pixel

Baja Travel Adventures
By David Kier

The Mysterious Magdalena Ruins

Article and photos by David Kier

Magdalena Arroyo

A Baja mystery is waiting to be examined by desert and history buffs, just a few miles from Highway One. Most modern maps show it as a mission, but they don't have it in the correct place. Historians disagree as to what it was and that makes it all the more interesting to visit and ponder its purpose!

Located sixteen miles northwest of Mulege are stone ruins and a large reservoir that was fed by an aqueduct originating miles away at the oasis of San Jose de Magdalena. The dirt road does not require four wheel drive, but is best driven in a truck or SUV.

So little is recorded on the ruins of Magdalena, that even its full name is in doubt. On February 12, 1772, Franciscan Friar Francisco Palou may have been the first to describe the site while in charge of the mission at Mulege. Fr. Palou considered moving the mission Magdalena Rock Wall following floods in 1770 that severely damaged the fields and irrigation works. Palou writes: "On this account I examined a place called Magdalena, about 10 leagues from the mission on the road to San Ignacio, and I discovered it had an arroyo with sufficient water."

The Jesuits had proposed establishing a mission called Santa Maria Magdalena and it is included on a 1745 list of missions and a 1757 map where it was labeled as 'started', but far to the north and closer to Bahia de los Angeles. The Franciscans replaced the Jesuits in 1768 and no further mention was made of Santa Maria Magdalena by them or the Dominicans who took over the Baja California missions five years later.

Magdalena Rock Wall and David Kier

Arthur North, in 1906, came upon the ruins and may have been the first to call them 'Santa Maria (de la) Magdalena' as they were near San Jose de Magdalena. North mentions that Baja travelers before him had mistaken the Magdalena ruins as the mission of Guadalupe (which is high in the mountains, 18 more miles west). Ever since North's two Baja books ('Mother of California' in 1908, and 'Camp and Camino in Lower California' in 1910) were published, authors and map makers have continued with the error of calling these desert ruins 'Santa Maria Magdalena'.

Marquis McDonald's 1968 'Baja: Land of Lost Missions' is one such book. McDonald traveled the peninsula by Jeep for several months in 1949 to 1950 to see every mission. McDonald described and photographed the desert Magdalena site.

Magdalena Rock Pile and Cacti

Historian Peter Gerhard in the 1956 'Lower California Guidebook' co-authored with Howard Gulick, listed these ruins and irrigation works as part of a Dominican chapel from 1774. However, historian W. Michael Mathes in his 1977 mission book says a ruined stone chapel, about 5 miles west and across the arroyo from San Jose de Magdalena, is the 1774 Dominican site.

Choral Pepper in her 1973 book 'Baja California: Vanished Missions, Lost Treasures, Strange Stories Tall and True' correctly mentions Fr. Palou's plan to move Mulege to Magdalena and notes that the stone ruins there have been misidentified as Santa (Maria) Magdalena, which Pepper says is an unfinished mission on the coast to the north.

Dave Werschkul in his 2003 mission history and guide ('Saints and Demons in a Desert Wilderness') lists both Magdalena sites, calling the one in the desert 'Santa Maria Magdalena' and the one 5 miles west 'San Jose de Magdalena'. Werschkul mentions the desert site as being of Jesuit origin from 1708, built three years after the Mulege mission was founded.

Magdalena Rock Pile

Perhaps both sites were part of the same project and built by the same people? Whatever the case, it makes for an interesting Baja side trip from the highway between Santa Rosalia and Mulege.

Getting There

Only 4.6 dirt road miles to the ruins: Leave Highway One at a point 3.8 miles south of the signed road to San Jose de Magdalena, and just north of the series of bridges over the wide Magdalena arroyo (between Km. 162 and 163). Go west 3.7 miles from Hwy. 1, taking the left fork ¼ mile from the highway. See the road to the left (south) and take it (was signed for Rancho La Posa). Cross the wide Arroyo Boca de Magdalena towards the ranch. At this point the aqueduct along the mountainside is seen and is what brought water to the pila (reservoir) near the ruins. Turn left on the far side of the arroyo. Go 0.6 mile (passing a blue ranch house) to the many ruins which are on both side of the road, and explore. GPS at the ruins is N27º03'30' W112º10'07' (WGS84). The pila is 300 feet west of the ruins and can be seen on Internet satellite images, as well as the aqueduct leading to it.

4.8 81 Reviews
  • user logo
    Jose Paez
    From logo

    Had a great experience getting insurance at Baja Bound, before I always stoped at the border to purchase my insurance, not anymore. By the...

  • user logo
    Stefano Pensa
    From logo

    I talked with Yara and she was extremely helpful. She took the time to explain the different options available to me and I was able to get...

  • user logo
    JUSTINE SERRANO
    From logo

    I purchased insurance through them & CHUBB for our trip to San Felipe. Unfortunately, we had to cancel due to our vehicle having an oil...

  • user logo
    Christian Minor
    From logo

    Team were on point, provided inside information, prices were great and they had my proposal already in the system when I called back....

  • user logo
    Joey Digiovanni
    From logo

    Easy to work with 😉. Always courteous and helpful

  • user logo
    George
    From logo

    Excellent customer service

  • user logo
    Kellye Pummill
    From logo

    Fast and easy!

  • user logo
    robert kepper
    From logo

    They are very good . There website  doesn't show you need a title to bring  a  vehicle across the border.I was stopped and told I had to...

  • user logo
    Jennifer Toups
    From logo

    Baja Bound is and has been my go to Mexico insurance company.  The website is extremely easy to use, keeps all your info for a quick...

  • user logo
    Cesar Lopez
    From logo

    Very convenient,  great price !!

  • user logo
    Louis Schneidman
    From logo

    I had an awesome experience with Baja Bound.  Family owned and highly personal, top notch customer service.  I have total peace of mind...

  • user logo
    Phil Noble
    From logo

    If you’re looking for Mexican Insurance that you can trust and feel good about while traveling in Mexico, you’ve found the right place....

  • user logo
    Jeff Bunker
    From logo

    Great coverage options . Price buy and print policy , very quick and easy , highly recommend them when driving in Mexico

  • user logo
    Burrell DeVine
    From logo

    Easy to navigate and very competitively priced! I had to call in and add an additional day, they couldn't have been any more pleasant to...

  • user logo
    Nereyda Torres
    From logo

    Me gusta la asuguranza porque la puedes comprar por un dia y te asegura en Mexico por el tiempo que vas ya sea hasta por mes (Translated...

  • user logo
    james whitmer
    From logo

    Best insurance I've had so far

  • user logo
    Rail1riders
    From logo

    Quick, easy, well designed website and not just for Baja. Good rates for temporal residente gringos. We’re not living in Jalisco. Printed...

  • user logo
    Matt B
    From logo

    I always use Baja Bound to source my insurance while traveling to Mexico.  Fortunately, I have not had to file any claims. I do appreciate...

  • user logo
    Refugio I. Rochin
    From logo

    Excellent online and by direct phone. Spanish and English with proven response to questions. Website is very informative about driving in...

  • user logo
    Kelly Carney
    From logo

    Yara is very helpful and explains everything. Love working with companies like this.

  • user logo
    Slumdog Gump
    From logo

    Changed some money. Good rate and friendly people.

  • user logo
    Jeff G
    From logo

    Went down to TJ June 11 2020 No problems going into TJ but the way back was a ordeal 6 hours in line to get back into the USA  but no...

  • user logo
    don letson
    From logo

    Great renewal process, if only south Dakota would do the same for car registration.

  • user logo
    len buckholtz
    From logo

    SIMPLE, STRAIGHTFORWARD. OLD GUYS LIKE THAT. WILL DEFINITELY USE IN 6 MONTHS IF STILL RUNNING AROUND THE WILDS OF BAJA.

  • user logo
    Susana Judd
    From logo

    Easy, quick and fair prices. Easy to deal with if needed.

  • user logo
    Seismic Waterfinder
    From logo

    Very excellent service, needed insurance for Mexico, price was fair. The custumer service rep was Yara

  • user logo
    Nicolas Dervé
    From logo

    Very good ans very fast. We hope all will ben good if we need it.

  • user logo
    Blake Glassco
    From logo

    I will never drive south of the border without Baja Bound in my center console. I was in an accident a couple hours south of Ensenada and...

  • user logo
    JohnPaul Gemelli
    From logo

    Baja Bound could not have made it an easier ... also, I made a mistake and called them having to leave a message ... but, they called back...

  • user logo
    Jeff Brandt
    From logo

    so far so good, however I have read good things about them