2015 Nomad 'Hike for Walter Henderson's Rock-Pile' (Lost Diaz Grave Mystery)

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David K - 3-13-2015 at 04:48 PM

Walter Henderson in the 1930's drove his Model A Ford, south of La Ventana on the old San Felipe road, then west near El Chinero as far into the Sierra Pintas as he could and he then hiked northwest in the direction of the Sierra Tinajas (his original goal). After reaching the divide of the desert range, he and his friend followed the twisting, narrow wash down to Arroyo Grande. About 1/4 to 1/3 of the way down, they found a large oval pile of rocks, one side coated with desert varnish. There was no other sign of man in the entire region, other than this. Once in Arroyo Grande they camped, realizing they began their hike too far south of their goal, so they returned to the Model A by going up Arroyo Grande and crossing back to the east side, near the base of Borrego Mountain (El Arrajal).

Later, Henderson read the story of Spanish explorer Melchior Diaz, one of the support teams for Coronado in 1540, seeking Cibola the cities of gold. Diaz crossed the Colorado River from near Yuma or further up... found the mud volcanoes of either the Salton area or Cerro Prieto and tried to regroup with Captain Fernando de Alacron who sailed up the Colorado and left a message for Diaz. Melchior Diaz injured himself with his lance in a bizarre way and died some days later. Where he was buried is a mystery. But his grave would have been important and as tradition, he would have been buried with his possessions. Melchior Diaz was the first European to set foot in California traveling by land, but without solid evidence he was on the west side of the Colorado River, he doesn't get all the glory he should receive.

Years after their hike in Baja, Walter Henderson read about Melchior Diaz in theNarratives of Castaneda and it describes the site of Diaz grave so well, Henderson was sure he had found it. Efforts to get an expedition to return failed to materialize and the Mexican government said Henderson would have to pay for an elaborate expedition with cooks, guides, mules, etc. when he implored them to find and protect the important site.

Before Henderson died, he gave his directions and memories to Desert Magazine editor, Choral Pepper in a letter of 1967. Choral tried to create interest by writing about the mystery in her magazine and her 1973 Baja book.

Perhaps the rock pile has been found and looted or maybe it was nothing at all? The fun is finding that same rock pile that was seen 80 years ago... and maybe from almost 500 years ago?

Here is my plan, based on Henderson's letter and details for where to seek the rock-pile... Go up Arroyo B, 3.2 miles, back down Arroyo A 2 miles (if nothing is found in B) and return to starting point, 2 miles down Arroyo Grande....

View is to the east from above Arroyo Grande. Measurements are up from A. Grande, 3.2 miles using B and 2.0 miles using A. It is 2 miles from A to B in A. Grande.

[Edited on 3-17-2015 by David K]

Flying over, full hike route, if B is empty...

David K - 3-13-2015 at 05:03 PM

EDIT: That rough looking area in the lowest part of B has an impassable waterfall... so hike will begin at Arroyo A and the top of A is just 2 miles from Arroyo Grande going up.

UPDATE: Removing some images of Arroyo B route since that one is eliminated as being impassable.

Arroyo A from Mile 1 back to Mile 0, Arroyo Grande:


Looking West:

Looking North A to B:

See below for Bing images of Arroyo A...

[Edited on 3-21-2015 by David K]

PaulW - 3-13-2015 at 05:54 PM

Good job
Saved me a ton of time

PaulW - 3-13-2015 at 06:31 PM

Arroyo A = Wash 4 = Tom-11
Arroyo B = Wash 2 = Tom-5
Revised My GPS accordingly. Now I can park in the correct place.
Used degrees for A cuz I did not trust your conversion.

AKgringo - 3-13-2015 at 06:51 PM

Hope you are successful in your quest, it will be an adventure any way it works out.
I was just wondering, what time of year do you plan on doing the trip?

David K - 3-14-2015 at 07:34 AM

Quote: Originally posted by AKgringo  
Hope you are successful in your quest, it will be an adventure any way it works out.
I was just wondering, what time of year do you plan on doing the trip?

Easter Sunday after Pole Line Road Run with Ken Cooke, hike on Monday... Rattlesnakes beware!

Ken Cooke - 3-14-2015 at 07:47 AM

Do you think a Jeep would make it back in there? Jeeps and Model A's are two completely different animals.

Jeeps mike.jpg - 27kB

PaulW - 3-14-2015 at 08:55 AM

Quote: Originally posted by Ken Cooke  
Do you think a Jeep would make it back in there? Jeeps and Model A's are two completely different animals.

Arroyo Grande or model A park place are easy for a stock 4wd SUV. Most air down for the sand. We see all kinds of rigs in there.
No obstacles, but driving up the bank is done in two places in AG.

[Edited on 3-14-2015 by PaulW]

David K - 3-14-2015 at 11:09 AM

The letter from Walter Henderson of May 31, 1967 was buried in the big box of letters and photos given to me by Choral Pepper from her Desert Magazine years... I know she would be happy that it continues to inspire folks to get outdoors and explore Baja and the desert!

David K - 3-16-2015 at 08:15 AM

At least one map indicates we are searching on the correct side of the gulf!

David K - 3-16-2015 at 05:54 PM

OK, that helps to know... joining me after Ken's Pole Line Road run:
Tom (TMW)
Karl (Fernweh)
Vern (El Vergel)
Harald (4x4abc)?
Mick (MICK)?

Joining us in spirit will be 'bajalou'!

(posted earlier in the Pole Line Road thread):
This would be Sunday afternoon we go to the Arroyo B junction with Arroyo Grande... GPS (WGS84) in decimal degrees:
31.54925, -115.31957 OR in decimal minutes: 31 degrees 32.955'N 115 degrees 19.174'W

If we discover that is not a possible wash, due to waterfalls. cliffs, etc. not matching the Henderson letter, there is a second good wash, Arroyo A:
31.524526, -115.32323 OR 31 degrees 31.454'N, 115 degrees 19.408'W

The hike would probably be Monday morning, 4 hours (in and out) so we could be done by noon... naturally, it is Baja, and I am flexible and this is in good fun as our Santa Isabel lost mission hike was in 2011.

Lots of water, snake bite kit, cameras, GPS are what we need to enjoy and record the discovery.

El Vergel (Vern) plans on joining us Sunday night or Monday morning.

[Edited on 3-21-2015 by David K]

David K - 3-17-2015 at 09:28 AM

The 1981 article by Choral Pepper in Desert Magazine is on page 52:

Choral changes a few details from the letter, but near the end, she includes some of the location information that was in the 1967 letter.

The hike did not begin at La Ventana, as Pepper writes. They drove some 20 miles south, near El Chinero, then headed west to the base of the hills. That is where the hike began.

Another error is that Pepper said they found the rock-pile on the second day, while heading back to the Model A from Arroyo Grande. Actually, they found the rock-pile about noon on the first day hiking, after leaving the Model A early in the morning.

The above two changes is what threw previous searches for the rock-pile by Bruce Barber who devoted a big part of his book to the Diaz Grave search...

GPS settings for the hike...

David K - 3-19-2015 at 06:14 PM

I have a base eTrex and an eTrex Legend with a Baja topographic map in it.

There are 4 waypoints entered for the hike... naturally, these are approximate depending on the ground surface and we are just on a fun hike to see if we can find the same pile of rocks seen in the 1930's that caused much excitement with Walter Henderson, Choral Pepper, 'DesertGhost' (Tad), and Bruce Barber... perhaps many others?

The hike might begin at the junction of 'Arroyo B' and Arroyo Grande. Arroyo B is 3 miles long to Divide 1 or 3.4 miles long to Divide 2 (this is the top of the Sierra Pinta range...

HOLD! Just got a detailed email from PaulW, he hiked some of the area yesterday... and reports Arroyo B is impassable due to a waterfall/ cliff less than 1/2 mile up from Arroyo Grande.

We may move the hike down to Arroyo A, come up it, if no rock-pile, go over the A/B divide into the B Arroyo upper end and look there. The downside, is no loop hike, walking back out the way we went in. Still other places to explore... and the distance from camp to the top of Arroyo A is only 1.6 miles... and about a mile more down into Arroyo B area to check. This is provided that water fall wasn't so bad back in 1930 and Henderson did get out that way.

Thank you Nomad desert explorers and specially TW and PaulW for so much great recon work!

[Edited on 3-20-2015 by David K]

David K - 3-19-2015 at 11:27 PM

OK, just some notes...
New hike starting at Arroyo A (elev. 1,565'). N31-31.454', W115-19.408'
Mile 1 up Arroyo A is at 1,813'
Mile 1.6 is the divide between A and B and is at 1,980'
Mile 2.0 is the top of A and the Sierra Pinta divide at 2,115'
The 'rock-pile' was 1/4 to 1/3 down the wash from the divide towards Arroyo Grande putting it at Mile 1.3 to 1.5 if that was correct and this is the correct wash Henderson used.

Getting to Arroyo A by 4WD:

0.0 Hwy. 5, Km. 107 (1 km. south of La Ventana), go west.
6.0 Water Pipe Road, turn west.
12.2 Fork, go left (southwest).
12.8 Well/ Pump, turn south (Score road/ Arroyo Grande)
Keep towards right side of wide arroyo for less whoops.
17.7 Pole Line Road from Ensenada drops into Arroyo Grande here.
Arroyo Grande now between high sides and soon enters mountain canyon.
25.2 Arroyo B junction... continue south in Arroyo Grande.
27.2 Arroyo A junction N31-31.454', W115-19.408'

[Edited on 3-20-2015 by David K]

PaulW - 3-20-2015 at 06:44 AM

Guys please make a real GPS track. I have been using a Lowrance IFinder set at to make a breadcrumb every 0.01 mile. Resolution is great when zooming way in. Then I have the setting to allow merging breadcrumbs when the coords are the same to save memory.
Any hiker hand held can get quite similar results.
Does anyone have a Garmin Oregon or Montana? They are the modern match for my IFinder. One of these days I will get confident enough to take the Montana and leave the IFinder home because I believe the Montana is a better unit. Steep learning curve just like the IFinder was.
Other settings should be to use Datum WGS84.

Anybody that makes the hiking GPS track please send me your hike track after the trip . Tracks contain a waypoint with every breadcrumb so I have little interest in waypoints except for the start and something unusual like my waterfall or a picture. When I take pics I make a WP and add info on my note pad for reference after the hike. Paper notes! Ha!! If your GPS has a track distance traveled - add that to your note.
Anyway when I get the tracks I will choose or merge them for a final file for us to share.

David K - 3-20-2015 at 08:31 AM

Thanks Paul, I have only the base Garmin eTrex and the eTrex Legend (from 2000 & 2003), and the Legend has the Baja Norte topo map in it. However, it has a semi-difficult toggle that makes it hard to use or useless, so I will have both. Sadly, I may not be able to do much more than note waypoints along the way, on a notepad like you. Yes, Map Datum is set to WGS84, the factory setting, and Google Earth setting.

Hopefully another on the trip has a more technical knowledge and can make a track. The hike is easy to see on Google Earth, and Arroyo A is only 2 miles to the top (divide). I really though Arroyo B looked perfect from Henderson's description, but if that waterfall looks like it has been there for 100 or more years, and there is no way around it, in the canyon, that was not Henderson's route.

For you armchair Baja explorers, I will be sharing Walter Henderson's 1967 letter here, so you can get a feel for the passion he had that the rock-pile was important. Choral Pepper used his letter to write a chapter in her 1973 Baja book, the 1981 Desert Magazine, and her unpublished last book (which I have shared chapters of here on Nomad since 2004).

2 miles up Arroyo A from Arroyo Grande to Divide

David K - 3-20-2015 at 09:27 AM

A/B Divide looking into Upper end of Arroyo B

Top of Sierra Pinta, and view down long valley towards San Felipe... is this the way Walter Henderson walked 80 years ago???

Walter Henderson

David K - 3-20-2015 at 10:08 AM

Here is where Walter describes he parked the Model A, at the base of the Sierra Pinta, and they began the hike northeast (towards the Sierra La Tinaja)...

Here (below) is the top of 'Arroyo A' that Henderson may have reached about noon... 10 miles by foot from Model A...


Here is the section of the Pole Line Road Ken Cooke is leading the tour of... if he doesn't go the last 4 miles to Arroyo Grande, he will turn north for Tres Pozos (Ejido Saldana region), as in the past:

Arroyo A waterfall???

David K - 3-20-2015 at 04:55 PM

TW reports that Arroyo A has a dam and a cliff of sorts that may hinder passage upstream?

On Google Earth, the cliff is not readily noticed... I did a zoom in and compared to TWs photos (his Wash #11 is my Arroyo A). Red arrow points to the possible dam location, and my blue line may still be a pathway around it to the north?

Start of Arroyo A:

The big question... can we go past the dam or can we go around it as my path line shows...

Looking back towards Arroyo Grande:

Melchior Diaz is not making it easy for us to find him!!!

Well, if it was easy, it would have been found already!!!

We go do this, not because it is easy, but because it is hard! :cool:

XRPhlang - 3-20-2015 at 06:10 PM

That's me and Harley (orange dog) in Tom's pictures. I believe my impression of that waterfall at the time was that it might be passible. I only turned around because I felt like it was getting late and it was about the 5th, or 6th one we'd been up that afternoon. Of course if we knew about all of DK's research then, we would have given it more time I think.

If someone didn't mind bringing along an extension ladder, it might be useful getting up and down some of those waterfalls. Just sayin'

David K - 3-20-2015 at 07:17 PM

Thank you Phil!!!

TMW - 3-20-2015 at 07:50 PM

The wash walls close in on both side as you furthere back. The dam is to the right of Phil's head in the tan looking area in the 1st picture.

In the 2nd picture the water way down to the dam follows a path up and to the left. The dam is straight back in the 2nd picture.

I think we just need to go down and take a second look.

TMW - 3-21-2015 at 09:53 AM

I wonder just how sure Henderson was as to where he parked his car.

David K - 3-21-2015 at 09:58 AM

Quote: Originally posted by TMW  
I wonder just how sure Henderson was as to where he parked his car.

Well, I think we have that figured well, he reached the summit at noon, then went down the rougher, steeper canyon to Arroyo Grande. I figure 10 miles (5 hours walk) from the Model A to the Sierra Pinta Divide at the top of Arroyo A.

His details are pretty good considering it was the 1930's and he wrote them 30 years later.

I will begin sharing the actual letter here, get more input on what he says... I also just did a series of satellite images of Arroyo A with Bing, and they are clearer than Google....

Bing Satellite Maps of Arroyo A

David K - 3-21-2015 at 10:08 AM

Blue arrow on left is Arroyo Grande and on right is top of Arroyo A (Divide). 2 miles hike between them, 550' elevation gain.
Red arrow on left is the dam, possible blockage to hike. The second red arrow is another possible difficult pass, but both look to have options to get around, perhaps on the north?

Now, close up of our route from Arroyo Grande to the Divide... The first three have north at the top, the next three have east at the top.

David K - 3-21-2015 at 10:12 AM

Henderson's words to Choral Pepper was that the rock pile was so obvious that it could be seen by a plane flying over the area... I am surprised I haven't seen it on these satellite images! Do any of you see an oval pile of dark rocks on a small mesa-like knob of land, along the north side of the west flowing arroyo? It stands out like it was man made for sure.

[Edited on 3-21-2015 by David K]

Fernweh - 3-21-2015 at 10:32 AM


how many hurricanes/storms might have altered the landscape since 1930.
The oval rock pile might be no longer in that shape, and even with the better resolution of your last pictures, would be hard to detect in there.
Boots on the ground, maybe a metal detector and a split up search team (with handheld radios) would be a good plan.

David K - 3-21-2015 at 10:40 AM

Anything you guys want to do Karl, I just think we need to enjoy ourselves and whatever we find in there will make for fun reading here for all those who can't join us.

If the rock pile is from January, 1541, it had survived to 1930 pretty well... another 80 years couldn't have been a lot worse than the 400 before... I hope?!

Sharing Secrets...

David K - 3-21-2015 at 10:57 AM

It is my hope that this mystery of where the rock pile was, or what it is can be solved in my lifetime. I have had the letter for a dozen years and shared it with a few people. Now, that we are putting this effort into going up one possible canyon in a couple weeks, let me share the actual letter that Choral Pepper teased us all with in her book and magazine stories.

I have zoomed in on the two pages of the letter and one page of directions so that 1/2 a page is per scan, to make reading as easy as possible. I cut out his street address, of course Walter is long gone and his house may be to?

Scan 1 (half a page):

Scan 2

David K - 3-21-2015 at 11:01 AM

Scan 3

David K - 3-21-2015 at 11:26 AM

Mentioned and pointed out, on the 1962 Lower Ca Guidebook Map 3: Remember, there was no Hwy. 5 back then, the old road to San Felipe may have been close, however.
*La Ventana
*Road running west from just north of El Chinero, about 20 miles south of La Ventana.
* Take off about 5 miles below road north of El Chinero
* RED ARROW: Parked at Base of hills
* Arroyo Grande
* Base of Cerro Borrego

Scan 4 of 6

David K - 3-21-2015 at 11:30 AM

Scan 5 & 6

David K - 3-21-2015 at 11:36 AM

I hope desert rats and Baja buffs enjoy this and if you come to some different conclusions as to where we should look, please share! I have given all I can to this mystery up until I actually go climbing in those hills on Easter weekend.

elbeau - 3-22-2015 at 06:09 PM

These additional letters really do shed a lot more light on the possible locations of the rock piles.

TMW - 3-22-2015 at 07:08 PM

elbeau you should come out and join us. I'll make you breakfast everyday with home made grits, TX style.

elbeau - 3-22-2015 at 08:15 PM

Quote: Originally posted by TMW  
elbeau you should come out and join us. I'll make you breakfast everyday with home made grits, TX style.

Texas style? I prefer my grits Mississippi style. If I could make it I'd treat you to some REAL grits.

elbeau - 3-22-2015 at 08:38 PM

You knowledge of grits is based on movies. There's really no way for you to understand.;)

elbeau - 3-23-2015 at 09:34 AM

Quote: Originally posted by David K  
So come on down to Southern California Saturday after next and make us Mississippi grits Sunday morning!

Sorry, but you can't make Mississippi grits without hunting for fresh squirrel first.

(I'm actually just making all this up for conversation. The best way to eat squirrel is stewed, although now that I'm imagining it, squirrel-meat grits actually sounds quite tasty)

bajaandy - 3-23-2015 at 11:29 AM

I wish I could go on this adventure! Alas, I will be headed to points further south and west while you are investigating in the desert. Looking forward to your trip reports!

[Edited on 3-23-2015 by bajaandy]

TMW - 3-23-2015 at 11:40 AM

I make my grits many different ways but my favorite is with bacon and tomatoes.

I use instant grits with water not milk.

[Edited on 3-23-2015 by TMW]

elbeau - 3-23-2015 at 11:54 AM

I often just eat instant butter gritz with water. I never like it as much with milk.

David K - 3-23-2015 at 06:06 PM

How about some more thoughts on the rock-pile location? I posted the entire letter from Henderson in hopes someone will read it differently than I... or to validate we are searching in the correct west flowing wash.

My first choice was Arroyo B, but PaulW went in there last week, coming over into the B Valley from the north. He found an unpassable watefall with no obvious solution. Henderson (read his words above) did not indicate anything that impossible sounding.

So my second choice is Arroyo A... only Phil with TW found a dam in a narrow section near the Arroyo Grande junction and a need for a ladder to get over it. On the satellite images it seems there is a way to climb around on the north...?

There is just one more west flowing arroyo, that originates on the divide coming up from The Model A park location (Arroyo Arrajal). It is a bit south of Arroyo A.

I was hoping the vertical cliffs described by Henderson at the junction of the rock-pile wash and Arroyo Grande would be the golden clue as to which wash to hike up... A few months ago, I sent in (requested) TW with Phil to look for that cliff face... to determine which of the washes looked like it. That is when TW took all the photos and GPS waypoints... except Arroyo B... and nothing jumped out at him from what Henderson wrote.

So, please... more Nomad eyes for this joint expedition of discovery!

elbeau - 3-23-2015 at 06:40 PM

David K - 3-23-2015 at 06:44 PM

What no fountain of flowing water like at Mission Santa Isabel? Thanks elbeau!

Edit: Just GE your waypoint: That is on top of a mountain, not in the arroyo canyon/ valley... They saw it while walking down the wash, no mountain climbing.

It was on a bench above the arroyo (a mesa-like appendage) and they could not see distant peaks (Borrego, etc.) from it, just the valley dropping to the west.

[Edited on 3-24-2015 by David K]

elbeau - 3-23-2015 at 07:02 PM

You didn't zoom in enough:

Henderson mistook the brickwork for a simple "rock pile"

elbeau - 3-23-2015 at 07:33 PM

I'm not advocating a single point, just a general area:

TMW - 3-23-2015 at 08:28 PM

Henderson mentions trees blocking his view. Maybe we should scan the Bing images and see where the trees are. That may be a clue on where they were unless there are trees everywhere.

elbeau - 3-23-2015 at 09:11 PM

Quote: Originally posted by TMW  
Henderson mentions trees blocking his view. Maybe we should scan the Bing images and see where the trees are. That may be a clue on where they were unless there are trees everywhere.

yes, but he also says something about the fact that the trees were later cut down by logging activities.

David K - 3-23-2015 at 09:19 PM

He mentioned the ironwood tree cutters had not ventured that far south yet. Mesquite trees perhaps?

What did Melchior Diaz look like, how did he die?

David K - 3-28-2015 at 10:59 AM

A typical Spanish captain in Mexico and the type of lance that may have killed Diaz...

Diaz Conquista de Mexico.jpg - 155kB Diaz Lance.jpg - 111kB

David K - 3-28-2015 at 07:25 PM

OK, that helps to know... joining me after Ken's Pole Line Road run:
Tom (TMW)
Karl (Fernweh)
Vern (El Vergel)
Harald (4x4abc)

Anyone else coming out to camp with us, a week from tomorrow?

[Edited on 3-29-2015 by David K]

David K - 3-29-2015 at 10:00 PM

After Ken's Pole Line Road run:
Tom (TMW)
Karl (Fernweh)
Vern (El Vergel)
Harald (4x4abc)

Anyone else coming out to camp with us, a week from tomorrow?

4x4abc - 3-30-2015 at 12:26 AM

where in the letter is it mentioned that they realized that they had gotten too far south in AG?

David K - 3-30-2015 at 09:19 AM

Quote: Originally posted by 4x4abc  
where in the letter is it mentioned that they realized that they had gotten too far south in AG?

Not too far south in AG (Arroyo Grande), but to begin their hike... after they realized they were too far to walk to the Tinajas or Palmitas hills where they hoped to find blue palms. Possibly they didn't realize they were too far from them until they were at the divide (top) of the Sierra Pintas and could see the other ranges or the Sierra Juarez for reference?

Henderson wrote other letters to Pepper/Desert Magazine and in Choral Pepper's telling of the story, she has some of those notes about the purpose of the hike. Of course, those stories from Pepper's pen are not as exact as the letter from Henderson I shared here.

May 1948 Hwy. 5 under construction...

David K - 3-30-2015 at 09:27 AM

The location of the old road is just east of the new highway route (dashed line) in the area 35 miles north of San Felipe where Henderson says they headed west to the base of the Sierra Pinta to begin the hike.

PaulW - 3-30-2015 at 09:40 AM

Could it be that the dashed road went over Pinta pass? Now days a rough passage. Who knows maybe back then the pass and approach from either end was smoother with lots of fill that mother nature has removed?

Old maps are neat

David K - 3-30-2015 at 10:05 AM

I think it is just the way the map maker is showing the new route as it is inside or west of the hills from the sand dunes to La Ventana and again from La Ventana to El Chinero. The dashed line is representing the paved (to be paved) highway route.

David K - 3-30-2015 at 10:26 AM

Quote: Originally posted by David K  
Quote: Originally posted by 4x4abc  
where in the letter is it mentioned that they realized that they had gotten too far south in AG?

Not too far south in AG (Arroyo Grande), but to begin their hike... after they realized they were too far to walk to the Tinajas or Palmitas hills where they hoped to find blue palms. Possibly they didn't realize they were too far from them until they were at the divide (top) of the Sierra Pintas and could see the other ranges or the Sierra Juarez for reference?

Henderson wrote other letters to Pepper/Desert Magazine and in Choral Pepper's telling of the story, she has some of those notes about the purpose of the hike. Of course, those stories from Pepper's pen are not as exact as the letter from Henderson I shared here.

Here is the last version of the story written in 2001 by Choral Pepper for her final book 'Baja Missions, Mysteries and Myths':


The story of Diaz' grave constitutes a classification all its own -- part history, part mystery, part myth. It will not remain that way forever, though, if Los Angeles Police Department member Tad Robinette succeeds in his quest.

Upon reading my early Baja book, Robinette got caught up in the challenge of delegating immortality to the neglected hero Melchior Diaz. So in 1994, putting his military and law enforcement training to test, he set out to settle the Diaz question once and for all.

The explosive history of Diaz' grave first came to my attention through a letter from the late historian Walter Henderson while I was editor of Desert magazine "explosive" because it refutes several hundred years of fallaciously celebrating Padre Eusebio Kino as the first white man to set foot on the west shore of the Colorado River. It was that chapter in my book that ignited Robinette's interest.

Baja Califorina's true first European visitor to the northern sector was Melchior Diaz, a beloved Spanish army captain dispatched in 1540 by Coronado to effect a land rendezvous with Fernando de Alarcon, whose fleet was carrying heavy supplies up the Gulf of California to assist in Coronado's expedition in search of the fabled Seven Cities of Cibola.

It was during the depression of the early 1930s that Walter Henderson and his southern California companions cranked their Model A Ford roadster through the rock arroyos of the unpaved road that led toward San Felipe, a Mexican fishing village about 125 miles south of the border at Mexicali. At a spot a few miles beyond a window-shaped rock formation known as 'La Ventana', they unloaded their camping gear, filled their canteens from a water tank in the rear of the car, and set out by foot.

On other of their frequent weekend safaris into Baja, if the Ford hadn't drunk too much of their water, they often camped overnight while searching for old Spanish mines, Indian arrowheads, or whatever else adventure produced. Sometimes they found the powerful horns of a bighorn sheep arched over its bleached and sand-pitted skull. At other times they heard the screeching wail of a wild cat or caught the fleeting shadow of a mule deer high up in the Sierras. If a covey of quail flushed from a sparse clump of desert greasewood, they knew that water was nearby. Sometimes they found the spring; most often they did not. Water is elusive in this rugged, raw land and rarely does it surface in a logical and accessible spot.

But on this cool day in April they were lucky. The Model A had behaved well and used less water than usual and they had managed to drive as far as the foot of the Sierra Pintos with only three punched tires. Henderson had long fostered a yen to find a way into a canyon oasis he had heard about from another man named Henderson (Randall, the founder of Desert magazine) who had described an oasis where native blue palms rose above huge granite basins of water stored from mountain runoffs after storms.

As it turned out, they had hiked too far south. Baja California was only crudely mapped in those days and the Mexican woodcutters who supplied ironwood for ovens to bake the tortillas of Mexicali and Tijuana had not yet been forced this far below the border, so there was no one to give Henderson and his party directions.

Throughout the entire Arroyo Grande and Arroyo Tule watershed, they had found no sign of man -- just twisted cacti writhing across the sandy ground, occasional stubby tarote trees, and lizards basking in the sun. On both sides of the wide arroyo up which they hiked, jumbled boulders stuck like knobs to the mountainsides. In some areas the mountains were the deep, dark red of an ancient lava flow, in other sectors they were granite, bleached as white as the sand in the wash.

When night fell, the hikers unrolled their sleeping bags, built an ironwood fire and fell asleep while watching the starry spectacle overhead. In Baja's clear air, the stars appeared low enough to mingle with their campfire smoke.

At dawn, they brewed a pot of coffee, refried their beans from the night before, and tore hunks of sourdough from a loaf carried by one of the men in his pack. There was no hurry. They had all day to explore as long as they kept moving back in the general direction of their car.

Late in the afternoon, after hiking across a range of hills, they came upon a curious pile of rocks set back a short distance from the edge of a steep ravine. For miles around there had been no other signs of human life, neither modern nor ancient. The pile was nearly as tall as a man and twice as long as it was high. The base was oval and the general shape of the structure resembled a haystack. The stones were rounded rather than sharp-edged, and although the ground in the vicinity was not littered with them, Henderson and his companions figured that they had been gathered at great labor from the general area.

They lifted a rock and turned it over. It was dark on the top, light colored underneath. The dark coating acquired by rocks in the desert is called desert varnish. It is caused by a capillary action of the sun drawing moisture out of the rock. The dark deposit is left from minerals in the water. In an arid region where rainfall is practically nil, desert varnish takes hundreds of years to form. The fact that these rocks were all coated by desert varnish on the top indicated that they had remained in their positions for a very, very long time.

The men were tempted to investigate further, but it was the end of April, when the dangerous red rattlers of Baja California come out of hibernation, so they contented themselves with speculation. The pile of rocks provided an inviting recess for these reptiles and the men were unarmed.

The rock pile stood close to the edge of a narrow ravine that twisted down from the hills over which they had descended. The site was not visible from the surrounding country so it obviously was not intended as a landmark. That it was a grave, they felt certain, even though it was an unusually elaborate structure for its isolated situation. Baja California natives have always conscientiously buried corpses found in remote countryside, but usually the grave is simply outlined with a series of rocks rather than built up man-high like a monument. Whoever lay beneath this rock pile was obviously revered by his companions who must have numbered more than a few in order to erect it.

Tilted against one end of the rock pile was an ancient piece of weathered ironwood nearly a yard long and as thick as a man's thigh. If a smaller crosspiece had been lashed to it to form a cross, the addition had long ago eroded away. Ironwood, Olneya tesota, is a tall spreading tree found only in washes of hot desert areas in the Southwest. Its wood is brittle, very hard and heavy, and it burns with a slow, hot flame. Mexican woodcutters have all but depleted the desert of it in recent years, but during the 1930s when Henderson discovered the mysterious grave, it still was conceivable that the heavy log could have been found close enough to drag to the graveside.

By this time the sun was falling low in the mountains behind them, so the men left the pile of stones and hurried on across the desert to reach their car before nightfall. They never had occasion to return.

Two years later, however, the memory of the mysterious pile of rocks rose to taunt Henderson and continued to do so for the rest of his life.

The Narratives of Castaneda had been translated into English and a copy had fallen into his hands. When he came upon a passage that read " on a height of land overlooking a narrow valley, under a pile of rocks, Melchior Diaz lies buried," he would have known immediately that he had found the lost grave of this Spanish hero except for the fact that Pedro de Castaneda, who traveled as a scribe for Coronado, believed that Diaz was buried on the opposite side of the Colorado River. However, Castaneda wrote his manuscript twenty years after it had happened and, since he was with Coronado rather than with Diaz, his only authority was hearsay.

Melchior Diaz would have been completely ignored by history had it not been for the exploits of Fernando de Alarcon, who had been fitted out with two vessels and sent up the Gulf of California by Viceroy Mendoza to support Coronado's land expedition. A rendezvous had been arranged at which time the land forces were to pick up supplies that Alarcon would bring by sea. As Coronado and his forces moved north, however, their guides led them further and further toward what is now New Mexico, and away from the Gulf where they were to meet Alarcon. When Alarcon arrived at a lush valley near an Indian village far east of the Gulf, he established a camp and dispatched Melchoir Diaz westward with a forty-man patrol mounted on his best horses to search for Alarcon's ships and make a rendezvous on the Gulf.

Diaz, traveling west, arrived about 100 miles above the Gulf on the bank of the Colorado River. There he learned from an Indian who had helped drag Alarcon's boats through the tidal bore that Alarcon had been there, but was now down river and had left a note on a marked tree near where the river emptied into the Gulf.

Diaz then marched south for three days until he came to the marked tree. At the foot of it he dug up an earthenware jug with contained letters, a copy of Alarcon's instructions, and a record of the nautical expedition's discoveries up to that point.

Knowing now that Alarcon was returning to Mexico, Diaz retraced his steps up the river to what is now Yuma, Arizona, where he forded the river. The trail through Sonora by which he had come north took his army far inland from the sea. In the event that Alarcon still lingered in the area, Diaz hoped that by following down the West Coast of the Gulf his men might be able to stay closer to the shore and thus sight the ships.

Marching southward from the present Yuma where they had crossed the Colorado, Diaz and his men came upon Laguna de los Volcanoes, about thirty miles south of Mexicali. It is from this point that the narrative grows vague, except for the historical account of Diaz' fatal injury and subsequent burial.

The injury occurred one day when a dog from an Indian camp chased the sheep that accompanied his troops. Angered Diaz threw his lance at the dog from his running horse. Unable to halt the horse, he ran upon the lance that had upended in the sand in such a fashion that it shafted him through the thigh, rupturing his bladder.

References vary as to how long he lived following the accident. Castenada reported that Diaz lived for several days only, carried on a litter by his men under difficult conditions over rough terrain.

Castaneda's report may be flawed. Not only did he write it twenty years after the fact, but his report was based on hearsay evidence since he was with Coronado in what is now New Mexico and not along the Colorado with Diaz. A more modern historian, Baltasar de Obregon, wrote that Diaz lived for a month following the accident. Herbert Bolton, the distinguished California historian, wrote that after crossing the Colorado River on rafts, Diaz and his troops made five or six day-long marches westward before turning back after Diaz' injury.

If Bolton's information relative to the days that they marched is correct, and if Castaneda is accurate relative to the number of days Diaz lived after the accident, Diaz is buried on the West Coast of the Gulf. If he lived for a month, however, his grave very likely lies on the Sonora coast. This has never been established, although historians have searched fruitlessly for the grave on the East Coast of the Gulf for several centuries.

So convinced was Henderson that he had found Diaz' grave that he proposed an investigation to the Mexican consul in Los Angeles. He was received politely enough, but turned away with the deluge of problems his suggestion encountered. He was told that to conform to Mexican law of that time his search party must consist of from two to four soldiers, an historian with official status, a guide to show them where they wanted to go, a cook to feed them, and mules and saddles so the Mexican officials 'would not have to walk or carry packs on their backs like common peons.'
In addition, the party would have to include someone to put the mules to bed and saddle them, a muleteer, and a security guard to protect Diaz' helmet, leather armor, blunderbuss, broadsword, coins, jewelry and whatever else of value accompanied the skeleton in the grave. All this was to be paid for by Henderson. A further stipulation stated that if the area turned out to be too dangerous or rough for the retinue involved, regardless of expense incurred, Henderson would be obliged to call off the whole thing and turn back.

This, during those years of the depression, was out of the question for Henderson, or just about anyone else. In later years the rigors of such a trip for Henderson were too great. Faced with those complications, he ultimately went to his own grave never having solved the mystery of Diaz, but haunted throughout life by the memory of that mysterious pile of rocks. So Diaz sleeps, a neglected hero while Mexicans and Americans alike pay homage to the prevalent belief that Padre Eusebio Kino was the first white man to come ashore on the west side of the Colorado River.

Now that Baja has come into its own as a popular destination, the present government might be more amenable to investigating the gravesite if it can be found. According to Henderson's directions, a line drawn on the hydrographic chart of the Gulf of California from Sharp Peak (31 degrees 22 minutes N. Lat., elevation 4,690, 115 degrees 10 minutes W. Long.) to an unnamed peak of 2,948 feet, NE from Sharp peak (about twelve miles away) will roughly follow the divide of a range separating the watershed that flows to the sea. Somewhere near the center of that line, plunging down the westerly slope, is a rather deep rock-strewn arroyo. On the north rim of this arroyo, and set back a short distance, is a small mesa-like protrudence, or knob of land. There may be a number of arroyos running parallel. It is on one of these where the land falls away to the west that the rock pile overlooks the arroyo. That was as close as Henderson was able to identify it on a map.

On one of my flights with Gardner in the 1960s, as we flew over land and water to Sierra Pinto, some thirty-two land-miles north of San Felipe, I looked for a rugged ravine plunging down from the east side of Cerro del Borrego, a peak north of the present intersections of Highways 5 and 3, but even the practiced eyes of pilot Francisco Munoz, who circled the area several times, were not sharp enough to etch a rock-covered grave out of the colorless land. We did detect a dirt road about ten miles south of the La Ventana marker on modern maps that led into ruins of an old mine called La Fortuna. That may have been where Henderson and his friends left their Model A Ford and initiated their hike.

So much for my treasure hunting competence!

But if any reader has ever doubted the efficiency of an L.A.P.D. cop, put your mind at rest. I have dealt with many treasure hunters, professional and otherwise, but never have I encountered an equal in systematic persistence to Tad Robinette. Because of his intensive approach toward solving this mystery, I shall recount it in detail as he reported to me.

Consistent with law enforcement training, Robinette?s modus operandi depended upon finding a good topographical map of an area relatively unmapped in Henderson's day. After a series of long-distance calls around the United States, he finally located a store in North Carolina that stocked Mexican topo maps. Within weeks, he had a collection of the best on the market. They were helpful, but obviously not the map that Henderson had consulted. That one, Robinette determined, was probably a hydrographic map detailing the Gulf of California area north of San Felipe, since no detailed land maps had been made at that time. The hunt then began for a hydrographic chart dated prior to 1950.

At about this time Robinette learned of a library in the basement of the Los Angeles Natural History Museum that contained old maps, including hydrographic charts. Access, by appointment only, was arranged through the curator. Robinette arrived at his appointed time, was escorted through two sets of double doors, and then turned loose in a basement room lined with volume upon volume of obscure books, old magazines, and stacked layers of professional papers. He came upon a map section. No numbering system was used. The maps were haphazardly placed in drawers. By chance he found a small collection of hydro maps dated between 1880 and1930. Among them was a copy of the very map used by Henderson denoting the same peaks and elevations.

Because nothing could be removed from that library, Robinette made notes to facilitate ordering a copy directly from the archives in Washington, D.C. Three months later he possessed it.

He then painstakingly coordinated grids provided by Henderson's recollections superimposed upon modern detailed topo maps, geological surveys, historical records of the Coronado expedition, and the projected distance for a day's march. This way he identified the most likely areas for exploration.

It wasn't until 1998, however, that Robinette had accumulated enough information and time off work to convince him that a personal expedition was worthwhile. Then, limited to two days that included the drives back and forth to Los Angeles, he got a good look at the 'lay of the land' south of the border, but not much else.

His second trek, a year later, lasted for three days. This time he was rewarded by a fine rosy quartz vein, some spectacular sunrises, and a lot of mountain climbing experience, but he did not find the grave.

Trek Number Three had to be postponed until the year 2000. Then, accompanied by his partner on the beat, Jamie Cortes, they attacked the landslides, the defiles, and the cactus-covered lava mountains with vigor. During this trip they scoured the mid-section of the area Robinette had designated on his map. On the last day they had an encouraging break. They had come upon a low range of rolling hills after descending from Arroyo Grande that matched Henderson's recollection. But their time was up. The Los Angeles Police Department call to duty waits for no man.

So now we come to Trek Number Four. This time a third partner, Paul Dean, joined the hunt. Unfortunately, the promising 'low range of rolling hills' failed to keep its promise.

After exceeding the limits of exploration, Robinette had initially projected on his maps, time ran out again. Tired and discouraged, the party was straggling along a rough route in the direction of the car they had left behind when they came upon an unexpected pass that would have provided Henderson's party, as well as their own, a lower and easier route back to the La Ventana area where their car was parked. This appeared at the end of their allotted time, of course -- the destined fate of most treasure hunts! So they made a haphazard survey and left, promising themselves a return next year.

As I have written before, I'll write again, "Adventuring in Baja is like a Navajo rug with the traditional loose thread left dangling. To finish the rug would be to kill it. As long as it is unfinished, its spirit is still alive." Now who wants to kill adventure? Certainly not Tad Robinette. Nor do I.

So, as Robinette ended his report to me, I'll end this book, "To be continued"

NOTES: As we can see from the 1967 letter, some details were omitted or changed. The Model A was driven to the base of the Sierra Pinta, west of El Chinero. The next morning, they hiked to the top of the ridge, then down steeply towards Arroyo Grande. On this downward part, about noon, they found the rock-pile (1/4 to 1/3 down). They continued to Arroyo Grande where they spent the night and returned to the Model A the next day, using a more southern route at the base of Borrego Mountain.

I met Tad Robinette at Choral Pepper's home and he joined Nomad as 'Desert Ghost'.

It's time to find this rock-pile! :light:

TMW - 3-30-2015 at 11:06 AM

So Robinette never knew the real location of where Henderson went when he made his searches and if he did why did he leave his car at La Ventana. Also why was an LA cop not able to take vacation time.

David K - 3-30-2015 at 11:25 AM

Tad had never seen the Henderson letter before I found it in Choral's box of letters and photos. Like Bruce Barber, I also sent Tad the letter considering all the effort he put into looking for the rock-pile, perhaps based on Choral's altered directions.

4x4abc - 3-30-2015 at 12:54 PM

which one is Arroyo Thule?

PaulW - 3-30-2015 at 01:28 PM

Tule is same as Jaquegel

Bad Hill

Ken Cooke - 3-30-2015 at 05:20 PM

This area around Jaquegel sounds like the canyons south of Neal Johns' "Bad Hill". Real sharp hills for a canyon in that area.

David K - 3-30-2015 at 05:31 PM

Quote: Originally posted by PaulW  
Tule is same as Jaquegel

Correct! Spelled Jaquejel as well.




1905 published 1919:
Here is where 'Tule' is used...

Agua Hedionda

Ken Cooke - 3-30-2015 at 05:54 PM

Wow! That's a funny name!

David K - 3-30-2015 at 10:35 PM

OK amigos with sharp eyes on Google Earth, find the rock-pile so we can photograph it from the ground.

Here are the three best arroyos in my opinion based on the letter.

The top one is Arroyo B... PaulW hiked into it from the north and found an impassable waterfall between the long valley and Arroyo Grande.

The middle one is Arroyo A... TW and XRPhil found a small dam that may hinder entering the inner area.

The lower one is about the last option... ???

4x4abc - 3-31-2015 at 12:16 AM

I vote for "A"

David K - 3-31-2015 at 08:18 AM

Quote: Originally posted by 4x4abc  
I vote for "A"

Then it's settled!

I hope elbeau is looking hard in those canyons for a rock-pile! Do you all remember the Santa Isabel Mission search we did in 2011 down Arroyo el Volcan?

Here's a recap and links to the original trip report and photos/videos:

Baja Nomads Searching for a Lost Mission and finding so much more!

One of the great things the Baja Internet does is bring us Baja nuts together on adventures. Baja is a land of mystery and adventure, and it doesn't take a lot of effort to drive a few hours and be in the middle of it all!

IT'S QUALITY, NOT QUANTITY of Baja trips you can have that makes the best memories.

A little over 3 years ago, with some satellite image hints provided by Baja Nomad member 'elbeau', we had a chance to search for one of the most famous LOST MISSIONs in Baja California, Santa Isabel!

No official record ever mentions it, but the legend was born following the quick round-up of all the Jesuit priests from the peninsula at the end of 1767 and their forced removal across the Sea of Cortez in February, 1768.

When the Spanish authorities found only impoverished churches and no gold, pearls or silver (other than altar pieces), it was deemed that the Jesuits received advanced warning of their removal and created one final secret mission to hide the treasures they must have collected in their 72 years on the California peninsula.... a mission named Santa Isabel.

Nomads dtbushpilot, XRPhlang, BAJACAT, bajalou, David K, El Vergel, TW (and his brother Bill) met up along the way and at the campsite location where the vehicles could go no further (Arroyo el Volcán, 2 miles from El Mármol, the onyx mine).

Please enjoy a first or repeat look at the many photos and story, and I hope it inspires you to seek an adventure in Baja, or at least dream of one at home!

SEE: Desert Adventure, Interesting Geology, The Lost Mission site, Barite and Onyx mines, a COLD water geyser, and much more...







This was bajalou's final Baja adventure before he left this world for another, we miss Lou and his great enthusiasm he had for Baja!

ehall - 3-31-2015 at 10:09 AM

Interesting landmark.
31 deg. 23' 42.57 N
115 deg. 12' 33.13" W

David K - 3-31-2015 at 04:57 PM

Quote: Originally posted by ehall  
Interesting landmark.
31º 23' 42.57" N
115º 12' 33.13" W

Edited the waypoint to plug into Google Earth. To get the degree symbol, Alt + 0186.

That's quite a survey cross... but not the cross or rock pile... but not far from where Walter parked the Model A!

ehall - 3-31-2015 at 05:00 PM

Thanks, didn't know how to do the deg. Symbol. I have looked at Google Earth and bing maps till it felt like my eyes would bleed.

David K - 3-31-2015 at 05:03 PM

Quote: Originally posted by ehall  
Thanks, didn't know how to do the deg. Symbol. I have looked at Google Earth and bing maps till it felt like my eyes would bleed.

Thank you for your interest and support of solving this decades long mystery!

Where are the TV crews... this has got to be as good as America Unearthed or the Superstition Mountain series!

4x4abc - 3-31-2015 at 07:18 PM

Google Earth does not need any degrees etc
try this:

31 23 42.57 N, 115 12 33.13 W

David K - 3-31-2015 at 07:45 PM

In any case, that is not a grave-like pile of rocks... Thanks Harald for letting us know Google made it easy to look at waypoints.

Ken came by here tonight and we had a meal and discussed the weekend coming up...

BajaGeoff - 4-1-2015 at 09:49 AM

This sounds like a great adventure. I really hope you are successful in finding the long lost rock pile!

elbeau - 4-1-2015 at 09:57 AM

I'll pay real money for someone to go build a fake Diaz rock-pile at one of their locations before they get there this weekend!


4x4abc - 4-1-2015 at 10:06 AM

I would spot the fake from 100 yards away

elbeau - 4-1-2015 at 10:11 AM

Quote: Originally posted by 4x4abc  
I would spot the fake from 100 yards away

Take it easy, I was just joking.:bounce::biggrin::bounce:

4x4abc - 4-1-2015 at 11:59 AM

I was joking, too!

David K - 4-1-2015 at 04:27 PM

The Henderson discovered rocks had desert varnish on one side, indicating they were moved to the pile MANY years ago (400+ in this case).

Any fake rock piles would look freshly moved, not be coated with desert varnish, and this guy would not be under them...

[Edited on 4-2-2015 by David K]

TMW - 4-1-2015 at 06:20 PM

Quote: Originally posted by elbeau  
I'll pay real money for someone to go build a fake Diaz rock-pile at one of their locations before they get there this weekend!


How much are we talking about? Have money will travel.

elbeau - 4-1-2015 at 10:13 PM

Quote: Originally posted by TMW  
Quote: Originally posted by elbeau  
I'll pay real money for someone to go build a fake Diaz rock-pile at one of their locations before they get there this weekend!


How much are we talking about? Have money will travel.

I'll give you the secret cooridnates to a lost mission that is rumored to be filled with Jesuit gold!

Arroyo D

David K - 4-3-2015 at 09:13 AM

The third possible arroyo that Walter Henderson and friend came down to Arroyo Grande in, I have labeled 'Arroyo D', it is my third choice based on looking at the options and trying to think like Walter did in the 1930's.

I posted his letter in hopes someone would have a 'eureka' moment and see something I missed or interpret him differently.... that has not happened, so we shall try out what is there before our eyes.

My first choice was Arroyo B, but PaulW explored it after entering from the north (using what I had originally called Arroyo C) and found a dry waterfall with no way around. Since Walter never mentioned such an obstacle, it would seem that Arroyo B is out.

My second choice is Arroyo A, and Phil and TW found a dam just in from Arroyo Grande that of course was not there 80 years ago. We made need a small ladder or a way around the ravine with the dam to explore the canyon beyond. It is 2 miles to the top of the divide in Arroyo A. That would put the rock-pile 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 miles up from Arroyo Grande.

The third (and perhaps final) choice is Arroyo D, it is just 0.6 mile up Arroyo Grande from Arroyo A and is only 1 1/4 mile long to the divide.

We can go up Arroyo A (if we can get around the dam) and if we don't see the rock-pile, walk the 0.3 mile from Divide A to Divide D, and come on down Arroyo D to return to camp. Two birds with one stone, as they say.

Here are the two arroyos looking east from Arroyo Grande:

Here is looking west from the divide back down to Arroyo Grande:

Ken Cooke - 4-3-2015 at 09:24 AM

Tuesday, the high temperature in Calexico, CA will be 79 and breezy! Good hiking weather!

[Edited on 4-3-2015 by Ken Cooke]

David K - 4-3-2015 at 09:28 AM

Quote: Originally posted by Ken Cooke  
Tuesday, the high temperature in Calexico, CA will be 79 and breezy! Good hiking weather!

[Edited on 4-3-2015 by Ken Cooke]

Monday is the hike day... but should still be nice... doesn't matter anyway, because after all these years talking the talk, it's time to WALK THE WALK!

David K - 4-8-2015 at 08:54 AM

Wonderful, remote canyons... we made two special discoveries, as well!
We didn't arrive at Arroyo Grande until Monday Noon, staying with the Pole Line Road group until they left the Pole Line Road at the T Junction. The five of us on the Henderson Hike were 4x4ABC (Harald), Fernwah (Karl), Frigatebird (Joe), TMW (TW Tom), and me. We hiked Arroyo A that Monday afternoon and Frigatebird, TW and I hiked Arroyo D Tuesday morning and a little of Arroyo B on our way north.
Trip Report coming soon...

elbeau - 4-8-2015 at 09:44 AM

Quote: Originally posted by David K  
we made two special discoveries, as well!

Santa Isabel and the fountain?

ehall - 4-8-2015 at 09:45 AM

The rest of us were only 3 hours behind you David. ( after a slight detour) I didn't see your tracks where you guys turned off the road.

David K - 4-8-2015 at 10:06 AM

Quote: Originally posted by ehall  
The rest of us were only 3 hours behind you David. ( after a slight detour) I didn't see your tracks where you guys turned off the road.

So, you guys didn't get to Ejido Saldaña and out to Hwy. 5 at the sand dunes... and doubled back going to Arroyo Grande and out to La Ventana?

Where the Pole Line Road reaches Arroyo Grande (4.3 miles from the T junction, where we separated from you guys), we turned right to go up Arroyo Grande fro our hikes and camp Monday night.

David K - 4-8-2015 at 10:08 AM

Quote: Originally posted by elbeau  
Quote: Originally posted by David K  
we made two special discoveries, as well!

Santa Isabel and the fountain?

Don't you wish!!??

ehall - 4-8-2015 at 10:38 AM

The road had been completely washed away. No sign of it could be found. We tried for about 2 hours to find it with no luck. We didn't have enough fuel left to risk continued searching so we cut our losses and backtracked.

David K - 4-8-2015 at 11:04 AM

Wow, well... At least you got to see one more pole, which was on that last 4.3 miles of the road, of the run ending at Arroyo Grande... and you had our fresh tracks to follow.

The amazing road building may last many years for other 4 wheelers to do the run, eastward. Going west it wasn't as bad an issue, plus nobody was being towed.

[Edited on 4-8-2015 by David K]

güéribo - 4-8-2015 at 01:12 PM

Looking forward to the report.

David K - 4-8-2015 at 02:44 PM

Thanks. I will have road logs, GPS, Sat views, and photos!

Ken Cooke - 4-8-2015 at 09:26 PM

I will upload my videos this weekend. Can't wait to see your full trip report.

David K - 4-9-2015 at 12:37 AM

Quote: Originally posted by Ken Cooke  
I will upload my videos this weekend. Can't wait to see your full trip report.

It has just begun:


David K - 4-11-2015 at 08:08 AM

Inspired by Choral Pepper, I hopped to use Walter Henderson's 1967 letter details of his discovery to see what he saw in the 1930's. It didn't matter if it was a grave of the first European explorer to walk into California or just a pile of rocks, made by men, it was just to confirm Henderson's route into Arroyo Grande from where he drove and parked his Model A.

Previous searchers for the 'Rock-Pile' included Bruce Barber and Nomad 'DesertGhost' (Tad) using the details the Pepper gave in her Baja book and Desert Magazine articles.

The problem with those details is that they were not accurate and did not say where Henderson began his hike (parked his Model A). The letter (published in this thread for all to enjoy) was buried in a box of letters and photos belonging to Choral Pepper that was given to me by her children, following her death (per her wishes), as well as her 'Baja Dream' painting (she was an artists as well as a writer).

What we read is that Henderson (and a friend) drove south of La Ventana to about El Chinero Mountain, then west to the base of the Sierra La Pinta (Las Pintas) mountains. Arroyo el Arrajal was possibly used or parallel to it.

The next morning, they got an early start and began walking towards their goal (Las Tinajas Mountain/ La Palmita) to find blue palms. They later would realize they were too far south to begin such a walk. After reaching the top of the Sierra las Pintas (approx. 10 miles from the Model A?) they descended down, steeply to Arroyo Grande. 1/4 to 1/3 the distance down they found the 'Rock-Pile' (about noon). It was on a small mesa-like knob of land on the north side of the west flowing canyon/ wash.

They continued down the westward canyon and reached Arroyo Grande, where they camped the first night. The next day, they headed towards the base of Borrego Mountain (Cerro el Arrajal) and circled back to the Model A.

It was later that Henderson read about Melchior Diaz and realized the elaborate rock pile fit the description of how and where he was buried by his 25 troops and Indian guides. His efforts to get the Mexican government to send an expedition to find and preserve the possible grave failed when he was told that he would have to pay for the expedition!

So, the rock-pile and the grave of Melchior Diaz, made on January 8, 1541, remains un-found!???

Coming next, the 2015 expedition to all three west flowing washes....

Which Wash was it in?

David K - 4-11-2015 at 09:45 AM

Henderson said west flowing. Years ago, I assigned letters to possible routes down to Arroyo Grande from the divide of the Las Pintas sierra. The one I called Arroyo C is north flowing, so I dropped it from consideration. PaulW hiked up Arroyo C (or a parallel wash) to enter the mid section of Arroyo B. He then went down B only to find an impassable waterfall... and hiked over the ridge south of that point and into Arroyo Grande.

Because of that data, I dropped going up Arroyo B from our hike, and moved it down to Arroyo A, 2 miles south of B. We also hiked up Arroyo D, another 0.6 mile south of A.

Here are the maps of my idea of how Walter hiked up to the divide (blue arrows) and then the three possible west-flowing washes down to Arroyo Grande (A, B, D), (in red arrows).

On Monday afternoon, the five of us hiked up and around Arroyo A.
On Tuesday, 3 of us hiked up Arroyo D and a little of Arroyo B.

We made two awesome discoveries!!! Stand by for photos...

South in Arroyo Grande, from the Pole Line Road

David K - 4-11-2015 at 01:22 PM

The Pole Line Road from Ensenada meets Arroyo Grande, 4.3 miles from the T Junction. The elevation at the big arroyo is 803 feet, and you cannot see the opposite side where the Pole Line Road climbs out via a short grade. Off road racers use that southern route out to head towards San Felipe or Hwy. 3 at 'Borrego Wash', after it passes over the Sierra las Pintas.

Joe (Frigatebird), Tom (TMW), Harald (4x4abc), Karl (Fernweh), and I head south in the very sandy arroyo for 9.5 miles to our camp at the junction with Arroyo A, takes us about 20 minutes, arriving at 12:15 pm. Karl bypassed us at a fork in the wash tracks and kept driving a few more miles before turning back.

We find some shade and Harald has a sun canopy he sets up, and we make lunch and relax.

After a couple of hours, I decide to do a scouting hike to make sure we can get around or over the dam that Phil and Tom found blocking the way, a few months earlier. There was a deep pit at the base of the dam from the waterfall action, so I scrambled up the left (north) side of the canyon. On Google Earth you cannot make out that this side isn't near level... and it was quite steep, and loose!

I did manage to get beyond the gorge with the dams (more than one) and came down the other side into a small valley. On the north side of the valley was a mesa-like area... However, I knew it was too far from being 1/3 down from the divide... but it was exciting. Henderson said these mesa-like knobs are common in the area.

The valley soon narrowed and another small gorge was entered. I found some bees clustered at the base of a waterfall apparently getting moisture from a tinaja, covered by the gravel (a coyote well). I was able to climb to the left of that waterfall and avoid the bees, as well. I checked my GPS for the time, as I told the guys I would be back in an hour. I had to turn back in order not to cause a search party to be organized!

Here is where I hiked that hour (total distance from camp 0.5 mile):

About an hour after my return the rest of the group was ready to explore beyond my turn around location.

The Germans (Harald & Karl) hiked up the south side of the mountain before the dam and Joe, Tom and I used the way I had made it into the canyon. Tom decided he had enough fun after passing the mesa, and headed back to camp. Joe and I continued, but we could not progress further than 1/4 mile past the Bee Tinaja. The canyon forked, and we tried both branches. The left had a bolder lodged in a waterfall crack and the right branch just got way steep.

To get 25+ people, sheep, a man on a stretcher up this way was not possible, unless the geology had drastically changed. I don't even see Henderson getting through so easily, even coming downhill.

Karl explored over on the north ridge of the canyon and Harald checked out all he could on the south rim. Harald thought perhaps the Spanish soldiers came up from the east side, as did Henderson, and no from Arroyo Grande...?

Blue line is the additional amount Joe and I explored up from the Bees.

The high view shows the entire Arroyo A to the divide, and how little we were able to see of it (just the lower 3/4 mile of the 2 mile arroyo)...

Driving up Arroyo Grande from the Pole Line Road:

Sand was so deep, dropping below 20 psi was advised.

Hiking up Arroyo A:

Dam! Detour up to the north side...

View down the arroyo towards camp from the detour above the dam.

Somewhere before I turned back to camp.

Coming Next, we all go up Arroyo A...

David K - 4-11-2015 at 01:31 PM

Tom and Joe follow me up and around the dam gorge.

Harald and his dog on the south side, nice bright yellow shirt!

Tom and Joe probably discussing how they will kill me in my sleep?

The Bee Tinaja

The left (straight) fork.

Boulder block

Beyond the boulder

Frigatebird coming down the dam detour.

Campo Arroyo A

Coming Up Next: Tuesday's Hike up Arroyo D and Arroyo B... and two BIG SURPRISES!! Stay Tuned!!

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