Among the most stunning of those missions is San Javier de Vigge-Baiundo, the second mission established in the Californias after the one at Loreto
. San Javier is set in a lush oasis in a canyon 20 miles inland from Loreto, and the adventurous journey to San Javier is almost as much of a treat as the destination itself. From Loreto the narrow road winds up a dramatic canyon into the Sierra de Gigante, then turns to dirt as it meanders steeply in hairpin turns along the side of a cliff, and finally drops from the summit into scrubby ranchland. Like most mission churches in Baja, San Javier is rather stark compared to more opulently decorated urban churches in mainland Mexico, but its thick stone walls and towers blend well into the harsh landscape its canyon oasis.
"Oh, I have plenty of gas", I thought as I glanced down at my almost 3/8 full gauge reading, forgetting how much more fuel you use in 4WD on steep, rocky dirt roads than under normal driving conditions. But fortunately it was downhill all the way back, and I was able to coast into Loreto on a somewhere below empty fuel gauge reading.
As in Alta California, the American state that was Mexican territory until the United States took half of its territory in the Mexican-American War, Baja California's original European settlements were Spanish missions set up by religious orders to "missionize" the Indians (i.e. arrogantly force their religion and way of life on the native inhabitants while reducing their population by 90% through diseases they introduced). In American California the mission churches are heavily visited tourist sights in big cities or have been engulfed by uncontrolled slumburban sprawl, but in Baja California some of the mission churches still remain in small villages in the mountains and desert in an atmosphere reminiscent of that bygone era.