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Legends. They add character.

Are they just unlikely stories presented as history or do they have a bit of truth in them? They could be totally true, but with their evidence lost, hidden, or kept secret by those who know the importance of confidences.

Baja has many legends and some balance less fiction than fact.

The "Lost" Mission Santa Isabel.

Hernán Cortéz himself visited Baja California in 1535; he found pearls there and he colonized it. North America at that time was heavily inhabited by Native Americans, and the conquistadors found them everywhere. Legends of the wealth of the "island" of California grew. Many Spanish believed it had mountains of precious metals and was guarded by Amazon women.

In 1697 the Jesuits began establishing missions in Baja, eventually founding twenty known (and one lost) missions. It is the lost mission of Santa Isabel which interests fortune hunters the most. After seventy years of Jesuit devotion to the indigenous native populations, they controlled most of Baja, and were widely believed to have become rich off of the pearls, gold, and silver that every Spaniard knew Baja must have in abundance. Because they controlled Baja from the poorest native up to the governor, no outsider was permitted to confirm the extent of the Jesuits' wealth, and they weren't telling, either. Eventually, José de Gálvez, a personal representative of the King of Spain, arrived to survey the coffers of Baja, only to find no piles of pearls or bags of gold. It seemed the Jesuits had no treasure. But ...

It appears that a confidential communication had been sent from Rome to the first Jesuit settlement in Loreto which warned that the Jesuits were to be expelled from California by the King. They were to be peaceful about this expulsion, but to make certain there is no evidence of prosperity. Legend has it that a train of 270 burros was assembled to pack this evidence (gold and silver bars, and pearls from the pearl beds in La Paz), into the far reaches of the peninsula to found Mission Santa Isabel, the last, and lost, mission of the Jesuits. It was founded in a deep, watered gorge recessed in one of Baja's redoubtable mountain ranges. When the expulsion order arrived, the Jesuits sealed-off the trail into the mission with a landslide, leaving the treasure to the local natives who, not having the Spaniards' obsession for wealth, left it for the return of the priests.

The lost mission has never been found, although several likely places have been searched, such as Sierra San Pedro Martír and the mountains near Laguna Chapala. Some theorize that the most likely place is one of the deep canyon recesses near San Francisco de la Sierra, where so many mysterious painted caves have been found. Who knows?

Los Monos.

Baja California's first inhabitants, or at least anyone who can remember their earliest culture, are gone. They left traces of themselves of a kind found nowhere else on the planet. These are the famous pinturas rupestres, or cave paintings, found with very little evidence of the people who made them. Nobody knows who these people were, or even if they came from the same stock as the ancients of the mainland, such as the Toltecs, Olmecs, or their mysterious predecessors. It is unknown whether they came across the Bering Strait during an ice age and migrated south, or whether they were arrivals by sea. So far, no temples or archeological evidence of permanent settlements have been unearthed in Baja. Despite this, these people painted their mountains, and made polychromatic frescos of fantastic animals of such giant size that they could not have been made by a single painter or without assistance of scaffolds and equipment. How they were painted is unknown; how old they are is a mystery as well; what they mean is anyone's guess.

The Secret Spot.

Anyone that has ever surfed Baja knows that there is a perfect right point break that is never crowded where the rides are so long and so hollow that it is simply best to get out of the water to walk back to the peak. Evidence of these types of conditions abounds (e.g., ask anyone who has surfed San Miguel or Deadmans on a good day), but nobody quite knows the exact KM of the turn-off or the exact track that leads down to it. However, we've all heard about it and we all know it's there. That's because there is one thousand miles of virtually surfer-free Pacific coastline on the Baja California peninsula which is largely undocumented by surfers. Rumor? Not really. The secrecy of the spot is plainly the result of a confluence of obvious factors: those who have surfed it would (reasonably) never tell or lie about where it is, to get there requires endurance and serious adventure, and who's to say that, once you surf there, you ever want to return to civilization. The best research shows that the true location of this wave is either between Punta San Carlos and Punta Santa Rosalillita or between Punta Eugenia and Punta Asuncion.

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