4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs

Journey to Baja's Sierra de San Francisco, where larger-than-life, centuries-old pictographs decorate canyon walls.

Frozen on stone for centuries, the larger-than-life cave paintings of humans and animals in Baja's Sierra de San Francisco hover over the thousand or more awe-struck visitors who come to see them in a typical year. My opportunity to visit the remote mountain range -- 500 miles down Baja's skinny peninsula -- and to view several of the finer pictograph sites came last April, during an agreeably warm spell. Cirrus clouds painted the sky with ever-changing patterns most of the time, preventing peak temperatures from rising much higher than 90 degrees. In addition to mid-spring, the following few weeks (mid-September through November) should be ideal for visiting the area.

Make no mistake: the trek is hardly a casual one. The approach by car involves some 500 miles of travel on Baja's main arterial highway. In places, the highway is merely a narrow strip of asphalt barely wider than the width of two large trucks. The often unguarded road shoulders are littered with the carcasses of vehicles and livestock and are decorated with shrines to the highway's many human victims. From the highway, a 25-mile journey over an unpaved road coated with suspension-busting rocks takes you to the isolated mountain villages of Rancho San Francisco de Sierra and Rancho Guadalupe. There, by virtue of necessary arrangements made earlier in the town of San Ignacio, you join local guides for the day-long trek by foot down into the canyon system harboring the better-known pictograph galleries.

Our group of five hired two guides, who rode mules over the perilous terrain. We also arranged for the use of five burros (donkeys) to carry camping gear. Of these five, four returned; one suffered a near-fatal attack by a mountain lion while foraging for food near our campsite and had to be destroyed.

Two full days suffice for side trips from the main canyon-bottom campsite to the four or five most noted pictograph-decorated overhangs, or cuevas (caves). These include Cueva Flechas, where the two-dimensional and static figures of humans produced with red and black mineral pigments compete for space with the more dynamic images of various animals. Many of the figures here are pierced with black arrows. Cueva Pintadas, a dramatic horizontal rift in the canyon wall, features a jumbled array of human and animal (terrestrial, aerial, and aquatic) figures stretching some 500 feet. The paintings attain heights of 20 feet or more from the nearest flat ground. Who painted them? Local legend says "giants from the north." A more rational explanation would be former indigenous people associated culturally with the Anasazi of the American Southwest.

With help from the Getty Museum, Mexican authorities have installed walkways and railings at the main sites that keep tourists from damaging the precious artwork. Local guides must be present during all visits. A good review of the logistical aspects of traveling to and visiting the Sierra de San Francisco appeared in the February 20, 2000, "Sunday Travel" section of the San Diego Union-Tribune. Much information is also available on the Internet (use the keywords "Baja cave paintings"). Anyone serious about the subject will want to purchase the recently revised book The Cave Paintings of Baja California by Harry Crosby.

Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all

Previous article

The Guardian of Memory: brokenhearted at the border

Carlos Spector stacks the grain in a neat pile for the birds to fight over.

Frozen on stone for centuries, the larger-than-life cave paintings of humans and animals in Baja's Sierra de San Francisco hover over the thousand or more awe-struck visitors who come to see them in a typical year. My opportunity to visit the remote mountain range -- 500 miles down Baja's skinny peninsula -- and to view several of the finer pictograph sites came last April, during an agreeably warm spell. Cirrus clouds painted the sky with ever-changing patterns most of the time, preventing peak temperatures from rising much higher than 90 degrees. In addition to mid-spring, the following few weeks (mid-September through November) should be ideal for visiting the area.

Make no mistake: the trek is hardly a casual one. The approach by car involves some 500 miles of travel on Baja's main arterial highway. In places, the highway is merely a narrow strip of asphalt barely wider than the width of two large trucks. The often unguarded road shoulders are littered with the carcasses of vehicles and livestock and are decorated with shrines to the highway's many human victims. From the highway, a 25-mile journey over an unpaved road coated with suspension-busting rocks takes you to the isolated mountain villages of Rancho San Francisco de Sierra and Rancho Guadalupe. There, by virtue of necessary arrangements made earlier in the town of San Ignacio, you join local guides for the day-long trek by foot down into the canyon system harboring the better-known pictograph galleries.

Our group of five hired two guides, who rode mules over the perilous terrain. We also arranged for the use of five burros (donkeys) to carry camping gear. Of these five, four returned; one suffered a near-fatal attack by a mountain lion while foraging for food near our campsite and had to be destroyed.

Two full days suffice for side trips from the main canyon-bottom campsite to the four or five most noted pictograph-decorated overhangs, or cuevas (caves). These include Cueva Flechas, where the two-dimensional and static figures of humans produced with red and black mineral pigments compete for space with the more dynamic images of various animals. Many of the figures here are pierced with black arrows. Cueva Pintadas, a dramatic horizontal rift in the canyon wall, features a jumbled array of human and animal (terrestrial, aerial, and aquatic) figures stretching some 500 feet. The paintings attain heights of 20 feet or more from the nearest flat ground. Who painted them? Local legend says "giants from the north." A more rational explanation would be former indigenous people associated culturally with the Anasazi of the American Southwest.

With help from the Getty Museum, Mexican authorities have installed walkways and railings at the main sites that keep tourists from damaging the precious artwork. Local guides must be present during all visits. A good review of the logistical aspects of traveling to and visiting the Sierra de San Francisco appeared in the February 20, 2000, "Sunday Travel" section of the San Diego Union-Tribune. Much information is also available on the Internet (use the keywords "Baja cave paintings"). Anyone serious about the subject will want to purchase the recently revised book The Cave Paintings of Baja California by Harry Crosby.

Sponsored
Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all
Previous article

Tecate mayor calls out her cops to face down the Baja state police

Olga Zulema Adams says debt paid off the day before
Next Article

Carnevil: Halloween Pop-Up Sip, Snack, and Show, Dia De Los Muertos Art Fundraiser

Events October 31-November 3, 2020
Comments
0

Be the first to leave a comment.

Sign in to comment

Sign in

Art Reviews — W.S. Di Piero's eye on exhibits Ask a Hipster — Advice you didn't know you needed Best Buys — San Diego shopping Big Screen — Movie commentary Blurt — Music's inside track Booze News — San Diego spirits City Lights — News and politics Classical Music — Immortal beauty Classifieds — Free and easy Cover Stories — Front-page features Excerpts — Literary and spiritual excerpts Famous Former Neighbors — Next-door celebs Feast! — Food & drink reviews Feature Stories — Local news & stories From the Archives — Spotlight on the past Golden Dreams — Talk of the town Here's the Deal — Chad Deal's watering holes Just Announced — The scoop on shows Letters — Our inbox [email protected] — Local movie buffs share favorites Movie Reviews — Our critics' picks and pans Musician Interviews — Up close with local artists Neighborhood News from Stringers — Hyperlocal news News Ticker — News & politics Obermeyer — San Diego politics illustrated Of Note — Concert picks Out & About — What's Happening Overheard in San Diego — Eavesdropping illustrated Poetry — The old and the new Pour Over — Grab a cup Reader Travel — Travel section built by travelers Reading — The hunt for intellectuals Roam-O-Rama — SoCal's best hiking/biking trails San Diego Beer — Inside San Diego suds SD on the QT — Almost factual news Set 'em Up Joe — Bartenders' drink recipes Sheep and Goats — Places of worship Special Issues — The best of Sports — Athletics without gush Street Style — San Diego streets have style Suit Up — Fashion tips for dudes Theater Reviews — Local productions Theater antireviews — Narrow your search Tin Fork — Silver spoon alternative Under the Radar — Matt Potter's undercover work Unforgettable — Long-ago San Diego Unreal Estate — San Diego's priciest pads Waterfront — All things ocean Your Week — Daily event picks
4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
Close