The Arroyo del Parral


By: Ron Jones


Over the Memorial Day weekend, Betty and John Wallin, Mary Sue Mead, Keith and Ron Jones drove nearly 650 miles south into Baja California del Sur to further explore the Arroyo del Parral and its side canons and washes. Mary Sue and I had first day-packed into the Arroyo in December last year, and we investigated perhaps 10 overhanging shallow caves, all with primitive Indian paintings; several with outstanding examples of Indian art. Farther on than we were able to daypack lies Cueva del Serpiente, The Cave of the Serpent containing two snake forms with a total length of 26 feet. This was our goal in May. Locating the Arroyo is not easy and explicit directions should not be given because of the value and significance of the fragile art in the area. At Christmas I knew of 2 approaches to the mid-portion of the Arroyo: One by way of the old El Camino Real connecting the Baja missions; the second a cattle trail branching from the Camino Real. This May I discovered 2 additional old but well-constructed roads leading deeper into the Arroyo. The Camino Real, constructed in the 1740's, is the easiest and most interesting approach. The cattle trail is more direct but difficult to follow into the Arroyo, although it is somewhat easier to follow out.

Walking along the 230 year old El Camino Real gives one a feeling of awe -- a real sense of the history of the area. It is 16 feet wide, cleared of nearly all volcanic rocks, some being 3 feet in diameter, and passing nearly straight through a desert forest of Cardones, Elephant trees, Ocotillos and other plants. After traveling about 3 miles, seeing only an occasional small petroglyph, one descends a series of well made switch-backs, with sturdy stone walls, into the Arroyo. The Camino Real leads across the Arroyo and continues on toward Rancho Santa Marta and a marvelous appearing peak, Cerro Santiago, which reminds me of Baboquivari.

Memorial Day is too late in the year to pack into the area. Temperatures reached 90 degrees and I should add that I had seen only one filthy seep and no useable water on either of my trips. Christmas is much more agreeable but still no water although one sees occasional cattle.

At the point of descent on the basalt walls of the Arroyo are many paintings: Deer in red outline, deer in solid red, fat lizard-like animals, undoubtable Christian crosses and many abstract designs. After several hours a magnificent cave is found. One needs binoculars to continually scan likely looking spots on either wall of the Arroyo. A large south-facing rock wall was covered with figures: Running deer, fish, lizards, mountain sheep, possibly turtles and many abstract figures done mostly in red "paint" (ground mineral pigments in a tallow base I believe) but also black and occasionally ochre. At this location was a 5 foot long pregnant deer, with my son Keith pointing out a beautiful 2 foot long spotted fawn in its belly, as if inviting the reproduction of deer. All along the Arroyo in smaller overhangs are other paintings.

In another hour one comes across a somewhat hidden north-west facing basalt face with paintings of 4 human forms, arms upraised and larger than life-size. Two are done in red, two are done half red, half-black, divided from the crotch to one side of the neck. The natives call these figures "Monos".

Shortly beyond the Monos the cattle trail drops into the Arroyo. The well-built stone switchbacks are fairly easy to see. An hour or two later the Arroyo divides. The right fork contains many small caves with interesting paintings in the half mile we explored. We saw 3 deer's hooves hung in the branch of a tree as a sort of offering to nature. Antlers and a deer body were also found. Returning to the left fork one continues on, repeatedly crossing back and forth across the 200 yard wide Arroyo to look for more petroglyphs. No significant paintings were found. Probably somewhere near this point the first day camp should be made.

The next day one comes to a quarter-mile long narrows where the Arroyo is only 30 yards wide or less. There is a small very dirty spring for cattle at this point and several small pools. These might be used for an emergency supply of water if one was daring and prudent. Several paintings are found in the narrows including another cross, There is supposed to be a tinaja up the left wall of the Arroyo at this point where water has been found after a rain but I doubt if one can depend on finding water. After leaving the narrows the Arroyo divides again. The right fork contains a cave with 8 Monos, several with head dresses. This point was as far as we could go in two days this May. Not far beyond, at another fork in the Arroyo, lies the Canada del Corralito with the Cave of the Snakes. We couldn't reach it on a hot 3 day weekend. The Arroyo is essentially trailless except for cattle tracks, there's quite a bit of exploring to do and perhaps one-fourth of the walking is done on medium size rocks. I feel that the trip is a minimum 3-1/2 to 4 day backpack. Oh well, perhaps the third time will be successful!

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