The El Rosario Petroglyphs
Article and photos by David Kier
Baja California has so many great attractions that picking one to visit always has us making a tough choice. A weekend adventure was on the menu for this trip and we do enjoy the comfort of the small town of El Rosario, on the edge of the central desert of Baja California. El Rosario is about 225 miles south of Tijuana, or 5 hours driving time.
The region surrounding El Rosario is rich in some the best geology, botany and history Baja has to offer! Dinosaur bones have been excavated near El Rosario, as well as giant fossil ammonites not far to the south. The fantastic cirio tree, also called a 'boojum' is found covering the hills just inland from town. The world's largest variety of cactus grows here as well, the cardón. Over two hundred years ago the Spanish established missions throughout the peninsula. El Rosario has two sites where mission ruins from as far back as 1774 have been preserved in park settings. There are mines for copper, turquoise and gold nearby. Some have been in operation for over 100 years.
One of the fossil sites is also an ancient Indian rock art area, called 'Las Pintas'. I have explored Las Pintas several times over the past 10 years and each time have seen new things. The drive to Las Pintas can usually be done in 2WD, but a truck or SUV is a better choice for the final miles to the site.
The access to Las Pintas starts on Highway One from the graded road that runs 38 miles to Punta San Carlos. Drive south just over 14 miles from the gas station in El Rosario to the Km. 80 marker. The sometimes-signed road leaves the highway to the right. A second road is mile ahead on the curve, after a long straight section just before the Km. 81 marker. Both roads join together and head south over hills and across valleys. Note the mileage or zero the trip odometer when leaving the highway.
Just over 17 miles from Highway One, the Punta San Carlos road enters a cardón cactus area, and soon a single-track road goes to the left. If missed, a second one joins the first and if you miss it, a ranch house on the right will be your clue to turn back! On the correct road, you will pass a couple of abandoned ranch houses and then drop into the Arroyo San Fernando riverbed. A gate may need to be opened (and closed behind you) in the arroyo. 5.2 miles from the graded road, take the track going left/ north. This goes into a small side arroyo and is the only difficult part of the drive. Some branches may intrude onto the road and brush your vehicle as you leave the big arroyo. In 2/10ths of a mile take the track to the right, leaving this small arroyo. Go over a small hill and drop into a small 'hidden valley', the head of which is Las Pintas. The road ends 7.2 miles from Punta San Carlos road.
Park at the base of giant boulders and begin to explore the caves, crawlways, fossils, and rock art (petroglyphs). In the wet season, a waterfall is located inside the grotto reached through the passageway ahead. A trail leads up on the right side to the top and one can circle back down on the left side.
It is possible for a 4WD vehicle to drive to the top of Las Pintas by going back to the small arroyo and continue north in it one mile to a fork, then 1.4 miles to the right. A walk along the cliff beyond that road end will reveal many more petroglyphs. The alternate road from there to the Punta San Carlos road is a tougher 4WD and is 9.3 miles long.
Las Pintas is fascinating and makes an excellent day trip from El Rosario or perhaps a multi-day exploration destination!