Rancho San Luis and the Great Pig Chase

Back to Mexico Memories


On the AAA map of baja, north of Laguna Hanson was a place called Rancho San Luis.  San Luis (SL) was a rancho right on the edge of the moutain dropoff that went from the top of the Sierra Juarez at the Tecate Divide to the floor of the desert, nearly a mile below.  I looked at the icon for the rancho for years before I finally worked up enough nerve (and time) to go there and check it out.  I was guessing that the place would have a spectacular view and that it is like possible to get from SL to a place called Pico Guadalupe.  The Pico was visible from the desert floor at Guadalupe canyon.  My working plan was to head to SL on the 3 wheelers using our Laguna Hanson camp as the launch point.  Then, once we were there, we would ask anybody we could find if we could do the easy hike to the Pico and then return home.  This seemed like a good plan, but reality would rear it's ugly head and we would never achieve the final goal.

It should be noted that in doing the research for this article, I could not find SL on the recent maps from the AAA.  I did find it in the Baja Almanac and an excerpt is above.  Note the relationship of this to the location of Laguna Hanson.  When we visited there, the owner was sick (he had diabetes) and I am suspecting that he may have passed on and his wife (Lydia) sold the property.  Not way to tell and I am not sure that I could find my way back there now.

The trip to SL was easy, although with the large number of unmarked dirt trails (and no GPS) it was easy to get lost, which we did several times.  Eventually, we found a small hand carved sign that pointed the way to San Luis.  We left Laguna Hanson going north.  As we did, we had to pass through a burned out area where there had been a forest/brush fire.  You can see the resulut below.

Laguna Hanson is in the Mexican National Park  and they claim that they have the ability (and will) to fight these kinds of fires, but the scope of the fire suggested something different: either poor capabilites or less than a full portion of will to fight the fire.

Burned area from brush fire north of Laguna Hanson.

Once out of the burned-out area, the trail to San Luis traversed some pretty country.  The day that Steve Anderson and I went, there were storms brewing most of the day, resulting in dramatic cloud cover and great colors.  That and no shortage of pucker factor as we considered the impact of a strong rain might have on the flash flood index in the area.

Storm brews north of Laguna Hanson.

Rocky peaks on along the trail to San Luis.

The side trail to San Luis, hewn by hand labor in the 1940's.

More of the trail.

Caid and Anderson at a rest stop on the trail to San Luis from Laguna Hanson.

Steve Anderson taking a break at one of the springs.

An ex-navy truck on the trail to San Luis.  Logo is from MiraMar NAS in San Diego.

Truck abandoned on the trail to San Luis.

When we arrived at Rancho San Luis, we were greated by the matron of the rancho, a Mexican woman named Lydia.  She spoke no english, but at the time my spanish was acceptable so I asked her about the trails to Pico Guadalupe.  She replied that the peak was "cuatro horas a pie" (four hours on foot).  Since I was wearing cowboy boots, we were not prepared for a walk of that distance.  So, we decided that this would have to be done on a subsequent trip.  Lydia and I held an extended conversation and she revealed that she and her husband homesteaded the ranch in the 1940s, just the 2 of them.  She stated that they moved from Mazatlan and brought all their stuff with them.  At the time, the place was really remote (hell, it still is).  They had to cut the road to the ranch site by hand.  This was many miles of road that had to be cleared to get to the site.  The site they chose was pretty much perfect.  They had access to a natural spring for water and a flat plot of ground to plant crops.  When we were there, they had corn and beans as well as some squashes.  The took the crops to the other ranchers in area and traded for meat.  Also, Lydia stated that she did crochet and sold it in Tecate when they went into town.

The ranch had a number of buildings, including the main house, a shop, and a guest house that was built in conjunction with a professor from SDSU.

As part of the conversation, she told us that her husband was a diabetic.  We never did meet him, but we knew he was there since we could hear him in the shop.  Both Anderson and I were pretty taken back by the fact that these folks were living on this ranch by themselves, self sufficient in nearly every way and that they had homesteaded the place in the 40s.

Storm behind the work shop.  Note the old truck at left.  The dodge is the daily driver.

Another view of the shop with a rocky peak in the backyard.

Another peak close to the rancho.

Corn field and brewing storm.

The guest house at San Luis.  Complete with metates outside the door.

One of the remarkable attributes of the guest house at San Luis is the indian grinding holes in the rock just outside the front door.  These holes, called metates, attest to the presence of the indians long before Lydia and her husband homesteaded the ranch.  Since the ranch has a permanent water source, it is clear that the location would be known to the locals.  And the ranch sits on one of the few trails that provide a foot path from the desert floor to the highlands near the lake.

Indian grinding holes "metates" at outside the guest house.  Note the steps and chair.

Irrigated fields at Rancho San Luis fed from spring water.  Note the bean plants.

Pines and big bushes near the rancho.

A storm brews over ridges to the south.

When we left SL, we headed back to our camp at Laguna Hanson.  Fortunately, we encountered no rain either along the trail or back at camp.  In fact, we took showers using our sun shower and settled in for a lazy evening in camp.  Once again, we stated that were not going to drive the 3-wheelers when intoxicated.  The sun started setting in the west, and the tequila started flowing.  After 3 cocktails or so, we were getting pretty loose.  Watching the sunset was excellent and the lake was very peaceful.  It felt good. 

Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a movement.  I was startled at first because I did not recognize what it was.  It was moving slowly, at a plodding pace.  Low, dense, pink.  It was a feral pig, walking right through our camp, like he owned the place.  Anderson and I sat there in stunned silence as the animal came within just a couple feet of us sitting in the lawnchairs.  Grunting and snuffling, he marched through camp.  As he passed where we were sitting, I casually asked Steve if he knew how fast pigs could run.  "No, how fast?" he replied.  "Not as fast as my 3-wheeler" I replied.  The chase was on.  We threw on helmets, fired up the 3-wheelers and were we in hot persuit of the swine in a matter of seconds.  When we started the 3 wheelers, the pig turned to check out the noise, but he was not scared.  When we were bearing down on him at 20 mph, he snorted and sprinted for the trees.  Anderson cut him off, causing him to reverse course back toward the lake and the open meadow.  I circled around and got between the pig and the water, Anderson approached from the rear.  The pig took off like a shot.  He was fast, but only 2nd gear fast and keeping up with him was easy.  Suddenly, he veered to the left and headed back toward the trees as it was clear that we could outrun him.  Again, Anderson cut him off and the pig circled back toward the meadow.  Again I was waiting.  The pig bolted along the water line and was running full blast.  I approached from the rear and was able to brush up against his rear flank with the front tire of the 3-wheeler.  Each time the fast spinning rubber knobs of the tire brushed him, he squealed loudly.  The first squeal caused me to laugh out loud.  By the 3rd time, I was laughing so hysterically that I had to break off the chase.  As soon as I backed off just a bit, the pig jerked right and went into the shallow mud of the lake.  I followed just long enough to figure out that the pig was getting the last laugh.  The mud from the tires were spraying high into the air and I was covered with it.  Nice, rich, black, fetid, smelly lake mud.

Once we got back to camp, we both got the lecture from Holly about the not-so-smart idea of chasing pigs on 3 wheelers while drunk .  She saw the mud bath, and subsequent cold shower (we used all the hot water on the first shower) as porcine justice.


Back to Mexico Memories