BAJA CALIFORNIA SUR, MEXICO
(All photos are thumbnails. For a larger version, just click on the image)
On March 10 we departed Ridgecrest California for points south, anticipating spending about a month in Baja California, Mexico. We traveled with what I like to call the "GoFort:" my 4wd Dodge (with Cummins Diesel) with an 11'3" Lance camper. I have found travelling in comfort counts for a lot. Crossing the border at Tiajuana is never any problem, especially heading south. We got our visitation permits after the usual song and dance (someday I will break down and buy a passport!) Some of you old time Baja travellers will say "You don't need a visa!," but in fact the federales are starting to crack down on visitors without visas, as they get commissions on the $35 fine. We continued south, stopping for the night in Ensenada. Ensenada is a rather large, prosperous port town on the Pacific Ocean. We always stay at the Estero Beach Resort, the jewel of Ensenada!The Estero Beach Resort does not yet have a web-site, but anticipates one soon. This is a lovely hotel right on the beach, and boasts some of the nicest, most reasonably priced rooms in Ensenada, full recreational facilities, an RV park with full hook-ups or camping spots for dry camps or tents, (hot showers are available), and one of the town's finest restaurants. The resort is immaculate, and impeccably landscaped, giving the aura of a garden. The grounds are totally secure, so no fear of those nasty banditos you hear about, and rarely see. The next morning we enjoy a full breakfast on the patio overlooking the Pacific, and feeling that the trip is off to an excellent start, head south on Highway One.
Baja's Highway One is always an adventure! It is a rather narrow road, by our standards, with no shoulder to speak of either. Road conditions may change from time to time as the weather takes its toll on the road and as the Mexican economy permits for repairs. Currently, in the northern province, the road is in as good condition as I have ever seen it. Enjoying this luxury, we pass through the valley of Santo Tomas, where vineyards support Mexico's Santo Tomas Winery. In years past we searched the valley for the winery only to find it had been moved into Ensenada. Apparently the truck drivers would sample too much of the fare before transporting the wine north, and would often lose the entire load on the precipitous mountain roads. The quality of the wine tends to be as unpredictable as the quality of the roads, but we have usually found several varieties worthy of merit. The valley of Santo Tomas is a lush and verdant paradise in contrast to the more arid lands to the south and we always enjoy the restive and pastoral countryside.
It is not long before the trail turns inland, and arduously snakes through tortuous mountain roads into the dry interior. Not much to do but take it slow, and await the end of the day when we arrive in Catavina. We usually make a camp near this small town which sits nestled in a field of boulders, erosional remnants of a large magma chamber that once fed volcanoes which have long since been eroded. At this point the scenery really starts to become interesting. We recently found cave paintings, or pictographs, within easy reach of the main highway.These are the most easily accessed pictographs that I know of in Baja, and should you want to visit them, I will be happy to give you directions if you e-mail me. Catavina hosts one of Mexico's La Pinta Hotels with a nice restaurant and an RV Park.
Next morning we pushed on once again, across one of Baja's more desolate reaches, from Guerrero Negro, site of Scammon's Lagoon, where the grey whales migrate for their spring festival, (wonderful camping here on the lagoon which will suit both bird watchers and whale watchers equally; boats can be hired to go out in the lagoon for a closer look at the whales), to Santa Rosalia on the Gulf of California. This stretch of road is the worst in Baja. It is narrow, and elevated without shoulders. It is so desolate that local trucks and buses travel hell bent to complete the journey, and will test the nerves of every gringo who dares the crossing. Visions of the "Road Warrior" have always come to my mind during this traverse. The saving grace of this arduous trek is San Ignacio.This quiet town is easily identified by the thousands of date palms that line the river which winds through this region. It hosts one of Baja's finest missions, which was built in part by Jesuits, Franciscans, and Dominicans. Masses are still held here. The town square sits before the Mission under huge spreading trees, and characterizes the essence of the small Mexican town. Even if you want to travel through, a side trip into San Ignacio, maybe for lunch, or at least for a restive moment of well deserved and needed relaxation on the town square or a reflective moment inside the mission is highly recommended. Should you wish to stay, there is a hotel and RV parks, some right on the river (great swimming) under the palms.
I wish I HAD stopped in on the way south. My nerves would have been well served, which might have saved me some trouble futher on. The road into Santa Rosalia on the Gulf is steep and narrow and tortuous. As I descended, uphill traffic forced me to swing wide, and my truck's right wheels left the road. In the process of regaining my "footing," jumping the "shoulder," the camper bounced on the back of the truck causing some damage. Amongst other things one of my diesel gerry cans on the roof went through the bathroom skylight, pouring fuel over our wet suits and creating quite a stink.We performed damage control and carried on to Mulege.Mulege is another beautiful town known for its verdant date palms and quaint setting on Bahia Conception. It hosts another fine mission, a defunct prison which serves as a museum, and Baja's finest laundramat. We knew our friend Richard was in residence on the beaches south of town, so we proceeded to locate this colorful fellow. Richard is known by many of us as "Killer Cain." Some of Killer's claims to fame include rafting the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon from the bottom up, and launching a balloon in the Canyon. He never bothered to pilot his balloon with the benefit of a basket. He had just purchased the largest palapa (grass shack) on Playa Santispac, claiming he had saved his whole life for a rainy day, and suddenly realized it rarely rains in Baja. I felt that a man who will never own a modem deserves a place on the web.
Having swamped the diesel fuel out of the back of the camper, we headed south for our destination: a remote area south of Loreto called Agua Verde. I had heard the place was amongst Baja's best. On our last trip to Baja we checked this area out, and decided that indeed it was the best we had seen. We had decided that we would spend our entire month in this one area. There is a reason this area is relatively remote. One leaves the paved road about 35 miles south of Loreto. For about 10 miles the dirt road is uneventful, but then descends for 7 miles through a canyon where the road barely clings to the canyon walls. In some places the road has been reinforced with concrete and rebar, but the concrete continues to wear away exposing the rebar beneath. As I rounded the corner on this worst stretch of road, peering over the side of the road which disappears to the abyss below, I looked over my shoulder and saw a shrine to Our Lady of Guadelupe chiseled into the cliff wall. (Shrines are built by family members where a loved one has departed this earth: the Mexican roads are full of such shrines.) I contemplated lighting the votive candle set in the wall as I descended, which I could have done merely by rolling my window down. Once you reach the bottom of the canyon, there is a Rancho run by Alejo and familia, who host the best beaches in Baja, operate a restaurante for hearty tourists, while running a small goat farm. (Guess what's for dinner?)The beaches can only be accessed during low tide, when a wave cut terrace is exposed allowing the intrepid traveller to once again test his resolve. Having accomplished this feat, we find ourselves at home. Four days of gruelling travel will require the best part of four weeks to pay the dividends which are the rewards for our debt. It is a sound investment. The beach we occupy is called "Window Rock," named for the andesite dike which crosscuts the conglomerates and volcaniclastic rocks that make up the geology of this region. We are at the base of the Sierra Gigante.These mountains are the result of uplift along the Gulf fault zone, and reflect block faulting similiar in nature to structures found throughout the Basin and Range provinces of our own southwest. The Gulf of California is an incipient spreading center, where the earth's plates are moving away from one another forming a rift zone allowing the ocean to once again claim its right as landlord of property we mistakenly take for our own. The Atlantic Ocean had a similar beginning some 250 million years ago. One of the benefits of such action is the appearance of geothermal water. The beach immediately to the south of us hosts such a hot spring. Its accessability is dictated by the tides: high tides will cover the pool, but during low tides it appears for the benefit of muscles which have been tested by hiking local canyons or chasing dinner down during snorkeling forrays.
So as you can see, time takes on new dimensions south of the border. Watches serve only to allow an indication of the depth of your tan. The only time that needs to be considered is when the fish will bite, and where the tides are in their changing schedule. It is peculiar that in Mexico, time that moves so slowly can overtake a person. At home, I can only sleep about 6 hours per night. In Mexico I was knocking off 10 hours every night, not including the usual afternoon siesta.
The days trickled away in leisurely routines. Baking biscuits in the morning in the dutch oven, some fishing, some snorkeling, kayaking and hiking, mountain biking and visiting friends and neighbors, data modeling for my thesis on a laptop powered by solar panels and doing the first recreational reading I have done in three years. Pescado and margaritas or cerveza for supper, watching the moon move through it's phases, swimming in the phosphorous at night under a heaven filled with more stars than the mind's eye ever imagined, and tracking the progress of our solar system's celestial visitor: Comet Hale-Bopp. After two weeks I was somewhat bored with the routine and could have headed for home. Only with the greatest resolve did I move beyond this boredom (hell to be a gemini), and after four weeks we had to actively convince ourselves that indeed life back in California norte needed to be addressed, and we should push on. It turns out that indeed this was the case. We had an enjoyable four day journey home (similar to the trip south so I won't belabour the tale) to find upon our return that a permit had been obtained for a 21 day float down through the Grand Canyon beginning in mid-May. We are scrambling to get ready for our next adventure.
Life is good!
Information Pages on Baja
Baja California Resource Guide
San Diego Online's Baja Home Page Index (inactive link)
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