Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Mission Nuestra Senora del Rosario de Vinadaco

Along the Mission Trail

I wanted to see this mission, located in the hills above El Rosario in Baja because it was the first of the Dominican missions and the only California mission to have a Gothic arched entry.  That any of its remaining foundations still stand is truly a miracle but thanks to the efforts of  the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), the ruins (including the amazing arch) can be viewed and appreciated by history nerds like me for years to come.

However, once again, finding the site is nearly impossible because there are no signs.  INAH, please remedy this!!  Our guidebook gave us very sketchy directions and I'll do my best to explain how we found it.  For anyone driving the length of Baja, El Rosario is a good place to stop, have a bite to eat, gas up and even spend the night.  We've eaten at Mama Espinosa's many times and the Baja Cactus Motel next door has been recommended to me.  Anyway, after passing Mama', there is a sharp curve in the road.  Instead of staying left on Highway 1, take the road off to the right.  Then immediately turn left at the next road.  This dirt road will take you across a creek.  You will see a large blue painted factory ahead.  Take the road to the right just below the factory and follow it about two kilometers.  The mission will be on your right and is across from a cemetery.  We had to stop and ask directions many times and the locals all obligingly pointed, waved and gestured until we finally found it.
A gravel walkway circumnavigates the ruins.  There are signs in Spanish (but not English) documenting the mission's history so bring a dictionary.  The Dominican Father-President Vicente Mora founded this mission in 1774.  It is a beautiful site, located on a hill with a sloping valley.  A river lies below it and the Pacific Ocean is only ten miles away.  This mission was actually one of the more successful ones in Baja.  Crops such as corn, barley and beans were all grown in abundance.  In addition there were ample grazing lands for cattle, sheep and goats.  Nearly 600 neophytes lived here, but sadly, once diseases hit, an epidemic wiped most of the Indians out.  It is a story I read over and over again.

Although the mission was abandoned in 1832, a few Indians still remained and an occasional visiting priest would stop here and say Mass.  An interesting historical note is that El Rosario is where stragglers from William Walker's private army were captured and executed.  In 1853 Mexico sold Arizona and southern New Mexico to the U.S.  Walker, an American lawyer from Tennessee, invaded the Baja Peninsula and declared himself the new President of the Republic of Lower California.  Walker was sent back to the U.S. where he was tried and acquitted.  He didn't learn his lesson, however.  He went down to Nicaragua two years later, attempted the same thing and actually succeeded in ruling the country for one year before a coalition of Central American armies defeated him.  He was executed in 1860.

Definitely worth a pit stop!

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