Article and photos by David Kier
Ten miles south of the town of Bahia de los Angeles are the ruins of a gold and silver mill town that was once home to 400 people. The ore that was milled at Las Flores came from the San Juan mines. San Juan is near the top of the mountain range, about 9 miles south of Las Flores. In the early 1880’s the rich ore originally was taken by mule over 50 miles to the Pacific Coast port of Santa Rosalillita, and shipped to San Francisco.
The mine was purchased in 1885 by the Cranz Brothers of San Jose, California. Charles, Frank, and William Cranz had the ore transported by mule to Bahia de los Angeles and then shipped across the gulf to Guaymas. From there it traveled by railroad on to Denver, Colorado. The value of the ore would soon allow the Cranz Brothers to build their own railroads, tram lines, ore stamp mills and whatever else was required to increase efficiency.
The site of Las Flores was chosen because the water supply was abundant in a 150 foot deep well dug here. According to the late Dick Daggett, whose father worked at Las Flores, the town name was chosen as the area was covered by wild flowers. A 20 stamp mill was set up and by 1892 a six mile long railroad was being built to the foot of San Juan Mountain.
Work was carried out day and night with output at $40,000 (dollars) a month as the mill processed 40 tons of ore per day. A telephone line connected Las Flores with the San Juan mine.
A wire-cable tram line would bring buckets of ore 3.5 miles and 4,000 feet down the mountain to a terminal and the ore dumped into the 24 inch gauge railroad carts for the run to Las Flores. The mule trail was quite hazardous and many mules were lost before the tramline was installed.
In 1894, a mule powered, 30 inch gauge railroad brought ore from the mine just over a mile to the top of the tramline. By the end of 1895, the Las Flores railroad was in operation. The mine had reached a depth of 1,100 feet making it the deepest mine in Baja California.
Plans to extend the railroad from Las Flores to the shore of Los Angeles Bay were made, but never were carried out. The mines were temporarily shut down in 1896 and again in 1897 when the price of gold and silver dropped. The mine changed ownership as new Americans took over mining and working the tailings at Las Flores until the Mexican Revolution of 1910 shut down the operation. $2,000,000 (dollars) in silver (and/or gold) was reported to have been extracted from the San Juan Mine.
Today, the only building fully intact at Las Flores is the jailhouse and it is visible just to the west of the road between Bahia de los Angeles and Punta San Francisquito, 9.8 miles from leaving the pavement. A small cemetery is a short walk west of the jail. The railroad line can be followed south from Las Flores to the terminal platform where the tram line’s ore buckets transferred the ore into the train carts.
To find the terminal platform go 2.4 miles south and take the small road that continues south where the graded road curves towards the east. Go about 3 more miles and see the railroad bed cross the automobile road. Park and walk on the railroad bed a short distance north (right) to see the platform. A more extensive hike can be made from here to the top of the mountain, following the tramline and mule trail, to the San Juan mine.
The Bahia de los Angeles town plaza is where the Las Flores train engine has been relocated, along with a mine cart from the top of the mountain railroad (which is a wider gauge, so sits outside of the tracks of the engine). A visit to the museum in Bahia de los Angeles will add to your visit and see examples of equipment from the San Juan Mine, without the 4,000 foot climb.
San Juan map: Baja California Railroads' by John A. Kirchner copyright 1988 Golden West Books
Las Flores Railroad engine: Marv Patchen
Las Flores jail, railroad bed, and gravesites: David Kier
Mine car, mine interior: Larry Cochrane