Matomi Falls - A Baja Quest
Article and photos by David Kier
On one of my early childhood trips to Baja California with my folks, we stopped in
at Arnold’s Del Mar Café in San Felipe. The year was probably 1966 or 1967 and
Arnold was providing us with ideas of places to explore with our Jeep Wagoneer.
One of the places Arnold said would interest us was the waterfall in Matomí
Canyon, thirty-some miles up the long desert dry wash beginning about ten miles
north of Puertecitos. Arnold marked the location in my dad’s copy of the Lower
California Guidebook. He described a waterfall that dropped into a large boulder
that had a depression the size of swimming pool on top.
As we were solo travelers, a second vehicle was recommended but not available
on our trips. Matomí would have to wait for me to grow up and go on my own.
The place was always a Baja fantasy location since hearing Arnold’s description.
On high school and college vacations I spent many days camping south of San
Felipe and exploring the dirt roads and dry washes that headed to the mountains.
A (once) little-known road connected the sulfur mine south of San Felipe with
Valle Chico and the canyons of the San Pedro Mártir mountain range. The road is
in a pass named Cañada el Parral on topo maps. It is also called Azufre Wash by
SCORE and called “Crazy Horse Canyon” by some locals. In 1978, I used this road
and made it across the coastal mountain range. While we were just four miles
north of Matomí Canyon where that road connected with the Valle Chico road,
the lack of remaining daylight left no room for exploration.
In 1978 a Matomí flash flood nearly took my Subaru!
A few weeks later, I returned to the same junction but turned south this time
towards Matomí. A ranch house was located where the Valle Chico road dropped
into Matomí Canyon and there I met Tomás Dowling who informed me of his
second ranch, about five miles up the canyon. He got in my four-wheel-drive
Subaru wagon and we headed up the arroyo. Maybe a mile short of his other
ranch, a flash flood blocked our way! I turned back and at the previous arroyo
crossing, the water was already there. As I began to cross, the Subaru bogged
down and I was stuck. With water rising and nearly into the doorway, I analyzed
that it was sand I was stuck in and reached underwater to my valve stems and let
air out, as we do for any sand driving. It worked, and I didn’t lose my little car to
the flash flood of Arroyo Matomí.
The following June, with another vehicle along, I returned and made it to the
upper Matomí ranch house, visited with Tomás, and asked about the waterfall.
There were six of us, all very hot and worn-out from the long drive, and saw no
sign of water at his ranch other than
In June of 1979 my friends and I enjoyed the oasis of Matomí.
some blue palm trees nearby. Tomás said the
waterfall was just down a path from his corral. There we indeed found a summer
Shangri-La complete with waterfall. It wasn’t quite what I had envisioned from
Arnold’s story twelve years earlier, but it worked to keep my new friends from
being disappointed! I had described to them an oasis paradise, earlier at our beach camp on
that hot June day.
In the 1980s, an ejido built a 4.2-mile-long fence across the southern part of Valle
Chico, cutting off the old road from the sulfur mine just as it entered Valle Chico.
The fence line road was now the route to or from the sulfur mine and that fence
has mostly vanished in recent years.
I have returned to the Matomí waterfall oasis a few times between 1979 and
2006. Tomás was long since gone on my last visit and the nobody was there that
day. A straight section of the road just east of the ranch had served as an airstrip.
Tomás had mentioned he was hired as a bighorn sheep hunting guide. Hunters
flew into that strip back in the day.
The author enjoying a swim in 2001.
The road in Arroyo Matomí is sometimes not passable after flash floods, however
it was recently utilized by SCORE for the 2016 San Felipe 250 race, after being
blocked by rocks for a few years. The Valle Chico road has remained an alternative
route in. A loop trip via Matomí makes an interesting back-country drive for four-
wheel-drive vehicles. Rocks in the upper few miles of Arroyo Matomí and deep
sand in the rest of the arroyo down to Highway 5 are the toughest off road
conditions of the trip. The Valle Chico east road all the way to San Felipe is mostly
a fast, graded road.
You can check out my last Matomí trip that went in from Highway 5 and out via Valle Chico
as well as other Baja adventure trips on the Viva Baja website.
My 1988 edition of the three routes to Rancho Matomí: Valle Chico, Parral, and
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.