By John M. Derby
Don Johnson came to Baja, Mexico as a young man and he fell in love with the country. He decided to build a hotel and airfield to attract American pilots who loved to fish in the best fishing grounds in the world.
His hotel called Serenidad, provided a landing field for pilots who would come for his weekly Saturday night pig roast. They would spend a night or two and fly back across the border.
He not only got the pilots but famous people such as John Wayne and Jane Mansfield who would show up with their admirers from Hollywood and San Francisco.
There were just a dirt road the 600 miles from the border and the only logical way to get in and out of Mulege was by plane.
Don was single, but he was serious about such things as romance and the only thing that found his fancy was a beautiful Mexican young lady who was the mayor’s daughter. She was very stand-offish.
He pursued her with all his admiration and finally won her over, but there was a lot of resentment about Americans and their pursuit of young Mexican women. There were too many stories about the Americans and how they treated their women.
This young lady named Nancy was of a very high class Catholic family who would have none of the American.
However as time went by, Don Johnson wore down her resistance and finally won the consent of Nancy’s father and mother to allow him to propose marriage.
The local priest, however, would have none of it and refused to marry the young couple even after Don agreed to study and become a member of the church. No amount of persuasion would change the mind of this priest who was convinced that the American was only after the young lady’s virtue.
Don Johnson decided if the mountain would not come to him that he had to move the mountain. So he flew to La Paz where the Bishop of all of Baja resided. He went to the Bishop and pleaded his case saying that he was deeply in love with the young woman and would do anything to marry her.
Not only that, but he personally offered to fly the Bishop to and from Mulegé if the Bishop would sanction his marriage to Nancy.
The Bishop agreed to the trip and there may have been a substantial donation to the church involved. One the day before the wedding, the Bishop was flown to Mulege and the next day, the wedding was held with all the pomp and ceremony of such a important young couple.
Then next day with everyone rested, Johnson had planned to fly the Bishop back, however the Bishop refused the flight and said he would rather be driven on the terrible road back home than put his life in the hands of Johnson as pilot.
Don Johnson and his wife Nancy lived in happy matrimony for almost 70 years and when she died, he was as in love with her as the day he proposed. They ran the hotel at Serenidad for all that time except when a group of native Mexicans tried to say the land had been given to them in a land grant. He took his case to the highest court in Mexico City and finally won.
He is 93 today and the loss of his wife and the great love of his life is still a part of the history of Mulegé. Pilots still fly to his hotel and restaurant on a weekend to enjoy what he has built.
His story is a true love story of Mexico.
11 thoughts on “A Mexican Love Story: Don Johnson”
Been to Serenidad many times. Both were such lovely people ! Great place
Beautiful story, thank you. First went there in the early 70s before the road was finished. Always feels good to stop there on our way up or down the peninsula.
Oh, so sorry to hear of Nancy’s passing.
This is true “love story”! Don and Nancy were/are an intricial part of Mulege’s lore and legend!
Best to Don! Peace to Nancy!
We will see the Mulege area soon, such fond memories, and many more to come.
Bahia Conception is home, no matter where we are in the world.
Gary & Lynne & O.B.
“Casa Rae, Playa el Coyote”
Loved visiting Serinidad many times,
people,food,atmosphere,you name it. Always fun to drive along river to get there.
I was touched by Don Johnson’ pursuit for love and happiness and the final outcome. I visited Hotel Serenidad 4 years ago as part of an RV caravan. We stayed there 4 days an thoroughly enjoyed the hospitality and the great dinners and drinks we had at the restaurant. So beautiful and hope to return again soon. Thank you Mr. Johnson for giving me the opportunity to visit such a lovely place.
Have stayed at the Serenidad many times with Aeromedicos. We are always honored when Don stops by!
When one of our regular pilots passed away he had a photo of him and flowers placed in the lobby and arranged for free margaritas to toast him!!
I loved this place and Don acted the perfect host he took me over to the fireplace we he told me John Wayne stories. It was a great experience and I will visit again soon.
Mi “padre” is a wonderful man. 40+ years staying at the Serenidad with all the wonderful grounds, pig roasts, mariachis etc. But knowing Senor Johnson was a high point. One morning early I walked out the front entrance where the fountain was being used to wash up a poor small dog that someone had covered in whitewash. The owner of the hotel was patiently washing the paint off the poor perro. At dinner one weekend night a traveler came in by motorcycle. He did not have his needed medication. Senor Johnson told him not to worry. A big sigh came out of the man. Don called the owner of the pharmacy to meet him at the pharmacy and Don then drove the traveler to the pharmacy. A true privilege to know “mi padre”.
Sweet story…. So how was the flight from La Paz to Mulege that scared the Bishop so much?
In 1969, Lila and I ,in a dune buggy, traveled from Central Cal. to the tip of Baha. We stayed at the Serenidad for several days then. In 1980 we established a winter time residents in Mulege and spent the next twenty years there. From that time till the present time we have visited Mulege every year. During most of that time, the Serenidad Hotel, with Don, Nancy their three lovely girls were the center of attention. Well done Johnson’s.
I think I could count Don as a good friend. We had lots of fun times together and my wife Kathy and I are very sad to hear that Nancy and has passed.
We lived in Bahia Concepcion at Coyote Bay from the early 70s through the end of the 80s always enjoyed Saturday night!