Legend has it that while walking in the hills around Santa Rosalía in 1868, rancher José Villavicencio chanced upon a boleo, a blue-green globule of rock that proved to be just a taster of a mineral vein containing more than twenty percent copper. By 1880, the wealth of the small-scale mining concessions came to the notice of the Rothschilds, who provided financing for the French Compagnie du Boléo (or “El Boleo”) to buy mining rights and to build a massive extraction and smelting operation in 1885. Six hundred kilometres of tunnels were dug, a foundry was shipped out from Europe, and a new wharf built to transport the smelted ore north to Washington State for refining. Ships returned with lumber for the construction of a new town, laid out with houses built to a standard commensurate with their occupier’s status within the company.
By 1954, falling profits from the nearly spent mines forced the French to sell the pits and smelter to the Mexican government who, though the mines were eventually left idle, continued to smelt ore from the mainland until the 1990s. Starting in 2004, Canadian-listed Baja Mining Corp worked hard to reopen the mine – despite running into financing problems in 2012 (Korean Resources Corp is now the main shareholder) and damage caused by Hurricane Odile, production of copper, cobalt and zinc finally began in 2015, with the new El Boleo expected to have a minimum life of 22 years. Minera y Metalúrgica del Boleo has promised to work with local authorities to develop housing, infrastructure and utilities, and so far has created around a thousand new jobs in the area (with 65 percent local hires).