To Baja Legend Is A Lot Like History Class
By JOHN M. DERBY
April 5, 2018
Hotel owner Don Johnson is a legend in
Baja California, Mexico. At 92, he remembers knowing John
Wayne personally when Wayne, who was an avid fisherman,
came to Baja and the town where Johnson lived, Mulege.
Johnson was subsequently invited to John
Wayne’s home in California. Wayne was not the only
movie star who frequented Mulege. Jane Mansfield used to
fly down, and Miss San Francisco married another Californian
who spent much of his life in Mulege.
Going back earlier than that, Johnson met
Charles Lindberg who flew his own plane down to Mulege many
Johnson’s major attraction to Mulege
was a beautiful Mexican woman who lived there. He fell in
love with her and wanted to marry her, but the local piest
refused to perform the marriage stating that Johnson was
not a proper suitor.
Johnson did not allow that to stop him.
He flew his own plane to La Paz and convinced the regional
Bishop to fly back to Mulege and officiate at his wedding.
He and his wife Nancy lived happily in Mulege until she
passed away last year.
He said: “I couldn’t have done
it without her,” referring to building his hotel and
running it for all the years.
These were years before the paved road
( Mex 1) was built all the way from the border south to
the tip of the Baja peninsula.
Johnson and Nancy decided they would build
a first class hotel and an air strip right next to it, so
that people from California and the southwest could fly
down and spend a week fishing and enjoy the beautiful weather.
Johnson’s life was not without its
problems, and 30 years ago, an indigenous group tried to
take over the hotel, claiming it was granted to them by
the government. Johnson fought a long court battle to keep
the hotel, and eventually the battle ended up in Mexico
By then Johnson had so many friends in
Mexico that his hotel had become a popular stop over for
bush pilots who would fly down and land on a nearby flight
line for the weekly pig roast every Saturday night.
Several dozen of them showed up at the
courthouse in Mexico City and vowed that they would never
return to Mexico and would spread the word to all the American
pilots, not to fly to Mexico, if the hotel was taken away
The court ruled in Johnson’s favor
and he returned to Mulege where he still lives about nine
months a year, personally greeting guests at the first class
hotel called Serenidad.
The hotel still has its operational flight
line even though it is manned by the military to make sure
it is not used for transporting drugs.
Fishermen still fly in for a weekend and
although there isn’t a pig roast, there is pork on
the menu. The fishing is not what it used to be in Mulege’s
days of glory when it was one of the rare places in the
world where the famous fighting fish called Snook could
Having met Don Johnson many times in the
past 20 years, it seems quite natural for him to come up
to our table and sit down. He has a very clear mind and
told some of his story to our guests, and then took this
writer aside and asked if we would write the book of his
It was an offer we could not turn down
but since we would be leaving Baja for the summer the following
week, we promised to put it on our schedule for the following
fall when we return.