pixel

Baja’s Colorful Cliffside Palettes
By Greg Niemann

Baja’s Colorful Cliffside Palettes

By Greg Niemann

Baja Cave Art Plane on Dirt Runway in Baja

They’re considered the finest examples of cave art in the Western Hemisphere. Yet the centuries-old paintings in Baja California have been available to westerners only for the past half-century or so. It wasn’t until several explorers, writers and adventurers documented and analyzed these significant finds before the public learned much about them.

Writer Erle Stanley Gardner visited numerous caves in the early sixties and later brought in archeologists to document the incredible discoveries. (The Hidden Heart of Baja, Erle Stanley Gardner, Jarrolds Publishers, 1962). In the 1970s author Harry Crosby explored numerous areas in Baja’s central mountains by mule and pack burros documenting and photographing over 200 sites. His resulting book remains a very comprehensive study on the paintings. (The Cave Paintings of Baja California, Harry W. Crosby, Sunbelt Publications, 1997).

Central Baja California abounds in remote mountain sites where predecessors to the indigenous Cochimi Indians used sheer mountain cliffs as their palettes. There, applying inky substances from plants in black, red and ochre ink, they gave us clues of their existence. They drew the animals they hunted, the arrows they crafted, and the victorious celebrations.

Visiting many of these mountain art sites requires considerable effort while some are easier to access. The most picturesque caves, including what is considered the grandest, the Cueva Pintada (Painted Cave, also called Gardner Cave) or the Cueva Flecha (Arrow Cave) require a journey of several days down into steep canyons on the backs of sure-footed mules.

Cataviña

Baja Cave Art Baja Cave Art

In the late 1990s and early 2000s I visited several art sites, including the easily accessed one in the Cataviña area. Less than a mile north on Highway 1 from the Hotel Mision Cataviña the highway fords a stream. The first time I visited this little gem of a cave I hiked from that junction, but it’s easier to drive north up the hill to the first clearing where you can pull off the highway.

Drive in and continue to the base of a hill overlooking the junction of two streams. Looking up you should see a sign announcing the small cave.

There’s a short scramble up a trail and the cave is actually formed by large boulders. It’s not much, just a crawl space, a kind of boy’s hideout actually. But there are some colorful paintings on the ceiling, a sunray and a few circles and other markings. But for accessibility, you can’t beat it. A 15-minute detour from the highway and you’ve experienced some cave art.

Cueva Ratón

You can drive to others, like one behind the old mission San Fernando de Velicatả but most are not so near the main highway. Probably the most outstanding art you can drive to is Cueva Ratón, up in the Sierra San Francisco. The little community of San Francisco is also the take-off point for mule explorations into the major cave sites where tour groups depart into the canyons.

To get there, from Highway 1 about halfway between Vizcaino and the picturesque village of San Ignacio, take the graded dirt road marked “Cuevas Rupuestas” off to the east.

The 23-mile road begins wide and straight, and then winds up a ridge to a plateau, following the crest of a mountain spur. The incredible panorama extends way out across the Vizcaino Desert to Guerrero Negro.

The road narrows and skirts cliffs bending around a deep canyon as you approach San Francisco. Way down below palm trees and pools seem dwarfed by the deep, sheer canyon walls. More remarkable, you can see the mule trail heading down into that abyss.

You actually pass the marked Cueva Ratón 1½ miles before entering town, but need permission to visit it. Small herds of goats with tinkling bells and a few lazy cows welcomed my entrance to the dusty village atop a barren plateau. I imagined it could be a harsh windy place in winter.

An old cowboy sat by a building near some tethered burros and children playing. He pointed out the house of the government coordinator, Enrigue Arce of the ubiquitous Arce family. I signed his book and asked for a guide. So, Enrique sent his brother-in-law Jorge Guadalupe Arce, a younger, leathered cowboy.

I drove Jorge back to the Cueva Ratón where he unlocked the gate and we climbed the few stairs put in by the government when they fenced the cave in the mid-1990’s. Signs explaining the paintings and viewing platforms extend the length of it.

Baja Cave Art Baja Cave Art

The paintings are massive, with details of deer, cougars and hunters. Much of the black and red drawings are covered over by newer paintings and sometimes it takes a few minutes to figure out just what is what. But the awesome site gives one a feeling of intruding on a long-forgotten culture.

For those who wish to view the Cueva Ratón, be sure to register with the coordinator. It only costs a few pesos for the guide. The 23 miles to San Francisco takes about 1½ hours each way. Or you might just go on into San Ignacio and inquire about a guided trip. Or if you can, take the burro excursion to the most significant sites.

Canyon de Trinidad, Mulegé

Farther to the south, in the mountains west of Mulegé, are several cave paintings notably in the Cañon de Trinidad. Mulegé hotels can hook you up with a local guide, Salvador Castro or Ciro Cuesta to name two. Back in 2000, I set off one Sunday morning while unsettling rain clouds lingered on the mountaintops.

I followed a good graded dirt road through suburbs of the tropical village of Mulegé, past palm groves, farms, orchards and ranches, up through desert into the mountains on a marked road to San Eustancio. Just past a compact little rancho turn left at a small sign to “Rancho Trinidad.”

That last mile or so of the 17-mile journey from town is rougher and requires high clearance vehicles. There is one cattle gate which you must open and then close behind you. Soon you arrive at a rustic rancho on a bluff with a magnificent view to the south, from a verdant valley to steep mountains. In every direction are high rocky peaks dappled with green and white palo blanco trees perched on improbable overhangs and looking like white-stemmed bunches of broccoli clinging tenaciously to steep hillsides.

Creek Baja Creek Baja

Rancho Trinidad at road’s end has plenty of water, including a large cistern you could swim in, numerous trees and cattle. It is owned by a Santa Rosalía doctor and managed by Placido Castro and his wife Armida Arce de Castro who raised four children during the 22 years they’ve been there.

I signed the official register, paid the minimal fee, and set off afoot with Placido. There are two cave painting sites in the Cañon de Trinidad behind the rancho, one is about a 1½-mile round-trip on a good trail with some boulder hopping, and the other is about a three-hour round-trip from the rancho.

Heading for the closer site, we crossed a makeshift dam and numerous pools of water. The steep canyon walls speckled with greenery gave the place an ethereal look, like a set out of a “Lost Horizon” movie. Rounding a bend, we came to a cave the early people had obviously used for lodging. Across the creek, a couple of locations offered some outstanding examples of cave art.

The murals included outlines of hands and many animals, including fish, deer and smaller game. One scene looked like a stag mounting a doe, denoting the early people’s attention to animal husbandry. There was a hunter dancing in jubilation over the slain deer at his feet. There were even arrows protruding from a human figure reminding current viewers of man’s affinity for warfare.

On the trail back and around the rancho are other reminders of early man’s time spent in the area. There are several wonderful petroglyphs etched into boulders, and metates used for grinding grain.

Armida had been busy in her detached and open kitchen while we were gone. In true Baja hospitality, she offered me some machaca (dried beef). Imagine the contrast with stepping out of the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art and being accosted by a vendor of over-priced hot dogs.

Forget the Louvre, the Prado, the Getty or the Met. The cave paintings of Baja California are wonderfully displayed in nature’s own magnificent art gallery.


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.

4.7 146 Reviews
  • user logo
    Tony Vigil
    From logo

    My wife and I were in Baja the 1st week of October. Insurance through Baja Bound was quick and easy. Thank you

  • user logo
    Mark Sokol
    From logo

    Easy to obtain, good quality, auto insurance for Mexico.

  • user logo
    Kyle Spahn
    From logo

    I have used Baja Bound for years. Very easy and affordable.

  • user logo
    Pim Handgraaf
    From logo

    Great company. unlike their competitors, Baja Bound answers the phone and you're talking to a real person. Highly reccomend!

  • user logo
    Rebecca Marie Serratos
    From logo

    We've used Baja Bound Mexican Insurance for years, its quick, easy, and affordable. Whether you drive across the US/Mexico border once or...

  • user logo
    Teresa Stricker
    From logo

    Great service and prices!

  • user logo
    Edward Ramos
    From logo

    Great service, quick response time.

  • user logo
    Juan Zavala
    From logo

    Excellent

  • user logo
    benjamin bakke
    From logo

    Easy insurance for peace of mind

  • user logo
    richard colman
    From logo

    This is an update to my previous review. Baja Bound, unbidden on my part, reached out to me to assist. They coordinated a contact with...

  • user logo
    Rivera Jose
    From logo

    Quick easy to navigate website

  • user logo
    masa SAL.
    From logo

    Good seevice have use baja bound for many years good price....

  • user logo
    jos en elly balemans - wouters
    From logo

    We were trying to get an insurance for our RV in Mexico, we come from Europe and we drive with Belgium license plates. I tried a lot of...

  • user logo
    Isi Soto
    From logo

    Easy to get and the price is right

  • user logo
    John I. Mitchell
    From logo

    Professional and affordable.

  • user logo
    Clarissa Gomez
    From logo

    Thank God I had a safe trip but it did have me at peace knowing I was fully covered. The staff were friendly and very helpful.

  • user logo
    Michael Marble
    From logo

    Best Mexican insurance

  • user logo
    Rail1riders
    From logo

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

  • user logo
    Jeff Dippel
    From logo

    Honestly their app is so fantastic and saves all my info I can literally buy the same insurance for my Baja trips in less than 45 seconds...

  • user logo
    Hector Cortez-aponte-cabrera
    From logo

    Been with Baja Bound for a while now. Never had the need to file a claim, until recently while in Baja. Someone crashed into our vehicle....

  • 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
    From logo

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

  • user logo
    Benny Marquez
    From logo

    Great company and they use CHUBB which is a top notch insurance company.We got our policy online 30min before crossing the border and were...

  • 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
    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...