On our first full day in Loreto, we decided to drive up to the San Javier Mission - a Jesuit church high in the Sierra de la Giganta mountains. Constructed between 1744-1758, this mission was built to replace a nearby abandoned church that was threatened by an Indian revolt. Referred to as "the jewel of the Baja missions" this place has a seriously scenic backdrop. Perched near a spring, there is ample water to sustain the citrus trees that line the mission's perimeter and the stone road into town. The mission was abandoned in 1817, but has since been restored and is now an iconic monument in the small town of San Javier.
Driving to the mission from Loreto is in itself a sight to behold. The road climbs 1,500 feet through the rugged Sierra de la Giganta mountains, winding around sharp corners above steep cliffs. At last you reach the high plateau and begin to see signs of water.
I had read about a (mostly dry) canyon that could be explored, departing from the road to San Javier and climbing over jumbled boulders to hidden oases. So, after enjoying an hour or so at the Mission, we drove back down towards Loreto and stopped to park in the shade of a conveniently located tree, near where the arroyo crosses the road. Five minutes of hiking along the dry streambed brought us to the entrance to the canyon, with large red rock cliffs towering hundreds of feet above.
Each time we rounded another corner, another exclamation was uttered. "Woah!" "Ooooooooh" "This is AWESOME!" We found a beaten path and followed it for a bit before realizing that it climbed above the canyon, away from the water. We later learned that each year the devout partake in a pilgrimage up to the San Javier Mission, and we surmised that this trail must be their route.
The higher we climbed, the more narrow the canyon became. In the shade, large pools of water sat protected from the intense Baja sun. We boulder-hopped, climbed waterfalls, and skirted ledges, each new corner revealing more hidden beauty.
At last we reached an area of massive boulders stacked on one another, above which the canyon seemed to open up again. We determined that we had neared the top of the canyon, nearly reaching the plateau to which we had driven a few hours earlier. Feeling satisfied with our exploratory mission, we headed back down the canyon and to Loreto for celebratory fish tacos and Pacíficos.