Jesuit mission site, gold ore mill, year-round desert stream.
Article and photos by David Kier
Calamajué for some is hard to say, so try it this way: "cala-ma-way."
In 1746, Padre Fernando Consag explored the land north of San Ignacio to find new
potential mission sites. Primary to a successful mission was abundant fresh water for
growing crops as well as maintaining life. Not finding any place promising, he made
another expedition in 1751 and again in 1753. Before the end of 1753, Consag found the
year-round stream at Calamajué and although the water was heavily mineralized and
made the Europeans sick, the Indians could drink it. There just was no other water in
the region and when funds and new missionaries became available, Calamajué the only
On his expedition of 1766, Padre Wenceslao Linck made one large sweep of the peninsula
north of his mission at San Borja. Springs of good water were found but abundant water
for raising crops was desired. Linck found just such a place at Velicatá (the future site of
Mission San Fernando, 1769) and the Jesuits made plans for a mission to be established
there. However, the distance from San Borja to Velicatá was just too great.
In October of 1766, Padre Victoriano Arnés and Padre Juan Díez with 10 soldiers and 50
neophytes (Indians baptized at the San Borja mission) founded the 17th Jesuit California
mission at Calamajué and named it Nuestra Señora de Columna
(according to Padre
Johann Jakob Baegert). Constructed was the chapel, storehouse, house for the padres and
a house for the soldiers. Drinking water came from a well dug over a mile away and it was
hoped that the mineral water from the stream would act as a fertilizer for the wheat they
planted. Sadly, when irrigated with the stream water, it withered and died. There was no
pasture for horses or other animals to graze at Calamajué either. The mission did prosper
in attracting the areas Indians to be baptized who arrived in groups for conversion.
Supplies could be brought up the gulf and offloaded at Puerto Calamajué about 20 miles
down the arroyo from the mission.
Padre Díez became ill and was feared he would die. Thus, he had to be removed to San
Borja, then on to Guadalupe to recover. Arnés continued his work at Calamajué until he
learned from a neophyte of a better location 30 miles north. In May, 1767, Arnés moved
the mission to the new location and even renamed it Santa María de los Angeles to reflect a
Calamajué remained as a resting place on the mission road, El Camino Real until it became
the site of a gold ore mill in the early 1900's. The mill is across the arroyo from the mission
site and next to the automobile road, just before the road drops down into the arroyo. An
Englishman named Dick Daggett and later Arturo Grosso of Rancho Laguna Chapala did
extensive prospecting and mining in this region.
Of the mission, only the melted adobe outlines of buildings remain. Some rock corrals are
also there but may be from post-mission occupation. Ruins of the ore mill are more obvious
and easily seen on the side of the cliff near the road or viewed from the mission site, across
Calamajué can be reached from Hwy. 5 at Coco's Corner by traveling east for 6.3 miles
towards Puerto Calamajué, then taking the right fork that heads straight south 7 miles
to the mill and mission sites. The mission access road is faint, but turns left once the road
is down in the arroyo, crosses to the far side and climbs a short grade to the site less than
½ mile away. The road that continues up the Calamajué creek is best driven in a 4WD. It
goes into a narrow canyon with beautiful geology, palm trees, and several water crossings
before leaving the canyon and arriving at a fork in 8 miles. To the right 5 miles is Hwy. 1 at
Km. 251. Ahead 7 miles is Hwy. 1 at Km. 261 after passing Rancho El Crucero. This road
is sometimes used for the Baja 1000 off road race and can become quite challenging in the
Calamajué canyon after a race, or following any rains.