Sunday, May 3, 2015

The road to San Javier, and more

Enjoying a second week with Visitors has given me the opportunity to make one of my favorite day trips near Loreto, the drive to San Javier - site of the oldest unrestored Mission Church in the Baja.  I have written on this Blog about this trip and the destination several times over the years and each time I have travelled this road and visited San Javier I have added something to my appreciation and understanding of the surrounding area - and this time was no different.

First of all, the trip to San Javier is as much about the journey as the destination.  Ten years ago when I first made the 34 km trip the road was primitive, unpaved, and dwindled down to a single lane in places. Soon afterwards, paving the road became a local election pledge and work began at the turnoff from Highway #1 a few kilometers south of the town of Loreto.  By the time the next election came around only about 3 km had been paved, but the promise was made again and following that election a total of about 10 km were completed.

This progress was followed by yet another commitment about 5 years ago by the then Governor to complete another 5 km, or approximately halfway to the destination, which finished the road to the where the most challenging terrain was as it switchbacked around a mountain before reaching the high sierra plateau for most of the remainder of the journey to San Javier.

This challenging road construction was further complicated over the past number of years by torrential runoff from tropical storms that have dumped record amounts of rainfall in the area around Loreto, but mainly in the Sierra de la Giganta Mountains west of here.  This runoff has done significant damage to sections of the road where it passes through gorges that channel the water into destructively concentrated flows that can strip away new pavement and erode the base underneath.  So, for the last several years, finishing the paving of this road has been a “two kilometers forward, one kilometer back” process, with one season’s repairs and progress being wiped out in a few days of torrential rain, and requiring major repairs the following season.

Since it had been almost a year since the last time I made this trip, I was happy to take the
opportunity of the visit of my recent Guests to travel to San Javier again, check out the condition of the road and visit the small hamlet around Mission and see what changes have been made.  Heading out early afternoon the road was in perfect condition to almost the halfway point where at the 15km point we passed through some shallow water flowing across the pavement in a shallow arroyo. 

Although we live in what is commonly considered a desert, there is a surprising amount of ground water flowing across the plains between the mountain range and the Sea of Cortez.  This water appears in the form of oasis where the geology forces it to the surface for some distance before it disappears again underground, to reappear again further “downstream”.  There are several of these naturally irrigated areas near the road to San Javier, their locations marked by lush vegetation and stands of palm trees rising above the dry scrub brush that covers most of the terrain in the area.

However, I have never seen so much water still flowing across the road in several places on the
second half of the trip as I did this time, causing me to believe that the heavy Fall rains of the past several years, replenished by smaller, but unusually frequent rains this past winter, have significantly raised the water table resulting in the usually dry arroyos that cross the road to be flooded this late in the year.  At about the 27km mark we encountered several pieces of heavy roadwork equipment working on the approach to one of the small bridges that have been added during the road construction and closer to San Javier we approached a hairpin turn that about 100 yards of pavement had been stripped away from the road leaving a stretch of rocky dirt and gravel to the turn where the paved road resumes and continues to climb up and around the mountain.  

The rest of the journey to San Javier was uneventful, with one more patch of broken pavement before we entered the quiet hamlet.  As we drove down the one main street towards the rugged stone Mission Church I noticed some minor changes that have been made here since my last visit.  There is a small new store now across from the entrance to the Church that apparently sells snacks and soft drinks and on the south side of the square there is a new restaurant, which was closed when we were there, but presumably opens when there is a religious or social event drawing more than the few tourists that are normally there. 

The “Living Roots” community center that I wrote about when it opened a few years ago was closed on the Monday we were there, but I gather it has sustained some damage from the storms last Fall and is due to be repaired during the summer, with funds that have been raised this past winter season.  After a brief visit inside the Church itself, we made our way down the path behind the Mission building towards the 300 year old Olive Grove, with its ancient trees dating back to the original Jesuit missionaries.

Along the path I saw more cultivated fields growing corn and onions than I have seen previous in years and I was left with a positive impression that San Javier was showing some modest signs of relative prosperity. Compared to my early visits starting 10 years ago, and I was surprised to see that I was able to get a fairly strong cell signal there now, no doubt a result of the electrification that happened here several years ago.  One can only speculate how the advent of wireless communications will impact this remote community in the years to come!

And so, after another peaceful, and somehow restoring visit to this 300 year old religious outpost, we headed back for the approximately 1 hour drive to the Highway and Loreto Bay, enjoying the return trip vistas of the Sea of Cortez from the road as it twisted and turned through the Mountains, and returned to the plains as they approach the shore.  Although this wasn’t my Guests first visit to San Javier, they too seemed to appreciate the mellow atmosphere that surrounds the place, and I was happy to have them with me to experience it another time, proving once again that sometimes it takes the presence of Visitors to truly appreciate “Living Loreto”.