The historic Misión of our Lady of Loreto was built in 1697 by the Jesuit Priest Juan Maria de Salvatierra. It was the first Spanish settlement in the Americas and was built with the purpose of evangelizing this new territory. In 1699 Father Francisco Maria Piccolo established a small Chapel in what is now San Javier. San Javier is located about 20 miles west of Loreto high up in the Sierra Giganta Mountains. The current Misión San Javier, whose construction was finished in 1759, is one of the oldest and most well preserved of the Jesuit missions in the Californias. The quiet town of San Javier itself is a small farming village of less than 150 residents who raise cattle and goats and farm fruits and vegetables in the fertile soil. The road, up until recently, was rough, steep and winding. In 2010 the government started the arduous task of paving the road to this important, historical mission. Over the last few centuries this road has been washed out, rebuilt and moved, but segments of the original road can still be found. And that is where our hike begins.
About 14 kilometers from Highway Mexico 1, the San Javier road crosses an arroyo. There is usually water in the road. Up until several years ago, there was a nice parking area and several Mezquite trees providing a nice shady picnic spot. A few hundred yards upstream, is a collection of cave paintings dating back several thousand years. The hurricanes of 2014-15 changed this area immensely, unfortunately burying the ancient pinturas under several meters of gravel. Hopefully, with the help of humans and some smaller rainstorms, the gravel will move and once again the paintings will be revealed for us to enjoy.
Vehicles can still find a spot to park here and start this wonderful hike up the arroyo, eventually finding the Old Road to San Javier. In 2012, the old road was overgrown and difficult to find. With some work, we were able to make our way up to Las Parras to a small ranch and chapel four kilometers up the trail. Luckily for all of us, Manny, the owner of Manny’s Bike Shop here in Loreto, is one of the organizers of the grueling ‘Misión to Misión’ Bike Race held each December. Each year Manny and his crew work diligently adding more off road sections to this amazing race. Last year he decided to try and incorporate as much of the old San Javier road as possible. His hard work rewarded bikers with an incredibly challenging uphill section and leaving us hikers with a perfect hiking trail.
The hiking trail starts at the aforementioned parking spot at the pinturas and follows the rocky arroyo for about a kilometer where you will cross the bike trail coming in from the right. Follow the bike trail up and left as the road begins to appear. One cannot help but marvel at the effort it must have taken the Jesuits and local natives to build this incredible road back nearly 400 years ago. One also must marvel at the stamina and skills of the mountain bikers who race up this arduous path. As the trail climbs via switchbacks up the hillside, looking to the east you will see the Sea of Cortez glistening in the distance. The vegetation also changes as you ascend, take time to notice all that is around you. Flowers of all colors and sizes, giant Cordon cactus, plump barrel cactus and sprawling agaves are in sight. Take in the views down in the arroyo, now far below you where you’ll see cascades and deep pools of crystal clear water. Massive fig trees penetrate the red walls with their white tentacled roots. Around each corner something new awaits, a braying donkey or flock of grazing goats, a King snake basking in the sun or a Rosy Boa searching for lunch. Listen to the birds and listen down in the arroyo for frogs serenading a hopeful mate. Soon you are in the shadows of a massive red cliff with large hanging wasps nest high above. The canyon narrows as you enter the coolness of a large Mezquite grove. The vegetation is lush as you reach the ranch at Las Parras. Walking through the ranch and gardens you may be greeted by the rancher who may offer you fresh oranges and other fruits from his trees, he will also ask you for a fee to pass through! The trail ends here for now. Many hikers return down the trail, while others may choose to walk the road. The rancher will also shuttle you back to your car, of course for another small fee!
Some see Baja as a barren wasteland, others see it for the tourist attractions of Cabo, but those who take the time will find that this special land is full of beauty and history.
This hike and many other hikes are listed in the Hiking Loreto Guidebook. For the best hiking experience, hire a local guide. You will see more, learn more and help support the local economy. Visit www.LoretoGuide.com for more info.
The Hiking Loreto Guidebook is available in Loreto at these fine establishments:
El Gavilan, Gecko’s Curios, El Caballo Blanco Bookstore, The Richard Jackson Gallery, The New Deli, online at www.HikingLoreto.com, and through Discover Baja.
Photographs courtesy of the Richard Jackson Gallery, Loreto www.soulcatchingimages.com