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Edward William Nelson

Adventures of an Amateur Naturalist in Mexico: The Imperial Ivory-billed Woodpecker, Revisited (NOW AVAILABLE)

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Adventures of an Amateur Naturalist in Mexico: The Imperial Ivory-billed Woodpecker, Revisited (NOW AVAILABLE)

Front cover of the newly released booklet authored in part by  The Devil’s Road  producer Todd Bruce

Front cover of the newly released booklet authored in part by The Devil’s Road producer Todd Bruce

Adventures of an Amateur Naturalist in Mexico: The Imperial Ivory-billed Woodpecker, Revisited

BY TODD BRUCE AND GEORGE B. WINTON

Buried deep within the archives of the Smithsonian Institution, a never-before-seen document was discovered by a team of film producers conducting research. This eight-page manuscript details the account of amateur naturalist and journalist George B. Winton, on expedition in the remote mountain ranges of Mexico’s interior.

Edward William Nelson and Edward Alphonso Goldman, two of America’s greatest naturalists, were dispatched to Mexico in January of 1892 under the employ of the U. S. Biological Survey. The pair’s assignment was to better understand this remote region of North America, providing studies on its flora and fauna and their corresponding geographical distribution. The findings of these field surveys were unprecedented, and would later be foundational to a conservation movement that helped solidify the work of conservationists like John Muir, Theodore Roosevelt, and Gifford Pinchot.

In October of 1892, Nelson and Goldman made a particularly important stop in Patzcuaro, Michoacan, where they were joined by George B. Winton for an expedition into the Nahuatzen mountain range. It was on this collecting trip that the group came across, for the first time, several individuals of the world’s largest woodpecker: the imperial ivory-billed woodpecker (Campephilus imperialis).

Winton’s written account excellently portrays the mindset of the naturalist in the late nineteenth century, and provides a rare, detailed record of the sighting and the behavior of this fascinating and relatively unknown bird.

Paperback: 28 pages
Publisher: Black Swift Press (September 2019)
Language: English
ISBN-13: 978-0991450398
Product Dimensions: 7 x 0.1 x 10 inches

 

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On "The Devil’s Road"

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On "The Devil’s Road"

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 Devil’s Road is a culmination 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.”

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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The film's director, JT Bruce, and producer then 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. 




 

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A Visit to the California Academy of Sciences

So what does the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, California have in common with Nelson and Goldman and our documentary film, The Devil's Road? Aside from the obvious scientific research and the institution's exploration of our natural world, the connection was formed on a fortuitous day in 1905. Nelson noted in his 1921 book Lower California and It's Natural Resources that he “reached Ensenada on July 5th and found the schooner Academy, from San Francisco, in port on it’s way to the Galapagos Islands with a scientific expedition from the California Academy of Sciences.” Nelson had several weeks’ worth of specimens that he and Goldman had collected from northern Baja, and needed to have them shipped to Washington D.C. The crew of the Academy welcomed Nelson aboard, agreeing to stow his cargo, and Nelson enjoyed a fine supper aboard the vessel.

On July 11, 2017, our film crew had the honor of conducting an interview with several of the California Academy of Sciences research specialists. We were met at the back door of the Academy by Katie Jewett of the Press Office. She would accompany us during our tour of the Department of Ornithology and Mammalogy. In the basement of the museum we entered the climate controlled room full of specimen collections. Maureen “Moe” Flannery, the Collections Manager has been put in charge of the hundreds of thousands of bird and mammal specimens and introduced us to several specimens that Nelson and Goldman collected over one hundred years ago.

The first specimen was a Mexican cormorant that was collected in 1902 by Nelson and Goldman. The bird was incredibly well preserved. Next, we were shown specimens of seaside sparrows. The particular specimen that Nelson and Goldman procured was collected in 1874 in Washington D.C. and was donated to the Academy many years ago. The last specimen was a Bailey's pocket mouse, collected by Nelson and Goldman in December 1905 from a location just south of La Paz, Baja California Sur.

A well-preserved Mexican cormorant. Note the tag states "Nelson & Goldman."

A well-preserved Mexican cormorant. Note the tag states "Nelson & Goldman."

Seaside sparrow specimens, several of which were collected by Nelson & Goldman in 1874.

Seaside sparrow specimens, several of which were collected by Nelson & Goldman in 1874.

Maureen "More" Flannery, collections manager at the California Academy of Sciences, shows us the seaside sparrow specimens.

Maureen "More" Flannery, collections manager at the California Academy of Sciences, shows us the seaside sparrow specimens.

Specimens of the Bailey's pocket mouse.

Specimens of the Bailey's pocket mouse.

Jack Dumbacher, Curator of the Ornithology and Mammalogy Department, rounded off the morning with a well-presented perspective of what naturalists like Nelson and Goldman's fieldwork would have been like. He explained how they would have collected, preserved, and organized their specimens during an expedition. We also learned how valuable these specimens are to science. These thousands of study skins and mounts provide a glimpse into the past, how and where these animals lived, and even what they were feeding on when they were collected. As technology and new research methods change, their value will certainly increase over the next century and beyond.

Interview with Jack Dumbacher, Curator, Ornithology and Mammology Department

Interview with Jack Dumbacher, Curator, Ornithology and Mammology Department

We would like to thank the California Academy of Sciences for their continued support of Nelson and Goldman's work and of our film.

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Expedition Complete: Letter from the Producer

The Broken Wagon Films team would like to take this opportunity to let everyone know that our main expedition is complete. All of our team members participated during this two-month filming expedition, as well as a few additional and short duration assistants. I first must say that JT said it best: “The film is in the can!” Meaning, we have the footage needed to put together a stellar documentary, and as the director, he is very pleased with what we have been able to accomplish and where we will be in a year or so after the editing is complete.

The Baja Peninsula threw everything she had at us and we still escaped serious injury and had no significant mechanical issues. We persevered through it all: slept in the snow, got stuck in the sand, blown over by the strong and gusty winds, poked and scratched by just about every plant with thorns, swarmed by thousands of bugs, embraced by the wonderful Baja culture, and even slept with a scorpion.

Here are a few numbers for you to ponder and for your entertainment:

  • 5280 - miles driven on the motorcycles in two months
  • 29 - times the motorcycles were “dumped” or we crashed at low speeds (20 by Todd and only 9 by JT). Two of JT’s crashes were Todd’s fault! And Todd dumped his bike three times while standing still!
  • 7 - cameras used on the expedition
  • 36 - hours of footage from all the cameras
  • 8 - inches, the length of the “World Record” Nelson Trout caught by Eric
  • 530 - pounds in weight of each bike including gear, food, and water
  • 4 - people we met along the expedition that said, “You're the Devil’s Road guys! We've heard of you!”
  • 11,000 - feet, the altitude that Scott flew his plane, without a side door and with JT harnessed in so that JT can get aerial footage of the Sierra San Pedro Martir range of mountains

We look forward to sharing with all of you our stories and experiences. JT has an enormous task ahead of him to sort through and edit all that we have. When we have a working version of the film we will call upon all of you to help critique and finalize the film.

Again I would like to thank all of our sponsors, donors, and crowdfunding backers. We would not have been able to do this expedition without your support and generous contributions--in the form of mission-critical equipment and otherwise. I would also like to thank our assistant expedition contributors; Wayne Bruce, Scott and Laurie Bruce, Eric Bruce, Heidi Lewin, Bri Bruce, Jade Lewin, Gia and Eric Doughty, and Guy VanCleave. Because of all of you, we were able to secure some fantastic footage that will make this film shine.

As always, keep watching our website for updates and new items. And don’t forget to keep sharing the project with others on social media. We are very excited and pleased with what we have thus far.

Thanks again,

Todd Bruce
Producer, The Devil’s Road

 

 

"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 Birth of "The Devil's Road" and Searching for Goldman Peak (From the Producer)

Growing up in a family of strong women that continually kept the family history and stories of the past alive, I was truly stunned to find out just several years ago that “Uncle Ed” was a naturalist. Not only was he a naturalist, but he was a relatively well-known naturalist that worked for the United States Biological Survey and the Smithsonian Institution. My mother and grandmother often referred to Uncle Ed in a general, “what a great guy” kind of way. Just a year before his passing in 1945, he accompanied my mother (then only 11 years old), my great aunt, and my great grandfather (Edward’s brother) on a horse pack trip into the High Sierra Mountains.

Edward "Uncle Ed" Goldman, 1945 on horse pack trip in the Sierra Nevada. On this particular trip, the Broken Wagon Films producer's mother was present, accompanying Goldman, her uncle.

Not more than three or four years ago I learned the true background of Uncle Ed, known to the rest of the world as Edward Alphonso Goldman. I began an all out assault on the Internet to find out as much as I could about my great granduncle and his colleague Edward William Nelson. Among the more notable contributions they made to the natural history of Lower California and the documentation of many of Baja’s unknown flora and fauna, was a landmark expedition, the first of it’s kind, spanning one year and over two thousand miles on horseback. The work that the two naturalists did in Mexico has been described as “among the most important ever achieved by two workers for any single country.” Then through the Smithsonian Institution Archives I discovered a peak in Baja that was named after Goldman. Further research found that multiple sources concurred.

In the summer of 2014, I had the opportunity to travel to Baja with my oldest brother, Scott, and our sons. The four of us spent two weeks boating, camping, fishing, and drinking beer on the shores of the Sea of Cortez between Bahia de los Angeles and Mulege. It was on this trip that the idea to retrace naturalist Edward Nelson and Edward “Uncle Ed” Goldman’s route on motorcycles surfaced. It was then, beside a crackling campfire at the base of sand dunes in Mulege and beneath a sky filled with brilliant stars that we decided to embark on an expedition of our own. Paramount on our list of goals to accomplish during this expedition? Find Goldman Peak and climb it.

1919 map of Baja. Goldman Peak at center, northeast of Santa Gertrudis.

Finding the exact location of Goldman Peak began to gnaw at me, the desire growing stronger and stronger. I spent many hours in the library at the University of California at Santa Cruz pouring through historical texts. I came across a book written by Edward William Nelson titled The Natural Resources of Lower California. Nelson found during their expedition that many geographical features were without designations and thought it advisable to propose names for some of them. Many of the names he proposed were after early Baja explorers and missionaries.

Information about Goldman Peak’s exact location appeared to be non-existent. Nelson, who named the peak after his colleague and friend, Uncle Ed, placed the peak on his map at 5,000 feet of elevation on the 28th parallel of latitude, with the Santa Gertrudis Mission just south of the 28th parallel. Nelson wrote in Lower California and its Natural Resources that the map he created and printed in the book “…contains numerous inaccuracies of detail, but it is hoped that it would serve a useful purpose until more careful surveys are made.”

Another source stated briefly that the peak was northeast of the mission ruins and near the 28th parallel of latitude. Furthermore, Peter Masten Dunne wrote the following in Black Robes in Lower California in 1952: “The Giantees, crowned by the three lofty peaks, Las Virgines, thrusts her spurs down to the California sea and terminates in the north at an elevation of 5,000 feet at Goldman Peak” (page 1).

My next move was to turn my attention to today’s maps to see if I could find the peak. I spent hours and hours meticulously studying the dozens of different maps I could get my hands on—road atlases, topographic road maps, pure topographic maps, and satellite maps. I scrutinized them all. A thorough Internet search also did not reveal an exact location of the peak.

A half-day’s research at the United States Geological Survey in Menlo Park, California, turned up some very promising current maps and historical maps. Some had a great deal of detail, while others were shy of useful information. I did find, however, that all of the current maps used Spanish names for the mountain tops, peaks, and mesas in the area surrounding Mission Santa Gertrudis and the 28th parallel of latitude. I also found that Nelson’s map was incorrect, as he placed Mission Santa Gertrudis below the 28th parallel. Its correct location is north of this latitude line.

Names of prominent features in Baja seem to have a unique history. The Baja Peninsula itself has had several names imposed upon it over the years. Francis Drake, the famous English explorer and pirate, landed on the west coast of North America in 1579 and claimed it “sea to sea” for England and called it “New Albion.”  “Albion,” which means white, was an old term used to refer to England and her “white cliffs of Dover.” Later, a German Jesuit named Father Scherer and his geographer used the name “Carolina Island” to refer to the peninsula, mistaking it for an island. More recently still, the peninsula was just called “California,” then it was referenced as “Lower California” to differentiate between the southern region and “Alta California” to the north. Now the name Baja, which means “below” in Spanish, is the accepted name for the peninsula.

It wasn’t until I stopped looking for a peak named “Goldman Peak” on maps and attempted to look for Spanish named peaks in the general area roughly northeast of Santa Getrudis Mission that I found what I was looking for. On a map on page 12 of the 2009 edition of the Baja California Almanac, I found a peak at roughly the right elevation just west of the Santa Barbara Ranch and northeast of the mission. The name of the peak is Cerro Cantera Rosa. I believe this to be Goldman Peak.

It is my estimation that the name Goldman Peak has fallen out of use for one of two reasons. First, it was Nelson, a “gringo” that bestowed the name to an “un-named” mountain. The name “Goldman” is also a “gringo” name and may not have been accepted by the people of the region. Nelson took the liberty to name many features during the expedition; he named peaks after Kino, Salvatierra, Junipero Serra, Ugartes, Anthony, Bryant, and Brewster. He also named the Vizcaino Dessert and the Magdelena Plain. Only names with an early explorer’s name or historical meaning seem to have been accepted, i.e. Ugartes, Vizcaino, and Magdelena.

The second reason is that the use of “local” names was in favor. I strongly feel that the local peoples would use a particular name and it would have been passed down from generation to generation. Eventually, that named feature is placed on a map. Cartographers typically use preceding maps when updating or creating new maps. Another abnormality found is multiple names for the same feature. Often different names will be used on different maps. I found this map (http://www.bajaflora.org/GMap/Baja1930.htm), published in 1930, that placed “Sharp Peak” (with an elevation of 5,000 feet) near the location where Goldman Peak is believed to be located, thus continuing the confusion.

Regardless of the details, or lack thereof, we plan to climb Cerro Cantera Rosa, if for no other reason than to claim it as our own Goldman Peak.
 

- Todd Bruce, Producer, Broken Wagon Films, "The Devil's Road"

"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!

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.