By David Kier
In the mountains not far from Mulegé is perhaps the most interesting of Baja California’s countless painted caves, the cave of San Borjitas. To reach the cave only requires a relatively easy 18-mile-drive from Highway 1 to the ranch where you pick up a guide and pay a small fee. From the ranch it is a 3-mile-drive and a half-mile hike to the cave. The cave is an open grotto, 100 feet above the canyon floor and measures 100 feet wide by 80 feet deep with an opening height of 20 feet.
Modern documentation of this cave dates back to the research done by Léon Diguet, in the 1890s working out of Santa Rosalia where he was employed as a chemist by the French copper mining company, Boleo. The cave ceiling contains mostly human figures. A majority are pierced by arrows which seem to indicate the depiction of a great battle. This one huge panel is over 50 feet long and 15-20 feet above the cave floor. At least 95 figures are represented and over 70 are of men, women, children, plus what archeologists call ‘scarecrows.’ These are faceless humanoids covered with basket masks, or even alien in origin. Perhaps these are figures of a shaman? The cave art was dated to 7,500 years ago, and called the oldest on the continent.
The Spanish missionaries in Baja California saw some of the caves and mentioned them in their letters. When questioned about the painters, Cochimí Natives told the padres they were a race of giants who lived on the peninsula long before their tribes arrived. In over 7,000 years, many tribes could have come, lived a long time, and gone from Baja California.
An excellent look at the San Borjitas art work is at DStretch - Rock Art Digital Enhancement where various colors are computer enhanced to make lost or hard-to-see figures appear. The only thing better is to see them in person!
The fairly good dirt road to the cave leaves Highway 1 at Km. 156, south of Santa Rosalia. It is signed for San Borjitas. Take it 18 miles to Rancho La Tinaja (signed there inviting visitors for touring the cave). At the ranch, you will pay a permit fee and obtain a guide. The guide will lead you to the trail head, 3 miles away, unlocking a gate on the way. The foot trail is less than a half-mile-long but it does have some steep and rocky parts so one needs to be in good health and bring water.
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.