I started out on my journey to the long lost cave paintings of San Borjita, but I didn't have the foggiest idea of how much trouble I'd actually be getting into.
When your truck has its second flat tire in the middle of the desert, and you wander for a couple of miles until you double back to your dead truck -- you know you're in trouble. Bad as things were, we were doing this in April. If I had tried to do this in August or during hurricane season, I'd probably be dead. But it was worth it.
I could handle some of the multiple mechanical failures that occurred from the 58 kilometers of extremely bad road that went from sea level over multiple mountain ranges, but the exploded tire finally did it. You can see what much of the road was like from the picture below. And you can imagine how much force a flash flood can generate on the land, literally in an instant.
After we got back to the truck again, we finally made it to this rancho. But it wasn't fun when the ranchero's dogs got all crazy and nearly brought me down.
But despite of all of the problems I encountered, I want to go back as soon as I can -- bringing my friends! For one thing, the desert environment changes incredibly as you go up into the mountains. This is a photo taken near the highway. Eventually, I'll make it to the most distant mountain range.
As I pass through one ridge of mountains after another, the environment begins to change. The furthest mountain in the distance is where I'm headed towards. It's probably just under 3000' tall.
I was never totally certain at times about whether I was on the right road or not. Taking a wrong turn could be fatal, but I was happy to see that once in a while there were clues that I was on the right track.
After many miles of a boneshaking ride, I finally get to the ranch where the cave paintings are. Only six more bad miles to go.
Juan Gorosalves comes out to meet me. His family got titulo to the ranch hundreds of years ago from a Spanish king. He's doing quite well, as even in the middle of nowhere -- when you've got something that's classified as a United Nations World Heritage Site, you get a steady stream of tourists who are willing to pay for the guide service to the caves. The day before, he'd entertained a school busload of children coming all the way from Tijuana to see the prehistoric masterpiece. ↓
One of his ranch hands fixed my first flat tire, and he took me up the trail in his pickup truck to the third gate. Juan tries to protect the integrity of the environment from the stray cattle and goats, and the next picture shows you where the magic begins!
You have to excuse the dust I have on my camera lens. But those grey smudges give you an idea of what I was actually taking a picture of. There must have been hundreds of tiny yellow butterflies frittering around in front of those globe-shaped marsh plants that are taller than I am. What you can't experience is the absolutely heavenly scent of the cidura tree. The cidura tree on the right has the most heavenly scent of any tree I've ever experienced in the world. Its natural perfume is finer than a $500 an ounce spray that you'd get in Paris.
This is the gateway to the cave paintings, and it showed me what the desert used to look like before livestock denuded the environment. With the exception of the water line running to the corral, this is exactly what the cavemen 7,500 years ago must have seen as they brought back animals they'd killed for their celebrations.
About a mile in on the trail, this is the first sight of the gorge where the cave dwellers actually lived. ↑ 7,500 years ago, there was much more water here, and the ocean level was much lower than it is today. The climate back then may have been more like California. But this is where some of first Americans in the Western Hemisphere lived. When the Spanish missionaries arrived, these people had disappeared many millenia ago. The natives had absolutely no memory of the actual cave dwellers, only legends.
This may not seem very impressive, but you have no idea how large this cave actually is! ↑ It took the cave dwellers hundreds of years, to not only paint their mysterious images on the ceiling of the cave that's at least ten feet above my head. But they spent additional time excavating the cave in the back to make living quarters for the families that called this place home. The next photo was taken from the back of the cave, looking towards my guide. This will give you an idea of how large a space we're actually talking about.
Along one side of the wall are vaginas etched in the stone. My guess is that the dwellers operated under a matriarchal system, honoring their First Mother by engraving her symbol here. If the life span of the dwellers was only 20-30 years old, you can get an idea of how long people actually lived here. Perhaps like in New Mexico, climate change forced them to move elsewhere, but who knows? ↓
But this is what I came for. The pictures were all painted on the ceiling, and they must have been done either with scaffolding or with stilts. The collective drawings are so big that it was impossible for me to look at all of them with one glance. Finally, I had to settle on lying down on the floor of the cave, and shooting my pictures in bracket fashion. Some day when I get back to the States, I'll take a Photoshop course so that I can blend these pictures together. But for now, I'll only give you a taste of what I actually saw on my trip.
This is the outline of a giant marlin or swordfish that's perhaps ten feet long. ↑ Imagine our cave dwellers going upstream for 28 kilometers or more with this 300 pounder tied to logs to keep it afloat. How they caught such a giant fish is a mystery, and I can't even begin to comprehend the human effort it took to bring this monster this far inland. I only know that they must have had a helluva feast!
This is one of the most layered parts of the cave painting. ↑ I don't know how well you can see the white and black figure in the upper center-right section of the picture, but he was the only figure of his kind. I asked the guide about his significance, and he didn't know. Only half jokingly, I said, "He must be the astronaut."
I'll try to give you a bracketed panorama of the cave painting from its left side to its right. No words from me for a while. Just enjoy. And to put things in perspective, each of these human (?) figures is fifteen to twenty feet long!
These photos don't really do justice to the paintings, as the reds, blacks, browns, and oranges are actually much more vivid and vibrant. If I didn't know better, I would have guessed that the artwork was a couple of years old. It's remarkable how well the paintings have stood up to the travails of time.
From studying a book of the cave paintings of Baja, it's my opinion that these are the finest in all of the peninsula. Some experts say that they're the finest cave paintings known in the Western Hemisphere.
This was my visit to the Sistine Chapel for this year.