pixel

Baja Fever
By Greg Niemann

The Legend of the Lost Mission

By Greg Niemann

Santa Isabel Baja Mission Santa Isabel Baja Mission

The Jesuit Order of the Catholic Church had for over 70 years defied incredible physical odds in establishing a foothold in forbidding Baja California. Wielding great power, they had with the help of soldiers and Indians, established 18 missions in the southern half of the peninsula.

But the power appeared to be their downfall as it inspired jealousies and wild stories, real or imagined, about how their main agenda was not to save souls but to acquire wealth.

José de Gálvez, who was sent by Spain's King Charles II to colonize Alta California, especially distrusted the Jesuits. He was convinced that they had “mismanaged potentially rich missions, or used them and the people as bases and tools to secretly hoard great wealth of pearls, gold and silver.”

Stories emerged in Europe including one in which a chest of pearls, corals and precious stones was shipped by the Jesuit padres in California to a Venetian merchant in Cadiz, Spain. This story made it to the court in Madrid. Rumors began that the Jesuits had vast treasures in that land called California.

The King obviously believed enough of the stories and decided to show the Jesuits just who was really boss. In 1768, he expelled the Jesuit Order from all the Provinces of New Spain. And this broad expulsion from the Americas set the stage for the Legend of the Lost Mission.

Allegedly the Jesuits hastily established one last mission, called Santa Isabel, and this is where they hid all their accumulated wealth. One legend has it that shortly after the last Jesuit mission of Santa Maria was established, the padres received a confidential message from their superiors in Rome about the impending expulsion. They were instructed to submit peacefully but to leave no trace of their wealth.

Did they hide this wealth?

Erle Stanley Erle Stanley

So according to folklore, the Jesuits collected the treasure of gold, silver, pearls and valuable objects from all the missions and transported it by burro to a deep gorge in the mountains some distance beyond Santa Maria where they founded the Mission Santa Isabel. When the order for their expulsion arrived, they closed off the entrance to the gorge by means of a landslide before submitting to the authorities at Loreto.

Other legends say it was at the site of a working gold mine that the Jesuits had kept secret. There were enough enticing stories to keep the gold fever alive.

One old Indian who helped out at the Mission San Borja farther to the south of Santa Maria, himself a great-grandson of a mission Indian who served under Jesuit Padre Wenceslao Link, told a story about Indians seeing golden objects in a nearby cave. He went on to describe how his ancestors had seen mule trains arriving from all the far-flung missions, their saddlebags laden with candelabra of gold and silver inset with precious stones, and other sacred vessels valued by the padres.

He then indicated that the booty was carefully hidden in a cave and a Mass was held. Shortly thereafter a rockslide sealed the entrance and because all the cliffs look so similar no one has ever been able to find it.

A 1955 expedition from New York arrived at a white limestone cliff and their metal detectors allegedly went crazy. They found an ancient compass, hundreds of years old. Directly above was a small cave with painted rock art of deer and mountain lions. They found no gold and decided to pursue it further on another later trip. Later they found the cave had been dynamited, leading them to speculate that they had been followed and perhaps their pursuers had found the lost gold.

Mystery writer Erle Stanley Gardner spent vast sums of money and launched several expeditions resulting in books searching for the Mission Santa Isabel. Some felt he searched too far to the north.

The efforts of Gaston Flourie

Perhaps the most dogged and persistent searcher of the lost Mission Santa Isabel was Gaston Eugenio Rene Flourie Sablaroles, who came to Baja California from France in 1924 at the age of 23. Flourie became a chemist engineer for the El Boleo Company at Santa Rosalia and during the 1930s enjoyed going out on desert forays searching for gold.

He became enamored with the story of the Lost Mission and spent much of his life looking for it. On an exploration in 1950 he discovered an old artesian well once used by the Jesuits – but no lost mission.

Dana and Ginger Lamb Dana and Ginger Lamb

He moved to Ensenada and founded his own Mission Santa Isabel in 1951, the name he gave his new hotel at Blvd. Lazaro Cardenas and Ave. Castillo. Naturally, he designed it in Mission style and at one time the stately bell tower was a town landmark. His children still run the hotel.

But the hotel business didn't slake Flourie’s craving for the treasure of the Lost Mission of Santa Isabel. In 1952, he undertook another trip, accompanied by guide Felipe Ortega from San Felipe, Mr. Charles B. Berry and Serge D’Blanc and a writer and photographer for National Geographic magazine. They found hidden waterholes (tinajas), Indian petroglyphs and some arrowheads, but no treasure.

In 1954, Flourie was part of another major expedition to find the lost mission. He accompanied intrepid explorers Dana and Ginger Lamb of Corona del Mar, California on a search. The Lambs had achieved fame romping around southern Mexico and Central America searching for lost Mayan cities. The Baja party with Flourie went into a wide area south of Matomi Canyon in the southern San Pedro Martír mountain range. Using planes, trucks and mules, and guided by Don Santiago Espinosa, according to the Los Angeles Times all they found on that journey were more Indian petroglyphs.

They keep searching for the Lost Mission

In 1967, a search party found their quarry, the lost president of the Mountain Climbers Association of California. He claimed that in his wanderings he found a canyon with seven palms above which on the cliff was a rock slide that responded to his metal detector. His rescuers themselves made numerous trips back in search of the elusive seven palms and the lost treasure of Santa Isabel. They never found it.

Santa Isabel Baja Mission Santa Isabel Baja Mission

There was a scientific expedition in 1975 conducted by Boston University which also involved Flourie. They were also looking for any Jesuit books and papers as well as the treasure and found zip.

Unfortunately, the legend of the Lost Mission of Santa Isabel has not been confirmed by history. There were pearls in the La Paz area and some gold and silver to be found in Baja California but most authorities note that the Jesuits were too busy trying to save the souls of the indigenous people they considered “heathens” to be bothered about collecting such a treasure. Plus they had to devote far too much time just producing food for themselves and the Indians to really care about any treasure.

However, the legend persists even to this day and many expeditions have spent considerable time searching for it. Some say it should be in a steep canyon off the eastern escarpment of the San Pedro Martír. Others put it farther south, around Laguna Chapala, and others farther north in one of the barren ranges near the gulf.

Hey, if you want to say you've been there, just go and check in at the Ensenada hotel called the Hotel Santa Isabel. It appears the only treasure realized by the hotel’s founder is the tourist income.


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 Greg's website.

4.7 93 Reviews
  • 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 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
    Joey Digiovanni
    From logo

    Easy to work with 😉. Always courteous and helpful

  • 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...