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E. A. Goldman

On The Devil’s Road: Local Filmmakers Make World Debut in Santa Cruz

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On The Devil’s Road: Local Filmmakers Make World Debut in Santa Cruz

[Santa Cruz, Calif., April 5, 2019]—Four years ago, four Santa Cruz filmmakers set out to bring a historic expedition out of obscurity. The result was a feature-length historical-nature-adventure documentary called The Devil’s Road. The film will make its world debut at the Rio Theatre in Santa Cruz on April 27th.

The Devil’s Road is a culmination of over four years’ worth of research, exploration, filming, and post-production work to revive the pivotal work of two of America’s most prolific naturalists: Edward William Nelson and Edward Alphonso Goldman. While these are not household names, their research laid the foundation of scientific studies in Baja and were viewed as a link between Darwin and present-day scientists. 

Nelson and Goldman’s landmark expedition in 1905-1906 was unprecedented and completed in a time when the Baja Peninsula was considered one of the most remote and challenging areas in all of North America. They documented, cataloged, and obtained specimens of never-before-studied flora and fauna, all while trekking over two thousand miles on horseback.  The pair made a number of significant scientific contributions to Baja’s natural history, and their expedition was the most thorough and complete studies of Baja’s ecosystems. They would later spend their careers heralded as some of the most adept naturalists of their time, with hundreds of plants, animals, and geographical features named in their honor.

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It wasn’t just the early achievements of these two famed naturalists—though undeniably obscure outside of academic circles—that motivated the film crew. “It was only recently that, coincidentally enough, we learned our ‘Uncle Ed’ was the famed naturalist Edward Alphonso Goldman that worked with Edward William Nelson to explore the Baja Peninsula. I have been traveling around Baja with my family since 1990. We had no idea we had much deeper roots there,” explains Todd Bruce, the producer of The Devil’s Road, and the great grandnephew of Edward Goldman. “Baja has captivated us over the years. Nelson and Goldman’s accomplishments, coupled with our familial connection to this unique place, were driving forces behind creating the film.”

In early April of 2016, the team made a trip to the nation’s capital to pour through documents and glass plate negative photographs in the archives of the Smithsonian Institution. With latex gloves, they sifted through letters between President Theodore Roosevelt and Nelson, read field notes written over a hundred years ago by Goldman, and inspected century-old photo albums and specimens collected by the pair during their expedition. The film crew was also invited by the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco to film archived specimens of mammals and birds collected by Nelson and Goldman during their time in Baja.

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On March 1st of 2017, the film's director, JT Bruce, and producer set out on an expedition of their own, spending two months and covering over 5,000 miles of Baja desert and coastline to retrace Nelson and Goldman’s original expedition route on motorcycles. 

The film documents their thrilling quest—by motorcycle, airplane, boat, and horseback—across the Baja Peninsula where, along the way, they observe the vibrant culture and unforgettable people, and endure the challenges of the road. The film includes interviews with biologists and conservationists that provide a reminder of how grueling the original expedition was and why Nelson and Goldman’s work was so fundamental, as well as offer insight into the precarious future of the fragile ecosystems of Baja—and beyond.

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“Much like our predecessor that inspired the film, knowing Baja on a more intimate level makes it incumbent upon us to be stewards of such a unique corner of the world. By sharing it with viewers we hope to help make a case for its conservation,” says Bri Bruce, the film’s associate producer and UC Santa Cruz alumni. “Baja is truly a magical place. There’s really no other way to describe it. I think I speak for anyone that has been fortunate enough to really witness it—stand in its deserts, swim in its oceans, get to know both the animals and the people there—they’ll see it’s worth fighting for.”

“Baja is a biodiversity hotspot,” explains The Devil’s Road Scientific Advisor Greg Meyer. Meyer is an educator at California State University, Monterey Bay, and a professional naturalist who led his first trip to Baja in 1985. He has traveled extensively throughout the peninsula, working for the Oceanic Society, Lindblad Expeditions, National Geographic Expeditions, and the BBC. “The Baja Peninsula is still one of the great wildernesses on earth and this film project has allowed us to see the changes over time and to highlight why it needs protection today.”

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JT Bruce, the film’s director, expands on the themes of The Devil’s Road:

“Our film is not just a historical documentary or motorcycle road movie. It's not a reprimand on the audience for some perceived failure to protect the environment. It's a chance to gain a wider perspective and view the trajectory that our planet's ecosystems are on, and to help people make their own decisions about how we should approach the future.” 

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The film shows a complex interplay between past and present, and weaves together themes of discovery and change while serving as an environmental call to arms that pays homage to the strange and awe-inspiring Baja California. In an exciting mix of history, nature, and exhilarating adventure, The Devil’s Road is sure to entertain, educate, and inspire. 

The filmmakers anticipate a year of showings throughout the U.S. and internationally as they begin their film festival tour, starting at the Overland Expo in May of 2019 in Arizona.

Tickets for the premiere can be purchased at thedevilsroad.brownpapertickets.com.

Tune in to KSCO’s Off the Lip Radio Show (AM 1080, FM 104.1) on April 17th at 7pm where the filmmakers will be featured as guests.




 

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"The Devil's Road" Main Expedition, Day 21

To Goldman Peak

Edward William Nelson bestowed (in my mind) the ultimate honor to his respected colleague, naming a prominent peak after his friend and partner, Edward Alphonso Goldman. This peak lies just north and east of the Santa Gertrudis Mission and slightly north of the 28th parallel of latitude. Nelson described it as being near 5,000 feet of elevation. 

The crew, consisting of JT, Todd, Greg, and Guy headed up one of the old mission trails (one branch of the El Camino Real) toward Goldman Peak. This trail was built during the mission times and was, in spots, well worn and well engineered. We passed many species of cacti, saw numerous species of birds, and had some amazing views of the surrounding mountains, canyons, and geology. We passed two areas where the forefathers of today's local rancheros had built stacked rock walls to keep in or out their stock. 

On the return trip we somehow got separated. JT and I were in front, followed by Greg, then by Guy. JT and I arrived at the last significant geographical feature along the trail and decided to wait for the others. Greg arrived a few minutes later and we waited for Guy to arrive. After 20 minutes or so in the sweltering heat, Greg offered to stay behind and wait for Guy and suggested that JT and I head back to the mission, our vehicles, and more importantly, water! 

Greg stayed back for another 15 minutes and waited for Guy before he became concerned and decided to hike back up the trail and begin a series of loud yells in an attempt to get Guy's attention. Several yells later, Greg heard a reply. Too far off in the distance to understand the meaning, he continued up the trail. Rounding a corner, Greg intercepts a local caballero (cowboy), Alonzo, who was riding a mule while out checking on his cattle.

Alonzo had not seen Guy and the two began to look for any sign of our lost amigo. They tracked footprints in an arroyo that the trail crossed and started to follow the size 10 tracks until the sand gave way to gravel. A plan was devised and they decided to split up sending Greg back up to the trail and down to the mission. Alonzo was to follow the arroyo and the two would meet up at the mission. Alonzo assured Greg that all was well as he has spent his life in these mountains, could track just about anything, and had rescued many gringos from near death. 

Soon after parting, Alonzo found another footprint of Guy's and not more than a meter away was a fat, coiled rattlesnake. His worst fears began to well up inside him as he feared that our friend Guy may have also crossed paths with this desert viper. The terrain from then on was not conducive to tracking a single person wearing vibram-soled walking shoes, but Alonzo pushed onward expecting the worst of outcomes.

JT and I had been been at the mission for nearly 45 minutes when Guy strolls into the compound without a care in the world. He never saw Greg, but admitted that he heard yelling and at one point, yelled back, but could not figure out the direction or the message being yelled. The canyon walls tend to play tricks on sound when in the bottom of an arroyo

Concern gave way to a new plan. I would hike back up to the last known location for Greg and see if I could find him to give him the word that Guy was OK. Minutes later Greg walked into the compound and clearly was relieved to see that Guy was alive and unharmed. Alonzo rode in 15 minutes later and was also relieved and proceeded to tell a story about a woman that was bit by a rattler several years earlier and needed a helicopter search and rescue to get her to safety. 

We had the most lively conversation that night while sitting around the campfire. We told stories of the day, joked about what Greg would have to say to Sandy (Guy's gal) about loosing him, and about the adventure we had on the way to Goldman Peak.

Scientific director Greg Meyer in a giant cordon.

Scientific director Greg Meyer in a giant cordon.

"The Devil's Road" Main Expedition, Day 19

Bahia de los Angeles

Jose Mercade was, once again, a host that continues to give and provide. He offered his boat to us for a late morning and early afternoon cruise of the bay. The time between when he opened up the garage door to launch was about 20 minutes. His house sits on the bay and he has his own launch ramp. 

His panga was perfect for our tour and soon we found a small pod of bottlenose dolphins. They played about the bow of our boat for nearly 15 minutes and JT got some great footage of them. They soon tired and fell back to do their thing.

We were on the outside of the first row of islands, just east of Horsehead Island, when we shut down the motor just to soak up the tranquil, windless, and glassy conditions of the water. Suddenly we heard the unmistakable sound of a whale's exhale. We were blessed to experience a single finback whale in a series of feeding dives. After each dive the whale would swim a circle near us with between 10 and 15 surface breaths before diving deep.

In the afternoon, we were lucky to have two great interviews. The first was the great grandson of Dick Dagget Sr. at his RV and fishing camp just north of town. He had invited his mother, Doña Trina Dagget. Dick Dagget was an Englishman that had jumped ship in the 1880s and had made a name for himself in this part of Baja. Nelson and Goldman had negotiated with him in San Quintin to purchase supplies when they arrived at his mine (The King Richard Mine) near Calamajue. When they arrived, the mine was empty and boarded up. Being skilled trackers, they found tracks leading away from the mine and found the party on the beach of a small bay. Their own supplies had run out and a misunderstanding about the timing of the new supply ship caused them to survive on turtle meat, fish, and wild honey for over a month.

Dick Dagget saved the lives of Nelson and Goldman. The younger Dagget was impressed by the story and was happy to connect with us. Doña Trina was a lively and energetic interviewee. She spoke only in Spanish and most of what she said went over our heads. She was missing most of her front teeth so her speach was off a little too. We will have to wait until the translation is complete to really know what she had to say. I can't wait!

"The Devil's Road" Main Expedition, Day 15

Middle of nowhere to Bahia de los Angeles

During our debriefing last night we realized that we were one day ahead of schedule. Not wanting to camp at Yubay for two nights, we decided to head to Bahia de los Angeles, get a hotel, shower (since we have not had one in five days), charge all of our gear and batteries, and regroup.

Tomorrow we will head out to Yubay and meet Greg and Guy to film the tinaja and surrounding areas. 

Sunset over Bahia de los Angeles.

Sunset over Bahia de los Angeles.

"The Devil's Road" Main Expedition, Day 13

El Rosario to Cataviña

We were off quickly with a full day's filming schedule ahead of us. Our first stop was to take the 22-kilometer road out to El Marmol. This is an old abandoned onyx mine. It was being worked when Nelson and Goldman came through, but did not see it's hey day until the early to mid 1900s. The rock was said to be the finest in North America and was shipped to many parts all over the world. It is also the site of the only schoolhouse built of onyx. Now in ruins, it is clear to see the onyx walls and construction still standing tall. 

We attempted to take a side trip to Agua Dulce along the old El Camino Real. Now it is a private ranch, but in 1905 it was the only fresh water around for many miles. The "road" quickly turned into a sand pit and we made the decision to abort that attempt.

On the return to the main road, I dumped my bike at a slow speed on a small hill and it took both of us to right the heavy bike.  

While in the Sierra San Pedro Martir, we met Nathan, a young biologist and guide. He offered for us to stay at his cabin when we came to town. Arriving at his family's restaurant was a whirl of frenzied activity, as there were seven other people also invited to stay at his cabin. All of these folks were photography enthusiasts and two were Nathan’s friends we had met in the mountains.  

In a flurry, we left to his cabin "just twenty minutes away." Not knowing where we were going and just following the truck in front of us was not a good feeling for me. But, I trusted Nathan and the group was enthusiastic. It turned out to be twenty miles on the worst road I have ever been on. The sand was the worst. As the sun was setting, it was getting harder and harder to see the tracks in front of us. We finally made it, and I only dumped the bike 5 times compared to JT's one.  

Nathan's cabin sits on an 8,000-acre ranch and we were promised a tour that would be like no other in the morning. We all sat around a big fire, made burritos, and drank beer, tequila, and mescal. We crashed in the bunk beds in one of the many rooms of the cabin. 

Nathan, local Catavina resident.

Nathan, local Catavina resident.

"The Devil's Road" Main Expedition, Day 12

San Quintin to El Rosario

Without a room for the night, we were forced to sleep in the parking lot. The three hotels in the area were full for the night and as it was near dark when we arrived, we were not going to head back into town to find lodging. We woke with all of our gear soaked in dew and commotion about the area. Our only salvation was to quickly pack up and head south (without coffee or breakfast).

We arrived at Mama Espinoza's Restaurant an hour later and were immediately greeted by Elvira Espinoza (Doña Anita's daughter) who now runs the restaurant. She was very gracious and invited us to stay and enjoy the festivities with "This is your house, too!" We were told there was a benefit motorcycle ride the day before and today was an opportunity to give the town’s children beans, rice, and a toy. Many of the children and their parents showed up to receive a gift.

We were able to interview Elvira with interpretation help from her grand daughter, Michele. This is a wonderful and big family that does so much for the community. We met many family members that travelled from as far away as Ensenada and Tijuana to participate in the communal event.  

Shortly after, we headed out of town with the hopes of following the Nelson-Goldman route up the arroyo to find the camping spot they called "the cave." It was a popular spot where the "teamsters" would stop while delivering supplies to the local mines. We were thwarted by cultivated farmland that seemed to not allow us to get to the road into the arroyo. So, we changed course and went to a known campsite our family has always referred to as "Crash Dummy Car." When JT and Bri were young, we would always camp here. It was well off the highway, secluded, and the side road ended at an old overturned car. They loved to throw rocks at it, for the sounds they made were enjoyable.

We had a great evening to film and camp under a full moon. 

Interview with Elvira and Michele Espinoza of Mama Espinoza's Restaurant.

Interview with Elvira and Michele Espinoza of Mama Espinoza's Restaurant.

"The Devil's Road" Main Expedition, Day 5

Laguna Hanson to El Alamo

The wind started howling sometime during the night and didn't let up even after we'd gotten out of the mountains. In the morning, bitter cold wind cast ripples across Laguna Hanson and the overcast sky caused the water, shore, and rock formations to all blend together in a washed out grayscale. We briefly considered boiling lake water to make it drinkable, but abandoned that idea after considering it's murkiness and the thousands of cow pies scattered around the shore. Wind ruled out any on-camera interviews we had planned. Bushwacking cross-country through sage brush on the 650s brought us full circle around the lake and we forded multiple creeks, sloshed through mud puddles, and fought stretches of sandy road to make it back down into the valley. 

"The Devil's Road" Director JT Bruce

"The Devil's Road" Director JT Bruce

Back on pavement, the ride to El Alamo was quick. Nine miles on dirt road finished the side trip and brought us to a nearly empty village that sat just down the hill from the hulking ruins of a hugely productive gold mine, now abandoned. Looking for a way around fenced off dirt roads, we motored up a hill to find some viewpoints and poke around abandoned mine shafts before heading back to town, jumping a fence, and hiking up to the main structure of El Alamo. This thing was massive, and held the rusted, broken machinery of a stamp mill, used to crush gold ore for extraction. The most well-preserved aspect were the piston housings, blocks of iron marked with giant capital letters "UNION METAL WORKS - SAN FRANCISCO, CAL."  As the sun was setting, we rode another 20 miles south and pulled off Mex 3 to make camp. Maybe the wind will leave us alone tonight.

We've Embarked on "The Devil's Road"

Dear Contributors;

This morning the film crew set off on their two-month expedition through Baja California. We would like to extend an invitation to follow along with the crew during the trek. Your interest in our project and donation is of great value to us and we want to make sure you have all the information about our progress. The crew will be using a personal GPS locator device from SPOT. We will ping, via satellite, their location on a regular basis and you can follow along as we film.

The Baja desert is not well connected. Cell towers are very limited. The crew will take every opportunity to keep you up to speed with blog posts, photo drops, website updates, and a sharing page with our SPOT pings on a Google Earth map. As our crew arrives in a town with cell coverage, they will have access to communicate. Please remember that there may be several days’ delay for a reply.

Please follow along with our progress on:

Website: www.brokenwagonfilms.com
Share Page URL:
 http://share.findmespot.com/shared/faces/viewspots.jsp?glId=0YbMGi6kc6FtblFInMNMTf16r4S92USyb

If you want to communicate with our riders, you can do so by:

Text only:  831-601-6320
Phone and leave voicemail:  408-206-6144
Or, by email:  brokenwagonfilms@gmail.com

We look forward to connecting with you when we return and as we transition into the post-production phase of our project.

Thank you again;

Todd Bruce
Producer

Orchilla Lichen in Bahia Magdalena

19th century naturalists E.W. Nelson and E.A. Goldman investigated the cloth and dye manufacturing industry in Magdalena Bay that was driven by the harvest of the unique Orchilla Lichen. The industry crashed when manufacturers moved over to artificial dyes.