Anyone who comes to Baja California and wants to visit its towns will find themselves traveling the central highway that longitudinally crosses the peninsula, from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas, passing through cities, towns and large unpopulated areas.
This road offers its travelers the spectacle of all the ways in which the desert decays: its ancient and enigmatic cacti, the rare Cirios of the central desert, the wonderful blue sea at the height of Conception Bay and the Sierra de la Giganta whose rocks, as you get closer, show all the shades of brown and the most intense and delicate shades of green, red, orange and pink.
This wild road, which passes through beautiful places, has taken a lot of time and effort to complete.
Imagining how difficult it must have been to travel before it was built, we wanted to pay tribute to it with this brief journey through time and space while considering its history.
The history of the Central Highway: from the dirt roads of the Jesuit fathers to the long strip of asphalt that connects Tijuana and Cabo San Lucas
The construction of the Central Highway was organized by President Echeverría, a decisive figure for the development of Baja California.
During his presidency, Echeverría invested one billion one hundred eight million pesos to conserve, rebuild and build federal highways to favor the economic development of rural areas of Mexico.
This work, completed in December 1973, extends from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas for 1,708 kilometers, linking the two most distant South Californian municipalities and constitutes a decisive step for the integration of the peninsula with the rest of the country.
In addition, during Echeverría’s mandate and to complete the connection of the peninsula with the rest of the continent, maritime routes were made that arrived from the ports of Mazatlán, Guaymas and Puerto Vallarta to La Paz and Cabo San Lucas with the goal of increasing the national and foreign tourist movement in Baja California.
From the historical point of view, the central highway was not born out of nowhere, but its history is long. This made the roads that Jesuit missionaries built long ago to communicate their missions to the southern part of Baja California easily passable.
To the north of the peninsula, the dirt roads that the Franciscans and Dominicans, established after the Jesuits, also created to connect their missions, were followed.
This period of development promoted by religious colonization was followed by a period of forgetfulness and abandonment during which few inhabitants of the peninsula survived with very few means.
In 1859, the historian Ulises Urbano Lasepas, author of The History of the Colonization of Baja California, predicted, with a vision of the future, the construction of a highway that would facilitate the communications of the peninsula with the rest of the country to contrast the abandonment and favor its development. In one of the chapters of his work, he describes the difficulty and the slowness of travel on the old, abandoned roads.
It was with the discovery of the gold and copper mines and with the 1910 Revolution that Mexico finally realized the importance of Baja California as part of the national territory.
A long construction project to integrate Baja California into the rest of Mexico
In 1916, the governor of Tijuana, Silverio I. Romero, decided to build the first part of the Central Highway to Ensenada, following the path of the missionaries; however, the work was not carried out.
In 1934, President Lázaro Cardenas took up a series of development and integration projects for the most distant regions in the interior of the Nation.
The objective of these projects was not only to promote economic development and political organization, but also to link these territories and the population that inhabited them with the rest of the country, including the strengthening of national sentiment.
During the Cárdenas era, the first section of the Central Highway between Tijuana and Ensenada was made and then it was extended a few hundred kilometers south to the port of S. Quintín.
Cárdenas was aware that his attempt to develop the country and raise it to the level of the contemporary world had to go through the creation of new avenues of development and communication.
At the beginning of the war, Mexico made sure not to get involved in international problems and instead paid attention to its own territory, aware that the war period made it a protector and watchdog of the Pacific ports.
In Baja California, it was no different and during the war, its importance grew. In those years, President Manuel Avila Camacho, general of the army until 1933, declared that the maintenance and construction work of the Central Highway would continue until connecting the city of La Paz with the military base of Bahía Magdalena.
In 1942, the general and governor of Baja California, Francisco J. Múgica, commissioned researchers Ulises Irigoyen and Moises from La Pena to prepare a report on the new communication route and highlight its weaknesses.
Irigoyen stated that the communication routes in the extreme south were still insufficient, that there was only one paved section between La Paz and San Pedro and that to reach Todos Santos or the Pacific coast and the cities of San José and San Lucas, the roads were still dirt and the commuting was exhausting.
Even in 1957, the conditions of the Carretera Central left much to be desired and communication between some sections of the southern peninsula were slow and exhausting, as reported by the researcher Fernando Jordán in his book El Otro México, stating that of the 1,552 kilometers built, only 300 were in good shape.
There were still many stretches of dirt road and there were no practical means of communication between Santo Domingo (Ciudad de Constitución) and La Paz. It was under the government of Adolfo López Mateos (in office between 1958 and 1964) when many stretches of road were finished, including the one that goes from Loreto to S. Rosalía, and the first maritime connection route between the continent and the peninsula was established, with a modern ferry that could transport up to 370 passengers and 100 vehicles from Mazatlán to La Paz. This reduced Baja California’s isolation.
A few years later, in 1967 with the government of Gustavo Díaz Ordaz, the section that went from La Paz to San José del Cabo was completed. But, in reality, it was Echeverría who, finally, after so many governments and years of construction, joined all these sections, creating the highway that goes from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas.
The Central Highway was named after Benito Juárez because 1973 was the year dedicated to the former president (the Mexico City airport, inaugurated that same year, also bears his name). It was attributed as Highway 1, because the city of Tijuana is in the extreme northeast of Mexico and also due to the reference point of all federal highways that cross the country follow an odd numbering when they go north to south, and an even numbering when going from east to west.
Thanks to Benjamin Arredondo for his detailed blog and for his availability.