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baja missionaries

"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 (, 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"