Baja Missions

07th October 2011

The conquest of the harsh desert of California represented one of the greatest missionary accomplishments of New Spain. The Jesuits built 17 Missions in Baja California between 1697 and 1767 when they were expelled from all of the Americas. Only a handful remain. A mission was much more than a church building; it was an organization and a centre of “civilization” giving Spain a valuable presence in California, and keeping out other European powers. Unfortunately, the Baja Indians were all but eliminated by conflict and diseases and by the early twentieth century their languages and traditional culture became extinct.


The first mission, Nuestra Señora de Loreto, was established in Loreto [37] in 1697. This normally sleepy seaside town comes alive for winter whale watching. We hired a taxi driving through gorgeous desert scenery to the second and most beautiful mission, San Francisco Javier established in 1699. Original aqueducts still water olive trees and date palms introduced by the Jesuits continuing to provide a livelihood for the pretty oasis pueblo.


Santa Rosalia de Mulegé [38] was the 4th Mission, established in 1705. During the American-Mexican war of 1846-1848, the USA occupied long stretches of the Mexican Pacific coast. The people of Mulegé defeated the “Gringos” and it was never taken. The town´s official name is now Heroica Mulegé. To remember the battle of the 1847, every year on 02 October it becomes the capital of Mexico for a day. Salvador, a local guide, took us west of Mulegé into the La Trinidad Canyon in the Sierra de Guadalupe Mountains to see exceptional prehistoric cave paintings that have resisted the elements for thousands of years.


On a dark desert highway, we had to stop for the night. I heard the mission bell, and I was thinking to myself “this could be heaven or this could be hell”. Welcome to the Hotel California, such a lovely place. (Apologies to The Eagles) Todos Santos [39] has a “grown up from the 1970s hippy era” feel about it with lots of galleries and artists, but minus the drugs. Of course we just had to stay in the Hotel California which really is lovely.


San Jose del Cabo Añuiti [40], the Jesuit´s 12th Mission – established in 1730, was vital for the Spanish Galleons to re-supply fresh water for the long transoceanic voyage between New Spain and Manila. Today with its endless sunshine, it is a popular vacation spot for North Americans. The Estero (Wetlands) between the town and the beach provides food and shelter for more than 100 species of birds and makes for a nice morning walk to the surf beach.


Desert landscape between La Paz and Loreto

Loreto Mission, the Jesuits first (1697)

Fish tacos - a Baja speciality, delicious

Black sand beach near Loreto

Desert scenery ...

... on the way to San Javier Mission

Tree sending roots down to find water

Palms reflected in a desert pond

San Francisco Javier (1699), the second Jesuit Mission ...

... is in the mountains south of Loreto

This olive tree was planted by the Jesuits over 300 years ago

The Jesuits also introduced date palms

Mission Santa Rosalia de Mulegé (1705)

With a good water supply Mulegé was the most prosperous Mission

Desert flowers

These cactus are about 300 years old

Desert scenery

Sierra de Guadalupe

Indians marked rocks to be able to find hunting areas when they returned after several years

Frog blends in

We needed to swim to La Trinidad Canyon to see ...

... cave paintings dating back thousands of years - the longer we looked, the more we saw

A Shaman with a dead antelope, red coyote above

A fish in red

Adult and baby deer

An animal, two fish and a BBQ tool (?)

We heard the Mission bell at Todos Santos (1733) - at 5 am

Welcome to the Hotel California

Such a lovely place

The 1730 Mission church San José del Cabo

Shrimp fajitas - spoon it onto soft tortillas

Wetlands at San José del Cabo

Hawk looking for prey

Two little birds in the water

Beautiful small red bird

Water bird

Grey heron

Beach flowers


Small bird in the sand

Woodpecker entering its nest

Red beaked bird glides across the water

Good surf at San José del Cabo