There were originally 28 missions along the Camino Real or “Royal Road,” but today only two are still intact, and both are a fair distance south of Ensenada; in fact, they are closer to Baja Sur than our northern Baja. Between the U.S. border and Ensenada, however, there are the ruins of two other missions, and we were lucky enough to live within shouting distance of one: San Miguel Arcangel de la Frontera, built in 1787 and actively used until 1834. The Dominican Father Luis Sales chose this fertile area with the local Indians in mind, and at its height, 229 people lived and worked there, boasting 3,000 head of cattle, goats, and sheep and around 400 horses and mules.
Clutching the bank of what they called San Juan Bautista Stream (We now know it as the Guadalupe River.), it was a rewarding task to grow all manner of crops from wheat to watermelons and cantaloupes along with vineyards and the bountiful harvest from the nearby Pacific Ocean. Although the Guadalupe River is still a sanctuary for a wide variety of birds, it is but a trickle of its former self.
Today, there are only the adobe ruins of the mission, but it is protected by the CAREM as part of the Camino Real Mission Corridor. So that the remaining structures won’t deteriorate further, they are covered with a mixture of clay, sand, water, nopal cactus leaves, and manure. I’m not certain what the manure adds, but the result seems to be working.
There is an easy-going, incredibly well informed caretaker, who talked with us for about an hour as we read the information stands (in both Spanish and English) and asked for clarification or further information about various aspects of the place. This mission, in the tiny hamlet of La Mision, is well worth a stop. It is tucked up under the mountain and the Guadalupe River lies at its feet, just waiting to be used for countless causes in this arid region. La Mision itself is a wonderful little place to spend a few hours; it boasts a beautiful beach with plenty of Palapas under which to relax. There is an open-air market on Mondays, and the produce alone will make anyone’s mouth water. When I picked up a ripe cantaloupe, I could smell its heady aroma before even raising it to my face, and a sliver of a thought ran across my mind about the Dominicans growing this very same fruit in this very same area. The mission is quiet and peaceful and in the backyard of the primary school, so look for the sign “Zona Escolar” as you drive. At Km 65.5, it is about 20-25 miles north of Ensenada on the free road and coming from the north, just four miles south of the famed La Fonda Restaurant.