Traveling south from Rosarito? Enjoying the excellent surf at La Fonda? Adventurers seeking to spice up their daytrip with a bit of culture or history may wish to journey just a few miles further south to visit the tiny town of La Misión. Located on an inland turn of the Transpeninsular Highway, La Misión is best known today as the quiet site of adobe ruins which once stood proudly as Misión San Miguel Arcángel de la Frontera.
Founded on March 28, 1787 by Dominican missionary Luis Sales to serve the local Kumeyaay population of northwest Baja California, Misión San Miguel Arcángel de la Frontera was considered extremely successful during the height of its activities. Blessed by fertile land, abundant water and a wealth of agriculture, its congregation of Kumeyaay and Spaniards thrived and grew steadily from the time of its inception (1789) through the early 1800s.
A key ingredient for the immediate success of Misión San Miguel lay in its location at the base of a mountain on the banks of the San Juan Bautista stream (also known as the Guadalupe River). This water supply not only enabled Dominican missionaries to sate the thirst of their animals and congregation, but also to irrigate their crops thanks to a large manmade ditch. In addition the San Juan Bautista waters flowed downstream to meet the Pacific Ocean, creating a verdant estuary sheltering white herons and wild ducks. Local waters boasted a wealth of seafood, including tuna, octopus, abalone, mussel, clam, sardines and sea bass.
The Misión buildings were constructed by soldiers from nearby Presidio San Diego. Built in the shape of a rectangle, the complex included a church, residential quarters, a barrack, four granaries, a corral, and an open patio. Their adobe walls were laid upon stone foundations cemented together with a mixture of lime, clay and sand. Roofs were made from clay tiles or tule branches woven together over wood beams.
Thanks to detailed journals kept by the Dominican missionaries, we know today that more than 3000 head of cattle, goats and sheep grazed in the excellent pastures of San Miguel Arcángel de la Frontera. The climate enjoyed by Spanish and Kumeyaay in northern Baja was typically sunny and mild, conducive to year-round growing seasons. With a wide variety of local wildlife – not to mention plentiful crops of wheat, maize, watermelon, grapes, beans and barley - there was never reason for residents or visitors to go hungry.
This Misión was established nearly one hundred years after the first Jesuit missionaries settled in Baja, meaning that most of the decimation of native Californians (including the Kumeyaay) due to disease had already taken place by the time San Miguel Arcángel de la Frontera was built. Had it not been for the secularization policy adopted by the new government after the Mexican Revolution and Mexican Independence in 1821, this particular Misión would likely have continued to prosper and serve the remaining Kumeyaay and Mexican citizens. Instead, due to political reasons it was abandoned in the year 1833 and slowly decayed into the sparse but beautiful ruins we view today.
Misión San Miguel Arcángel de la Frontera has recently been adopted by Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History as part of their Camino Real Misiónero de las Californias conservation program. Visitors enjoying the peace and tranquility of the Misión ruins appreciate the time and effort taken by conservators to preserve what remains of this once vibrant cultural treasure.
Wikipedia.Org, Misión San Miguel Arcángel de la Frontera, Author Unknown, Cited on March 30, 2007.