In the Painted Caves with the Shamans

In the Painted Caves with the Shamans

          Make old what is new now, make new what is old.  The Diné shamans who live along the Rim teach this.  Had come the time to follow this path.

          Why not cross the Cortés by ferry from Guaymas and look anew around Cachanilla?  La Baja.  We had not been there in more than twenty years.  Make new what is old.  So we consulted all our maps of the region and began to envision a journey.  First came memories of previous trips.  Then came dreams of the adventure to come.  The illusionary past, the pantaya future.  After much discussion, the spot on the map that we chose to call our destination was at the end of a long dirt road that trailed across the rocky desert to a remote sandy point on the Pacific coast called Punta Abreojos, Point Open Your Eyes.  Yes, we should open our eyes to the new.

          On a crisp still New Mexico blue morning, we rolled away from our rancho on the Rim.  Down the mountain and onto the desert, the fragrance of green chaparral greeted us at the base of the juniper belt, and ahead in the distance peeked pointed cones of Sonoran volcanoes.  We crossed the twin salt playas, passing the ghost town beside the ancient railroad bed.  While the knowing imagined hollow-eyed miners, lean and dusty cowboys and ruby lipped saloon hussies, the brujo tastes old whiskey and enjoys las animas swaying to the drumbeats coming from the Stronghold.

          The colonization of New Spain began in the Central Valley of Mexico in the early 1500s.  While developing the Valley, the Spanish sent explorers to the north.  Based on reports from these caballeros, two arms of colonization reached out from the Central Valley, one the arm of the Rich, another the arm of the Faithful. 

          The Rich arm reached the farthest earliest, establishing a settlement of ricos in the upper valley of the Río Bravo.  This was about 1598.  The settlement survived because the Spanish moved in with the Pueblo Indians and learned to survive from them.  More than one hundred years later, the arm of the Faithful reached twice – once into Tejas to establish the outpost missions of San Antonio, La Bahia Goliad and Nacogdoches, and again to San Diego and along coastal California north to San Francisco.  By the end of the 1700s, these three widely separated settlements represented the northern cornerstones of New Spain governed from the Central Valley of Mexico.

Out the window we watched the desert slide by.  To our right the Southern Pacific railroad.  To the left the road to Douglas, named for the family that ran the vast Phelps Dodge copper interests located between the Gila River and the border.  Also to the left the road to Apache.  Everywhere the desert and stark blue sky, New Mexico blue we call it.  The Sonora Desert is part of a broad, arid highlands called the Bolsón de Mapimi.  The Bolsón extends across northern Mexico from coast to coast.  It serves to separate the Central Valley of Mexico from the three Spanish settlements which existed at the beginning of the 1800s.  The Chihuahua Desert is part of the Bolsón.  Partly because of the Bolsón, the hostile land, and great distances, the three outpost settlements were very isolated.  But there was an even greater reason for their isolation. 

          To the left the road to Cochise.  Through the windshield we see the approach to a passage called Texas Canyon.  A narrow mountain range erupting from the desert has shed huge round boulders that interrupt the flatness for several miles.  Texas Canyon is the winding road through the boulder field.  Battles have been fought here.  This is the land of the raiders of the desert called the Apache.  They and their fellow raiders in Tejas called the Comanche were the principal reason for the isolation of the three Spanish settlements.

          Between the California settlements and the Río Bravo settlements, the Apache owned the desert.  Between the Río Bravo settlements and the Tejas settlements, the Comanche owned the plains.  Travel was extremely dangerous, almost foolhardy, especially with heavy carretas.  Therefore, there was no regular communication between the three Spanish settlements, or between the settlements and the Central Valley of Mexico.  The Spanish hoped to connect the three settlements by establishing additional communities between them.  When this was attempted at Tucson, the Apaches became so ferocious that Tucson existed as nothing more than a walled fortress under constant siege.

          By the beginning of the 1800s, New Spain began to experience problems in Tejas due to the advance of Gringo filibusters from the east.  The advancement could not be stopped because the Bolsón separated the Central Valley from Tejas and hampered effective logistics.  The Gringo private armies uprooted established Spanish settlers and replaced them with Anglos.  All land north and east of San Antonio was controlled by the Gringo filibusters.  All land west was controlled by the Comanche.  New Spain was effectively pushed back to the mission at San Antonio de Bexar.  While this happened, Mexico fought and won her independence from Spain and agreed with the newly entrenched Texicans to honor the Nueces River as the border of Mexico and the Republic of Tejas.

The American War began in 1846 when the Gringos invaded Mexico at several points.  At that time the Indians still held the deserts and plains between the three Spanish settlements in the north of what was formerly New Spain.  Because of the Apache and Comanche, neither the Spanish or the Mexicans had been able to connect the settlements.  The Gringos took full advantage of this failure by seizing all the land north of the Bolsón as war booty after capturing the Halls of Montezuma.  With this one act, Mexico lost half her territory, including the three Spanish settlements of California, New Mexico and Texas.  Were it not for the roaming raiders of the desert, the land would have been settled.  It would have been less vulnerable to Gringo acquisitiveness devoted to the fulfillment of its manifest destiny to over spread the continent allotted by Providence. 

          After fighting ceased in the American War, the Mexicans found the Gringos dissatisfied with the border as defined by the Treaty de Guadalupe.  The Gringos complained that an incorrect map had been used to ascertain the border.  The Gringos sent James Gadsden to the Central Valley to renegotiate the boundary.  By use of thuggery, threats and intimidation, Gadsden moved the border south so that the Gringos would own future copper mines south of the Gila River as well as the Southern Pacific railroad route.  Although the Mexicans forfeited Guaymas, Gadsden did not demand that the port be included in the voluntary offering package the Mexicans were forced to render.  Finally in 1853,  Gadsden made his purchase and the American War closed.  With this passing, the three isolated Spanish settlements, long separated from the Central Valley, became part of Gringolandia.

          Immediately thereafter, the Gold Rush ended the isolation of California and immigration ended the isolation of Tejas.  However, the isolation of the Río Bravo settlement did not end, for the Apaches still controlled the land between California and the Río Bravo.  After the American Civil War began and ended, the bluecoats finally turned their attention to the roaming raiders of the desert. 

          Arizona had achieved territorial status in 1863 and almost all settlers arriving there were from the Old South.  Arizona Anglo attitudes concerning Indians and Mexicans grouped the two together into the undesirable category.  A vicious period called the Indian Wars ensued.  Both Indians and Mexicans were killed, and a few Gringos, too, but mostly by other Gringos.  During this time, Gringo expansionists tried to move Arizona into statehood.  However, the Anglo settlers of Arizona resisted because the proposed state would include Arizona and New Mexico together as one, and the Arizona Anglos did not want a state which included the Spanish settlement on the Río Bravo.  The isolation along the Río Bravo continued while the bluecoats exterminated the Apaches, several of the battles falling around Texas Canyon, the wars finally ending in the 1880s.

To the left the road to Tombstone.  The American Wild West at the formation of myth.  The OK Corral.  The late 1800s,  that era when men were men and possessed the qualities that today define a John Wayne American.  Actually, Tombstone represents the end of the era of isolation of the Great American West.  Arizona joined Texas and California out in the open.

          After the Indian Wars and the era of gunfighters, and by the turn of the century, only the Spanish settlement on the Río Bravo remained isolated.  Anglo Arizona and native New Mexico were considered separate by then and statehood was reevaluated.  Popular opinion expressed skepticism as to the advisability of granting full civil rights to a people largely illiterate and of an alien culture.  However, when Anglo Arizona showed it had more Anglos than Mexicans, both territories were granted statehood in 1912, the timing of their entrance into the nation strongly influenced by the erupting revolution in Mexico.  Only then did New Mexico begin to become less isolated and to receive the colonization expected of it by the Spaniards.  It had taken over 400 years to colonize the northern part of New Spain.

          Once again we crossed the Cicatriz del Norte, the Northern Scar, left when the Gringos ripped away all the land north of the Bolsón, and we found ourselves in Old Mexico, rolling south.  We arrived near Guaymas in the morning.  Outside the port city is San Carlos.  It is the resort constructed since the 1970s.  San Carlos is a tourist zona, like the Zona Dorada in Mazatlán.  There are other zonas throughout Mexico, such as Ixtapa, built in the early 1970s near the port of Zihuatanejo, and Cancún, erected in 1974 on the site of the fishing village Puerto Juárez.  Our last visit to San Carlos had been prior to the resort era, when the spot was called La Playa.  We expected a zona considerably more developed than we actually encountered.  San Carlos is still only a little zona.  It will grow much larger.

The old port of Guaymas was a haunt of Zane Gray, marlinhunter.  Today it is a busy port.  Around the plaza beside the malecón is the statue to El Pescador, inscribed with the song La Barca de Guaymas.

La Barca de Guaymas

Happy sailor, returning to port from faraway lands, what strange pilot sailed your boat, without sails or anchor?  From where do you come, your white sail torn to pieces?  You left singing, while today you return bringing death in your soul.

Also in the plaza are three statues of politicos standing side by side facing the east – Carranza and two of his cronies.  Conspicuously absent is Obregón, chieftain of all three of the enstatued politicos.  Irony smiles from across the plaza and whispers that the three statues founded PRI, and now the port of Guaymas is heavily PANista.  The boarding wharf for Transbordador Benito Juarez is near the plaza.

          The Benito Juárez ferry usually departs Guaymas in the morning.  There are customers for only a few vendors selling breakfast at the wharf, and they provide menudo and burro machaca.  Motor vehicles are stored in the lower container of the white ship and passengers are free to scurry all about two upper levels.  There is a bar, restaurant, sleeping chairs, air conditioning, clean bathrooms, stiff white uniformed officers, rurales and salesmen, and but no tourists except rarely.  When last we had boarded the Benito Juárez in the early 1970s we had traveled at night and had slept in our own tiny quarters, prisoners to the dark.  Now passage is during a wonderful daylight eight-hour voyage.  There is opportunity for cultural exchange where all passengers share the moment.  A passage shared as one and retold as we.

          Along the way we saw barnacled whales and their pilots and manta and tonina.  The western passage occurred in a dusty hazy sky and only one side of the Cortés could be seen at any time.  On our return, many days later, occurred during a clear and cloudless sky and both sides of the Sea could be seen throughout most of the voyage.  Landmarks from previous passages reappeared.  Cabras Tetas, Cerro Reforma, Isla San Pedro Nolasco, Las Tres Vírgenes, Isla Tortuga.  Our return voyage happened on El Día de La Marina, the Day of the Seaman.


          Isla Tortuga first appeared as a broad darkness along the hazy gray horizon.  The island is the upper 300 meters of the youngest volcano in the Sea of Cortés, fastened to the seafloor with a broad base and sporting a classic crater in the center.  It is difficult to climb due to the rugged black lava and the thorns.  There is little firewood on the island and it is difficult to find safe places to climb from the water onto the rocks.  These details are known because in 1964 one of us had spent several unexpected nights there.  Sliding by the isla prieta we gazed ahead to see the white mancha that marked our port of entry to La Baja.  Cachanilla.

Following the end of the American War in 1848, the Mexicans had to adjust to the terrible defeat in which they lost half their territory to Gringo invaders.  Discontent arose from a growing middle class, and by 1858 a civil war had erupted.  It lasted until 1860 when Benito Juárez gained office as his Liberals seized victory from the Conservatives.  However, the Mexican treasury was empty, and debts to France and England overshadowed any thoughts of a calm after the storm of civil war.  In addition, the Spanish began to call on Mexico to pay retribution for past sins.

          On Christmas Day in 1861, three invading armies from Europe landed at Veracruz.  These were the Spanish, English and French, all arriving to take advantage of a weak Mexico.  Juárez sent ministers to negotiate with the leaders and, showing his gentle side, allowed the armies to move inland and away from the yellow fever of the coast.  The English decided to leave and talked the Spanish into joining their departure.  The French stayed and began plans to invade and colonize Mexico.

          Seven thousand French soldiers marched toward Mexico City.  At Puebla, the haughty French engaged a Mexican army they deemed inferior.  The Mexicans stood their ground behind the command of 33-year old General Ignacio Zaragoza from Nuevo León.  At the end of the battle the French were repelled, and the brave Mexican general died of typhoid fever, and it had all happened on Cinco de Mayo.

Himno Batalla de Puebla

          The French sent in 25,000 new troops.  Ten months later they were back at Puebla.  The Mexicans held their position for two months before the French prevailed and rushed toward the capital.  Before the French could arrive in Mexico City, however, Juárez fled.  He would have several sojourns along his way to El Paso del Norte, where, from Texas, with the blessings of President Abraham Lincoln, he would maintain the Mexican government and direct a war of resistance against the French.  Today, both Juárez and Lincoln are recognized as perhaps the greatest presidents of their respective countries.

          The victorious French installed Ferdinand Maximilian Joseph to the Mexican throne in 1864 when he was 32-years old.  Max was a Hapsburg deemed a failure by the family and was being given a last chance to prove himself.  Mexicans thought him most comfortable around women.  He married his second cousin Charlotte of Belgium,  who was barely 20 when they arrived in Mexico.  She spoke perfect Spanish, which the Emperor could not understand, dominated the politics of the crown, and refused to sleep with Max.  The Emperor  immediately began to do his European duty of emptying the treasury to pay off obligations to Spain, England and France, casting Mexico into bankruptcy and her Indians into servitude as slave labor for European interests.

Juárez from El Paso directed the resistance.  By 1866 he could move back into Mexico as far as Chihuahua City.  Early in 1867 the last French soldiers left Veracruz.  Maxmillian chose to stick it out in Querétaro, while his loyalists battled Juárez for over two months before succumbing to the Mexicans.  Maxmillian was captured and Juárez ordered him shot.  Empress Charlotte had escaped to Europe in July 1866 to seek support for husband Max.  When she failed to find aid, insanity haunted her for her final sixty years of life, which ended with pneumonia in 1927.  Today Charlotte is recalled in an insulting song with a lively melody called Adiós Mamá Carlota.  The French had occupied Mexico for three years, killing 300,000 Mexicans in order to do so.

Adiós Mamá Carlota

          Historically, Cachanilla comes into existence just after the French departed.  It is the site of a large copper mining project first developed in the 1870s by he French company Compagnie du Boleo, but later taken over by the Mexicans.  When the mine was most active it was worked by enslaved Yaqui Indians from the mainland.  The local church is made of iron, brought in pieces from Brussels, created by Alexander Gustave Eiffel of Eiffel Tower fame.  The Boleo Mines office building was also imported in pieces.  Upper class management lived on the high hillsides where Breeze could visit.  Lower class workers lived down low near the water where Heat resided.  Correct European tradition, so civilized.

          The word Cachanilla is derived from the word cachano, the devil, from cacho, meaning horn like on Satan.  The translation of Cachanilla is Little Devil Girl.  The setting of the town renders the name.  However, on no recent map will be found the original name Cachanilla.  After the French found the mine, they selected a port site and built a smelter there.  The harbor was originally Cachanilla, later spelled Cachania.  But the French changed the name.  Today the spot is called Santa Rosalia.

          Santa Rosalia is a wooden colonial French town totally out of style in the surrounding brown adobe world of La Baja.  The decaying rusty abandoned French mining facility greets travelers from the Sea.  Wharves protect from stray east or north winds.  Panga skiffs rest on the beach inside the wharves.  Sailboats stand stiffly away from the boarding wharf for the Transbordador.  Along town streets, all the colorful wooden buildings enjoy verandas with lathed railings.  The balconies perch a floor above the streets and provide a view so as to allow one to see what is walking around.

Because of the mine and its commerce, Cachanilla has been, since the French arrived, a place of abundant supplies, adequate communication and decent medical facilities.  All the recent noteworthy travelers through the region depended upon Cachanilla as a supply and communication center.  Steinbeck, Beal, Gardner, Cannon all walked here.    

A Chain of Missions

          Cachanilla lies on the eastern point of a line extending westward to Punta Abreojos that represents the widest girth of Baja.  The carretera cartway westward from Cachanilla is an old route.  First the natives traveled it, and then the Padres, who named it El Camino Real.  The Royal Road crosses Mezquital Pass just to the south of Las Tres Vírgenes volcanoes.  The Big Virgin cinder cone soars to almost 2000 meters above the desert floor, highest in all the region.  The volcanoes are Pleistocene in age, rising in Baja during the same time that the great glacial events associated with the Ice Age swept down from the Canadian north.  West of the Pass the countryside flattens and opens into the valley between the Sierra San Pedro on the south and the Sierra San Francisco on the north.  Each sierra soars to 1600 meters while the valley is little above sea level. 

          Of most interest to us was the northern sierra.  Our contouring of our topo map had revealed an unexpected landform at the top of the Sierra San Francisco.  The anomaly is a high mesa, very flat, very remote.  The topo map indicates only one road climbing the 1600 meters to the mesa, this road departing the carretera on the south end of the mountains and following the Arroyo Santa Marta to its head.  The topo shows six villages in different parts of the vast mesa.  The most distant village is about 50 kilometers from where the Arroyo Santa Marta crosses the carretera.  Our contouring suggests that the high mesa is totally invisible from the desert floor. 

On the north end of the mountains are ruins of a Jesuit mission called Dolores del Norte.  A modern traveler named Marquis McDonald wrote in 1949 that the site is unlike any other selected by the Padres, who always chose locations well watered with good soil.   The Frenchman wrote that near the ruins are large caves strewn with human bones and many primitive paintings.  Marquis claimed that a huge cliff displays kilometers of colorful Indian paintings.

From the descriptions by Marquis we could not locate the precise site of the ruins, even though he gave the latitude and longitude, but from our topo we learned where to begin the search.  The unexpected locale of the ruins coupled with the nearby paintings and hidden mesa prompted us to suggest that perhaps the ruins are not a mission at all, rather a Jesuit chapel from nearby San Ignacio intentionally placed near an Indian ceremonial site.  We wondered about the isolated people and their villages on the high hidden mesa and about the cliff paintings and bone caves and mysterious mission and we sensed magic and we longed to go see.  A scent in the wind. 

          The Jesuits established their first outpost on the Baja Peninsula in 1683 with a crude lava rock mission at an isolated inhospitable playa called San Bruno.  The mission was established by the famous Padre Kino and his companero Padre Otondo.  The mission lasted but two years and the Jesuits then departed for New Spain, unable to establish any permanence.  In 1697 they returned and settled at a spot just south of San Bruno, a much more hospitable locale called Loreto.  There the Jesuits established the first mission that would survive on Baja.  During the following century, the Padres would establish a chain of thirty-two missions extending all the way north to San Francisco Alta California. Connecting the missions was El Camino Real.

          In 1698 the Jesuits from their headquarters at Loreto moved north to establish the mission at Londo and the following year south to establish Javier and the following year still further south to establish Santo Domingo.  Then, with a headquarters and three missions established, the Padres rested for five years.

By 1705 it was back to work and missions were built north at Mulege and south at San Juan Bautista.  Three years later the Jesuits continued north to Santa Maria Magdalena and for the first time turned west to San José Comondú.  By the end of 1708, eight missions had been built on Baja.  The Padres had expanded in all possible directions from their hub of Loreto. Then the Padres rested for ten years. 

          The Padres expanded west to La Purisima in 1718.  Two years later they continued north to Guadalupe and for the first time in fifteen years they moved south to establish a mission in 1720 at La Paz.  The following year the Jesuits moved further south to build Dolores del Sur.  Two years later they went south yet again to Las Coras.  The Padres had expanded their empire to most of inhabited Baja.  Then they rested for five years. 

          In 1728 the Jesuits expanded north to San Ignacio, the next year north to the mysterious site of Dolores del Norte.  One year later, in 1730 the Padres reached their southern limit at San Jose del Cabo.  From the capital of their empire at Loreto, they had moved north to the Sierra San Francisco at Dolores del Norte and south to the Cape at San Jose.  This area is presently Baja California Sur and is the entire southern half of the peninsula, from the Baja Bootspur  to El Cabo.  At the time of these Jesuit missionary zealots, almost all the inhabitants of the peninsula resided in the area conquered by the Padres in only 30 years.  Most of the conquering was done through the complete annihilation of the heathen by diseases carried by the Christians.  A culture vanished.  Yaqui Indians were imported from New Spain to fill the empty missions.  Then the Jesuits rested for twenty years before returning to El Camino Real and heading north toward Alta California.

The Jesuits built four more missions in Baja before they were expelled from the Spanish Empire in 1767.  All of their missions except the two most northern had been built of stone.  All Baja missions following those of the Jesuits were constructed of adobe.  The Franciscans arrived next, replacing the Jesuits, but built only one mission because they were anxious to move to the rich flocks in Alta California.  By 1769 the Franciscans departed for their first of 21 missions beginning in San Diego and ending at the bay that bears the name of their patron saint.  The Dominicans replaced the Franciscans in Baja and by 1780 pushed the chain of Baja missions northward to San Vicente to connect with San Diego, completing El Camino Real.

          Cadacaaman is the original name of the date palm spring-fed oasis named by the Spaniards San Ignacio.  When the first Jesuit missionaries arrived in 1728, about 5,000 Cochimi Indians inhabited the surroundings.  A mission was constructed. At the same time the Spaniards brought smallpox, typhus and measles and the population plunged to only 120 souls.  Settlers were then imported from mainland Mexico to tend the dates for export.  To travelers familiar with the Muslim world, the mission at San Ignacio mostly resembles a mosque and it could be insisted that the name be spelled Kadakaaman.

          San Ignacio is presently a dusty slow oasis around a beautiful spring-fed lake along the Arroyo Santa Marta.  There are many date palms and all the tourists stop by to see the beautiful old mission and the sudden lushness in the desert. This influx of foreigners causes the two hotels and restaurant services to price themselves hugely exaggerated relative to the local economy.  San Ignacio had changed very little since we first visited there in 1964, and last visited there in the early 1970s.

Punta Abreojos

          Leaving San Ignacio we recalled accounts of earlier travelers.  Gerhard and Gulick, in their ancient, but now classic Lower California GuideBook, wrote of a road from San Ignacio to Punta Abreojos.  They claimed that it passes by Estero del Coyote about ten miles from the point.  This estero is called Laguna La Escondida on recent maps.  The two travelers described Abreojos as a fishing camp and a lighthouse.  There is no fresh water.  There is a store and sometimes gasoline and a sandy beach.  During our planning back on the Rim, we had anticipated just such a village and we expected that little had changed from this description.

          Shortly out of San Ignacio we cruise through the desert along the southwestern base of Sierra San Francisco.  There is no indication from our vantage of the high mesa.  It is truly hidden except to the knowing.  Magic it is, appearing only to those who know the secrets.  Arroyos bleed from the mountain rim.  The cuts run out into the desert a short distance and trickle to an end by sinking into the sands of time.  Ahead we see a road sign and we read Punta Abreojos 88 Km.  We flashed a smile and thought of the walk into Macchu Picchu, Old Man Peak, from kilometer 88 where we jumped off the train from Cuzco.

From the Carretera Internacional La Baja Highway we turned left and stopped beside a housesite and roadside cafe to ask preguntitas.  Yes, the road is good to Abreojos.  It is freshly graded and will take about an hour to arrive.  Yes, we have lived here always. No, we have not heard of Dolores del Norte nor any mission at Rancho San Pablo.  Yes, there is a road to the village of San Francisco and it is a very bad road.  No, we cannot tell you about the road to Tortugas.  Yes, we agree that we should release the mockingbird, the sinsontle, the without-her-own-song, from the cage, but she sings so beautifully as to cause us to guard her closely.  Yes, once this junction was called Fischer Camp, but now it is El Crucero.  Que les vayan bien.        

          The white dirt road to Punta Abreojos lay on the brown Desierto de Vizcaino.  Ahead we could see the irregular skyline that is the Sierra Santa Clara.  The rocky peaks are volcanic plugs.  From offshore they will be landmarks.  Later, from Capitán Jorge at Punta Abreojos, we would learn the names San Lorenzo, Tecolote, Mancha Blanca and Lomo de Faro for distinct land markers.

          Out the window the desert.  At the end of the Revolution a Gringo geologist from Midland, Texas named Beal explored the surface of Baja California looking for sedimentary basins.  Another form of La Busca.  The Gringo traveled by mule pack train and was supplied at various ports by ship.  A main concern was water.  About the Desierto de Vizcaino he wrote that “water is scarce.  The traveler must depend upon wells at habitations.  In the Desert there is only one water hole, the famous Ojo de Liebre.  Eye of the Jackrabbit is at the head of Scammons Lagoon.  To arrive at Ojo is a pack trip of two full days separated by a dry camp.  Pack trains should not average more than four kilometers per hour.  The traveler should employ guides and not work his pack train for more than two days without water.”

          Forty years after Beal, travelers Gerhard and Gulick arrived at Ojo to find only a stunted cottonwood tree and an almost dry waterhole.  On modern Mexican quadrangle maps, Ojo is invisible, as though the jackrabbit has closed his eye.  While ojo means eye, it also means spring or fountain.  From our vehicle we took long looks to the north as Lore embellished the story.  Then silent recognition to honor the mystic.  We hunters slide by the Ojo.  In the distance the unknowing see shimmering mirage over the desert, but the brujo sees Lore dancing on water.

          Shortly before dark we arrived at Punta Abreojos.  It is a clean, prosperous and proud town of about 150 houses.  There is electricity, a school, stores, and public water from a desalinization plant .  All houses have numerous water barrels to store supplies for times when high waves restrict operations of the plant.  The wind was ferocious and we camped outside town.  We could hear huge breakers all night.  Morning brought calmer but still windy weather.  We found Capitán Jorge and his panga about to depart for his day.  After speaking for awhile, he agreed to carry us offshore to fish.  Later we would be invited to his humble home La Casita to spend the night.

          During our visit with the Capitán and his wife Guadalupe, we learned about the village and our hosts.  The day begins early in La Casita.  At four-thirty in the morning darkness, Capitán Jorge and Guadalupe spend some quiet time lasting until the children arise at six-thirty, who will find that their father left for the sea an hour earlier.  By eight the children are off to school lasting until noon and Guadalupe attends to the house and environs.  All the property is sand and it is raked daily.  Once a week the five water barrels are filled by a water truck from the desalinazation plant.  Once a week the garbage truck comes by.  There is a daily bus to Guerrero Negro for those needing to shop outside Abreojos. 

          La Casita is a wooden house painted brown.  She has three bedrooms, a bath plus an outhouse, a utility room, a living room-dining room, a kitchen and a garage.  In 1984 Capitán Jorge and Guadalupe bought La Casita from the man who built her and they paid his asking price of a hundred and thirty dollars.

The walls are decorated with collectibles and religious adornments, for Faith lives in La Casita. As does Food, not the traditional arroz con frijol, but rich seafood dishes.  Lobster is always available, as are clams, scallops, and fish.  Del mar a la mesa claims Guadalupe, from sea to table. 

          Punta Abreojos is a rich fishing village.  The fishermen have a cooperativa union and there is a large packing plant which sells to Ocean Garden products in San Diego.  The co-op has 107 members and is not closed because children of members may join.  Managers serve for two-year stints.  In addition to the members there are workers who are not members and they are called extras

          Lobster traps are wire cages which lure with scallops the lobster to make entry through a door from which he cannot retreat.  Also into the traps are lured octopus and cabrilla and cat sharks, all of which eat the entraped lobsters.  There is a size requirement for lobster of 82 millimeters from eyebrow to back of the head.  Three people work the traps.  The Capitán handles the boat.  One extra raises the traps and removes the langosta and measures them and throws back the ones too small and puts the keepers into a live box.  The other extra breaks scallops from their shells and rebaits the trap.  Then the cage is thrown back into the water and the Capitán moves the panga to the next trap.  There are 100 traps to run.

          Fishermen are paid 13 pesos a kilo for live lobster.  Two dollars a pound.  The co-op sells to Ocean Garden for 45 pesos a kilo.  Seven dollars a pound.  A plane comes every few days from California to collect lobster.  Over the recent six days Capitán Jorge and his two extras Ramón and Señor Cinturon averaged 75 lobster per day.  The worst day of the season, only 21 lobster accounted for one of the days.  The previous low had been 37.  The best day had been 118.  Many days had been over 100.

          After the traps are run the crew returns to the beach where the langosta are stored in live boxes floating atop the water.  An inspector tallies the count.  Every Monday the lobster are removed from the live boxes and taken to the packing plant for canning.  The lobster business is the backbone of prosperous Punta Abreojos.

          Capitán Jorge has a depth recorder and knows where many seamounts are located.  He says that August through October is the best fishing.  During these months the jurel are schooling and are very near the beach.  Tuna boats arrive to harvest.  Whales winter around Abreojos.  The coldest water of the year is in May, the clearest in January.  April through June is the season of wind.  Currently the water is sandy green for a great distance offshore.  In the ocean we saw vast red schools of sea crawfish called langostillo.

Fishermen are prone to net and trap fish as opposed to hooking them.  Most fishermen are also divers.  No billfish are ever sought nor seen by locals and no sport fishermen ever come either – the only tourists to arrive are whale watchers in the winter and surfers in the summer.  Capitán Jorge is a native of San Ignacio.  He had never heard of Dolores del Norte nor any mission in the San Francisco Mountains.

Sierra San Francisco

          Following our stay in Abreojos we backtracked to the Baja Highway to begin our hunt for the hidden mesa and the lost mission of Dolores del Norte.  Then we moved north to find a dirt road leading off to the east and climbing into the mountains.  We turned onto the trail and stopped.  Sun glared directly overhead and there were no shadows under the thorns and cactus beside the rocky road.  In the distance loomed the rugged sierra holding the lure of La Toca.  We drove ahead.

Once across the densely thorned desert the trail climbed sharply in many switch backs onto a flat wide bench sloping upwards to even higher peaks.  To either side cut deep arroyos becoming even deeper the higher we climbed.  Spectacular contrast and sharp angles presented lunar images. 

          At one point the rocky road became treacherous.  Fortunately stood nearby an adobe ranchito and a young woman watching us.  Qué tal el camino we asked.  How is the road?  As an answer the ranchera pointed toward a cattle corral behind the adobe and said Con las vacas esta ella la caponera.  With the cows is the caponera.  The ranchera seemed to want that we go there to ask about the road and we did.  There was a tall feed shed beside the corral.  We peered in to see La CaponeraPasen she said.  So we stepped into the darkness.  

          La Caponera sat in a tall straight-backed chair in a patch of sunlight beaming through a broken window onto the black floor.  Atop her head lay a lace pañuelo the color of firewood cut before its time, leña verde.  Her face glowed clear and lacked innocence, looked warm to touch.  Her long and slender bare feet worn smooth on the soles rested gently on the floor.  Around her neck hung a small simple silver bell.  The unknowing might assume her name from it.

          After we had spoken of the road ahead and had enjoyed some polite conversation, La Caponera suddenly asked Qué les parece aqui?  How to yous it seems here?  Very nice we answered.  She said flatly Aquí anda bien todavía La Malinche.  Here lives well still MalincheLa Malinche?  Si Señor, La Malinche que llevamos nosotros todos.  No saben la que es?  No Señora.  Tell us.  So she did.

          Spoke La Caponera.  Once long ago I paused to wonder just where her soul was hidden.  I could not have known that Malinche had planted it in the entrails of the earth.  Her hands had cultivated it.  It became the moist black earth of my life.  We are born unto her.  We are taught that we are a series of actions in sequence that cannot be changed.  We are taught that knowledge of the past is knowledge of the future because they are the same.  We are taught that the present is a repetition of the past and that the future is a repetition of the present.  We must change this idea.  The past cannot be the future for this is fatal and siempre será Malinche.

          La Caponera turned away to look toward a corner in the hut.  Her gaze stayed true and straight for a long while.  The ringing of silence filled the hut and stilled the moths aflutter in the sun beam.  Perfectly she chose her time to continue.

          We must offer something other than the traditional telling.  We must make something new of the old now.  We must tell new myths, reshaping the old to make the new.  Myths express reality so we must change our myth and a changed reality will appear.  We must change Malinche.

          Pausing only long enough to capture the eye of each listener, La Caponera lowered her voice to a whisper and each listener bent closer to her until all bowed before the woman seated in the beam of sunlight.  Señor Gabacho, here the macho is considered most important and he enjoys dominating a woman.  He wants service from her.  He expects to impose his will and his body on her.  Then he disposes of her when he is finished.  The macho acts like this because Malinche teaches all women to accept it as their verguenza, their shame.  When the traditional telling changes then Malinche will cease this teaching.  Si Señor, aquí anda bien La Malinche.

          La Caponera sat still.  Her lower lip twitched.  Suddenly she blurted out los problemas son los machos, men are the problem.  Malinchistas like our politicos should heed these words:

We remain with our evil curse,

To offer to the outsider

Our faith, our culture,

Our bread, our money.

Today the Blondes continue to arrive,

And we open our houses to them,

And we call them friends.

O curse from Malinche!

Sickness of the present!

When will you leave my land?

When will you free my people?

          As we departed the hut La Caponera expressed hope that we could follow the path ahead and reminded us to have faith even when shadows fall over the road.  Cada sombra tiene su rayo del sol más allá she smiled.  Beyond every shadow is a sunbeam.  She sent us along with a wish that Que les vaya bien.

          Several days following our sojourn with La Caponera we mentioned it to a rurale.  He told us that the caponera is the bell cow.  Asking what is a bell cow, he explained she is the cow who wears the sound that reveals all the other cows and betrays them despite their wills.  The word is from capon, one who is castrated, and, although female, a bell cow is considered castrated because of the way she opens up herself and other cows to domination.  The bell cow is the tool used to enslave cows, so the caponera is a traitor to her own kind.  She is the cause of all cows being born into the world of domination.  This single castrated cow causes all cows which follow to be castrated, to be firewood cut before its time, leña verde.  She is Malinche, the woman who betrayed her own people to gain favor from Cortés and thereby sacked her womb of its fruit, castrating herself and becoming the bell cow for all Mexican women.

          Beyond the place of La Caponera begins the final climb to the crest.  The rocky narrow road clings to the edge of the barranca and la vista includes a panorama across the desert all the way through the Santa Clara Mountains to the Pacific Ocean.  Finally crossing the summit, we drop to a flattening and enter the hidden mesa.  Far ahead is a group of casas.  Arriving we see people sitting in the shade on benches.  San Francisco is inscribed on the schoolhouse wall.  We crossed the sunshine to join them in the coolness of the shade and we were warmed by their welcome.  Muchas gracias por el calor tan bello.

          We had not arrived at San Francisco without information.  What we thought we knew provided us some background for what we would hear from the locals.  With one exception, the mission at Dolores del Norte is considered by all modern writers not to be a lost mission, rather one named Santa Gertrudis, built in 1751.  The modern contrarian Marquis McDonald, however, found Spanish records insisting that the Dolores del Norte mission existed.  Marquis became the only English-published writer to visit the locale.  He arrived by jeep at Rancho Tablón.  There he passed several days with Señor Urbano Orse.  While there a señorita visited from Rancho San Pablo and told him the lost mission was a few kilometers from her casa.  Marquis rode a mule one full day to the mission site in Arroyo San Pablo and camped.  While there he spoke with the owner of Rancho San Pablo, an old colonel, a viejo 90-years old.  The colonel said Marquis was the first Gringo he had ever seen at the Arroyo.  The colonel had fresh oranges and limes from Rancho San Pablo and gifted several bolsas de frutas

From the campsite Marquis waded the arroyo to the mission, its adobe walls still standing, but the ruins roofless.  Nearby were several caves containing human bones and paintings.  The canyon walls bordering the entrance into Arroyo San Pablo served as canvas for a lengthy mural of paintings and figures and geometric patterns in various colors.  The mural is very high on the canyon walls.  Too high for humans to have painted.  The viejo colonel told Marquis that in Arroyo San Pablo had once lived a race of giants called Amazonias.  This incident occurred in the 1949 winter.

In the shade on benches we sat and spoke and shared the Frenchman’s book and our topo maps and their stories.  Once we moved over to the shade of the store so as to see a stunning collection of strange artifacts.  In the group of villagers sat the oldest man.  Urbano Orse had been his uncle.  Urbano Orse died more than twenty years ago.  Except his name was Arce, not Orse.  As for the Rancho San Pablo being in the Arroyo San Pablo it is, but the current name of the arroyo where the caves are located is Arroyo Santa Teresa.  Only the oldest man knew that the previous name had been Arroyo San Pablo and his testimony convinced the others of the correctness of the Frenchman’s account.  Rancho San Pablo was owned by Colonel Pedro Altamirano who is deceased.  The rancho is abandoned, seated idly under Cerro San Pablo, an unnamed peak on our topo map.  At the rancho there is water year-round and also citrus fruit. 

The mission and paintings and caves most certainly exist.  There are six caves called Pintada, Solidad, Flecha, San Julio, Músico, and Cacarizo.  There is a cave a short distance from San Francisco where Gringos sometimes visit.  This is Cueva del Ratón.  It is a  small cave relative to the six in the Arroyo Santa Teresa.  The mission still has the walls.  No Gringos have ever come looking for the Rancho San Pablo nor for the mission.  No Gringos have been there since the Frenchman.

Rancho San Pablo cannot easily be reached from the north as had arrived Marquis.  The distance from a vehicle trailhead is substantial and there is not a trail rather only does one arrive by cross-country travel.  The best rumbo to the rancho is from a tiny settlement called Guadalupe.  In the group sat a young man from Guadalupe who knows the trail and has been to the area many times.  He estimated 12 kilometers from Guadalupe.  Mules and burros are available for ride and pack.  He can arrange everything.  Para servirle he said.  Yo soy rumbero.  I am pathfinder.

          Outside the shade it was dry.  There had been no rain in San Francisco since December 22 and the winter monsoon had not come.  The summer monsoon should arrive in July and August Si Dios quiere.  Knowing about the rains will help us to plan, as we told the people that we were not prepared to presently make the trip down Arroyo Santa Teresa.  But we promised to return and go to the mission at Rancho San Pablo.  As we drove away they waved Les esperamos.  For you we wait.

Letters to La Baja

After returning to the Rim from the mayo trip to La Baja we contemplated how to travel to the Sierra San Francisco.  In order to prepare for the walk we examined the photos we had taken on the mayo pasado trip.  Our pathfinder the rumbero wore high leather boots.  We recollected the thorns and spiny plants of the terrain.  Should the trail be thorny and we arrive unprepared, the walk might be uncomfortable and stressful.  The condition of the trail and the time required to make the walk were serious omissions in our planning knowledge.  Another visit to San Francisco prior to the walk would be very helpful.  A Columbus Day trip to La Baja would provide such an opportunity.  So we wrote three letters to the pathfinder, addressing them to La Tienda Flecha.  We called our rumbero Señor Botas Altas de Cuero, Mister High Leather Boots.  In the first letter we included a picture of him.

          Also we wrote letters to Capitán Jorge and sent him photos of our shared fishing trip.  In one of our letters we outlined our plan for an October rumbo to Abreojos.  We asked Capitán Jorge to reply to us and to send us a phone number so we could speak by voice.  In early August, Capitán Jorge called us from a caseta in Abreojos and we discussed a travel plan, and we agreed to speak again by phone on October first, and we did, and the adventure was confirmed as arranged.

Rollin’ Again

          Morning sunshine painted on the ground the black shadow of the Pachamama oak.  Anticipation quivered in the stillness while a long green lizard did push-ups on the rock wall.  Mystic waved to us from beyond the barn.  To the south, she pointed.  Que allá esta la encanta.  And once again we were rolling toward our dreams.

          We cross the frontera.  With us ride Hemingway, Kerouac, and Dylan. It is like dinner before the hunt.  There is much hope, an ignored tension and a feeling of things coming that we cannot prevent happening.  The Aduana asks us if we are going somewhere or just going and we smile.  For we travel not to go anywhere, rather to go.  The great affair is to move.  To hunt.  Crossing and recrossing the border every little while.  North and then south, and only because there is no place we can stay in without becoming restless and because there is nowhere to go but everywhere, keep rolling under the stars.  We think about all the magic ahead and the unforseen events awaiting to surprise and make us glad we are alive and can dream.  Our road may be rocky, the stones may cut our feet, but others have no road at all and they must stand in the same old place.

Past the border the road extends before us, leading to EverEver Land.  We are born lucky.  We are all brothers and sisters on this earth and by the nature of our Oneness share the same dreams.  But only a few of us go on to make our dreams come true.  We were rolling.

          In Guaymas, the ferry Benito Juárez pushed off the wharf on a hopeful morning promising a splendid voyage.  The mechanico aboard remembered us from the trip of mayo pasado.  He asked and we told and in the end he wished us well on our adventure.  He gave us the thumbs-up sign and said Haz sus sueños.  Make your dreams.  A Gringo would say Go for it.  Then he added a familiar dichoNo dejes nada de tener.  Don’t leave anything to have.  A Gringo might say Live life to the fullest.  We promised we would.

          At Cachanilla we find Capitán Jorge in his red pickup awaiting us with abrazos and amistad.  Supplies are purchased and photos are gifted and then we leave town, fresh air flowing through the truck.  First we cruise north up the coastline of rounded boulders and then we turn west to cross the pass at Mezquital, the three Virgins watching us slide by their southern skirts.  At El Crucero we stop to gift a photo and then turn onto the dirt road to Punta Abreojos, eighty-eight K across the desert on the beach of the Mar Pacifico.

          Bouncing into Abreojos we passed by La Baliza, the popular point break for international surfers.  We smiled as one rider enjoyed the walls held up by an offshore wind. 

          The cozy casa of Capitán Jorge and Guadalupe gift the special warmth that allows guests to feel as though they are not.  Like a diamond or a gold nugget, La Casita is small enough to be cozy and important enough to allow smallness.

          During our eating experiences at La Casita we talked about dishes such as guacamole, which is prepared from avocado, or aguacate.  This name is from agua for water, and cate from catar for to taste, so aguacate means water-to-taste.  There are two types of avocados.  Black round fruits are Guatemalan highlands variety and are called Guatemaltecos, also known as aguacate de aceite, water taste of oil.  Green elongate fruits are called palta, known as aguacate de agua, water taste of water.  Avocados and chiles and herbs are blended to create guacamole, the bowl grind, the that which comes from the grinding in the bowl.  Bowlgrind is often accompanied by a dish of chiles with tomato and onion known as pico de gallo, cock’s cock salsa, as is the impolite translation.  The nombre sano, healthy name, or polite translation, pertains to the beak of the rooster.  In La Baja, bowlgrind and pico are consumed with Cerveza You-taste, Tecate.     

          Dinner conversation revealed that slang is rampant amongst Los Mejicanos.  In Abreojos, as is stylish in Todo Mexico, teenagers are called chavo and chava, dude and chick.  Jorge added that chavo is a proper word for being stone broke.  The word Morrocotodo is used to pass the flavor of the Gringo phrase Far out, Man!  Morro is something that is outside, apart.  Todo is all.  Morrocotodo means All is outside.  Another expression for Far out Man is Afuera de seria, Outside of serious.  Morrocotodo Chavo.  All is outside of serious, Dude.  Two additional expressions of Far out Man are Macanudo and Chévere.  

          Jokes are called chistes and are never told but rather are thrown out.  Echar un chiste, to throw out a joke.  Chistes are either colorado or chirri, red or weak, dirty or clean.  Often a dirty joke is called a chiste piquante, a spicy joke.  Sometimes a joke is so spicy that it is honored as a talla colorada, a red cut.  In opposition to spice is the diluted or weak.  A joke lacking spice is called chiste chirri, diluted joke.  Puns are considered bland.

          The action associated with certain nouns is distinct in Abreojos.  Jokes are thrown out, echar el chiste.  Urine is thrown out, tirar el agua.  Flatulence is thrown out, echar el pedo.  The words meaning to pout are poner jeta, to put out protruding lips.  

When I asked Jorge if we would find the lost mission, he responded, De la sopa a la boca se cae la sopa.  From the soup to the mouth falls the soup.  Many a slip twixt sip and lip.

La Tienda Flecha

The road to San Francisco led to the east off the Baja Highway, and since our mayo pasado trip a sign had been erected which indicates archeological sites are nearby.  Our red roadster turned onto the dirt track.  After a few kilometers we began to climb in sharp switchbacks as the narrow road clung to the steep sides of the cuchilla ridge.  Once atop the lower foothills the road widened, but did not smooth, and we bumped along toward the barranca that leads upward to the high hidden mesa in the sierra.  The countryside was green, as the summer rains had been plentiful.  At the heel of the lower mesa we began the second steep climb.  The vista was stunning and the rear riders sat in silent admiration as the majesty of La Baja spread before them.  Chofer Jorge carefully held his attention firmly on the road.  Near the summit we passed the casa of La Caponera and we nodded a silent greeting to the Bellcow.

 Then we crossed over the pass and before us lay a flat winding road trailing around the edges of the dark bottomless canyons.  We continued ahead and soon we could see a settlement perched on a point across the last deep canyon.  The road made some final twists and turns and finally we bumped into the stick and adobe village of San Francisco.

At La Tienda Flecha we found friends from the mayo pasado trip.  Photos were gifted and coffee was shared.  Two of the letters sent to the store from El Norte had arrived and the rumbero had been waiting for us.  Ramón Arce, Mister High Leather Boots, was wearing tennis shoes. 

In the shade beside Tienda Flecha we spread the map and a calender borrowed from the tienda.  Red cans opened and we sipped rabanitos, little radishes, the local name for Tecate beer.  With wet mouths and open ears we listened and learned.

There are mules for riding and burros for gear.  The rumbero Ramón will ride a mule, a bestia.  The trail is not thorny, but the terrain around Rancho San Pablo is.  As one descends from Guadalupe, the reference spots are Cueva Cacarizo, Rancho San Nicolas and Rancho San Pablo.  It is a four-hour mule ride to Cacarizo from Guadalupe, then another five hours to Rancho San Pablo.  All the caves are above Rancho San Pablo.  Two hours below the rancho are the painted canyon walls described by the Frenchman Marquis.  The mysterious mission of Dolores del Norte is nearby Rancho San Pablo.  Presently the ranch is not abandoned, as the son and grandson of Colonel Altamirano live there.  The only fruit grown is dátil, date palm fruit.  Rancho San Nicolas has several people living there and has other types of fruit trees.  Both ranchos have lots of water.

In the end, we planned for our adventure into the arroyo to occur just after the new year began.  On our way out we visited Cueva del Ratón, the tourist cave nearby the village.  The cave is an overhang with dull and obscure red and black painting of humanoid figures and animals.  According to the new sign in English, archeologists claim humans occupied the cave beginning 11,000 years old.

          As we descended the mountain Capitán Jorge exclaimed how good are the drawings in Cueva del Ratón, despite that the rumbero had said the Raton artwork is very poor compared to the drawings we will see down Arroyo Santa Teresa, the local name for the section of Arroyo San Pablo where are located the paintings.  Capitán Jorge exclaimed the area to be much more beautiful than he had expected and said that he planned to bring his family up to see.  Although he is a native of the area Capitán Jorge has never bothered to travel this new road built in 1987, only a few years before we arrived, and supposedly going only to an isolated ranching settlement.  His excitement spilled onto the others of us.      

Onto the Baja Highway we headed toward Cachanilla.  As we crossed Mezquital Pass, the brillant red sunset spread color across the skirt of the Virgin.  Then bloomed ahead the Cortés awash in pale orange and pink.  In the distance blinked the lights of Cachanilla.  Down the steep winding road to the coast we cruised, and darkness captured us before we arrived at the old wooden hotel.  Standing beside the red roadster we spoke a few last words and clasped hands one more time.  La toca.  Then the promise nos vemos en enero.  See you in January.

Shaman, Priests, and a French Miner

          By the eve of departure for our adventure, we had completed our investigation of the postulated existence of the lost mission of Dolores del Norte.  The Frenchman Marquis had traveled to the mission in 1949 and we had looked to see what else we could find of a more recent vintage.  Also we had investigated the postulated canyon paintings, as actually, they more than the mission, sparked our interest and curiosity.

            We learned that cave dwellers lived in the Sierra San Francisco of La Baja as long ago as 11,000 years.  These Indio Californios were found living on La Baja by Spanish explorers and Jesuit Padres in the early 1500s.  Almost 200 years passed until the Indios became the subject of the written record.  In 1697 the Jesuit Padres established the first permanent La Baja mission at Loreto.  Once amongst the Indio Californios, the Padres began to describe the Indios and their culture.  Since the Indio Californios quickly died and became extinct due to the diseases brought by the Spaniards, the only written account is that of the Jesuits themselves. 

          The earliest published record is that of 1757.  The dubious account is a double edit by two non-witnesses.  The first editor was a priest named Venegas who never visited La Baja and instead edited letters from various Padres.  The second editor was a priest named Buriel who likewise had never visited La Baja and who edited the already edited work of Venegas.  The document released for the record is that of Buriel.  Priests who had actually been in La Baja became determined to produce a true record to counter the discredited official Church version. 

Respected La Baja Padre Miguel del Barco had compiled notes.  A Mexican named Clavijero, who had never been to La Baja, used the Del Barco notes to publish a document in 1789.  Afterwards the notes of eyewitness Del Barco unfortunately became lost.  For two centuries scholars considered the Clavijero document to be credible, but truly they lacked the source for verification.  Suddenly in 1972 were found and published the notes of Del Barco.  Not only had Clavijero accurately reported Del Barco, but furthermore the notes held new information about the Indio Californios.

In the central peninsula of La Baja the Indio Californios called themselves the Cochimi.  They ran naked these people, hunting and gathering and never building communities or even huts or gardens, and never bearing any possessions or keeping domestic dogs.  After wandering for a while they would return to a common gathering spot so chosen because of its nearness to water.  The Cochimi had no word for husband or wife so family units were flimsy.  Children whose mothers could not care for them were killed.  During grief the women howled and shrieked and beat themselves about the face, but never shed tears.  Almost all mothers aborted their first child as custom predicted the first born would be weak and a burden.  Mothers cleansed their children with their tongues.

          Food was always a primary concern.  Cultural adaptations to eating habits were developed so as to extend the food supply.  Following a fresh kill, meat was tied to a string of leather for the purpose of extracting the meat from an Indio stomach after it had been swallowed so that the meat could be passed to the next Indio for another eating, and then to the next and so on until all the meat was gone and everyone had tasted.  Also, during the pitahaya season, the seedy cactus was gathered and the Indio Californios gorged themselves while taking care to all stool in the same spot so that after the feces had dried the pitahaya seeds could be extracted and ground to make a flour.  Thus food was used more than once.

          Amongst the Indio Californios lived their spiritual leaders.  The Indios called them guamas, pronounced wa-mhas.  The city of Guaymas is pronounced y-mhas.  Guaimas is how the Padres spelled Guaymas.  Guaimas is pronounced hw-ee-mhas.

          A guamas was always very old.  He dressed in a long gown of woven human hair.  His naked body underneath was painted red on the left side and black on the right.  Atop his head sat a crown of deer tails adorned with hawk feathers.  From his waist dangled two strings of deer hoofs and a small deerskin bag.  Inside the bag was a pipe carved of wood and some dry flowers.  Over his shoulder was strapped a quiver containing long narrow wooden tablets.  In one hand he grasped a bow and three arrows and in the other hand he held a wide colorful feather fan.

          Indio Californios called for a guamas during times of sickness and death or for consultation in private matters.  For this service the guamas was paid with human hair and feathers and deer adornments.  The work began with the smoking of datura which the guamas called toloache.  Afterwards the guamas drove the pointed end of his tablets into the ground in a circle around him to prevent the dead from returning during his work.  Then he began to chant and devine and cure and advise.  After his work was completed the guamas removed his tablets and received his pay.  Then he returned to wandering.

When the Jesuit Padres arrived in 1697 to begin the building of their missions, the guamas cautioned the Cochimi that the Padres were evil.  The guamas warned that the Padres would cause the Cochimi to die and advised that the Cochimi reject the seductions of the Padres.  The guamas specifically warned the Indio Californios not to live on mission sites.  In retaliation, as the Padres considered the guamas to be practitioners of black magic, they attempted to turn the Indio Californios against the guamas by portraying them as devils.  Neophytes gathered by the Padres and herded into the presidios to live and labor for the Church were instructed as to the evils of the guamas

To the dismay of the Church, as the Cochimi became gathered in the missions, the diseases of the Padres began to kill the Indio Californios in epidemics.  Within a few years all the Cochimi were dead.  So were all the guamas.  But the prophesy of the guamas had come true.  For indeed had come Evil to the Cochimi as had prophesied the guamas, and Evil wore a black robe and carried a small thick book and a string of beads and was prone to chants and rituals, and Evil promised glory, but just as had forecast the guamas, instead delivered death and the Cochimi vanished.

          In 1728 the Jesuits built the mission at San Ignacio.  The site had been discovered in 1716 and was called Yetchui.  It was the custom of the Padres to place chapels at various spots around any principal mission.  Around San Ignacio the Padres placed almost a dozen of these visita chapels.  One of them was located near the Rancho San Pablo and through an error in Spanish records was mistakenly called a mission named Dolores del Norte.  This is the claimed lost mission of Frenchman Marquis, not lost, just hiding under vague history.   We concluded that Dolores del Norte was a visita, built about 1728, that it was not Santa Gertrudis, as modern scholars insist, indeed, not a mission at all.

          The Jesuit Padres stayed in La Baja until 1767 when they were expelled from Spain.  La Baja fell into decay.  Her Indio Californios had become extinct and the remnants of the Jesuit empire starved when the Spanish ceased support.  About fifty years later Mexico won independence from Spain, but was unable to assist La Baja with any relief, so isolation continued.  About a hundred more years passed and then occurred the Mexican Revolution.  But afterwards, the new regime found that it could not support La Baja either, so isolation continued and La Baja slipped further and further back in time.  Finally in the early 1970s, 200 years after the Jesuits left, a highway spanning the length of the peninsula was completed and La Baja opened her doorway to outsiders.

During the 200 years between the expulsion of the Jesuits and the completion of the highway, there were only a few probes into La Baja by adventurers and scientists and scholars.  One of the probes was in the early 1890s by Frenchman León Diguet.  He was a chemical engineer at the Boleo plant in Cachanilla and was guided by some of the locals to see what were claimed to be evidence of a race of giant people. 

Diguet became very interested and published a paper in France in 1895.  In the manuscript he referenced the credible Padre Clavijero who had written over 100 years before about the phenomena.  The Padres had been told by the Cochimi that their ancestors were a race of giants whom had come from the north.  As evidence of this claim the Cochimi took some Padres to a few caves where were found high above the cave floors paintings of strange huge colorful people.  Also the priests were shown large bones.  Some of these same caves were visited by Diguet and he photographed the paintings as well as made sketches.  This was the first exposure to the world of the remarkable cave paintings in the Sierra San Francisco.

          A few years later the Gringo adventurer Arthur North traveled near the Sierra San Francisco and reported hearing about both the cave paintings and the lost mission of Dolores del Norte, but he did not visit either site.  After North came a gap of almost fifty years before anyone else visited the area.  Then the Frenchman Marquis, using the account of adventurer North, traveled to Rancho Tablón in 1949 and from there set out to Arroyo San Pablo to look for both the mission and the paintings.  Marquis found what he believed to be the mission as well as the paintings, but he held the information secret until he described each in his written account published in 1965.  It is this record of Marquis that we had read and which had initiated our interest in the lost mission and the cave paintings.

          In 1962 the existence of painted caves in Arroyo San Pablo was announced to the outside world.  Frenchman Marquis learned of the announcement and thereafter published his account to add to the record.  Frenchman Marquis was the second outsider to visit the arroyo, the first being Frenchman Diguet.  Each of these two Frenchmen had visited only the mouth of the Arroyo San Pablo and had not seen the still unknown painted sanctuary in the heart of the arroyo.  The painted sanctuary was first seen by a Gringo detective story writer and he quickly announced it to the world.

          The Gringo writer was well into his years by 1962.  He had been traveling in La Baja since the 1940s.  Along the way he had met many people and such exposure rewarded him with insiders information.  Two years before, the writer had learned of some strange caves inaccessible other than by days of mule train.  Being a man of means, the writer arranged for helicopters to help him arrive at the caves and in 1962 he and his party landed at the village of San Francisco de La Sierra and were guided to Cueva del Ratón, a short walk from the village.  Although the writer did not know it, this was one of the caves described by Frenchman Diguet in 1895.  It was not, however, the painted sanctuary.

The day following the visit to Cueva del Ratón, the helicopter pilots were told of another cave and they set off by themselves to find it.  They did and took some pictures.  When the photos were shown to the writer he organized a second trip to the Sierra San Francisco and this time he flew into the heart of Arroyo San Pablo to the painted sanctuary.  Aboard was an anthropologist who verified that the caves and the paintings were a major new find.  The Gringo detective story writer was credited with the discovery of the caves although actually he only announced their existence.  In his honor of Erle Stanley, the Cueva Pintada is sometimes called Gardner Cave.

During the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Sierra San Francisco and three other ranges were searched for painted caves.  The principal explorer was a gentleman scholar from La Jolla.  Harry Crosby located all the Frenchman Diguet sites as well as many new caves.  He confirmed that the painted sanctuary of Arroyo San Pablo is unique in the Sierra and that it is the zenith of the culture of the Painters.  Also he confirmed the existence of paintings at the mouth of Arroyo San Pablo as reported by the two Frenchmen Diguet and Marquis.

          But just who were the Painters?  No one knows.  The Cochimi living on La Baja when the Spaniards arrived were not the Painters.  When the Padres asked the Cochimi about the paintings they were told that a race of giants from the north had painted them long ago.  The priests were then shown large bones.  The Frenchman Diguet opined that the Painters had been normal men whom had migrated through La Baja during the theorized southward migration of North American man.  Carbon dating of a Cochimi wooden utensil from Cueva Pintada puts its age at about 100 years before the time Columbus discovered America.  The paintings, however, cannot be dated with carbon.  Speculation centered on one specific painting suggests 1000 AD as a time when Painters were at work.  But no one knows for sure either who the Painters were or when they painted.  All that is known are the paintings themselves.            

          And what is the truth about the Arroyo San Pablo?  What is the truth about anything?  Cada quien tiene su propia verdad.  Su hermano lleva otra verdad que tu.  Cada rato cambia la verdad.  Cada loro tiene su cabildo.  Everyone has their own truth.  Your brother carries a different truth than you.  The truth changes every little while.  Every parrot has his cage. 

Arroyo San Pablo

          The third day of the new year opened with the familiar cozy taxi ride from the Hotel Santa Rita to Guaymas Harbor and around to where the ferry departs for Cachanilla.  The white vessel cast over us another net of familiarity and once aboard we were furthered warmed.  ¡Qué calor tan bello!  Underway after the pilot boat had retrieved the pilot, we passed beside red rocky Cabo Haro and entered the open Sea of Cortés.  To the west across blue La Mar lay what the Spaniards first believed to be an island they called California.  The name came from a novel written by Spaniard Garcia Ordóñez in 1530 called The Exploits of Esplandian.  California in the novel was a fabled island located on the right hand of the Indies.  It was replete with gold and pearls and bronze Amazon beauties.  As we gazed west however, we saw not California, but rather the land of the Cochimi and the giant Painters. 

          In Cachanilla we found Capitán Jorge and his red roadster, and after a few compras we were northbound along the rocky coast.  Later we turned west and climbed and came beside the Virgins at the cumbre.  We could see all the way across La Baja and to the orange dusk growing in the distant Mar Pacifico.  From the pass we dropped down into the desert and the dying day.  Our black ribbon of road striking across a scarred and broken landscape promised adventure.  Soft darkness captured us as we cruised into the palm oasis the Cochimi called Yetchui, where the Jesuits had built their majestic mission they called San Ignacio de Cadacaaman.  There we sojourned in the house of the mother of Capitán Jorge. 

          In the stillness of the the night, we waxed pensive.  The journey that had begun the previous May would culminate on our third trip to the high hidden mesa.  To Capitán Jorge we asked Qué le parece?  How to you does it seem?  Rather than answer directly Capitán Jorge reminded us that we had first come in mayo, and that afterwards we returned in octubre, that we had perservered and worked hard to arrange the expedition, and now we stood ready.  Then Capitán Jorge answered our question about how it seemed to him.  With a sweep of his arm he said Con el tiempo y un ganchito.  With time and a little hook.  The Capitán meant that with patience and tenacity good things will follow and accomplishments will be gained.  We all nodded and drifted to sleep. 

Night covered the land of the Indio Californios when we departed the date palm oasis of San Ignacio.  A crisp wind cut across the riders in the rear of the red roadster.  At El Crucero we pulled off for a brief stop.  The spot is known historically as Fischer Camp, named after a German remarkable character who once frequented the spot.  Frank Fischer had guided Erle Stanley to Serpent Cave.  We said Buen dia to Señor Pluma the sinsontle and enjoyed some hot coffee before proceeding on northward.  Darkness still prevailed when we slowed and turned off to the right and pointed the headlights at the Sierra San Francisco and the high hidden mesa.  We paused only momentarily before bumping ahead over the rocky road. 

Before the first switchback we welcomed daylight in the east that revealed the rugged silhouette of the mountains ahead.  The road was scarred and perilous due to the abundant rains.  We climbed and then we leveled and then we climbed some more before crossing the pass.  Once over the summit we crept carefully along the winding road snaking around the sheer edges of Arroyo San Pablo.  Just past Cueva del Ratón we could smell smoke from morning fires and a few moments later we bounced into the village of San Francisco de la Sierra. 

Off to the north led a rocky trail and we followed it into the mist of cloud tops until finally loomed a village and human silhouettes and it was Guadalupe, and standing in the cold grayness in an unbuttoned shortsleeved shirt stood the rumbero Ramón.

Despues de los tantos gustos we passed to the kitchen for coffee where we discussed and agreed upon a payment for what Ramón would donate.  We asked if Ramón wanted his payment in advance and he replied Música pagada no toca bien.  Paid-up music is not played well.  Tips given before the service result in the service being poor.  So we touched hands and moved outside into the mist and cold.

          There we loaded our gear onto four brown burras.  Then Ramón saddled and mounted a bestia mule and drove the burras toward a trail bearing away from Guadalupe.  We walkers followed – one Gringo man, two Gringo children, and a Mexican fisherman.  Soon the train formed.  At the head of the procession paced the queen burra wearing a large bell around her neck and accompanied closely by her three sisters being followed by Ramón atop the bestia leading we walkers the caminantas

Like this we proceeded along in the clouds until suddenly we came to the edge of the high hidden mesa.  Below us the air was clear and we gasped as we took a breathless view.  Red and brown and orange bands of rock cliffs plunged from the mesa down into a long and winding green jungle of tall palm trees in the bottom of the arroyo.  A sudden tropical paradise in a rocky desert.  A lost planet.  We stood in awe.  Then Ramón bellowed Whooah Burroh and the burra bell clanged and the train jerked to a start and soon the caminantas spread along the steep trail cutting down into the depths of Arroyo San Pablo.

          Several hours later we reached the bottom that is an oasis.  The palma de taco soared above us.  Still pools of clear water lay on bare smooth bedrock.  Up arroyo nestled Rancho Santa Teresa.  The burras and bestia and caminantas drank and rested.  Then the train moved down the arroyo by traveling along the rocky waterway and on trails in the cliff sides.  Several hours later we reached the end of the line at Cacarizo.  There we set camp at a cluster of caves in a palm oasis.  Shortly before dusk we walked across the arroyo and climbed a trail up to Cueva Pintada.  After a long pause we descended for hot food.  That night while the lions prowled around us, and the river drove itself calmly, the frogs sang us to sleep.

All the following day we enjoyed the oasis at Cacarizo.  During the previous evening we had decided to travel to Rancho San Gregorio rather than continue down arroyo to the visita Dolores del Norte.  Our decision to bypass the alleged lost mission was an easy one – all of us had seen ruins – and by altering our plan we could experience more of the local culture by making a circle back to Guadalupe as opposed to spending ten hours going and returning on the same trail.  So with this opening, certain caminantas explored, others rested, and one returned to sit with the guamas at Cueva Pintada.

The cave is a long tall slice in the arroyo cliff about a hundred meters above the tallest palmas.  Here the arroyo curves so as to afford a panorama otherwise impossible to view.  The palm tops provide a green carpet over which to marvel at the arroyo. From the cave one sees almost to El Cartucho at the head of Arroyo San Pablo and almost to Cerro San Pablo downstream.  From the top of the arroyo to the palmas in the bottom is 1300 meters of cascading cliffs colored creams and reds and burgundies.  Arroyo San Pablo is a technicolor yawn of the Sierra San Francisco.  There the frogs sing all day and sudden bursts of birdsong accompany.

On the ceiling of the cave stand the guamas.  One side of their body is red and the other black.  All wear headdresses.  Each have six toes and fingers.  Some wear spiked breasts.  They stand tall and giant and they tower over the portion of the cave offering the greatest ceiling height and grandest view of the arroyo.  This is the tabernacle of the sanctuary and rightly so is the most elaborately adorned.  It is the pulpit of the guamas.   

          The local name for the humanoid figures in the caves is mono.  In customary Spanish this means monkey, although chango is also monkey.  Mono is derived from monigote.  A monigote is a doodle, or scribble, or a cartoon drawing.  Mono also means cute.  The San Francisco locals use mono to mean a cartoon drawing, not a monkey.  Whether or not cute is implied remains unknown to me.  No native with whom I spoke knew the word guamas.    

Also painted are huge rams and gigantic jumping deer and a massive leaping whale and a monkey and many ravens.  One painter used a smooth round cliff stone to amplify the womb of a pregnant guamas.  The line separating the red and black portions of a guamas body forms a profile.  There is considerable overpainting outside the pulpit.  Through this can be seen order in some of the paintings.  Figures were outlined in white and then painted inside with reds or blacks or earth colors the same as the cliffs of Arroyo San Pablo.  Blue and green are absent.  Some of the figures lie above ten meters from the floor of Cueva Pintada. 

**This account of our expedition to the arroyo was composed at the time of the adventure, which happened a few years after completion of the 1987 road to San Francisco de la Sierra.  A few photographs that I personally captured at Cueva Pintada are included herein.  Many other photographs can be found on the Internet.  Those photos reveal that since we were there, the site has been opened to the public, with tourist infrastructure assembled, including handrails, steps, signs.  To see the undeveloped site, consult Harry Crosby’s book, as well as that of Erle Stanley Gardner.

          The Frenchman Diguet theorized that the caves were at one time full of debris and that the Painters had stood on the rubble to paint the cave ceilings and had then moved the debris outside the cave.  This theory also provides an explanation for the rubble found in front of most caves.  On the other hand gentleman scholar Crosby theorizes that cactus and palms were available and used by the Painters to create scaffolds and ladders which allowed them to paint otherwise unreachable places.  Down in the arroyo today live thousands of palma de taco with trunks approaching twenty meters in length. 

          The sanctuary was clearly recognized by the Padres.  Despite that it is absent in their records they certainly knew of it.  El Camino Real passes far to the east of Arroyo San Pablo.  The old road almost avoids entirely the Sierra San Francisco and the only sierra village along it is Santa Martha.  The visita at San Francisco de la Sierra is not on the Royal Road.  Nor is the visita at Dolores del Norte.  These two visitas are so situated because of the sanctuary rather than El Camino Real.  The visitas were placed nearby because already the Indio Californios congregated in Arroyo San Pablo.  It was their sanctuary.

          Shadows softened La Baja during the afternoon.  The ghosts of the guamas breathed softly and the arroyo hushed.  From the pulpit erupted sudden realization of the spaces between three of the towering guamas.  The spaces form two other guamas.  Each wears spiked breasts and both are taller than any of the painted guamas.  The two ghost guamas appear to be mirror images.  The twins are invisible to all but the knowing.  They are the holes in the music.  They are only seen by not looking.  They honor the mystic.

During the evening we sat under the pox marked cliff called Cacarizo.  Spices had excited our tongues and brandy El Presidente had warmed our bodies.  The rumbero declared that had arrived the viento chango which is the shift in wind from south to north.  Ramón told that the monkey wind is always welcomed as it brings change for better weather.  He said that all the old people know that once long ago had climbed a monkey into a palma de taco.  Suddenly the strong south wind had come and the monkey could not descend.  Throughout the storm the monkey had clung to the tree.  Then abruptly had appeared the cold north wind and the monkey had frozen and fallen out of the tree.  And that is how the monkey got out of the tree.  Ramón concluded by saying that ever since then the wind shift from south to north has been called the viento chango.  After another passing of the bottle of Zedillo brandy we all snuggled into our bags and joined the night in Arroyo San Pablo.  The river drove itself calmly and the frogs sang.

          The hunters slept around coals of a campfire that shined as bright eyes peering into the night.  The sudden mystical quieting of the singing frogs introduced through the black stillness in the arroyo the rhythm of the breeze and the soft swishing of the dancers.  They swayed over the cobbles and through the willows beside the water and they passed near the burras before shuffling up the trail leading to Cueva Pintada.  A guamas wearing a long gown black as a raven led the dancers.  She stood most tall the guamas, and once inside the cave she opened her gown to reveal her glistening black and red body and she spread her long arms wide to embrace the night and she whispered a gurgling birdsong and across Gemini streaked her sister as the sparkling red trail of a shooting star.  Down by the water, although not a caminanta stirred, dreams were born and thereby the campers in Arroyo San Pablo became dancers themselves and so shared the night of the guamas.

          The river was driving itself calmly when we herded the burras across it the next morning.  The climb out of Arroyo San Pablo began at once and occupied us for several hours.  Once on top of the Sierra San Francisco we enjoyed a spectacular view.  To the north opened the mouth of the arroyo to the desert beyond.  To each side spread a vast blue sea.  Below us lay a lush tropical jungle.  Our rumbo led toward the Cortes and toward it the caminantas worked their way over red lava and mud and thorns.  Several hours later we came to Rancho San Pedro where we rested.  Then we continued once again over the red malpaís until we came to yet another edge of the high hidden mesa.  Far below us lay a serpentine oasis and we descended for several hours until at last we rested in the citrus orchard San Gregorio.

A full fire and a new moon presented us with a warm dark night through which to view the meteor shower called Quadrantid.  The rumbero calls shooting stars estrella que se corre.  Stars that run themselves.  That night our running stars were blue with long silver tails.  The comet responsible for the meteors has never been located.  Maybe the guamas know where she is hiding.  Occasionally passed over us a bright satellite and Ramón learned that it is from these things that photos are taken and that he has such a photo. The rumbero had not known of the great hunter Orion so he enjoyed learning of him but insisted that Orion is a woman.  We had already noticed that Ramón uses only the feminine gender for nouns.  We are caminantas rather than caminantes and the pass is a cumbra not a cumbre and a trail is not a cindero but a cindera.  So it was natural that we ask why Orion must be a woman.  He replied that all the cosmos are created by mothers.  Only the female is capable of creating life.  She is the strength.  The old ones say that the guamas were women.  This is correct because it should be so.  This is why the frogs sing.

          During the night the serrina sawdust drifted especially thick over the orchard and our bags softened from the moisture.  First light brought awakening and a warm cozy feeling inside a snug sleeping bag.  We could see the pale breath of the burras in the coldness as they moved to those spots where first arrives morning winter sun.  Once underway we traveled for more than a kilometer beside the orchard of oranges, lemons, limes and tangerines.  Also planted were garlic and clover and corn and onions.  At the end of the orchard sat Rancho San Gregorio.  The numerous rock and thatch houses and huts are built on terraces along the arroyo cliffs.  Rock corridors connect houses and terraces.  The only visible metal was a single solar panel. 

The two dozen ranchers living there welcomed us warmly.  They stood tall and slender and their blue eyes sparkled from shiny white skin.  None had ever seen a Gringo child.  The women could not resist touching the blonde six year old caminanta.  At the rancho was a gravestone.  While Gringos mark graves with RIP, Rest In Peace, this stone was marked DEP.  We asked if this indicates Descansa En Paz, rest in peace.  We were told that DEP indicates Despierta En Paz, awaken in peace.  We were invited to stay but the trail called and upon our departure they gifted us a local handicraft and encouraged us to please return another time.  Les esperamos they called.

          From San Gregorio the trail climbs for long hours.  The rocks and cliffs are broken only by an occasional oasis in an unexpected widening of the arroyo.  At the cumbra we enjoyed a view of the Cortes and the Virgins and several arroyos including Soledad.  Then we traveled across terrible red malpais and mud for several hours.  Around a curve we suddenly caught glimpse of Guadalupe and were fooled by her apparent nearness.  For moments later we arrived at an arroyo edge and once again we dropped into verdant palmas.  Then the last up.  During the final climb to Guadalupe we enjoyed the clanging of the bell worn by the queen burra.  She had guided us across the sierra and was now bringing her children home.  We suddenly heard the frogs singing and we flashed a smile at the centella that our rumbero had been a woman.

All the village of Guadalupe turned out to see the caminantas return.  Laughter was contagious and coffee was warm.  We smiled to Ramón the rumbero and said that his music had been played very well and we placed in his hand the promised pachocha.  The red roadster then received our lighter backpacks and we caminantas became rear riders who waved Adiós to the villagers of Guadalupe and settled in for a quiet reflective passage down the mountain toward the orange fireball sinking into the Pacific.           

          The trail had used us hard.  It is proper that only caminantas can visit the land haunted by the guamas.  The enchanted arroyo is a sanctuary.  Magic lives there.  The sanctuary is a huge natural church decorated with colorful paintings.  In the past the sanctuary was a place to worship the spirit as expressed by the guamas.  This worship lasted centuries and a culture was developed around it.  Then abruptly worship in the arroyo ceased.  For when the Padres appeared also came the death prophesied by the guamas.  Now all the Cochimi and all the guamas have vanished.  Except for those few tall robed ghosts who dance at the haunted sanctuary in the camp of the guamas.

Arroyo del Batequi

          During darkness we departed Punta Abreojos for San Francisco de la Sierra.  Only a few months had passed since we had explored Arroyo San Pablo.  We were headed for another arroyo holding painted caves.  The rear riders enjoyed Scorpio off starboard and the moon a golden honeydew melon off port.  Three planets glowed brightly overhead and stars that run themselves shot across the western sky.  Dips into arroyos spread cold air over the riders, but they felt warm air again when they rose back up on the desert floor.  Dawn peeked at them from the east as the red roadster turned north onto the Baja highway and the perfume of wildflowers covered them as did rays of sunshine. 

The wet wind of Mar Pacifico called la paraca had arrived early in the winter rather than awaiting April, and the Vizcaino Desert lay as a colorful quilt.  Just past Arroyo Porvenir the riders veered eastward onto the dirt track leading into the sierra.  The red roadster bumped over the rough road and then climbed steadily into the rugged mountains.  To the west the fog had come in from the ocean and had spread over the desert, and to the rear riders the peaks of Sierra Santa Clara appeared as islands protruding from a white sea.

          In San Francisco de la Sierra we found the rumbero with his bestia and burras and our friendships renewed themselves.  Mochilas and costales were tied securely to pack saddles.  Then the longhaired mother of the two Gringo children and the rumbero Ramón mounted their bestia mulas, and the Gringo man, the Mexican fisherman, and the two Gringo children caminantas grasped their bastones walking sticks, and the rumbero cried Whooah Burroh and the train snapped to a start and moved southward over red malpaís, with the queen burra and her clanging bell leading the way.  Otro rumbo más.

After several hours the trail crossed a low pass and suddenly before the caminantas spread the sparkling blue Sea of Cortés and the shining black Tres Vírgenes volcanoes.  After awhile a second low pass was climbed and from the top we looked across a vast green valley which melted in the distance toward the next rising mountain range.  Yet our trail stayed high and flush against the Sierra San Francisco and we skirted the rugged mountain to still a third low pass.  There we paused and looked down.  We had arrived at the head of Arroyo del Batequi and just below us lay the tiny isolated settlement of rock houses, cane sheds, and rock corrales called Rancho Sauzalito.  We descended and were welcomed by the rancheros and there we set camp for the night.  After dinner and with cups of Zedillo in hand we visited under the stars.

Rancho Sauzalito is the village of Jorge Arce.  All his fifty-three years he has lived at the rock ranch.  At age fifteen he married his wife now forty-seven years old.  They have a four-month old daughter who is the joy of all his older children.  Señora Arce claims the little girl is a good eater who always Quiere papita, or wants a little potato, as breast feeding is called.  Jorge and his Señora have many goats, and daily the milk is used to make cheese, which is carried by one of their sons to be sold in Santa Marta.  Everything today is done as it has been done always and their village is no different now than it was when Jorge was born there.  Rancho Sauzalito continues the traditions of the past and so honors the mystic and is proof that Jorge Arce and his Señora are noble.

          At daylight the next morning the goats awakened us, and we enjoyed fresh cheese on our tortillas and fresh cream in our coffee.  Then the pack train was loaded, and the rumbero shouted to the burras, and the clanging of the bell echoed off the canyon walls as we waved goodby to the rancheros and began our descent.  The drop into Arroyo del Batequi begins at 1100 meters and reaches the boca del arroyo at 200 meters.  We planned to descend to 400 meters before returning.  Nos vemos al regreso called out Jorge Arce.  See you on your way back.

          The trail followed the water in Arroyo del Batequi.  There are no palmas in the arroyo.  Instead are tall forests of cardón cactus and the wide arms of pitahaya dulce and amarga.  Sweet pitahaya is tallest and harvests in August, while sour pitahaya is short and harvests in October.  Being a wet year, there was much undergrowth called rama and in such dense vegetation live snakes.  Jorge Arce had cautioned us that many culebras had already been seen.  He warned us to beware the pesadilla nightmares along the trail.

          Spread along the cindera the caminantas.  The queen burra and her bell broke the silence in the arroyo and drove off the snakes.  The rumbero drove the burras.  Behind him rode the Gringa on her bestia followed by Capitán Jorge and the oldest child.  Then came the little walker that the villagers had named El Nino Valiente, the valient man child.  Lastly came the old Gringo called by the villagers El Cantinfla because of the nonsense songs he crooned.  The train itself made music in the arroyo.  The huge spurs of the rumbero jingled and harmonized with the burra bell, and little El Nino Valiente laughed along with the singing spurs as we moved together down the arroyo.  Later we would tease the rumbero by calling him Catzopini, which is the Aztec word for man with spurs and the derivation of the insulting name gachupine.

          At times the burras would bolt away in the wrong direction and the rumbero would charge through the cactus forest after them.  Left behind, the bestia of the Gringa would hesitate until the old Gringo would pass to the front and lead the way with the llama bells on his mochilita substituting for the burra bell, and only then would the bestia of the Gringa willingly follow.  Yo soy el rey would claim the old Gringo, and Capitán Jorge would respond Cuidado con los gringos si te ven te llevan.  And even though it was hot and the rama stood chest high, we laughed and the rumbero chuckled Al mal tiempo buena cara.  

During early afternoon we arrived at Cueva del Batequi.  The large overhang clung high up the wall of the arroyo.  We climbed through sharp spines and clusters of needles to reach it, pausing before we entered.

Preparing for our walk to Batequi, I had called Harry Crosby and enjoyed a warm talk with him.  He recounted to me his first visit to Batequi in 1967.  His anthropological work in the Sierra San Francisco had ended and he was leaving for the United States soon.  His trusted guide and field compañero, Tacho Arce, had often encouraged him to have a look at the cave paintings in the arroyos, but Harry had declined, saying that he was too busy with his social studies.  But that last day he reluctantly agreed to take a brief diversion to see a cave at San Gregorio.  On the rock wall there, he saw painted profiles of a herd of fleeing red and black deer, twice their natural life size.  Inserted amongst the animals were humanoid figures, presented in frontal view, with their arms upraised, appearing frozen.  Crosby was stunned.

Tacho Arce easily convinced Crosby to delay his return to the United States, claiming that many other caves existed, and that no outsiders had ever seen them.  Crosby quickly followed Tacho to Batequi.  When Crosby stepped into that open rock shelter, he expected to see paintings on the walls, but the walls were blank.  With a puzzled expression, he turned back to Tacho, who slightly tilted his head, motioning for Crosby to look up.  At that instant Crosby’s life changed.  On the ceiling he saw painted a procession of deer and humanoids unlike anything he had ever imagined.  Batequi was the beginning of Crosby’s exploration that would last until 1974.

So there we stood in the same spot as had Harry Crosby in 1967.  We stepped in and looked up at the ceiling, and, even knowing what we would see, we gasped in awe.  The ceiling displayed many large humanoid figures, several of them exhibiting the cubist profile.  Colorful red deer wore black stomachs.  Arrows pierced some of the venado.  The mural seemed alive, in motion, the deer fleeing, the frozen figures directing the procession.  We just stared for a long time. 

Rock carvings adorned the cave.  The floor lay sprinkled with black chips of obsidian from the fabrication of arrowheads.  Many metates seated themselves around the cueva.  Broken seashells cluttered the cave floor.  The view of Arroyo del Batequi was splendid and we relaxed in the cool breeze out of the searing sun.

After descending from the cave we continued down arroyo to Rancho del Batequi.  It was abandoned but well preserved and we moved onto the open porch to set up camp.  There were chairs and a table and a rustic rock kitchen.  The hand dug well which gives the arroyo and rancho their names stood covered so we drew water from a large shaded pool occupied by tadpoles.  Once camp was established we returned up arroyo to search more caves.

Using binoculars we studied an overhang and against the back wall we spied a red deer.  The climb to the cave was difficult and dangerous and along the way we came upon a large rattlesnake sleeping in the shade where a climber might place his hand.  Cuidado las pesadillas.  Beware the nightmares.  Once under the overhang we rested and cast about our eyes.  The painted figures and deer welcomed us.  Many metates lay in disuse.  Pieces of broken abulón shells and pismo clam shells lay scattered across the rocky cave floor.  The seashells must have come from near Abreojos as it is the only nearby place where such marine life lives.  Many shiny black arrowheads lay in the dirt and abundant chips promised that others lay hidden from our eyes.  We descended from the cave in time to return to camp with daylight to spare.  There we bathed in the cool pool below Rancho del Batequi.

As we prepared dinner there arrived from down arroyo a lone rider driving several burras.  Behind his saddle lay a deer he had killed with his 22 rifle.  He dismounted and we spoke and he then hung his deer from the poles supporting the porch and we watched as he began to skin and butcher it.  The moon glowed almost full so he enjoyed plenty of light.  He wasted not a single part of the slain animal and soon the inside rafters of the porch displayed hanging red meat.  Afterwards we shared dinner and then built a comfortable fire out on the flat beside the ranch house to where we pulled chairs to sit and platicar.

The vaquero was muy hablador.  Our gifts to him were our ears which he called hearers.  Aqui casi no se ve nunca los oidos.  Almost never did he find people to listen to him and he told enough stories to quench his thirst to talk to someone other than his animals.  As he spoke the bell of our feeding burra rang softly through the illuminated night.  The campfire sang a snappy tune of pops and crackles.  Tall black silhouettes of cardón cactus listened to the vaquero speak.  In the east towered the flat top mountain Cerro del Batequi.  The white bestia of the vaquero stood at the edge of the firelight and stared at us.  We passed cups of Zedillo to loosen further his flexible tongue and soon his rising and falling brandy slurs became music in the moonglow.  He had never seen Gringo children and his only pauses came when he stared at El Nino Valiente and sighed.  He referred to the young walker as Molacho because the youngster was loosing his baby teeth and was snaggle toothed. 

          The vaquero told of caves to the north of Sierra San Francisco.  He described that from of Junta Vizcaino there is a road to Ejido Guillermo Prieto.  From the ejido another road continues to Rancho San Casimiro and ends.  There begins the trail to Arroyo Carrizo and the rancho of his brother Colomo Arce.  The vaquero claimed that only his brother has ever visited the caves which contain many colorful monos and rock carvings.  We listened with interest as the area he described is outside the known sector of painting sites.  So it was that we traded our ears for romance.

          The following morning we traveled without burras to where Arroyo del Batequi makes a sweeping turn to give rise to the name Vuelta del Batequi.  There we found an open-ended cave containing a huge bench upon which were carved many strange symbols.  Some appeared as coils and some as cascades and the bench resembled a giant brain.  There were no right angles nor circles but there were recognizable vulva symbols.  Many chips of obsidian and broken points and abulón and pismo shells lay in the gravel.  Nearby we discovered other caves with colorful monos and venado and holes drilled in the cave sides to create strange patterns.  Afterwards we returned through the cactus forest to Rancho del Batequi to load the burras and begin our return eastward.

          Late in the afternoon we arrived at the junction of Arroyo del Batequi and Arroyo La Natividad.  We were covered with yellow dust from wildflowers and the quail and dove called to us.  At sunset a golden full moon rose directly through the gateway of Arroyo La Natividad as our fire crackled beside the bubbling water in the creek.  The luna llena of March is called the Awakening Moon and we all agreed it was proper.  The following dawn the moon sunk below the mouth of Arroyo del Batequi and we arose to find our campsite surrounded by fresh lion prints and the scat of a dozen coyotes.

Through the morning freshness we walked up Arroyo La Natividad to the cave which takes its name from the canyon.  The cueva is the largest known by the rumbero.  It is over a hundred meters in length and height and is wide with a flat floor sparkling from obsidian chips.  The paintings are all of deer except for two out of place yellow crosses of the Spanish style.  Clearly the crosses are post Padre in age.  There are strange corrales in the cave.  This location is nearest of any to El Camino Real and we theorized that the priests knew of it and painted the crosses to exorcise the site and that they built the corrales for their stock because they converted the guamas cave into a Spanish visita.

From Cueva La Natividad we crossed a low pass to return to Arroyo del Batequi and the rancho which lies at its head.  There we found again Jorge Arce with fresh cheese and hot tortillas and a warm welcome and there we bathed in the cool water and rested in the shade of old trees.       

Rancho Sauzalito

          The curandera arrived suddenly and silently and riding a great white bestia.  Her long black dress hung just above her tiny, heavily calloused, bare feet and a frayed dark purple shawl draped over her shoulders and wrapped around her head so that only her eyes twinkled from the shadows covering her face.  The vieja had ridden through the night after departing her ranchito which lay over the sierra in Arroyo Travieso.  A fellow traveler had accompanied her.  He stood stately and cavalier and beside her when she stepped down and he glowed with the confidence that could only be beamed by a shining silver cat.  So awesome spread his power that the ranch dogs tucked tails and slinked into the shadows with nary a single bark.

          The tiny vieja was called La Trova the Lovesong.  In her dainty wrinkled left hand she carried an embroidered gold and purple bolsa that glistened with polished patina.  Quietly she gazed at us and then Jorge Arce approached her and they whispered and then he led her and the silver cat Trueno Thunderbolt into the ranch house.  Chico the youngest son of Jorge reached and took the reins of the white mule and led him to an empty corral.  We moved to a glassless window and peered inside into the darkness.  On a bedrack in the kitchen near the fire lay a hollow faced man covered from the neck down by a blanket of goat hides stitched together.  A single candle burned in the altar in the corner of the cocina.  As the curandera looked down at the afflicted man the cat Trueno found a spot in the doorway and sat at attention.

          Qué pasa we asked the oldest son of Jorge Arce.  The man is cursed he answered.  La Trova has come to cure him.  We stood silently a long moment.  The oldest son offered more explanation.  Already the doctors in Cachanilla have failed to help him.  Nor have any of the priests been of assistance.  The family of the man lives in Santa Marta.  They have refused to allow the cure to occur in their house.  They are of the church and the cientificos scientists.  Here the man has been brought to receive the limpia cure.  Then the oldest son fell quiet and stepped away from the window and disappeared into the dusk toward the goat corrales.

          In the kitchen La Trova opened her bolsa and began to spread her cures and cosas on the table.  Small bags contained herbs and roots and colored bottles contained kerosene and oil.  White linens she stacked neatly.  She sang softly as she worked and when she was done the moment lay still as ice.  To Jorge Arce she then spoke.  There will be invisible visitors around the rancho tonight.  You must ignore them.  Tie your dogs inside the tack shed.  Do not bother to close any doors or windows.  The air must breathe and flow freely.  Trueno will prevent any entry into the house.  Jorge Arce nodded and soon young Chico had gathered the dogs from hiding and herded them away to be bound as had ordered the curandera.

          Lovesong began by removing the goathide blanket from the cursed man.  She then stripped him and bathed him with a mixture of herbs and oil.  All the while she hummed.  After the bathing she dried the man with one of the linens and then she carefully placed the soiled cloth in the corner by the altar.  From her bag she took shiny red roots.  With her knife she cut slices into the roots so that they hemorrhaged red sap, and she inserted a bleeding root between each of the man’s toes.  Moving to the fire she took a pot of hot water and dropped several different roots into it and returned the pot to the hottest glowing coals.  Once the liquid was boiling she poured in some of the kerosene from a colored bottle and sprinkled herbs onto the rising bubbles. 

While the potion cooked she returned beside the sick man and began to rub his chest with a brilliant orange herb.  To our surprise we saw yellow vapor spray from the ears of the man and the kitchen began to reek of sulfur.  He moaned and moved slightly and tried to shake his head but La Trova held him still with a firm grasp on his hair.  All the while she spoke short words which carried no meaning except to the knowing.  Afterwards she continued singing as she wiped his chest with a second linen and then placed the stained orange cloth near the altar with the first she had soiled.

          Suddenly stepped past Trueno the cat into the kitchen the oldest son of Jorge Arce.  He held in his arms a newborn goat.  La Trova went to him and took the kid and lay it beside the cursed man.  Continuing to sing, she stroked it and calmed it and it lay its head quietly on the dirt floor.  She then took the right hand of the afflicted man and tied around it a red and black panuelo and tied the other end of the handkerchief around the neck of the kid so that man and beast became attached.  Afterwards La Trova passed to the fire and took the hot pot and emptied its boiling liquid into a milk pail handed her by Señora Arce.  She placed the pail beside the kid and dipped a cup into it and drew the head of the cursed man to her breast and forced open his mouth and poured in the strangely suddenly cool potion.

The man swallowed and instantly his eyes shot open and he screamed and twisted and tried to free himself from La Trova, but she held firm and poured still more liquid into his gaping mouth.  The kid began to cry and stick its tongue from its long white snout.  Then the man vomited violently into one of the linens of La Trova and fell back against the bedrack unconscious.  Yellow vapor spewed from the sick one’s ears.  The singing curandera walked to the altar and discarded the third linen into the growing pile of soiled cloth.

          Suddenly Thunderbolt the silver cat sprang from the doorway and raced into the night.  We heard bellicose snarling that rose in tempo.  From the sierra behind the rancho we could hear rocks crashing through the cardón. A great hot wind rushed through the kitchen and then all stilled in the exhausted darkness.    

          Three times more La Trova forced the cursed man to drink the potion.  Each time he screamed and shook and vomited and fainted, and each time the kid goat kicked and cried and spit and twisted its tongue and dropped its head limply onto the worn floor of the kitchen, and each time yellow mist spewed from the man’s ears, and each time from outside erupted snarls and growls and crashing rocks, and each time after the hot wind had expired La Trova deposited yet another linen beside the altar.

          The tiny singing curandera seemed to gain strength through the curing.  She seemed to grow taller and her tongue seemed to become purple and her arms seemed to lengthen.  On the fifth purging of the evil within the cursed man, and after he had vomited into the linen, we expected to hear the wildness return, but none came.  Instead of the searing hot wind arrived instead a soft breeze bearing the perfume of sierra mahogany.  On the window sill suddenly appeared Trueno the silver cat.  He raised a paw and calmly licked it and then regally returned to his stately stance.  Slowly but certainly the kid goat rose to its feet and shook itself and because it was still attached to the cured man his hand shook too.

          La Trova the lovesong stood in the center of the kitchen holding the last linen.  To Jorge Arce and to the drained man on the bedrack the curandera opened the cloth.  It held a bloated mass of slimy wiggling bright yellow worms which heaved in the linen and reeked of nauseous sulfur.  A wad of evil.  The curandera walked to the altar and gathered the putrid linens piled there.  Into the empty milk pail she placed the smelly cloth.  To the floor dropped Trueno to lead the curandera from the kitchen outside into the night to beside the stone corrales.

          Dead tree limbs had been gathered and a pyre constructed.  From the colored bottle the curandera poured kerosene onto the dry wood and Jorge Arce set it ablaze with a match.  Once it burned brightly, Lovesong cast into the flames the linens soiled with the evil of the curse.  And for the first time since the cure began the curandera ceased to sing.  Instead she turned her head toward the west to the cuevas above Rancho Sauzalito and she opened wide her arms.

          The brilliant moonlight illuminated the painted guamas in the cave.  Tall they stood.  Half their body red and the other half black.  Their long arms upstretched.  Gurgles rang through the darkness and the flapping of raven wings burst over the ranch house.  And while sparks of the cleansing fire carried away the evil, we saw emerge from the kitchen door the figure of the cured man stumbling awkwardly toward us.  Below his right hand stepped the kid goat.  Still attached they stumbled over the rocks until they joined us to stand together with Thunderbolt and Lovesong.

Ya El Circulo Lleno

          Came daylight after the night of the curandera and the burras were packed, and waving goodby the caminantas walked away from Rancho Sauzalito, back toward the other world from which they had come days previous.  The ringing of the burra bell and the jingling of spurs led the way and all walked in the music shaded by the shadow of the guamas.  The sun stood behind the walkers and a fresh breeze cooled their faces and it was certain that none would ever be the same.  At San Francisco de la Sierra the costales were unloaded and the mochilas transferred to the back bed of the red roadster.  We drove to Tienda Flechas and requested cold Tecate.  After clicking can bottoms as opposed to can tops we drank and laughed and joined us she did Recollection and the moment glowed.  Finally hands were shared with the rumbero and the villagers.  La toca.  And then the caminantas climbed aboard the red roadster and the Capitán and we lowered ourselves from the mystical mountains that are the Sierra San Francisco.

          Hours later we had crossed the Cortés and had walked to Que Ondas for a last comida in Guaymas.  It was quiet and dark after dinner when we stepped onto the deserted street in the old port.  Later we would sleep awhile in the bus station and then travel most of the night to the border where we would cross as lonely travelers in the last predawn hour. 

But before, as we walked toward the bus station, we passed under a gargoyle street lamp.  Ahead stepped our two young Gringos.  And in front of them marched their shadows.  One shadow wore a tall mochila and the other carried a stout bastón walking stick and they strolled with confidence and strength.  As they moved away from the lamp the two shadows lengthened and grew and from behind soared the spirits of their longhaired mother and the old Gringo.  For they knew that their sons had become travelers.  Appropriately it was the first day of spring.  The end of the old and the beginning of the new.  The closing of the circle that is union with the mystic.  Only short years had passed.  The travelers had tasted blue water and known old women.  Ahead lay otros rumbos más.  Then the shadows melted into the night.  

La Barca de Guaymas

Himno Batalla de Puebla 

Adiós Mamá Carlota

One thought on “In the Painted Caves with the Shamans

  1. Anonymous January 31, 2021 / 3:24 pm

    Another amazing story of the Travels of Paco El Grande. My one question is was your wife with you and your sons?? What is La Barca De Guaymas? All my days in the Dominican Republic, Belize, Honduras and Guatemala I don’t come close to mastering the language as you have. Hope you are enjoying what we are trying to accomplish. I just hope I can get my stories out there soon .

    Thanks again Juanito

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