By Gene Kira, Dec. 15, 2001, as published in Western Outdoors Magazine:
If you look at the map of Baja California, there is a large area extending south from Loreto that is pretty much a solid range of mountains called the Sierra de la Giganta. In the heart of this steep and rocky range, surrounding Bahia Agua Verde, is about 500 square miles of nothing but trackless arroyos, hidden little oases, seasonal tinajas, and some of the most remote Californio ranchos to be found in Baja.
The coastline here--dubbed "Juanaloa" by the ever-creative Ray Cannon--is fantastically beautiful, but rarely visited because of its remoteness. From the north, it can be penetrated as far as Bahia Aqua Verde itself, via a rough, 25-mile dirt road from Mex 1. And from the south, the closest practical access point is Bahia San Evaristo, via 50 miles of dirt road from San Juan de la Costa, near La Paz. In between, are 50 miles of little-known coastline, steeply backed up by the impenetrable Sierra de la Giganta, and accessible at only a few points by rough, rocky roads that are more like goat trails.
I first became aware of this area many years ago, while fishing at Bahia Agua Verde. During the long, lonely drive in, I would marvel at the huge mountains rising to the south, and wonder what mysteries they contained, even to the modern day. At Bahia Agua Verde, there are stories told of lost Spanish treasures, high up there in those rocky elevations where nobody goes, and of ghosts and strange visions sometimes seen on the highest heights, against the sky, late at night, or sometimes even in broad daylight.
Then one day, I made a bad decision while camped at Bahia San Evaristo, at the southern edge of this mysterious zone. Instead of heading south to meet the blacktop at La Paz, I decided to cut straight west across the peninsula in order to meet Mex 1 at Santa Rita, thus saving myself over 100 miles of driving on the trip home.
This "Baja short-cut," of course, turned into a four-wheel-drive marathon, as the "road" gradually disappeared, turning first into a "trail," then a "track," and finally "nothing," as I was reduced to inching along cliffs in compound low gear, a few feet at a time, working constantly with the pick and shovel, and cursing my own stupidity.
Toward sunset of the second day, I looked west and saw a white "church" that was perched on top of what looked like a small hill. It was almost dark by the time I reached it and discovered that the "church" was only about five feet high. It was a small shrine, all alone, with not even a cow to keep it company. I drove by it, and entered a very steep-walled arroyo, almost like a Norwegian fiord, and--unbelievably--there was a lake at its bottom almost a kilometer long!
Then, there were thatched houses, looking like they belonged on some South Seas island, and a small village of people who hid from view and had to be coaxed to come out and talk. These people rode on burros, and they assured me that I was the first person ever to drive a motor vehicle to their village from the Sea of Cortez coast. In very heavily accented Spanish, they pointed out the rocky path that they said would eventually lead to Mex 1, many miles to the west.
In the dark, I began working my way up the arroyo, driving on narrow ledges, and scraping against vines and flowers on both sides. Then, I noticed a dim glow in the bushes, just to my right, and I got out of my truck to investigate. I pushed back some vines, and uncovered a small shrine built of rocks. It was totally abandoned. No candles. No picture of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Nothing but very, very old, lichen-covered, rounded stones, in a small arch, with an alcove-like space in the middle. I replaced the vines, completely covering it again, and went back to my truck. Sitting there in the dark, I could still see the glow coming from behind the plants. The damned thing glowed all by itself.
About ten years later, the phone rang one rainy afternoon in February. It was a young man from Los Angeles, who had gotten my number from a book. He talked for quite a while about his recent surfing trip around southern Baja, and I was trying to think of a way to get rid of him, when he became serious and began describing a long, dangerous hike he had taken, straight up into the Baja mountains south of Bahia Agua Verde. After what seemed like hours, he finally gathered the courage to reveal the real purpose of his call. "Gene," he said at last. "Have you ever seen this old dude up there that glows in the dark?"
The man was very old and lived alone in a small shack, the surfer said. Near the shack, there were three other houses occupied by people who took care of him, but did not seem to be family. There was no road at all. The surfer had been exhausted from his hazardous, cross-country trek alone, and they gave him food and water, and let him camp near their houses until morning. In the middle of the night, he had gotten up to relieve himself, and he saw the old man sitting upright in his shack, glowing like a dim light bulb. No tricks. He had spoken to the man, and touched him, and he glowed all by himself. The light came from his skin. He did not speak, but otherwise, he seemed like a perfectly normal old man.
Since that time, I have heard of the glowing man of Agua Verde twice more. Once in a letter from a stranger that I read causally and threw away without realizing its significance, and recently, from a man that I picked up on Mex 1, right where the Agua Verde road comes out, about 30 miles south of Loreto.
My rider lived in the high mountains south of Bahia Agua Verde, he said, and he was a member of a religious group that printed evangelical brochures, several of which he produced from a small knapsack and pressed upon me. He asked me several times if I wished to convert to his religion, right there beside the road, and he offered--almost insisted--on being my personal Evangelist.
Partly from curiosity, partly from impatience with his cheeky proselytizing, I decided to test him. In my poor Spanish, I asked, "Have you ever heard of the man who lives in those mountains and gives light like the moon?"
My rider stared at me, quite stunned. Finally, he said, "He is evil."
"Oh? Why is he evil?"
"All those people are evil!"
"What people? Who are they?"
My rider refused to answer. He insisted that I stop my truck right there in the middle of nowhere, near the Agua Amarga microwave tower, and he got out without saying a word.
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