La Ventana Stories

Bird’s Eye View: The Imposter Among Us

Even if you are not into birds in the slightest, most folks in La Ventana and El Sargento are familiar with those large black birds with the broad wings soaring effortlessly over our heads without flapping for seemingly hours or perched on the tops of the cardon cacti with their wings held wide open to warm themselves up after a cool night.

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Doña María Rieke Verdugo, Ángel de Rancho Las Canoas [1]


During the late 1800s, several German immigrants to Mexico came to Baja California to seek their fortune; Doña María Rieke’s grandfather, Eduard Rieke, was one of them. Adopting the Spanish name Eduardo, he arrived in La Paz in the late 1800s and made his way to El Triunfo to look for work. He met Fructosa Avilés in San Antonio, and they fell in love. She was married and had a son but left her husband for Eduardo.

Eduardo learned about a Piedra Inscrita, Inscribed Rock, in the Las Canoas Arroyo above the Bay of La Ventana [2,3]. The rock held a clue to the location of a vein of gold discovered by Pericue Indians, which came to be known as La Tapada, The Covered [Mine].  Eduardo came to Las Canoas to search for La Tapada.

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The Invasion of La Paz by an American Filibuster

Since the arrival of the Spaniards in 1519, Mexico has gone through several major political iterations. But La Paz and the Peninsula have, in addition, had their own peculiar brushes with international politics. First, some early history.

La Paz Bay was “discovered” in 1533 by Spaniard Fortun Ximenez, but efforts to establish a colony were thwarted by natives who killed him and his 21 crew members. Hernán Cortez arrived in 1535 after successfully subduing the mainland and named the Bay “Santa Cruz.” But his attempt to gain a foothold on the wild Baja peninsula also came to naught. His colony failed in a few years.

Fast forward to 1596 when the Spanish finally made a go of it. A successful colony was founded by Sebastian Vizcaíno and given the name “La Paz.” “New Spain,” as the country was known, held forth until 1821 when, after a protracted struggle (1810-21), the sovereign Republic of Mexico was established with the signing of the Treaty of Córdoba.

In 1861, however, conservative elements fought for the return of a monarchy. The French helped make it happen. France invaded and put monarch Maximillian I on a throne. The U.S. during this period, of course, was embroiled in the Civil War and didn’t have resources to help Mexican liberals keep the French out.

But, at the end of the war, the U.S. actively opposed Maximilian’s regime. France withdrew its support in 1867, monarchist-rule collapsed, Maximilian was executed, and the republic was restored.

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Considering Birds When Building in La Ventana

Down here in Baja where my wife and I own a wee abode to escape the chilly Canadian winter weather, we are seeing lots of new houses going up. Some of the local folks are even blaming an apparent decline in our songbird populations on all of this construction. But it is not fair of us to roll up the carpet and tell others that they cannot enjoy our neighborhood too. So… what to do? How can we build our homes but also keep the birds here?

Costa’s Hummingbird in El Sargento (photo: Chris Smith)

If you are building a new home down here, and you do care about the birds, consider these tips on how to minimize the impact of construction on their populations:

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John Steinbeck in Baja (Part 2)

Read Part 1 of this story first, if you haven’t already. Onward…

The crew was anxious to port in La Paz. Their encounter with ragged little St. Lucas had been disappointing.

Cape St. Lucas had not really been a town, and our crew had convinced itself that it had been a very long time out of touch with civilization…. In addition, there is a genuine fascination with of the city of La Paz. Everyone in the area knows the greatness of La Paz. You can get anything in the world there… (and) a cloud of delight hangs over the distant city from the time when it was the great pearl center of the world.

Steinbeck noted that the La Paz pearl oyster drew men from all over the world.

And, as in all concentrations of natural wealth, the terrors of greed were let loose on the city again and again.

In Chapter 11, he recounts a cautionary folk tale about the greed associated with finding a massive pearl. The story became the catalyst for his novella, The Pearl, published in 1945, in which an impoverished pearl diver finds a huge pearl. “The Pearl of the World” promises to transform his life. It does, but not in the way one might expect.

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John Steinbeck in Baja (Part 1)

In 1940, author John Steinbeck took a breather from writing fiction—he had just published Grapes of Wrath (1939)—and ventured on a six-week, 4,000-mile expedition down the Pacific Coast of Baja and into and up what is now more commonly called the Gulf of California. Steinbeck and long-time marine biologist friend Ed Ricketts leased the Western Flyer, a 76-foot sardine boat out of Monterey.

The result was a work of non-fiction, The Sea of Cortez (1941)—a 600-page pioneering treatise focusing on the intertidal or shoreline (littoral) ecology of Baja. Steinbeck published The Log from the Sea of Cortez, a more accessible preface to the much larger work, in 1951.

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The Coral Reefs of La Ventana Bay

Below the vast blue mirror of Ventana Bay lives a variety of flora and fauna, what the locals call “silvestre” or the “wild”. At the core of this diverse ecosystem are the rocky coral reefs that dot our beautiful coast line. While our predominantly finger-based coral may not provide as colorful a display as seen in coral colonies throughout the Caribbean, these shallow, rock-based reefs provide a critical habitat for a diverse array of life that have called Ventana Bay “home” long before we did.

Baby fish or “juveniles” seek protection and sustenance in these shallow reef systems and adult turtles come in for rest and nourishment. Slow-growing coral colonies are nurseries not only to fish, but to crustaceans, star fish, sea urchins, clams, sea anemones and a host of other critters that hold a symbiotic relationship with their living host. Mary Sim, a local snorkeler living in the area since 1987 and a full-time since resident 1998, recalls in one snorkel session, “logging over 95 varieties of fish on one reef.” Continue reading “The Coral Reefs of La Ventana Bay”

Discovering the Great Cave Murals of Baja

Jesuit Padre Joseph Maxiáno Rotheax gazed in surprise and wonder at the ceiling and back wall of the underside of the huge cliff. Staring back at him were a series of life-sized or larger than life-sized human figures standing with arms outstretched, feet wide apart. They were virtually neckless. The heads of many were decorated with several forms of headdress. Most of the figures were neatly split down the middle—one side painted in reddish pigment; the other in black. Some were depicted as having been shot with one or more arrows.

Most of the Monos appear to have been wounded with arrows—another common feature of the cave paintings. The best archeologists can surmise is the obvious—these are battle scenes. (San Borjitas, Photo by Lorin Robinson)

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Fact-checking the “Gustave Eiffel” El Triunfo Chimney Story

Fact checking has become a major industry. The focus is primarily political as legions of fact-checkers try to ascertain the “truthiness” of politicians’ pronouncements. But, other “facts” need checking, too.

In my recent article The Eiffel Chimney & Mining Museum of El Triunfo, I parroted the common wisdom that French engineer Gustave Eiffel—he of Eiffel Tower fame—designed El Triunfo’s iconic 10-story high chimney, built in 1890. But, despite numerous citations to that effect on-line, the reality is that Eiffel’s involvement in the design of the chimney is questionable.

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

Introduction

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.

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