The next stop on our itinerary was exciting as Ari has been reading it for almost twenty years. We were headed to a canyon in the Vizcaino region, called Sierra de San Francisco where some of the world’s finest examples of primitive cave paintings exist. Ari owns almost every single book written about Baja by Erle Stanley Gardener, who was the first to publicize these archeological wonders to the rest of the world. While the murals were written about by Gardner in 1962, not too many visitors actually venture up the canyon as it is difficult to access, and you have to arrange for one of the local Spanish-speaking guides in the village to take you to the caves. The information we found on the internet said that we had to go to the town of San Ignacio first to get permits before we could visit the caves, but when we arrived in the town we found that the office had burnt down and we could get the permits from the tiny village in Sierra de San Francisco. Although the two military inspection points and 90 mile detour were completely unnecessary, San Ignacio does happen to be a beautiful little palm oasis town The road to the small village in Sierra de San Francisco is only 22 miles but you definitely need a high clearance or 4x drive vehicle. It is one of the most beautiful canyons I have ever had the pleasure of driving through.
The next morning we woke up early to meet our guide, Francisco, aka El Mañana. We couldn’t have gotten a better guide. Francisco’s family has lived in Sierra de San Francisco for over 300 years. We asked El Mañana if he knew who Erle Stanley Gardener was, and he not only knew who Gardener was, Francisco remembers when the author first landed in the canyon in a helicopter in 1961. He told us he was just seven years old, and how it was the first time anyone in the village had ever seen a helicopter. El Mañana said all of the children in the village including himself ran into the caves to hide because they were terrified.
He also recounted how Gardener gave him a sandwich for the first time in his life as well as chocolate. It was pretty cool to be talking to someone who was actually a first hand witness to these events which Ari has been reading about for so many years. There are over 250 caves in Sierra de San Francisco with incredible paintings that were made between c. 100 B.C. and A.D. 1300, but most are deep in the canyon, and require a multiple day trip on horseback with a guide. We only had enough time to visit the cave named El Raton, which is pretty impressive..
El Mañana explained how when his ancestors first discovered the caves they thought the black animal on the bottom was a rat, hence the name “El Raton”. It was later accepted that this is in fact a depiction of a mountain lion or puma, but it had already been named El Raton for so long that the name just stuck 🙂 El Mañana offered to show us something that is not normally included in the tour. He told us about some petroglyphs in the canyon that were much older than the rupestres. They believe the rupestres were made by ancestors of the Cochime Indians but they have little clue as to what group made the petroglyphs El Mañana showed us that afternoon.
This place is so pure and beautiful. We are already making plans to go back in a month and have El Mañana take us on a five day trip into the canyon on horseback to see more of Sierra de San Francisco’s mysteries. We ended off the day by hiking to an amazing vista of the Sea of Cortez to watch the sunset. I gave El Mañana a tracing of my feet before we left so I can have a pair of these awesome leather shoes made for me by the local Zapatero for when we return in a few weeks! We lucked out again on the drive home with clouds in the sky through the Catavina region so we stopped on the side of the road to make some coffee and take a few more pictures when I saw something very unusual go by…
This guy! On this thing!! You have to imagine we were in the middle of a very secluded desert so this was a pretty strange sight to see. I yelled out “Hey you want a beer?” He replied by impersonating the sound of screeching brakes and then pulled over. He introduced himself as Penny Farthing, from London. We thought he might be making the Canada—>Cabo trek which would have been crazy enough, but Penny is doing something even more incredible on his custom made cycle which he made himself and built his own business around in England. Penny started his adventure in the beginning of the Spring in Canada and entered the United States in Michigan in July. He rode across the country to California, down the coast, where he will continue to the very end of Chile to make a trek around the world! He may even go on from there to Mongolia. Whats even more amazing is that he’s already done it once before. All of his possessions in life are what you see in the photo above. Inspiration for the nation!!! You can follow Penny’s incredible adventures HERE.
We were grateful to have two days to drive the 700 miles on the way home, unlike our way down. We had planned to camp at the Sierra de San Pedro Mártir National Park near Punta Colonet, in the Ensenada region for our last night. Who would have thought that there were pine trees and snow in ¡Baja!?! AND a California Condor release site! Apparently there are also hot springs in this area. We saw a small sign for “Aguas Termales —>” and followed a pretty rugged road with a few water crossings for almost 10 miles to an abandoned ranch which showed no signs of hot springs. We decided to turn around because we were running out of time and had to start on our way back to the border. When we returned home and did a little research, it turns out that there ARE in fact hot springs on that road at another turn off! You can bet we are going back to find them 😉
This trip was one of the most magical journeys we have taken in a while and reminded Ari and I just how important it is for us to keep getting out there and exploring! Stay tuned for our return to Baja next month!