SAN QUINTÍN & SAN PE­DRO MÁR­TIR, the penin­sula’s rugged, un­spoiled heart, where con­dors soar and cow­boys still ride.

Lonely Planet Magazine (US) - - Great Escape -

Mar­cial Ruben Arce Villav­i­cen­cio was 8 the first time he sat on a horse. It bolted and threw him off, but he got back in the sad­dle. Forty-six years later he’s still rid­ing. He’s been a cow­boy all his life, just like his fa­ther and his grand­fa­ther.

Arce Villav­i­cen­cio’s ranch, Ran­cho Las Hi­lachas, is just south of San Quintín and is home to 250 cows that wan­der freely over the 2,700 acres. It takes Arce Villav­i­cen­cio and the other cow­boys three months to round them up, dur­ing which time they camp and eat un­der the stars. They do many things the old-fash­ioned way here in Baja Cal­i­for­nia’s dusty heart­land. From a young age, the cow­boys must learn to be handy with a rope. “When an an­i­mal is wild, you have to lasso it,” ex­plains Arce Villav­i­cen­cio. “That’s one of the tough­est things to learn. It’s what makes tak­ing care of so many an­i­mals hard. It’s like hav­ing hun­dreds of chil­dren.”

At least he can count on his own faith­ful steed Al­go­dón (Cot­ton). The bay-col­ored criollo horse will stay with him long af­ter the cows have been ex­ported across the bor­der to the

U.S., where they are worth more than $800 each. Arce Villav­i­cen­cio main­tains that his cows are worth every penny. “This job is sat­is­fy­ing, but the process of look­ing af­ter a cow is a re­spon­si­bil­ity,” he says. “You have to give them a good life, let them run and be happy. When you eat the steak, you will know by the fla­vor if you did well.”

Arce Villav­i­cen­cio doesn’t worry that more cost-ef­fi­cient com­mer­cial farm­ing might one day kill off his time­worn way of life. “We’re not afraid of com­pe­ti­tion from farms like that, be­cause we think peo­ple value this more.”

With Arce Villav­i­cen­cio herd­ing his cows through the foothills, the Sierra de San Pe­dro Már­tir rises be­hind him on the hori­zon. The moun­tain range is home to a 170,000-acre na­tional park, which is a sanc­tu­ary for bighorn sheep and mule deer, as well as cougars, bob­cats and coy­otes. The thick pine forests, punc­tu­ated oc­ca­sion­ally by craggy rock faces, make the per­fect en­vi­ron­ment for hik­ers and horse­back rid­ers.

At the very top of the park stand sev­eral deepspace tele­scopes that make up the Na­tional As­tro­nom­i­cal Ob­ser­va­tory. The lo­ca­tion was cho­sen be­cause of its lack of night­time cloud cover and light pollution, mean­ing that pro­fes­sional as­tronomers and ama­teur stargaz­ers can view the vast Milky Way. And that’s not the only im­pres­sive sight to be seen above. Near the en­trance to the park is a rocky out­crop where Cal­i­for­nia con­dors gather. In most places the graceful birds only can be spot­ted cir­cling high in the air, but here they swoop low over­head, their huge wings mak­ing a loud crack as they glide down­ward.

Back on the ranch, Arce Villav­i­cen­cio tends to his own an­i­mals. Then, with the last of the day’s sun­light fad­ing away, he takes his place on an old sofa out­side to open a few beers with his son and brother-in-law. “I can’t imag­ine go­ing any­where else,” he says. “We don’t do this for tourism.

This is the way we live. If you want to learn about ranches and the cow­boy life­style, then this is the best place to come be­cause we’re not pre­tend­ing. That’s the spe­cial thing about this place.”

Re­join High­way 1 and head south for four hours un­til the le -hand turno to­ward Bahía de los Án­ge­les, an­other hour away.

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