The Cave Paintings of Baja California

The Sierra de San Francisco

Page 1 of 10


North of San Ignacio lies a mountain wilderness, the deeply eroded remains of layer upon layer of volcanic outpourings. This rugged mass rises from the surrounding desert to heights of more than 5,000 feet and covers an area 35 miles from north to south and half of that from east to west. From its uplands, there are views west to Scammon's Lagoon and the Vizcaíno Desert, northwest to the even taller Sierra de San Borja, and east to the abrupt eminences of Las Tres Vírgenes, taller and more recent volcanos that tower in front of the Gulf. The sierra embraces a world that would never be suspected from the low, barren lands outside. Groves of palms and pools of water are set between walls of vertical grandeur water-carved from rich-colored rock. A few ranches, built by rustic and hospitable people, nestle near the few water sources. Here also are the grandest reminders of the Painters, corridors decorated by their hands and haunted by their spirits.

baja rock art paintings california

Cueva Pintada

baja rock art paintings california

Cueva de la Serpiente


The Dynamic process of erosion created overhung walls which attracted the Painters and sustained their art. Here we see (above left) the aftermath of erosion in a soft layer of bedded volcanic ash at the base of the formation. When sufficiently undermined, the harder layer above suffered stress fractures from its own weight, and great sheets of stone dropped into the void left by the erosion. The Painters created their art on the fresh surface thus exposed.

At Cueva de la Serpiente, can be found the most extraordinary composition in the Great Mural area. This 26-foot-long panel panel, apparently painted by one artist. No other site displays fanciful creatures like these deer-headed serpents, nor do others show large groups of interrelated figures like those clustering around the sinuous body of the snake-monster on the right. As if to heighten the mystery of this unique conception, the smaller figures do closely resemble the work of Painters at other sites. The photograph of the area between the serpents shows the rough surface on which this great work was rendered - and attests to the fidelity of Joanne Crosby's recreation of the entire panel.

baja rock art paintings california

26-foot-long Cueva de la Serpiente panel
click for enlargement

The composition of the work, when seen close at hand, is striking as a whole and full of fascinating details. A serpentine figure forms the literal spine of an assemblage fleshed out with over 50 doll-like human and animal figures. The sinuous form of the serpent and these lesser bodies were conceived and executed as a unit. The small figures do not interfere with the movement of the large one; indeed, their placement creates an odd, rocking effect that enhances the apparent weaving of the serpent.


Introduction to the Cave Paintings of Baja California
Harry W. Crosby - About the Author
The Sierra de San Francisco | Page | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 |
Baja Rock Paintings Style Table |

American Rock Art Archive |

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