Las Arrastras de Arriola
By David Kier
The old gold ore mill near Las Arrastras south of San Luis Gonzaga. Photo from James T. Crow’s Baja Handbook, 1970.
Las Arrastras de Arriola is another Baja California historic site that could soon vanish under the
construction of Highway 5. This is how Howard Gulick, in the Lower California Guidebook, described it:
“A wide clearing. At right in a gully is a well of good water. The place was named for
the old ore mills here.” An arrastra is a round wheel stone, set in a pit over the gold ore. The wheel stone
is turned by hand or animal to reduce the ore in order to extract the gold.
In 1952, while researching for the Lower California Guidebook, Howard Gulick
made notes on El Camino Real, the mission road across Baja California. Gulick was
able to get his Jeep to the good waterhole of San Francisquito, 0.6 mile past a
camp known then as either Las Arrastras or Campo Grosso. Juan Grosso ran the
camp and mills, he was born in 1894, the third of ten children. His oldest brother
was Arturo Grosso who ran Rancho Laguna Chapala, a dozen miles away. Their
youngest sister was the famous Mama (Anita) Grosso de Espinoza, of El Rosario.
Las Arrastras and San Francisquito on a 1956 map by Howard Gulick.
The waterhole of San Francisquito was known in earlier times as San Francisco.
The Franciscan Missionary, Junípero Serra mentioned San Francisco as a stopping
place between Calamajué and Santa María in May of 1769 during his trek from
Loreto to San Diego. Everything in the region was connected by name with this
water source on El Camino Real: the arroyo leading to the gulf (Arroyo de San
Francisquito), the bay south of San Luis Gonzaga (Ensenada de San Francisquito),
the gold mill near Punta Final run by William Lacy (Molino de San Francisquito),
Arthur North in his 1910 book, Camp and Camino in Lower California, writes that
San Francisquito consisted of a few old arrastras, a small mining shaft and a
waterhole, on his visit in 1906.
In the 1961 travel adventure book, Yesterday’s Land by Leonard Wibberley, the
location was deserted but a sign there said “Agua” (Water) and upon investigation
he found the gold mill remains and a well. Wibberley writes the well had been
drilled through eighteen feet of solid granite. A windlass and bucket was over the
well and when lowered the splash was soon heard. Up came the water and it was
wonderfully clean. They drank and filled their containers.
In 1967, Harry Crosby arrived at Las Arrastras by mule as he traveled north
researching and photographing the mission road from Loreto to San Diego. In
Crosby’s 1974 book, The King’s Highway in Baja California, Juan Grosso greeted
Harry and his companion at his roadside restaurant and gasoline sales business.
Crosby called Grosso “a gentile eccentric” who lived with his cook. In a cave
below, facing the gully was a tiny old Indian miner named Pedro Navarez who had
“alternating fits of gloom and euphoria,” according to Crosby. Juan Grosso
eventually moved to El Rosario to join other relatives, but Las Arrastras would
soon be the home of a family who continued to serve travelers and sell turquoise
Las Arrastras photos from Cliff Cross, in his 1970 ‘Baja California Mexico Guide’.
In 1977, Jim Hunter published his guide, Offbeat Baja. Hunter meets Manuel
Cantrera and his children Francisco and Guadalupe. Manuel was a laborer in
Tijuana but did not like the affect city life was having on his children. He mines
some turquoise and other minerals to sell to tourists. Hunter tells of the shower
service provided him from Francisco using the well water, below their home.
In 1979, I stopped at Las Arrastras to have a look at the colorful rocks offered for
sale. The auto club guide continues to mention the location as a source for water
and other services through the 1980s and 1990s. By the mid-1990s, Las Arrastras
would acquire a new neighbor, four miles south. Jorge Enrique Corral, better
known as ‘Coco,’ created Coco’s Corner and for over twenty years has been a
popular stop for cold beer and conversation. A double amputee, Coco has been
providing visitors to his Corner with local travel information ever since.
Las Arrastras map from the 1970 Cliff Cross guidebook.
In 2014, the construction of a new paved highway pushed south from Bahía San
Luis Gonzaga with an alignment that would take it west of the current
road and bypass Coco’s Corner. The new route leaves the original one at Las Arrastras, and
in July 2016, a road construction camp was set up at Las Arrastras. It is possible
the new highway will obliterate any ruins of the mills and site of Las Arrastras.
Time will tell, as it may be at least a couple more years before the road is
An arrastra at Las Arrastras, July 2016.
David Kier is a veteran Baja traveler, author of 'Baja California - Land Of Missions' and co-author of 'The Old Missions of Baja and Alta California 1697-1834'. Visit the Old Missions website.
Updated: Oct 26, 2017 02:05 PM