The Journal of San Diego History
Winter 1976, Volume 22, Number 1
James E. Moss, Editor

Book Review

David J. Weber, Book Review Editor

Baja California Guidebook By Walt Wheelock and Howard E. Gulick. Glendale: The Arthur H. Clark Company, 1975. Bibliography. Illustrations. Index. Maps. 232 Pages. $10.50. Maps separately $2.50. 

Reviewed by W. Michael Mathes, who has traveled over Baja California roads and trails for over two decades and whose contributions to the historiography of the peninsula are well known. Dr. Mathes is Professor of History at the University of San Francisco and Director Tecnico of the Archive Historico Pablo L. Martinez in La Paz.

“Gerhard and Gulick,” since its first printing in 1956, has been, by far, the finest commercial guidebook for the traveler in Baja California and “Wheelock and Gulick,” the new and updated edition of the former, remains in the same category. Revised to relate arterial roads to the newly opened paved Trans-Peninsular Highway, this fifth edition retains the excellent methods of supplying road itineraries and data as employed in the past. For the experienced traveler it is, in the main, very useful, and is certainly indispensable to the first-time visitor to Baja California.

While this book is not a history of the Peninsula, it does provide some information relative to historical sites. Historical data in the book should be used with caution, however, for a number of errors appear. Of the more salient errors, the following may be cited: the defeat of France on 5 May was in 1862 not 1863 (p. 23); the Grito de Dolores did not become a matter of national observance until the era of Porfirio Diaz (1876-1910) (his birthday happened to coincide with the date!) (p. 24); the governor of Baja California Sur (Lic. Angel Cesar Mendoza Aramburo) was inaugurated on 5 April not 18 April, 1975 (p. 20); most Baja California children have never heard of Los Reyes Magos but they do anxiously await the arrival of Santa Claus at Christmas (p. 25); there is no “reason to believe” that Cortes settled at Bahía Pichilingue (pp. 154, 207); the Islas de los Coronados were not named for the “Coronado brothers” (p. 197); La Pasion was not another mission but rather was the second site of Dolores del Sur at Tanuetia (pp. 131, 152, 211); Guaycuras, not Pericués, were neophytes at Ligüí (p. 128), the story of the martyrdom of Father Lorenzo Carranco at Santiago is historically ridiculous (p. 144); there is no evidence whatever that the Unión Nacional Sinarquista was “allied” with the Falange Espanola (p. 121); and, the first mission Santo Domingo was not in a “cave” (p. 81).

The foregoing is relatively unimportant to a guidebook, nevertheless it could well be corrected in a sixth edition, as could the following items. San Jose and San Miguel are de Comondu (pp. 120,121); the Real de Santa Ana has been accesible by road for some years (p. 141); the information on La Paz is very out-dated as is the map of the city (the “municipal building” is municipal alright but hardly a tourist attraction — it is the city jail!!) (pp. 136-138); Los Planes is San Juan, not San Jose (pp. 157-158); Santa Rosalia is Cachania (p. 112); insular mammals are protected by law (pp. 44-45); and, while the library in La Paz is passable, the Historical Archive downstairs is unique to the Peninsula (p. 135). As to the text in general, some inconsistency is noted as to place-names, and translations to English (eg. bay, Department of Public Works, Internacional Airport) are not helpful when the non-Spanish speaker must inquire. Accents are missing on a number of indigenous and Spanish words, most notably rancheria, and “ll” and “rr” are never divided in Spanish.

The above is, admittedly, “nit picking,” and this reviewer is far more concerned by the following four aspects of the book: (1) a poor and stereotyped description of the people of Baja California, one of the more truly cosmopolitan areas of Mexico; (2) a bibliography which lacks the works of Enrique Cardenas de la Pena; (3) the replacement of the fine, detailed maps of the earlier editions with reduced folding maps which, if folded and unfolded with extreme care might last for one trip down the Peninsula; (4) and, the statement that Santo Tomas wines are “excellent” — they are potable with hope for improvement; and that damiana is an aphrodisiac (it’s good, but not that good!).

Notwithstanding the foregoing, this is still the best of the Baja California guidebooks. This reviewer, nevertheless, will use it along with his twenty-year-old-still-in-service-heavily-annotated-Gerhard and Gulick, and hope that the sixth edition will enable him to retire his venerable traveling companion of these many years.