Doña María Rieke — Ángel de Las Canoas

Many residents and winter visitors to this area can remember an earlier time when exploring the trail to Rancho Las Canoas was an annual ritual. We drove up a wide wash to within half a mile of the entrance to the upper Arroyo de Las Canoas (Arroyo of the Canoes) shown at the lower right on the map below. Passing through a small gap in a high rock wall, we found ourselves in a lush desert arboretum with torote, agave, Baja California Rock-Nettle, and other vegetation hanging from the steep south wall of the arroyo. After a short walk that included clambering over boulders and stepping across a meandering stream, we stopped to wonder about the meaning of the Shrine of Las Canoas concealed in a cave just above the trail. Then we proceeded to the ruins of the Ranch. Some hikers continued up to where the sides of the arroyo come together like the prow of a canoe below a high seasonal waterfall that blocks hiking farther. Others trudged up a hill from the Ranch to another arroyo behind a ridge to the south and walked back down a path through a slightly different ecosystem to our starting point. Had we known the history of the Pericu Indians who made the Arroyo their seasonal home, and the Rieke family who first staked a claim on this property, we might have walked slower, quieter, and with more reflective thought and conversation. This story [i] is dedicated to the memory of those people.

Note: After translation from Spanish, interview material has been edited for length and clarity.

The two to three-mile loop past the Shrine of Las Canoas
to the Rancho and back to the starting point at the
Arroyo’s narrow entrance at the bottom right.

Google Maps 2019

During the second half of the 19th century, there was a large migration of ethnic Germans into Mexico. They established several towns on the Mexican mainland where German culture is still evident today. A few brave souls came to Baja California to seek adventure and fortune prospecting for silver and gold.  Doña María Rieke’s grandfather, Eduard Rieke, was one of them. Going by the Spanish name Eduardo, he probably arrived in La Paz around 1875 and made his way to El Triunfo to look for work in the mining industry. He met Fructosa Avilés in San Antonio. She was married to Avilés Castro, and they had a son named Raymundo. However, she fell in love with the German Eduardo and left her first husband.

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A Brief History of the Founding of La Ventana (II)


In Part 1 (see Part 1 here),  Cortés landed on Cerralvo, and named the island Santiago. Vizcaino tried to found a settlement here. Now, a century later, we meet Francisco de Ortega who visited our bay three times. Evidence suggests he landed here, befriended the Indians, and reported on their customs. An ingenious and politically astute person, he carried a new machine to aid in the search for pearls. Ortega and crew were marooned when their ship broke to pieces on the rocks north of Punta Gorda.

Part 2 —   The Voyages of Francisco de Ortega to La Ventana Bay  1632-1636

Kcuhc and Ykceb left camp at dawn. They had work to do on a trail to Cerro del Puerto (Pericú sacred mountain west of El Sargento). They hiked up a narrow arroyo past red-billed colibrís  (hummingbirds) feeding on the blossoms of a plant hanging from the arroyo’s south wall. On the opposite side, abejas (bees) worked on honeycomb inside a rock alcove.

At a mojón de roca (rock cairn), the trailblazers climbed to a ridge where a giant, old, gray-top cactus stood. Its multitude of tall columns towered high above their heads. They had used rebanadas (slices) cut from young gray-tops to treat stingray wounds. But the tribe was in awe of this old gray-top. It was one of several natural landmarks created by Niparaja throughout the Cunimniici  (Pericú word for mountain range, the Cacachilas and others of Baja Sur) to guide them to water, shelters, and sacred sites. The ancestors had left other landmarks on the sides of giant boulders: images of animals, humans, hands, and geometric figures.

Old Gray-Top Cactus Marking Trail to Cerro del Puerto


Landmark on Boulder in Cacachilas above La Ventana



A century after Cortés’ voyage to the Baja peninsula, Martín de Lezama, an accountant in Mexico City, and son-in-law of Vizcaíno, wanted to try his suerte (luck) in California. After the Viceroy of New Spain, the 3rd Marquis of Cerralvo, approved his plans, Lezama hired carpenters and shipwrights, and took everyone to a place on the Pacific coast with good access to timber to build his ship. However, after the Crown ordered the Viceroy to halt further exploration of California until he could determine if colonization was advisable, Lezama found “the inhospitable land and the many mosquitoes,” not to his liking. He abandoned the project, and returned, leaving everyone else stranded.

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A Brief History of the Founding of La Ventana (I)

Part 1 —  Early Visitors to La Ventana Bay

Time: 10,000 years BCE.     Location:  The bluffs above the shores of present day La Ventana and El Sargento.     Sea Level: 300 feet lower than the present.     At dawn’s first light, the men followed a  well-worn path east through grasslands to fish and gather sea food from the shore.  They arrived at sunrise, and two youths floated rafts a short distance to the island to hunt for seals and turtles.  The women finished gathering the last of the acorns from the live oak woodland where they had camped for the past moon.  While they crushed them between metate and mano, they discussed moving camp  to the base of the mountains where  pitahaya were ready to harvest.

A young girl approached the small band’s oldest and most respected member, and asked her a question:  where did our people come from?   The elderly woman repeated the story she had learned from her mother:  Many winters ago to the west, just before dawn on the shortest day of the season, Niparaja descended from the sky on the three stepping stars that mark the hunter’s waist.  He stood on Cerro Del Puerto, our sacred mountain,  and created all that we need to survive. Pericú is the name he gave us. It means The People.   [Niparaja = Pericu deity,   Cerro Del Puerto = highest peak  west of La Ventana (4134 ft.)]


Location:  Pericú gathering place a day’s journey north of Punta Gorda.     The Pericú women gathering seeds on a knoll above the shore stared in disbelief.  A gigantic raft had just drifted into the bay.  It made the balsas their men propelled with double-bladed paletas look like twigs floating in a tide pool. One woman sounded the alarm.  [ balsas =  rafts made by binding reeds or  light tree trunks together,   paletas = paddles ]

Pericú Women — Sketched by George Shelvocke, an English privateer who visited the Cape Region during the early 18th century.


Fortún Ximénez, and his fellow  mutineers dropped ancla and went a tierra in the mythical land of California, first imagined in a popular 16th century novel. They were the first Europeans to set foot on the Baja California peninsula.  Some would  be the first to die there. [ancla = anchor,  a tierra = ashore]

The Spaniards came ashore to find water. When they saw the women, they knew  they would find una fuente  nearby. The sailors whistled and joked as they approached the group who watched the extraños with apprehension.     [ fuente = source,    extraños = strangers ]

This will be más fácil  than slitting Becerra’s throat and commandeering the ship, Fortún thought to himself.  Cortés had sent Becerra  to look for an expedition that had vanished without a trace. Fortún was an exceptional pilot, but he didn’t like taking orders. He preferred looking for the island of pearls described in the popular novel. For many Spaniards in 1533, that was evidencia enough that it existed.    [ más fácil = easier,    evidencia = evidence ]

The Pericú men appeared without warning.   What they saw angered them.  Arrows were already nocked in their bowstrings.  But it was the strings of pearls around their necks that distracted the sailors. They missed the signal the Pericú leader gave to kill the crude intruders.  Before Fortún could react, una flecha pierced his heart, and twenty of the crew would soon be muerto. The survivors escaped to the ship. They sailed home with tales of pearls that spawned new expeditions, some that would never be heard from again.            [ flecha = arrow,  muerto = dead ]

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