“Disminuya Su Velocidad.” The sign reads as we descend a steep hill toward the Sea of Cortez. And then I see it. A horizon line on the already steep road. Where does it go? The earth drops away from our bikes as we roll over an even steeper section. Gravity is in full control. We will be in Santa Rosalía soon.
We pass the dump and ride through an industrial section. It’s an active copper mine outside of town. Further down the road the town begins to take shape. Grocery stores and concrete housing all painted in bright colors. Abandoned industrial buildings. An old wharf built many moons ago.
We ride down a street surrounded on both sides by wooden houses in various states of repair. Large porches with high ceilings. Clapboard siding. Each a different color. Old locomotives and mining equipment staged in the middle of the road to show off the history of the town.
The mining museum is at the end of the road in one of the more unique wooden structures. Again, surrounded by a beautiful porch with cast iron railings. Copper was discovered in 1868 and a French mining company was soon to set up operations.
The ore itself was of such a fine grade that ovens were used to heat the material up and concentrate it even more. A multi step process created copper ingots 99% pure. Marked with the company name “Boleo” these ingots were loaded on sailing vessels and shipped abroad. Slag (3-5% copper) created during the refining process was loaded on ships and dumped at sea.
The town had electricity and telephones. All the latest technology. Gustav Eiffel even designed the church in town. A pre-fabricated metal structure replaced stone as a building material.
In 1954, the French company handed assets over to the Mexican government as it was no longer profitable. The Mexican government continued operations until the mid 80s. At that time, the copper ore was of to low a grade to refine in ovens. The old factories in town were shut down.
The majority of this information we gleaned from a gentleman at the abandoned mining facilities. We did this in broken Spanish with two other cyclists we had been riding with. The facts may not be perfect but I feel they are pretty close.
Renewed interest in the copper deposits has encouraged the developement of a new project outside of town that is capable of handling lower grade ore. Many new jobs are expected as a result.
P.S. We passed the world’s largest salt making facility in Guerrero Negro. They offer tours. I was unable to take one. Next time.