We were leaving the town of Santiago, Baja California Sur, and
made a stop to replenish the ice in our chest at a small tienda
at the entrance to the village square. We were planning on
heading south that morning. We never made it.
Mary Ann, Debra and Brendan, and Pedito, our Mexican mutt,
waited in the car while I entered the store, asked for a bag of
cubos. The owner, a man about forty, directed a teenage girl to
get my ice. While we were waiting the store owner asked me
where we were from and going.
"You can't leave Santiago without visiting the cascades." He
He said it with such focus I wondered if we had missed something
on the map. We had never been to Santiago as it's a bit off
The young lady returned with the ice. I paid and thanked him
for his suggestion, but, as always, I was anxious to be off
toward the next adventure.
"I know you would enjoy Los Cascades." He reiterated. "If you
have the time, my daughter will act as your guide." He told me
it was 25 kilometers of dirt road that worked high into the
Sierra de la Laguna.
I excused myself, walked across the street and discussed the
side trip with the others. We decided to take it. While it was
the enthusiasm of the shopkeeper and the offer of a guide that
had caused me to consider that Los Cascades must have been
something to see, we had no room in the Trooper for a fifth
person. I thanked the man and his daughter and we were off on
The road is on most maps and heads out from a junction in the
heart of the village, crosses a beautiful tropically verdant
swatch of bamboo and palms and row crops plowed apparently by
hand. The road meanders through the outskirts of the village
and eventually finds its way into the gentle climbs amongst the
foothills of the sierra. From several points, climbing, we
could look back into the valley where blue pools of abundant
water set off the deep greens of crops. The road was wide and
graded. We were towing a low-sided trailer with my 14-foot
aluminum boat inverted on top. It was rattling and clanging,
banging against the steel sides of the trailer. The ball for
the trailer turned out to be too small for the receiver and it
came loose several times during that trip. But we were in no
hurry and glad for an objective off the pavement.
We continued our climb, about 10 kilometers, across high meadows
and flatlands in the hillsides of La Laguna, occasionally
encountering row crops but mostly open space. Then we were
channeled into a narrow canyon. We encountered a major
watercourse with a small stream but since we were facing the
cusps of summer were surprised to find any water at all.
While I never read the words on any map, I assumed Los Cascades
was comprised of this canyon. From the point at which we
entered, for the remaining kilometers the road narrowed and led
us upward and ever narrowing into the heart of the Sierra. I
had read of this road years ago, a fact I hadn't remembered
until we were here, and about how the rural ranchers had
produced beef for the folks in the time of Cortez. In the lower
portions of the road we had seen many signs of farming and
ranching activities, but no homes, barns or other buildings.
But as the mountains reconfigured into the canyon the world drew
closer and converged around to include us.
About 5 kilometers from the point at which the road ends
abruptly, we found a remote rancho every kilometer or two, maybe
four or five ranches total. Cattle wandered the damp hillsides.
Nearing the end of the road, which simply stopped at an aged
dropgate and a house, huge banyan trees snuggled into the steep
climbs of rock and earth, wrapped their rooty tentacles around
whatever they could find to cling to. Their broadleaf shade was
welcome in the heat of the day and we stopped to take pictures
and guzzle a cerveza in their coolness.
At the end of the road I wasn't quite certain that it was the
actual end as we hadn't seen cascades of water. I started to
drop the gate and drive on, an acceptable custom in many parts
of Baja where a road passes through a property, but something
told me to wait. A moment later a burly rancher, apparently
fresh out of swimming in the stream, walked up and told us that
this was the end of the road. So we returned the way we had
A kilometer or so back, boat balking behind us, with aluminum
loosing to the steel of the trailer siding, we stopped at a
small rancho with a sign in English indicating they welcomed
tourists to park here and visit the stream. I had to wonder how
many gringos they would get this far out. But park we did.
Mary Ann and Debra rested in the shade of old oaks while Brendan
and I took individual paths to the granite channel that formed
Los Cascades, a wide path that often carried huge quantities of
runoff down the steep slopes of La Laguna to the thirsty
villages below and fed the crops we had passed in abundance.
I passed from the small house where we had parked toward the
cascades through a herd of thirty cows and a single longhorn
steer. The cattle added a dimension to the site as the books
and articles I had read that included discussions of the beef
industry of the 1700's. I could feel the boatsmen from long ago
coming into these hills for replenishment timber for their
damaged and worn vessels, for food. I could sense the remote,
cooler and tranquil lives of the folks that lived here in the
sierra, how different their existences were from the flatlanders
below. Brendan and I re-collected with the ladies at the ranch.
The rancher was working on some hardware item; his wife hanging
laundry and tending a small planter. They were happy for the
company but held to their work. I supposed there was plenty of
that here in the upper outback where I assumed it grew pretty
cold in winter.
Too soon we were working our way down the steep hills of the
western end of the now narrow roadway. It took us an hour or
two to arrive back in Santiago. I thought about stopping at the
small tienda where the man had suggested our now completed
adventure, but it was closed. We headed south into the midday
brilliant sun bursting through our windows and into another
segment of our trip. By mid afternoon we were approaching San
Jose and the cape and wondering how the small world of Baja
California Sur could offer up so many wonderful and varied
After the days and weeks we have been going through this
hurricane season it makes me want to have been at Los Cascades
during storm to appreciate her full capacity as a conduit.