Viewing entries tagged
United States Bureau of Biological Survey

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 (, 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"

Journey Down 'The Devil's Road'


In 1905, two American naturalists set out on horseback across the remote deserts of Baja California...

Their 2,000 mile expedition was the first of its kind to span the entire peninsula and complete a comprehensive survey of Baja's flora and fauna. Zig-zagging from coast to coast across the desolate interior, Edward William Nelson and Edward Alphonso Goldman described plants and animals unknown to science.

One hundred years later, Goldman's descendents return to Baja to retrace the steps of this landmark expedition on motorcycles, and document the changing nature of this strange and beautiful landscape.

Meet the Crew  |  Support the Project

• • • • •

• • • • •


THE MAKING OF AN EXPEDITION: The Inspiring Story Behind "The Devil's Road"

On a hot summer day in 1891, a black-bearded man driving a buckboard lumbered down a dusty dirt road in the San Joaquin Valley of California. He had just completed a scientific expedition into Death Valley and crossed over the Sierra Nevada near Yosemite. A broken singletree on his wagon forced him to stop at a nearby ranch in search of needed repairs. His name was Edward William Nelson and he was a field naturalist working for the United States Bureau of Biological Survey. Mr. Jacob Goldman, the owner of the ranch, took a keen interest in the work Mr. Nelson was assigned. The two gentleman instantly realized their shared mutual interest in the natural world.

After Nelson mentioned his need for an assistant, Jacob Goldman offered, “Maybe my son, Edward, would do?” By chance, Mr. Goldman’s eldest son, Edward Alphonso Goldman, was just the person Nelson had been looking for. The elder Goldman quickly fetched his eldest son, who was at the time employed as a foreman in a vineyard near Fresno, California. The rest, as they say, is history.

On October 10, 1891, young Edward Alphonso Goldman, then 18 years old, rode off under the employ of Edward William Nelson as his field assistant. Their first assignment was to last three months and would entail a survey of the southern San Joaquin Valley and southern coast of California. Upon completion of that detail, the two men were then dispatched to another assignment. On January 24, 1892 the two naturalists landed in Manzanillo, Mexico, in the state of Colima. Their assignment was again to last three months. Instead, this assignment lasted fourteen years, ultimately resulting in a survey of every state and territory from coast to coast. Their last assignment through Lower California, now known as Baja California, was in 1905 and 1906.

Goldman and Nelson compiled impressive resumes during their field work in Mexico. They traveled by rail, stage, steamer, schooner, wagon, mule, horseback, and by foot, all while camping much of the time. Together they collected 17,400 mammals, 12,400 birds, countless plant specimens, and amassed an enormous fund of information on the natural history of the country. These specimens were sent to the Smithsonian Institution and ultimately included several hundred specimens of plants and animal that were previously unknown to science.

Edward William Nelson (left) and Edward Alphonso Goldman (right)

President Theodore Roosevelt praised Edward William Nelson that he was, “one of the keenest naturalists [he has] ever met and a man of singularly balanced development.” And the work that the two naturalist did in Mexico has been described as “among the most important ever achieved by two workers for any single country.” 

The names and works of pioneers like Nelson and Goldman have been long forgotten by the few and unknown to the many. To most, Baja is an unforgiving wasteland of desert, cactus, and banditos. While some of that may be true, it is also a wildflower-strewn, sandy-beached, high mountain-ranged oasis with remarkable plants and incredible wildlife, some found only in this region. Such is the case with the Sierra San Pedro Martir, where several feet of snow falls each winter, the California Condor soars its skies, and its waters host the only native trout on the Baja peninsula, the Nelson’s trout (Salmo nelsoni, renamed in 1989 to Oncorhynchus mykiss nelsoni) named in honor of Edward W. Nelson. And near the old ruins of the mission Santa Gertrudis, is a 5,000-foot mountain that rises above others, Goldman Peak, Edward A. Goldman’s namesake.

These fascinating facts and incredible historical accounts have enticed a filmmaking team to dig into the Smithsonian Archives, dust off the history books, and set off on an expedition to follow Nelson and Goldman’s historic 1905 and 1906 expedition route. 

Help support this feature film. Sponsor or donate