Seventy-four km (46 miles) south of San Ignacio, Highway 1 touches the Gulf of California (AKA, the Sea of Cortez) for the first time here at Santa Rosalia. Named for the 12th-century patron saint of Palermo, Italy, Santa Rosalia was established by a French copper-mining company, El Boleo, in the latter part of the 19th century.
Since it was built to plan, its streets are wide and straight, forming a perfect grid. The town's wooden houses---each with a porch and many with a tiny balcony on the second floor overlooking the dusty streets---are unique on this desert peninsula where trees are noticeably absent. Lumber for these structures was acquired from Washington State, where Santa Rosalia's unrefined copper was shipped after smelting.
Yaqui Indians from Sonora were forced to work in the mines, and Chinese and Japanese laborers were brought in as well. Many of the Asian immigrants later relocated to Sinaloa, across the Sea of Cortez, or other areas of Baja California. By the mid-20th century the mines were mostly played out.
Today this quiet and rather charming town is home to approximately 10,000 souls and serves as the seat of municipal government and a supply center for surrounding villages, towns and ranches. It's also a convenient stop between San Ignacio and Mulegé, the latter about 100 km (60 miles) to the south. A must-do for most travelers is a stop at El Boleo bakery, which despite having mostly average Mexican sweetbreads and savory rolls, has a particular fame and, like the rest of the town, a real Old West look to its façade and interior.
Despite being named for Saint Rosalia, the church here is dedicated to Saint Barbara, whose image resides in a prefab metal church said to have been designed by Gustave Eiffel, of Eiffel Tower fame, and shipped in pieces to the Baja Peninsula. A fire ripped through the historic district in the winter of 2009, rendering unlivable about a dozen homes, but sparing the town's parish church. The government has said it will help to restore structures damaged or destroyed in the blaze.