pixel

Baja Travel Adventures
By David Kier

La Magdalena Revisited

Article and photos by David Kier

Magdalena Wash
View west of the riverbed of the remaining Magdalena ruins in 2015. The pila is 100 feet to the left (south) of the truck.

The mission-era ruins of La Magdalena have been one of the many historic mysteries of Baja California, dating back to the 1700’s. The ruins would seem to be a mission farm or visiting station (‘visita’) located at the end of a long canal coming from an oasis valley and ending at a reservoir (or ‘pila’). The buildings were constructed of natural stone and scattered about some 300 feet east of the pila. The El Camino Real (mission road) between the Mulegé and Guadalupe missions goes through La Magdalena, some 15 miles north from Mulegé.

After my first visit to La Magdalena in 2009, satellite imagery has shown the arroyo that was near the site had enlarged and consumed the site, except for the nearby pila. The Baja missions and visitas are vanishing from both human and natural events.

Very little is known about La Magdalena other than it was considered as a new location for the Mulegé mission after the 1770 floods destroyed fields. Baja history author Dave Werschkul (‘Saints and Demons in a Desert Wilderness’, 2003) believes the site dates back to 1708, three years after the mission at Mulegé was established.

Magdalena Pila
The inside of the pila at Magdalena.

In an 1861 report by Sebastian Viosca, La Magdalena is described as being some 5 leagues north of Mulegé. Viosca writes that it was an abolished Jesuit mission, near a place called Rondin. It featured an aqueduct built of stone and mortar that brought water from miles to the west. Viosca said this mission and reservoir furnished grains and fruit to many other missions.

Arthur North (‘Camp and Camino in Lower California’ 1910) camped here in 1906 and assumed this ‘Magdalena’ was the proposed Mission Santa María Magdalena, (which is shown much further north on a 1757 Jesuit map). Many maps and books have since called this site near Mulegé by the name ‘Santa María Magdalena’.

In July, 2015, I returned to the mysterious site to see what was left of the ruins along the widened riverbed. The pila was untouched, now just over 100 feet from the riverbed’s edge. I did find some old wall remains next to the now abandoned road that we traveled on in 2009. This was 300 feet east of the pila, at the edge of the new cliff that is the edge of the riverbed. The large stone blocks and large stone room ruins we saw in 2009 are all gone (Click here to read the story from 2009).

Magdalena Aquaduct
The Magdalena aquaduct along the riverbed that leads to the pila.

Perhaps if more time was spent searching the surrounding desert, more ruins might be discovered? The location remains a mystery as to why it was out here in the desert in the first place. Why the long canal? Why not just put the farm in the oasis valley where the village of San José de Magdalena is now? That is where the water comes from, after all.

It's definitely time to visit the mission sites and other historic wonders of Baja California before they become only memories saved on photographs!

Getting there

A four wheel drive vehicle is definitely recommended! Between Km. 162 & 163, just north of the series of bridges, turn west off of Highway One. (0.4 mile south of Km. 163, if southbound). Some of this dirt road was used recently for an off road race indicated by many race arrow signs.

  • 0.0 Hwy. 1 (Km. 162 ½)
  • 0.4 Fork, go left (southwest and then west).
  • 3.7 Drive out onto riverbed cobble. Stay in the worn track to get around obstacles and get over to the south side of the river. The track goes west about ¼ mile, then turns south, crosses water to south side, and turns back east, passing the goat ranch area. See the ancient aqueduct along cliff that terminates at the Magdalena mission-era pila, hidden in the desert.
  • 4.4 fork left off this ranch road (it ends just ahead at blue ranch house) and drive into riverbed, then pass by blue house while driving east in arroyo.
  • 4.8 Park by the side gully on south wall of riverbed. Walk south in gully and see pila on the right. GPS: 27°03'29.1", -112°10'12.3" Walk east from pila to see remains of melted adobe walls next to new cliff, overlooking wide arroyo.

  • Magdalena in 2012
    2012 satellite image of the pila and GPS location of the ruins just south of riverbed.
    Magdalena in 2015
    2015 satellite image of the pila and former ruin location, now in the river.

    About David

    David Kier is a veteran Baja traveler and the co-author of 'The Old Missions of Baja and Alta California 1697-1834. Visit The Old Missions 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...