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BAJA CALIFORNIA, 1967-1992: Photographs by Harry Crosby

Part I Pre-history and History of Antigua California
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The Native Americans of the central and lower peninsula disappeared after less than two centuries of exposure to alien diseases and European ideological and economic domination. Their material remains are few and, for the most part, inconspicuous. Thirty years ago, during my first major adventure in Baja California, I was guided to magnificent displays of rock art, paintings and engravings. That experience- and the scant printed information available on the subject- inspired me to spend fifteen months in the mountains of the mid-peninsula during the next seven years. My investigations resulted in the text and illustrations for The Cave Paintings of Baja California [1975]. The pre-historic art of Baja California now attracts admiring visitors from around the world. The peninsula displays a variety of other remains as well, items worked from or built of stone: hunting blinds, sleeping circles, metates, manos, and other miscellaneous implements.

The permanent Spanish presence in California began with a toehold established in 1697. During the eighteenth century, the mission-based colony grew to encompass the entire peninsula and expanded onto the mainland to the northwest. I was introduced to peninsular history when I was hired to illustrate a book commemorating the two hundredth anniversary [1969] of Spanish entry into Alta California. My experience did not begin with books or documents, it came in the field in encounters with remains of mission churches, el camino real- the inter-mission road- and other masonry constructions resulting from early economic activity: mining, pearling, cattle ranching, and mission agriculture.

Historic preservation was barely a concept during the peninsula's three Hispanic centuries. Known losses were great, but most went unrecorded and can only be imagined. Since the opening of the paved highway in 1973, I have watched the patrimony of the peninsula suffer accelerating losses from neglect, looting, and development. I hope that my work will stimulate interest in finding, recording, and preserving the historical legacy. That is my appeal to Baja California's leaders and residents- and to sincere aficionados wherever they reside....

Part II Life at Remote Ranches in Baja California
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Peninsular California experienced profound changes during the first third of the nineteenth century. Mexican independence [1821] ended Spanish interest and support; the new government lacked finances and was primarily involved in its own organization and solving problems closer to the heart of the republic. By 1830, Baja California languished for lack of money, supplies, and trade. As the numbers of mission Indians declined, missions were abandoned or secularized. The Presidio of Loreto, the peninsula's largest employer, was scaled down, then abandoned. Local men turned to subsistence ranching or farming on small land claims or, more frequently, to squatting on ex-mission properties or at remote water sources in the sierras or their foothills. The population, so dispersed, developed the basis for much of the small economic activity in the area. The few towns and villages became trading centers where merchants dealt with farmers and ranchers.

This economy, with many of its practices and traditions almost unchanged, persisted to a remarkable degree in 1967 when I first entered the remote areas. However, in half a dozen years, the paved road brought in the outside world and old ways quickly began to fade. Goods and produce from the mainland and tourism from the United States changed the local economy by lowering demand for more expensive local produce and by creating other needs for local labor. I was extremely fortunate to arrive before those events, to travel to many dozens of inaccessible ranches, to know their people, and to experience the last days of a culture hauntingly like that of our own American West in the nineteenth century. My 1981 book, Last of the Californios, set forth my photographs, my experiences, and my research vis-Ó-vis this remarkable- and remarkably nearby-survival.

Part III Landmarks Along the Wheeltracks Grandly Known as the "Trans-Peninsular Highway"
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Since the second decade of the twentieth century, men have used automobiles to travel over the more level terrain in various parts of the peninsula. Gradually, after truly heroic efforts with hand tools and a little dynamite and blasting powder- the efforts of various communities, companies, and ranchers made it possible to traverse the entire length of Baja California, usually with aid from local manpower and mulepower to pass through the most difficult terrain. By the 1940s, it was possible, with favorable weather, to drive a high-clearance vehicle from San Diego to San JosÚ del Cabo, but few made the trip without long delays due to mechanical problems or shortages of fuel or other wondrous difficulties. Such trips were adventures, often the greatest adventures of the travelers' lives. A cult sprang up around Baja California travel. The individuals or families that offered gas and meals along the way became in-group personalities. Howard Gulick and Peter Gerhard put their experiences to use in creating a truly inspired handbook, Lower California Guidebook- a historically accurate and geographically sound work that assisted the traveler and educated him as he went.

The same set of wheeltracks served the slow-growing peninsular economy as an avenue for imports from the U. S. and mainland Mexico and for exports of local produce from fisheries, fields, or herds. Mexican truckers became part of the growing legend; regulars often provided assistance to visitors in distress, sometimes pulling them from mud or sand, sometimes transporting vital vehicle parts, sometimes carrying them to places from which they could get conventional transportation back to their homes. I know: at one time or another, I needed and got all of these services and much more. Travel was slow in those days, stops were frequent and there was a lot of camaraderie; friendships were made between fellow travelers and with those who lived or worked along the road. It was an idyll not truly appreciated until the paved road was built and opened in 1973. Changes were sudden and mostly painful to old-timers, whether gringo or peninsular. Much of the romance disappeared. Few of those who had provided services along the old road had the money or political clout to be involved in profits from the new tourism. An era had ended; Lower California Guidebook is a collectors' item. Sic transit gloria mundi.