Valle de Santo Tomás
You know you’ve entered the agricultural valley of Santo Tomás (pop. 400) when you start to see rolling hills covered in a carpet of brilliant green, rows of grapevines, olive groves, and fields of wildflowers.
Misíon Santo Tomás de Aquino
Dominican Padre José Loriente established this mission (1791–1849) midway between Misíon San Miguel to the north and San Vicente to the south. He planned to raise livestock and planted the first mission crops, including olives and grapes. The mission’s wine became known all over the peninsula, and the Bodegas de Santo Tomás continues the tradition today.
The mission had a prosperous but turbulent history. Indigenous people here were less receptive to missionary efforts than those the Jesuits had first encountered in Southern Baja, and two of the resident priests would be murdered before the mission was secularized in 1849.
There are two places to see what little remains of the mission ruins (a few adobe mounds, barely recognizable). The Dominicans built the original buildings west of Mexico 1, on a low mesa off the gravel road that parallels the Cañon Santo Tomás. Later, the community moved to the present-day village of Santo Tomás, east of the highway and north of the Palomar Trailer Park.
Bodegas de Santo Tomás
Founded in 1888, this winery (Rancho los Dolores, Km. 49, Mexico 1, Ensenada office tel. 646/178-3333, 11 A.M.–3 P.M. daily) owns the majority of the vineyards in the Valle de Santo Tomás and has an office in Ensenada. It makes a highly regarded wine called Duetto through a partnership with Wente Vineyard of California. The winery offers group tours by reservation only.
Hotels and Restaurants
A mainstay on the Northern Baja travel circuit for more than a half century, El Palomar (Km. 51–52, Mexico 1, Santo Tomás, tel. 646/153-8002, www.elpalomar.ws) consists of a restaurant (7 A.M.–10 P.M. daily, mains start at US$7), motel (US$18 pp), campground with two swimming pools, and Pemex station. The campsites and pool are in an olive grove on the east side of the highway (and you have to descend a steep driveway to get there), but the office, restaurant, motel, and Pemex are on the west side at the base of a hill as you come around a bend in the road.
RV camping costs US$16.50 per night for two people (full hookups) and includes two free margaritas.
© Nikki Goth Itoi from Moon Baja, 9th Edition