:40 & 9:37):

I hope you enjoyed the ride!

Here are the five YouTube episodes made from this recon trip:

2019 Cameron Steele’s Trail of Missions Tour reconnaissance trip (7 to 10 min. episodes): 

Be sure to checkout all the other exciting content at the new

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