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Pinturas Rupestres, Baja California

"Pinturas Rupestres" means, literally, "rock paintings." In both states of Baja California and Baja California Sur, these indigenous works range from simple scratchings and geometric marks on rock (or sometimes in layers of dirt) through more complicated designs, all the way to more representational paintings of animals and human figures which sometimes seem to portray hunting rituals or prayers.

According to information published in Arqueoligía Mexicana, Vol.XI Núm.62, the paintings date from around 5000 b.c. all the way down to the Spanish conquest (16th century a.d.).

The most famous cave-art are those complexes of paintings found in the San Francisco mountains north of the town of San Ignacio Kadakaman, near the center of the long, narrow peninsula. They must be approached via narrow, rough, precipitous trails accessible only by foot or on mule back (which is recommended). Permits must be obtained to visit these sites, by applying to the INAH (Instituto Nacional de Arquelogia e Historia) offices in San Ignacio (a magnificent oasis village with mission only a mile or so off the transpeninsular highway -- don't miss it!).

The prehistoric cave paintings – quite possibly the most impressive in all of North America – were popularized in the 1960s by Earl Stanley Gardner, the writer who gave us Perry Mason and Della Street. He organized expeditions and wrote several books about Baja California in general and the cave paintings in particular. Because of his publicizing them, he is often given credit for "discovering" them – but the rancheros who lived up there all knew about them for long before that.

Those mountains where the caves are located are still populated by that hardy clan of Mexican ranchers. Over the past two centuries they have managed to create a lifestyle for themselves that is truly unique, almost completely self-sustaining, hidden away from the world in a wild, deserted region which, paradoxically, is (because of the cave art treasures) now famous all around the planet. These people will be your guides, pack leaders, and hosts if you venture into the mountains to see the cave art.

A visit to the Pinturas Rupestres should be timed to take advantage of whale-watching season in nearby Guerrero Negro (February-April).

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