Baja California Travel and Mountain Rock Art

Jaguars, deer, and mountain sheep run and leap beside tall human figures on the walls of caves and shelters within the mountains of Baja California. These rock paintings rival those of Australia, Europe, and Africa yet did not become known in the modern world until relatively recently.

In the 1970s Harry W. Crosby systematically searched for cave paintings with the help of local ranchers. He traveled by mule and burro over 1,000 miles of rugged trails through the remote mountains of central Baja California to find more than 200 sites with murals that had not yet been described. Enrique Hambleton joined him on many of these adventures. Both have written books about the rock art in this part of Mexico.

Amazingly, the identity of the painters remains unknown. When Europeans first arrived in this part of Mexico, the native people knew nothing of the origins of the rock art. The locals did believe that the artists must have been giants due to the large size of the figures and the distance that many of the paintings are above flat ground.

Most of the designs portray running game animals, fish from above, flying birds, and humans with up-reaching arms. Black and red pigments predominate, but whites and yellows are also found. The murals are beautifully preserved beneath overhanging rocks in the arid environment of Mexico’s Baja California.

Although found in other regions of the Baja Peninsula and even on several islands within the Sea of Cortez, the majority of the paintings are in the central mountainous areas of San Francisco, San Borja, San Juan and Guadalupe. Most are in remote locations, but there is relatively easy access to several sites outside of Mulegé, Loreto and the town of San Ignacio. Although difficult to reach, it is well worth the trouble to seek out these treasures if you vacation by small cruise ship in the Sea of Cortez or on your own in the central peninsula. The rock art is protected, and visitors should be accompanied by a local guide. Because of the importance of Baja California’s cave paintings, a region called the Sierra de San Francisco was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1993.

A study that began in 2001 in the Sierra de Guadalupe received part of its funding from the National Geographic Society. The team located 320 new sites within this area in addition to the 90 already described here and provided preliminary dates of up to 7,500 years before present for these breathtaking murals. See many of them on our Baja cruises!

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