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Author: Subject: Gonzaga Bay Sidetrips - Part 5 (by David K)
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[*] posted on 12-4-2002 at 11:17 PM
Gonzaga Bay Sidetrips - Part 5 (by David K)

In May of 1999, just months after discovering the Internet's many Baja web sites and the amigos here, Baja Mur met me and we went to Mision Santa Maria from Rancho Santa Ynez (on a m/c and a quad). We returned to Santa Ynez at sundown, then loaded our rides and drove to Gonzaga Bay, staying at Doug's casa (at Alfonsina's).

When the wind one day prevented us from fishing, we went up the Santa Maria Canyon to see how close we could ride, (then walk) towards the mission. We found refreshing pools of water and took a swim, rather than hike any further.

On our last day of that trip, Doug took us over the canyon and mission in his plane for an aerial recon. All this can be seen on mine and Baja Mur's web sites:

The gap between the mission and the canyon pools below is only about 5 miles (straight), but is so rugged, years of attempts by Rancho Santa Ynez to build a road between the mission and Gonzaga were abandoned. The Mexican government even deemed it impossible and built the connecting road from Laguna Chapala instead.

From the end of the bulldozed road, just east of the mission, an old trail decends to the canyon floor (can be seen in our aerial photos). This was an Indian trail and Graham Mackintosh tried taking his burro down it... too rough!

The padres built their El Camino Real north of the rocky canyon, parallel to it. I knew the old camino east of the canyon went to Las Palmitas oasis. But where did it cross the sandy Arroyo Santa Maria and ascend the mountain, to reach Mision Santa Maria? That was my next quest!

Friday afternoon, we headed south from the Pemex/Rancho Grande Store 7.4 miles to the Las Palmitas road going west at 29?41.09'/ 114?24.57'(NAD27). Taking this road you will cross two large arroyos (Las Arrastras and Tomas, in the Almanac) and after three miles come to a steep long down grade to the Santa Maria (dry river) valley.

At 3.2 miles or 29?41.28'/ 114?27.64' the greater traveled road forks south, but tracks also continue straight ahead towards the Santa Maria Canyon. The south road goes through a beautiful desert gorge and ends in 1.5 miles at an oasis of 30 tall palms and more smaller ones around a full water hole. This is Las Palmitas or as a sign spells it 'Las Palmytas' oasis at 29?40.35'/ 114?28.29'. The El Camino Real comes over the low rise (to the east) from Calamajue, and either uses the route just driven on or goes over the hill to the Arroyo Santa Maria valley.

Back at the fork at Mile 3.2, continue west along the valley. Before reaching a point 4.0 miles from dirt Highway 5 or 0.8 mi. from the Las Palmitas fork, is a parking spot by a huge boulder. The tracks ahead drop into the white sand arroyo, but rocks will soon block your way at 29?41.65'/ 114?28.25'.

Turning around (4WD), you will see a set of tire tracks coming in from the left take this to the north bank of the arroyo. One can continue east from here and drive all the way back to Highway 5. However, it's all very sandy for 5.6 miles. The Las Palmitas road is far easier.

We didn't find it that cloudy day... very disappointing! Saturday, the sun came out and we returned. With the sun shining bright, we could see a trail as we neared the end of the road. It was climbing up from the arroyo to a side valley, above.

If you leave your vehicle at the huge boulder at the edge of the sandy arroyo, you can walk across the arroyo to the opposite side to find the El Camino Real. You are near the mouth (or entrance) of the Santa Maria Canyon. Walking up the canyon (about a mile) will bring you to the blue palms and pools Mur and I swam in, in 1999.

The north bank of the arroyo has about an 8 foot high cliff, so I was searching for some access that mules and people could climb up. I soon found it, three northbound cattle trails converged, and that is where the El Camino Real leaves Arroyo Santa Maria, going north. A small granite boulder 'step' marks the spot at 29?41.733'/ 114?28.175' (NAD27).

Following the cattle tracks, they go a short distance to a steep climb up the side of the valley, through some ocotillos. This would be difficult on a motorcycle, but has been done on a XR600, per a letter I received. The trail beyond turns from north to northwest. Along here, a sign was laying on the ground with 'Mission Santa Maria' and arrows painted on it. Baja Bucko (who rode a mule here 2 years ago) told me about the sign. I was now confirmed to be on the El Camino Real!

I walked about a mile, and was smiling from ear to ear the whole time. Chris elected to wait by my truck, otherwise I may have walked all the way to the mission! This was a great day for me. I felt like I was in a place I belonged, it was very special for me. This cattle path of today was once the main highway through Baja, before automobiles. Junipero Serra, Arthur North, and Harry Crosby had all been on this path before me.

Who will join me on a hike all the way to the mission? (The point where I turned back was at 29?42.374'/ 114?28.566')

With all my planned quests met, I was a very satisfied explorer. We had a nice camp fire that night and were joined by John Baretta, Heather, and John's kids.

We left at 8:30, Sunday morning, for the trip home. Passed Puertecitos at 10:30, San Felipe at noon, Mexicali at 2:15... and Calexico at 4:15! That 3 mile line took as long as the 50 mile rough road from Gonzaga to Puertecitos! We were home by 7:15... lots of traffic from Glamis on I-8.

Until the next Baja adventure... be good to yourselves and your fellow Amigos de Baja! Happy Holidays!


[Edited on 12-5-2002 by BajaNomad]
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