History and Highlights
Visitors to Baja seeking an authentic and rewarding, if unspectacular, mission experience should consider including seldom-visited Misión Santa Gertrudis de Cadacamán in their itineraries. But be prepared for an excursion into the rugged wilderness of Baja.
Father Jorge Retz led the charge to found Misión Santa Gertrudis de Cadacamán in 1751, as the Jesuits extended their reach northward from San Ignacio. The site was as isolated then as it is today, sitting more than 50 miles (80 km) east of the popular stopover of Guerrero Negro. In the mission’s early years, this isolation was as much a blessing as it was a curse, as it insulated the nearly 2000-strong population from the numerous diseases sweeping through missions to the south. Inevitably, however, Santa Gertrudis met the same fate as those southern missions, and by 1785 four out of five at the mission had perished. The mission struggled on a further 37 years before it was abandoned in 1822.
Misión Santa Gertrudis de Cadacamán’s modern history has been much kinder and the main beneficiaries are the mission’s visitors. Two significant renovation projects – the most recent concluding in 1997 – have restored the mission buildings to some semblance of their former glory, albeit with a few compromises. Despite efforts to maintain the historic architectural integrity of the mission buildings, the fresh plaster of reconstruction wiped away many of the imperfections that mark the passage of time. The twofold upshot is that the mission is not only standing, but in better shape than most other Baja missions.
Two features of this site distinguish it from others in Baja. It’s the only mission site with a freestanding bell tower, and its simple block construction stands in contrast to the architectural masterpieces at oft-visited missions like San Ignacio and San Francisco Javier. Once through the chain-link fence and inside the church, visitors can view the striking altar, with its marble columns, that was added as part of the 1997 restoration.
With its peaceful, isolated ranchland setting, Misión Santa Gertrudis de Cadacamán is worth the visit not only for the restored mission properties but also for the opportunity to dive into a rarely visited corner of Baja.
Who founded it?
The Jesuits, led by Father Jorge Retz.
What should I expect to see?
The 1997 renovation of the church erased many of the signs of aging – making the building look younger than its 250 years – but lengthened its lifespan, as it’s now in fine condition. Look around the main door for signs of the pre-1997 detail on the church’s exterior, and don’t miss the unique freestanding bell tower.
When should I go?
The mission site is open year-round and tended by locals. Masses are said infrequently so catching one is entirely a matter of chance.
Where is it and how do I get there?
Set your GPS coordinates to N 28° 03.09’ W 113° 05.08’. Misión Santa Gertrudis de Cadacamán is accessed by way of a rough, unpaved road that is worth inquiring about locally before you set out. From the Transpeninsular Highway, 16 miles (26 km) southeast of Guerrero Negro, turn northeast at Highway 18. Look for the sign for El Arco. Follow Highway 18 for another 26 miles (42 km), turning right upon arrival at the village of El Arco. Pass through the village then keep to the left at the fork 2.5 miles (4 km) beyond. From there, it’s another 20 miles (32 km) to the mission site.
Why should I go?
If you can handle the road, your reward is a beautifully restored mission church in a traditional ranching community time seems to have left behind. It’s an excellent marriage of a well-kept mission in a secluded location.