Boundary monument #256 stands along a busy highway that least to Las Playas, Tijuana. You’ll find this monument behind a bushy tree and close to a steep canyon.
Boundary Monument #256 is also located very close to the infamous Smuggler’s Gulch. An ecologically important space for indigenous animals, the valley received its name from the many drug smugglers who crossed here into the United States. This was also where “bonsai runs” happened, where coyotes would take a large number of migrants during the night.
If you talk to any rancher living in the Tijuana River Valley, they’ll tell you lots of stories of watching people run through Smuggler’s Gulch.
From 2008-9, however, the U.S. government filled Smuggler’s Gulch with 1.3 million cubic yards of dirt. This changed the environmental landscape completely and possibly destroyed unexcavated Native American artifacts.
This Was Kumeyaay Land
Archeologists found evidence that Native Americans lived along these mesas by the border 9,000 years ago. A major village called Melijo was located along today’s Hollister Street north of Smuggler’s Gulch.
Farmer’s Were There Too
Before WWII, about a dozen families settled in Smuggler’s Gulch. They took advantage of the fresh spring water. For example, in 1900 David Smallcomb began farming at the southern end of the gulch. In 1920, William and Millie Coones were beekeepers. In the 1930s Hans Bruehlmeier came from Switzerland and planted avocado trees on the western side of the gulch.
The first border fence was a simple five-strand barbed wire fence built in 1910 to protect American cattle from Mexican tick fever. Another local dairy farmer named Henry Schnell was instrumental in getting the fence built to protect his cattle, and he helped patrol the fence with other local farmers at the south end of Diary Mart Road.
At some point, this area was considered so fertile that a company financed with Arab money planned a golf course with 9 holes in Smuggler’s Gulch with an electric lift that would take golfers to another nine holes on Spooner’s Mesa. Alas, the golf course was never built.
Gate No. 2
Along the routes from one boundary monument to another between Tijuana and San Diego, valleys and mesas define this area and so does smuggling. Stories and history surrounding the building of fencing and gates abound.
A gate that ranchers will tell you all about is Gate No. 2, erected in 1910. Located at Stewart’s Drain, southeast of the water treatment plants, it facilitated the crossing of animals after inspection. The gate also became popular with Americans and touring companies as a shortcut into Tijuana.
In 1911, Walter E. Steward built his home just east of the gate and eventually he owned 500 acres of land. He was known as the “King of Potatoes.”
History, myth, adventure and destruction all combine near #256. You can only visit the monument on the Mexican side, but you can also drive around Hollister Street in the Tijuana River Valley to search for Gate No. 2 and another view of Smuggler’s Gulch. Maybe if you’re lucky, a rancher will share their story about the smuggling days-of-old.