Guerrero Negro: What is in a Name?
By David Kier
David Kier is author of the The Old Missions of Baja & Alta California 1697-1834, that covers the histories and interesting facts around the 48 missions — starting with the first mission established in Loreto in 1697 — founded in Baja during this time period.
What began as a salt mine camp called Salina Vizcaino in 1954 became the company town of Guerrero Negro in 1957, named after the lagoon the town is next to. Guerrero Negro is the Spanish translation for “Black Warrior,” which was a ship that was wrecked on the sand bars near the mouth of the lagoon back on December 20, 1858.
Captain Robert Brown sailed into ‘Frenchman’s Lagoon’ on November 2, 1858. He was unaware of the events that in fewer than two months caused the lagoon’s name to be changed for all time, or of the fact that a town with over 10,000 inhabitants would be named after his ship.
Robert Brown purchased the Black Warrior in Honolulu in December of 1854. The Black Warrior’s previous captain was J.C. Bogart, who was well known in the early days of San Diego history. Bogart first sailed into San Diego Bay in 1834. The Black Warrior was already a well-known whaler before it was directed toward the lagoons of Baja California the year following Charles Scammon’s discovery of one of the gray whales‘ largest breeding grounds.
Captain Brown had picked up a load of whale oil and was being pulled out of the lagoon when strong currents pushed the Black Warrior onto the sand bars of Frenchman’s Lagoon. The coast of central Baja California has claimed many ships over the years. The sailors call the coast near Scammon’s Lagoon ‘Malarrimo’ which roughly means “bad to be near.”
The beach of Malarrimo is often covered with debris from wrecked ships as well as flotsam and jetsam from around the Pacific Ocean. The ‘hook’ of Baja sticks out into the Pacific current and can grab anything that is floating south, including fishing net floats from the Orient and redwood logs from the Pacific Northwest. Tins of sea rations to bottles of gin wash up as has a torpedo found by Baja author and map maker Mike McMahan.
A popular restaurant and motel in Guerrero Negro is named the Malarrimo, after the famous beach combing location. Getting to Guerrero Negro is easy, but getting to Malarrimo Beach requires four wheel drive and caution. Mud pits that have swallowed Jeeps are hidden by dry sand blown over them along the coast. Never travel alone to Malarrimo and don’t trust the flat sand beach to support a vehicle’s weight there!
Historical photographs of Guerrero Negro can be seen here.
Want to find out more about the serene lagoons and bays near Bahia Asuncion?
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