pixel

Baja Fever
By Greg Niemann

Arturo Grosso – Baja’s Road Builder

By Greg Niemann

Laguna Chapala

Baja’s long-anticipated eastern connection with the Transpeninsular Highway (Highway 1) is nearing completion. Soon travelers, especially those entering from southeast California and Arizona, will find the new Highway 5 a better option to head into the heart of Baja California.

So far the road is paved from Puertecitos to about 20 kilometers south of Gonzaga Bay, (as of late June 2016) the rest is mostly graded. Today even 2-wheel drive vehicles can make the connection driving slowly. Upon completion, the new paved road from Mexicali to Highway 1 is expected to shave four hours driving time off the old dirt road.

To get the job done this year Mexico has allocated another 290 million Pesos. Project Director Alfonso Padrés Pesqueira stated that the additional federal resources will help get the highway completed during 2016.

Finishing the job is not that simple, however, as five bridges must be built varying from 32 meters in length to the longest at Lake Chapala which will span 108 meters. While additional paved roads open the wilds of Baja to more and more tourists, old-timers know “it wasn’t always that easy.”

Before 1973 (the year Highway 1 opened), it seemed the only place any speed could be reached was at Laguna Chapala, a dry lake bed in Central Baja California. But the exhilarating ride was short-lived and first earned by traversing a maze of dirt tracks.

The old road entered deep, flour-fine silt, where drivers had created many tracks while trying to find a smoother, less-dusty section. As many as 40 or 50 roads took off in seemingly every direction over a couple of miles, crossing and recrossing each other, and no matter which one you took, you wish you had taken one of the others.

Laguna Chapala Rancho

All the roads through the deep powder, however, ended at Rancho Chapala on the edge of the dry lake bed. The historic rancho was founded by a hardy Baja pioneer, Señor Arturo Grosso Peña.

Arturo Grosso, the oldest son of an Italian mining engineer from Santa Rosalia (Eduardo Grosso) and his Indian wife Tecla, became a central Baja legend in his own time. Born in 1892, he was the oldest brother of Señora Anita “Mama” Espinoza, the famous matriarch of El Rosario.

Doña Anita, who had aided Baja travelers for decades and originated the Flying Samaritans, died in March 2016 at the age of 105. (Some reports had her older. She told me she was born on Oct. 16, 1910, the date also listed in the 1985 book Dona Anita of El Rosario. In her own book, Reflections, (1994) she states she was born in 1908 and also erroneously that her brother Arturo was born in 1890. She did mention a lack of accurate record-keeping. Regardless, she lived to well over 100 and, like her brother, inspired thousands.)

Arturo, who spoke good English like his youngest sister, was also a helpful magnet for adventurous Baja travelers and welcomed all who had entered the broad dry lake area. His modest rancho allowed visitors to camp, offering small guest rooms for just $1 per person, and meals. He even encouraged campers to unroll their sleeping bags on his dining room floor if it was too windy outside. There was a 2,000-foot packed dirt airstrip between the rancho and a nearby hill.

Mama Espinoza

Grosso was a soldier and became known as the person who could get things done. Baja’s Northern Territory Governor Abelardo Rodriguez (later Mexico’s President) turned to Grosso in 1925 for a special project – to build a road for cars through the most impossible terrain of Baja California.

The road would extend from El Rosario in the north to El Arco in the south, a link of about 250 miles. With no engineer or other supervision, “Jefe” Arturo Grosso led a team of only six or seven workers and got the job done in one year. They had a 1924 Ford to shuttle the workers, their tools (rudimentary picks and shovels) supplies, and food. Years later, the paved Highway 1 would be part of or closely follow Grosso’s original work. The building of Baja’s most iconic road is just one story attributed to the indomitable Mr. Grosso.

Erle Stanley Gardner in his 1961 book Hovering Over Baja describes Grosso’s broad influence: “Grosso is an intelligent man, an energetic man, and, according to Baja California standards, a rich man. He has many head of cattle and he has the ability to look and plan ahead. Arturo Grosso is a power. Grosso is friendly, speaks good English and is keenly interested in people and in events.”

There are several stories and photos about Arturo Grosso in the Natural History and Cultural Museum at Bahia de los Angeles, but especially important is another notable and true tale about the illustrious pathfinder. It seems he created another road – the San Felipe-Chapala road, now being morphed into Highway 5.

Central Baja Map

Baja California became a state in 1952 and was attempting to attract tourists. San Felipe, on the gulf, was just being developed, and in 1955 the state government offered a 10,000 Peso reward (about $800 U.S. at the time) if somebody could create a road from San Felipe south to tie in with the old main road (built by Grosso 30 years previously) near the dry lake bed.

By now in his 60s, Arturo Grosso rose to the challenge. He got some dynamite and blasted a road he could drive his truck through. The road, through Puertecitos and Gonzaga Bay, became known as the “three sisters” for three major summits that challenged adventurers. Driven by many, it was considered one of Baja’s more difficult roads until it was graded in the 1990’s.

But it was a road nonetheless, and it led tourists to the once-secluded Gonzaga Bay area and to connect with the main road south. The rancho at Chapala also became an important rest stop for participants in the early Baja 1000 off-road races.

There are many legends surrounding Grosso; he was so adept at getting things done that it became hard to separate fact from fancy. He was a practical joker and delighted in shocking people – like guests who would ask what they had just eaten. He would take them into the storeroom and point at some dried strips of various game, sometimes with the hair still on it. According to sister Anita, “Any animal that had legs was fair game for Arturo’s stews.

He loved to talk to American visitors in English. He’d drink beer with them and often talk them into a foot race, which the wiry rancher would win almost every time.

Arturo Grosso Green Card

Admittedly, he used to help people smuggle illegal parrots into the United States. The smugglers would land at the Chapala airstrip and pay Grosso to water, feed, and care for the parrots while awaiting their journey north. One story he loved to tell was about how once he was shopping on Market Street in San Diego and heard someone say, “Arturo Grosso, Arturo Grosso,” He looked and saw a pet store with two parrots on perches. One said to the other one, “Isn’t that Arturo Grosso from Chapala?” He told the story so many times that even people close to him began to wonder if it could be true.

When the Transpensinular Highway was paved in 1973, the slightly new configuration bypassed Grosso’s Rancho Chapala. No problem. He just moved his rancho – lock, stock and barrel – two kilometers west to the new road.

Grosso and his wife had five children, a son, Eugenio Grosso, and four daughters. In 2001, Eugenio, then 45 years old, his wife Hortencia, and their three children were running the Rancho Chapala. The rancho was still quite rustic, a holdover from a time gone by, but the friendliness of the family lingered. He even let me borrow his dad’s Green Card which I scanned and returned on my next visit months later.

Truck drivers stop for coffee and good basic food. The old wooden rancho walls were decorated with framed jigsaw puzzles, the incongruous lush mountain scenery and European buildings a notable contrast from the desert outside.

Three of Grosso’s daughters had left the arid Laguna Chapala area, but have not migrated far. One moved to Bahia de los Angeles, another to El Rosario, and a third to San Vicente. During the early 1990s, the fourth, Naty, established her own Rancho Laguna Chapala, one kilometer north of the older one.

The original legendary rancher and road-builder, Arturo Grosso died on his 85th birthday, Apr. 15, 1977. All the family members I’ve met throughout Baja, including siblings, nieces, nephews and grandkids, share the pride of their illustrious relative. It was good to learn that the simple life led by this man out in the middle of the driest, most desolate corners of the universe could have such an influence on people.

And remember, whether you drive south into the interior of Baja California on the Transpeninsular Highway 1 or the newly paved Highway 5 – Arturo Grosso was there first!


About Greg

Greg Niemann, a long-time Baja writer, is the author of Baja Fever, Baja Legends, Palm Springs Legends, Las Vegas Legends, and Big Brown: The Untold Story of UPS. Visit www.gregniemann.com.

4.7 112 Reviews
  • user logo
    Charles Gee
    From logo

    Incredibly fast and painless. Paid about $180 for a month of coverage. It was easier than going on line.

  • user logo
    Chyla Nava
    From logo

    Great, easy to use service. I haven't had to file a claim (and hope I never have to) but the online portal is very easy to use, and it's...

  • user logo
    Kierian Kuklok
    From logo

    I have been a customer for years and when I really needed them they stepped up in every way. I had a freak accident to my car and they...

  • user logo
    Lourdes Montoya
    From logo

    Easy, fast, and affordable.

  • user logo
    Aj Cornejo
    From logo

    Reasonable prices and we thought best chance to actually get results if we needed them.

  • user logo
    Adrianna Dorsey
    From logo

    Great company, great prices, and even better customer service. We've lived in Baja for 7 years and have used them for the past 6years....

  • user logo
    Gary Counts
    From logo

    So convenient and easy to navigate thru the online process. I'll never use any other Mexican insurance service!

  • user logo
    Joey Digiovanni
    From logo

    Easy to work with 😉. Always courteous and helpful. Have used them for all trips to Mexico. Easy website to navigate

  • user logo
    Jolene Bibian
    From logo

    Shauna at Baja Bound was AWESOME!! We had specific questions about how to quote the policy based on our vehicle type and she was super...

  • user logo
    Rebecca Newell
    From logo

    Great service!

  • user logo
    Maria Elena Smith
    From logo

    Easy and affordable.

  • user logo
    Mehdi Fahid
    From logo

    I reapplied for my Baja Bound Mexican car Insurance yesterday and I spoke to Ms. Shauna. This lady processed my application quickly and...

  • user logo
    Benjamin Driebe
    From logo

    Absolutely fantastic, I already forgot her name because I have a terrible memory but the woman that helped me on the phone was wonderful,...

  • user logo
    richard carr
    From logo

    fast replies and great price!

  • user logo
    Juan Zuniga
    From logo

    I just would like to know if you guys are going to update the fastpass direction any soon, during the month of January the lane changed to...

  • user logo
    Richard Schweiger
    From logo

    Very professional, very helpful, great policy, I couldn't be happier with Baja Mexican Insurance, the friendly smiles and ease of it all in...

  • user logo
    Ryan Frisby
    From logo

    We use them every time we travel to Mexico. Luckily we have not needed their services yet but getting insurance through them is quick and...

  • user logo
    Jan Muhammad
    From logo

    I need a tourist visa for maxico I'm from pakistan help me sir

  • user logo
    Tracy Moore
    From logo

    Very easy, quick, and professional

  • user logo
    robert kepper
    From logo

    They are very good . There website doesn't show you need a title to bring a vehicle across the border.I was stopped and told I had to...

  • user logo
    Edilver Martinez
    From logo

    Our go to Baja car insurance, everytime we take a visit down south . Usually it's for a day trip either for a quick getaway with the family...

  • user logo
    Daniel “Dan M” Markofsky
    From logo

    Third time working with Baja Bound and they made it easy! Thanks!

  • user logo
    Steve Bender
    From logo

    Have never needed to use the insurance fortunately but the website always works great. Can buy a policy in about a minute.

  • user logo
    Jose Paez
    From logo

    Had a great experience getting insurance at Baja Bound, before I always stoped at the border to purchase my insurance, not anymore. By the...

  • user logo
    JUSTINE SERRANO
    From logo

    I purchased insurance through them & CHUBB for our trip to San Felipe. Unfortunately, we had to cancel due to our vehicle having an oil...

  • user logo
    Christian Minor
    From logo

    Team were on point, provided inside information, prices were great and they had my proposal already in the system when I called back....

  • user logo
    George
    From logo

    Excellent customer service

  • user logo
    Kellye Pummill
    From logo

    Fast and easy!

  • user logo
    Jennifer Toups
    From logo

    Baja Bound is and has been my go to Mexico insurance company. The website is extremely easy to use, keeps all your info for a quick...

  • user logo
    Cesar Lopez
    From logo

    Very convenient, great price !!

  • user logo
    Louis Schneidman
    From logo

    I had an awesome experience with Baja Bound. Family owned and highly personal, top notch customer service. I have total peace of mind...

  • user logo
    Phil Noble
    From logo

    If you’re looking for Mexican Insurance that you can trust and feel good about while traveling in Mexico, you’ve found the right place....

  • user logo
    Jeff Bunker
    From logo

    Great coverage options . Price buy and print policy , very quick and easy , highly recommend them when driving in Mexico

  • user logo
    Burrell DeVine
    From logo

    Easy to navigate and very competitively priced! I had to call in and add an additional day, they couldn't have been any more pleasant to...

  • user logo
    Nereyda Torres
    From logo

    Me gusta la asuguranza porque la puedes comprar por un dia y te asegura en Mexico por el tiempo que vas ya sea hasta por mes (Translated...

  • user logo
    james whitmer
    From logo

    Best insurance I've had so far

  • user logo
    Rail1riders
    From logo

    Quick, easy, well designed website and not just for Baja. Good rates for temporal residente gringos. We’re not living in Jalisco. Printed...

  • user logo
    Matt B
    From logo

    I always use Baja Bound to source my insurance while traveling to Mexico. Fortunately, I have not had to file any claims. I do appreciate...

  • user logo
    Refugio I. Rochin
    From logo

    Excellent online and by direct phone. Spanish and English with proven response to questions. Website is very informative about driving in...

  • user logo
    Kelly Carney
    From logo

    Yara is very helpful and explains everything. Love working with companies like this.

  • user logo
    Slumdog Gump
    From logo

    Changed some money. Good rate and friendly people.

  • user logo
    Jeff G
    From logo

    Went down to TJ June 11 2020 No problems going into TJ but the way back was a ordeal 6 hours in line to get back into the USA but no...

  • user logo
    don letson
    From logo

    Great renewal process, if only south Dakota would do the same for car registration.

  • user logo
    len buckholtz
    From logo

    SIMPLE, STRAIGHTFORWARD. OLD GUYS LIKE THAT. WILL DEFINITELY USE IN 6 MONTHS IF STILL RUNNING AROUND THE WILDS OF BAJA.

  • user logo
    Susana Judd
    From logo

    Easy, quick and fair prices. Easy to deal with if needed.

  • user logo
    Seismic Waterfinder
    From logo

    Very excellent service, needed insurance for Mexico, price was fair. The custumer service rep was Yara

  • user logo
    Nicolas Dervé
    From logo

    Very good ans very fast. We hope all will ben good if we need it.

  • user logo
    Blake Glassco
    From logo

    I will never drive south of the border without Baja Bound in my center console. I was in an accident a couple hours south of Ensenada and...

  • user logo
    JohnPaul Gemelli
    From logo

    Baja Bound could not have made it an easier ... also, I made a mistake and called them having to leave a message ... but, they called back...

  • user logo
    Jeff Brandt
    From logo

    so far so good, however I have read good things about them

  • user logo
    Sengoz N
    From logo

    SERIOUS.

  • user logo
    Kenneth Trass
    From logo

    Getting a policy was simple, Provided more than provider for price comparison.

  • user logo
    Esther Valencia
    From logo

    Super easy to purchase just the coverage you need when crossing the border in your own car. I especially appreciate the fact that I was...

  • user logo
    Larry Cottingham
    From logo

    Great service, very helpful people there.

  • user logo
    Luis Cortes
    From logo

    Easiest way to purchase insurance when traveling to Mexico. I have used their service for the last 7 years and it only gets easier and...

  • user logo
    j dougher ty
    From logo

    EZ Peasy insurance purchase. Great service every time I've used them. Had to cancel one time when my travel plans went away - no problem....

  • user logo
    Paul Niehouse
    From logo

    Extremely easy to acquire a policy. Many options available. Reasonable rates.

  • user logo
    Colin
    From logo

    Super-easy and instant. Very happy with initial purchase.

  • user logo
    Howard M Elster
    From logo

    2nd year with Chubb. No problems

  • user logo
    Cyndee Congrove
    From logo

    Great customer service, quick, friendly staff helpfully answered all questions, very patient with my learning curve on a new product. Would...

  • user logo
    Art Eugenio
    From logo

    I've had Baja Bound insurance for more that ten years now with thousands of miles logged in Baja. Fortunately, I've only had one fender...

  • user logo
    Gabe Matthews
    From logo

    Where do i start..... you dont know you have good insurance until you have to actually use it. I have had Baja Bound INS for over 5 years...

  • user logo
    keith berkley
    From logo

    Been going to baja for 45 years. This is best insurance company i have come accross.

  • user logo
    Ryan Perkio
    From logo

    I have been using BajaBound Insurance for 15 years - multiple trips per year. Their website is easy, their coverage is great, and the...

  • user logo
    RaMon McBride
    From logo

    I have not had any claims thus far so rating is based on ease of purchase.

  • user logo
    Larry French
    From logo

    By far the best service for Mex insurance in Baja. They are personally there for you if you have problems south of the border.

  • user logo
    Tudor Thomas
    From logo

    Baja Bound makes buying insurance for going south of the border as easy as it gets. The website is the easiest I have used and the staff...