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Author: Subject: Sierra de San Francisco..day trip
shari
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[*] posted on 2-27-2013 at 09:36 AM
Sierra de San Francisco..day trip


I have wanted to visit La Sierra for many many years and finally got around to doing it earlier this week when we had a 5 hour wait in Vizcaino for some test results. My only regret is not bringing my camera along so these photos are from my phone...dang...but you will get the idea.

The turnoff is about 15 minutes south of Vizcaino with a superb new paved highway winding up through the mountain range almost all the way to the ranches. The views of the valley, mountain cactus and deep canyons are spectacular…you can see all the way to San Ignacio lagoon! It was so windy up there all the road signs had blown down.





The paved road however does end a few miles short of the village and becomes one of those baja “challenges” not for the faint of heart. You need a high clearance vehicle with good tires to make it the last half hour to the top as the goat path is very rocky, narrow and rough.







There are a few small ranches you pass before you come to where there are “cuartos” or rustic rooms for rent and a beautiful dining room for visitors with photographic displays of the cave paintings and handicrafts for sale made by the ranchers.



A mile up the “road” which I called a burro path, is the main village where you register to see the cave paintings and arrange trips down into the canyon or the shorter tour to see the cave close by called El Raton.





Most of the families are Arce’s and relatives of my husband so it was enjoyable to meet them and see how they live…which is like something out of a wild west novel. Many of them are guides to take mule pack trips to see the famous cave paintings, and others survive by raising goats and making cheese. We bought 2 kg for 100 pesos from this smiley Arce! That is Gary's truck in the background who organizes tours from their B&B Ignacio Springs...we ran into him taking 3 french ladies for a trip to the canyon.



One family are leather workers and make to order shoes, boots, polinas (leather leg protectors) for riding, key chains, lariats etc. They live perched at the edge of the canyon as their families have lived for generations, with the main transportation being burros & mules which I understood much better after hobbling over the bad road…certainly more suited to beasts than trucks.

They are very gracious, humble folk with big smiles…although some of the old timers still avoid the camera lens as if it would steal their soul if they looked into it.



We visited the families and found out how to book a trip to see the cave art. Of course the easiest way is to arrange a trip through an outfitter who organizes everything for you like food and gear, but you can do it yourself by calling in advance to let them know you are coming so they have the beasts ready for you when you arrive. You must bring food & water for yourself and your guide for the trip. Here is Ramon Arce Mata getting ready for a trip showing me the map at Rancho Guadalupe







The most popular trip is to arrive at the ranch in the morning, get the gear packed onto the burros, mount the mule they choose just for you and ride off on a 2 night adventure. That first day, you ride a couple of hours then stop for lunch at a ranch and rest up a bit before you ride on to the place you will camp for the night. The trail down into the canyon is on the left of this photo.

.

The next day you will visit several caves and see some of the most magnificent cave paintings in the world and return to camp for a dinner and campfire like in the days of old. Then after a hearty breakfast, you begin your ride back, have lunch and a rest before heading up the canyon and back to the ranch. The guides can take 3 people each and cost 200 pesos a day and pack burros and mules are 150 pesos each a day. Here are some of the noble beasts that make this trip possible.







If you aren’t up for riding a mule for 2 days you can visit the cave close to the ranch to see what cave paintings look like. It is an incredible place to visit even if you don’t descend into the canyon.

The number for arranging trips is 615-156-4782





here is a photo just for David K..viva toyotas



[Edited on 2-27-2013 by shari]




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[*] posted on 2-27-2013 at 10:05 AM


Except for the first pix which looks a little fuzzy the rest were great. Excellent report thanks.
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[*] posted on 2-27-2013 at 10:35 AM


Thanks for the report and photos are great. Have always wanted to drive up that road since first time I saw it. Wish I had done it before paved, but happy for the folks getting an easier ride up. Question about the El Raton cave, if one was to head up for a last minute day trip one could see said cave without a lot of pre-planning? Yes? No? Maybe?

:dudette:




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[*] posted on 2-27-2013 at 10:45 AM


Thank you Shari... great photos and details that help those of us who have not yet been up there to see what is the set up. (Nice Toyota photo with Baja Nomad and 'got baja?' stickers, too)

The map looks like right out of Harry Crosby's book, and that helps visualize the area of the closest caves. As noted on the map Cueva Pintada was originally 'Gardner Cave' named (by Mexico's national archaeologist Dr. Carlos Margain) after Erle Stanley Gardner, who did so much to make the outside world know of this treasure... back when there was no auto road to San Francisco de la Sierra, just a two day mule ride on El Camino Real, or arrive by helicopter!

Here is Dr. Margain's map from the early 1960's with his names for the caves:



Erle's book on that expedition:



The 2000-ish movie 'Bajo California: The Limit of Time' was an excellent Baja theme film on a man's quest to return to the home country of his late grandmother: San Francisco de la Sierra, from his California home, by truck and by foot.

Once again, thank you Shari!




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[*] posted on 2-27-2013 at 11:47 AM


El Gato Loco-

You will have to get a guide to see Raton....stop at the hotelito and talk with Chico-he can arrange things. Also at the hotel there is wifi for anyone needing a taste of the outside world. Raton is rather disappointing as the caves go and really does not prepare you for what is hidden in the numerous canyons of SSF. That last piece going in to SF is a real b-tch....even worse if the driver has rolled a truck down the side of a mountain in Baja once already(:o).

The hotel can be very cold so bring a warm sleeping bag-it is a good place to R &R after spending days or weeks muleback in the range. Sometimes there is even hot water! Chico's wife can cook a meal sometimes for you or you can pay to use the kitchen.

You are at altitude so remember warm clothes. I always have my down vest. Bring color books and crayons for the kids, maybe hand lotion or shampoos and work gloves for the grown-ups. Candy is NOT a good thing to offer....diabetes is rampant and the kids' teeth get enough of the sweets. The drive up is incredible-stop and look down over to the eastish at Cueva Obscura-a mysterious black hole that is a wonderful painted cave site--but that takes mules and a few days. From way up there you see Laguna San Ignacio and the town of Vizcaino and get cell phone service too (Mexican ph).




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[*] posted on 2-27-2013 at 12:13 PM


Baja Bucko - Appreciate the info. Have always enjoyed your stories about your mule adventures, you are an inspiration! We do have a multi-day mule trip on our bucket list but we are heading down in next couple of weeks for a look at the whales in SI lagoon and I am thinking a quick drive up the mountain for some views and El Raton may be a nice diversion on way back north. We will definitely take all your suggestions to heart, we stopped giving out candy long time ago for very same reasons you mentioned.

Thanks again! :dudette:




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[*] posted on 2-27-2013 at 01:08 PM


thanks for the Information- I have been wanting to visit baja's caves for years. and where to I get some of those Nomad stickers for my truck?

(those roads/trails are not for the faint of heart, but not sure I'm up for 2 days on mules... )




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[*] posted on 2-27-2013 at 01:20 PM


Thanks for sharing Shar . . . like being there, I enjoyed your trip. Thank you for the time.



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[*] posted on 2-27-2013 at 02:49 PM


Thanks, so great



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[*] posted on 2-27-2013 at 08:24 PM


The road before it was paved was definitely not for the faint of heart. My partner had to peel my hands off the steering wheel once we arrived at the Hostal/Albergue! We were driving a tank of a truck, 3/4 ton, wide as the road in some parts it seemed, and with a tendency to lose traction at the sight of a rock or patch of sand.

The most fun part was when we met another truck coming the other way and he wouldn't stop at the place we could have passed each other, so I ended up having to back up about a qtr. of a mile to a wide spot along a very narrow stretch with drop off on each side.

I was so happy to return this past Fall and find out that there was only a few miles left unpaved and that the Rancho was already in sight when we hit the dirt. Of course, it took us about 4 hours because there were two of us botanists in the car this time and my ever-patient partner/driver/dogs body to drive us, so we got her to stop at every new outcrop of green on the way up so we could examine the plants, identify and photograph them.

And it doesn't seem to matter what time of the year it is up there. It's bloody cold! We stayed over night twice (late Feb. and early May) and I've never been so cold, even when I went totally prepared the second time. Our day trip was actually quite lovely in October, though the early morning on the way up was cool and foggy.

But it's not to be missed, however you might spend the time. Chico and Yadira are great hosts.

One other thing of import to add for would-be travelers. Don't expect to be fed while there. Yadira will cook for you, but they don't supply the food. So bring in whatever you want to eat. You can cook in the kitchen or hire Yadira to prepare your meals.




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[*] posted on 2-27-2013 at 08:37 PM


Any idea how many miles each way are covered in the 3 day trip?



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[*] posted on 2-27-2013 at 09:25 PM


I have done two 3-day trips with Ramon Arce (pictured above), and he was fantastic. Not only is he a great guide, he loves to sing and has a fantastic & booming voice, which you wouldn't know from his quiet demeanor. And he even plays air-palmfrond (think air guitar) if you are lucky. I'll always remember one time when his song echoed back across the canyon - sent chills down my spine. You don't know Baja until you have spent time in those mountains.
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[*] posted on 2-27-2013 at 09:50 PM


A great report Shari, thank you very much!
It's on the growing list of adventures that must be taken.
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[*] posted on 2-27-2013 at 09:57 PM



The guides can take 3 people each and cost 200 pesos a day and pack burros and mules are 150 pesos each a day. Here are some of the noble beasts that make this trip possible.


There rates are very reasonable. Sounds like it might be a cool escape in the summer months.

Hopefully they give you all the time and space that you need and don't feel the need to 'guide' you at every turn.
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[*] posted on 2-27-2013 at 10:56 PM


These guides are all on a roll and they work when their name comes up. If you have already used a guide, you can request him/her as your head guide on another trip. Don't forget to tip the cowboys who work for you. Bring tortillas and beans just in case what you do have isn't enough. AND always remember, these guys keep YOU safe in their country-they know their mules, the trails, and any hazards.

Being in INAH country you can not just wander off. If you are approved to see caves A and B but then find out there are 4 more caves off the trail aways, you can not just change your plans so put careful thought in to what sites you want to see. Carry a water filter and be prepared for any type of weather. Treat the vaqueros well as they work very hard for little pay and infrequent job opportunities. Going into this range is travel back in time. I call the Sierra San Franciscos my church.....and that's why I keep going back again and again....




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[*] posted on 2-27-2013 at 11:43 PM
In the early 1960's


Some of the Photos from the Choral Pepper collection... now at http://choralpepper.com

The first 'outsiders' to visit San Francisco de la Sierra, in anyone's memory there, arrived by helicopter...



Choral Pepper (wearing hat) stands with the young female
inhabitants of this tiny village. Never before have these folks seen outsiders. A three day mule ride was (then) needed to reach San Ignacio from San Francisco de la Sierra.
An auto road was constructed 20 years after Choral visited by helicopter.



San Francisco de la Sierra



San Francisco is much higher and cooler than the surrounding deserts.


When she asked about these walls, Choral Pepper was told they are what remains of the first site of Mision Dolores del Norte. Until then, its location was unknown to outsiders. The mission was moved and renamed Santa Gertrudis.

[The Cochimí neophytes who lived north of San Ignacio were assigned to 'Dolores del Norte', a mission that existed on paper for many years before a site was found by Padre Consag (that would be renamed Santa Gertrudis when funds were donated). The walls at San Francisco may have been from mission times, but the lack of water for agriculture there precluded it from being a mission, it would seem. The locals at the time of Gardner and Pepper's visit truly believed the old walls were the ruins of Dolores, however. Title to the land around San Francisco was obtained by Buenaventure Arce between 1839 and 1854].



San Pablo Canyon begins at San Francisco de la Sierra.
It contains the giant rock art sites made famous by Gardner.




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[*] posted on 2-28-2013 at 09:47 AM


A very good thread. Nice reporting Shari. :coolup:



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[*] posted on 2-28-2013 at 09:56 AM


Shari,

Thanks for posting such great information. Another bucket list item.

Ken




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[*] posted on 2-28-2013 at 10:19 AM


Quote:
Originally posted by David K
Some of the Photos from the Choral Pepper collection... now at http://choralpepper.com


DK: thanks for link to pics. I found the sailboat pic interesting, could not tell if it was cat boat or gaff rig. do you have pics of the early sail rigs used by baja fishermen? i'm wondering what was the locally favored sail rig in baja in pre-motorized-panga days

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[*] posted on 2-28-2013 at 10:39 AM


i think it is a Gunther rig...but WTF is that thing swimming in the water???



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