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|January 2020 — Baja California Mexico|
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Copyright © 2015 - 2020 Larrie Easterly
Baja California and the Sea of Cortez evokes images of a desert landscape, sunny sky’s, beautiful sandy beaches, and warm weather. While traveling around Baja for four weeks I found out it is all of those things and much more.
Beach at Las Animas — Photo Galley
The trip came about when Ann said she would like to see the gray whales in Baja. Always being up for a road trip, I said sure and started doing research on where and when to go. My friend Charles has been to Baja several times so naturally I contacted him to get his thoughts on the trip. He let me know that he was heading there in January as well and invited us to join him. As it turned out Ann decided to go to Liberia, West Africa for a church seminar instead. She was fine with me going to Baja without her so on January 19th I headed south for four weeks of fun in the sun.
The first 2-1/2 days of driving took me down Interstate 5 through Oregon and California to Charles’s house in Upland, CA. The following day we headed to the Calexico/Mexicali border crossing. The Mexican equivalent of the U.S. border patrol looked over our vehicles at the crossing. Once they were satisfied we did not have any contraband we went into the immigration office to get our tourist card commonly known as FMM documents. After getting the paperwork in one building, we went next door to the bank to pay the fee and then came back to the immigration office finish the paperwork. Then it was on to Pete’s Camp just north of San Felipe where we camped on the beach.
Pete’s Camp has palapas, a traditional Mexican structure roofed with palm leaves, for shade with enough space between the them for a vehicle to park. New this year are RV pads with full hookups. Up the hill from the beach is a nice restaurant with an outdoor dining terrace that overlooks the Sea of Cortez. Being only a couple of hours from the U. S. border means that Pete’s Camp is very popular for day trippers and weekenders.
Petes Camp — Photo Galley
Pete’s Camp to Gonzaga Bay
Mexico Route 5 runs along the Sea of Cortez offering beautiful views of the sea before turning inland to join MX 1. The sea views returned later on the drive to Gonzaga Bay. Both MX 1 and MX 5 are paved for their entire lengths although there are several places where we needed to take rough gravel bypass around bridges that are being repaired on MX 5.
We stopped for lunch at Papá Fernández on Punta (Point) Willard. The shrimp tacos were excellent. After relaxing and looking at all the photographs of the large fish that were caught in the area we continued around the bay to our camp for the night at Alfonsina on the shores of Gonzaga Bay.
The campsites at Rancho Grande are right on the beach and have palapas with wind breaks, fire pits, raised barbecues, and across the parking lot are pit toilets, bring your own paper. Be sure to stop at the store across MX 5 to pay for your campsite before going on to the beach. We passed many retirement homes as we walked northward the beach. Some of the homes were boarded up others were being lived in, many were in disrepair and some looked abandoned and a few were unfinished. The Alfonsina restaurant is about a mile walk up the beach from the camping area or a three mile drive around the airport landing strip. The food was very good.
Gonzaga Bay to a Wild Camp
On the way we were also looking for two other mines that were suppose to be in that area. While we did not find the other two mines we did find a large quartz deposit.
The gold mine was easy to find as it was visible on the wall of the river bed canyon. There was not much left of the mine. Just some rock walls, concrete pilings and rubble.
Even though we had the GPS coordinates it took us a long time to find the mission due to operator (my) error. Charles actually found it. The mission was in use for only one year from 1766 to 1767. All that is left at the site are two circular walls that were part of the building and several mounds that may have been deteriorating adobe bricks.
Calamajué Mission — Photo Galley
The road leading away from the mission to the south runs in the Calamajué riverbed. The river runs in a narrow canyon before opening up into the desert again. The narrowness of the canyon, the water in the river, and the overhanging vegetation made for challenging driving conditions. We were glad to be out of the canyon and back on the desert floor although the desert floor had its own challenges. The road seemed very beat up for the amount of traffic that it gets. We soon came to a bright orange fiberglass fender that came off a Trophy Truck and realized that we were on part of the Baja 1000 race course. This explained the road conditions we were experiencing.
Calamajué River Canyon — Photo Galley
The dirt track eventually led us to MX 1 where we turned left and then left again on to MX 12 towards Bahía de los Ángeles. About 2/3s of the way to the Bay of LA we turned right on to a gravel road that we thought would lead to the Montevideo Cave Paintings and then Missión San Francisco de Borja.
It was getting close to sunset when we turned off the gravel road on to a dirt track that leads to the cave paintings. We decided look for a place to wild camp and visit the cave in the morning. It was hard to find clear space that was large enough for us to park in due to the large number of cactus and other desert flora in the area. Shortly after the sunset we found a small clearing parallel to the road that was just large enough for our two vehicles.
Wild Camp — Photo Galley
Wild Camp to Bahía las Ánimas
We backtracked and turned left on the gravel road towards the Missión San Francisco de Borja. The mission is slowly being restored and is an amazing place. The original adobe mission was built was built in 1762. A metal structure covers the remains of that mission. The stone for the “new” mission was quarried from the mountains surrounding the site. The mason, and our tour guide, who is restoring the building goes to the same quarry that was used by the indigenous peoples to get replacement stones.
Missión San Francisco de Borja — Photo Galley
The story of the Catholic missions in Baja is not always a pleasant one. Between 1653 and 1834 first the Jesuits, then the Franciscans, and Dominicans orders as well as the Spanish had their fingers in the Baja pie. All to the detriment of the indigenous peoples of the area.
The mason gave us a fascinating tour of the mission revealing its history and pointing out some of the amazing store work on the building. Two blocks of stone about four feet wide by 5 feet long and three feet high were hollowed out and used as a rainwater cistern. One of them is still in use today.
Retracing our route to MX 12 we continued east to Bahía de los Ángeles where we stopped for more shrimp tacos. After lunch we wound our way through town and on to a rough gravel road leading to Bahía las Ánimas. On the way we stopped in the middle of nowhere at an odd stone building with bars on the windows and doors. Some of my friends think it use to be a dynamite shack. Others think it was a jail.
Everyone once in a while we kept seeing small colored arrows pointing to dirt tracks crossing the main gravel road. We found out later that they were directional arrows for an off road race the previous weekend.
There are many people from Canada, Germany, Australia, Spain and the US traveling and staying for several months in Baja. We were flagged down by a couple from Switzerland that were driving north in a small camper. They were a bit lost and wondered how far they were from Bahía de los Ángeles. We told them they were about 15 miles from town. They were glad to hear that as they were tired of the rough gravel road. All of the people we met were very friendly and willing to help another traveler in need.
We turned left at the las Ánimas sign on to a twelve mile long dirt track that winds through the desert. On the way to the beach we were surprised to see about a half dozen wild horses. The bay and beach are beautiful. The beach was deserted except for 3 fisherman living in their fish camp.
Birds Diving for Baitfish — Photo Galley
Spending two very relaxing days on the beach was a pleasure after all the driving we had been doing. The warm sunshine, the lapping of the surf and the noisy birds going after the baitfish in the shallow water was a delight.
las Ánimas — Photo Galley
The second night the fisherman came by with a plate of already cooked fish and scallops as a gift to us. It was delicious. Later they sold us a package of fresh fish fillets. Like many of the people we met during the trip they all had a working knowledge of English. They told us that they dive for and capture live tropical fish that live in the rocky coastal waters. The fish are held in ocean pens. Every few weeks they load the fish into a truck and make the 12 hour trip to Tijuana and then to the U. S. where they sell the fish to wholesalers. While in Tijuana they visit their families.
The best part about being on this beach was falling asleep to the sound of the waves lapping on the beach.
Bahía las Ánimas to San Francisquito
The last time Charles was in San Francisquito there was no one around at the campground. This year was different. The caretaker greeted us warmly showed us where we could camp and turned on the water heater so we could have hot showers. Yea! The beach here faces north. During the winter months the prevailing winds in Baja are from the north so if you are on a north facing beach it can be pretty windy. There was a moderate wind so we positioned the vehicles next to a building that acted as a wind break.
There were 75 to 100 pelicans standing on the pier that jutted out into the windy cove. Every so often a group of them would fly into the air and dive into the water to catch baitfish.
San Francisquito to Cave Paintings
We followed several footprints down a wash and then to a a cliff then hiked around the cliff face looking for the cave or the trail to it for about two hours with no success. We finely gave up and decided to go back to a ranch we passed a few miles back and ask for directions. On the way we took the dirt track that Charles thought led to the paintings. That track led to the ranch cistern and nothing else. At the ranch we saw a beautifully restored old Chevy truck from the early 50s. The rancher told us we were in the right places and gave us directions: “Look up on the mountain side from the parking area, you can’t miss seeing it.” With that information we headed back to the first area we had been searching.
Chevy Truck — Photo Galley
Well we did mis seeing it. We hiked around for another hour looking for it before decided to give up. On the way back I got a nudge to turn right and immediately came across a well used trail that led up the mesa to the cave. The cave is huge with about 10 paintings of people, and animals. Most are larger than life size. All were painted in a red paint like substance. The view from the cave mouth out over the valley below is fantastic.
Cave Paintings — Photo Galley
It was getting late in the day when we got down from the cave so we decided to camp in the parking area like others had done. Just after setting up camp two vehicles showed up. The occupants headed for the cave. The cave is several hundred feet above and about 1/4 mile, as the crow flies, from the parking area. The cave has amazing acoustics. We could clearly hear the other people talking in their normal voices as they explored the cave even through they were 1/4 mile away. When they got back to their cars they told us that they could hear us clearly as well.
That night the nearby coyotes serenaded us to sleep.
Cave Paintings to Guerrero Negro
The whale watching rules in Mexico are very different than in the U. S. In Mexico the boats can get right up next to the whales and their calfs. In our boat a girl of about ten got to pet one of the whales. It was very impressive to get up close and personal to that large an animal.
hale Watching — Photo Galley
After the whale watching adventure we headed to Guerrero Negro and the Malarrimo Hotel RV Park and Restaurant. The spaces in the RV section are a little tight so it is a bit noisy. The restaurant has good food and the showers were hot. Our friend Bruce joined us just as we finished dinner. He would be traveling with us for the next couple of days. It was nice to have WiFi and cell service again so that I could share some photos with family and friends as well as call home.
Guerrero Negro to Bahía Concepción
Just outside San Ignacio we had to stop at one of the many military checkpoints that we would encounter on our trip. The soldiers would ask where we were from, where we were going, and then look through our vehicles looking for contraband items. They were quick and efficient in their search. Occasionally they asked for our passports and FMM documents.
Mexico 1 drops about 1,200 feet in six miles as it transitions from the Sierra Alta mountains to Santa Rosalía at sea level. The road is steep and twisty with tight hairpin switchbacks so we needed to carefully watch our speed.
South of Santa Rosalía the drive along the coast is stunningly beautiful. We turned off MX 1 on to a gravel road that let to San Bruno and then wound our way down the coast to Punta Chivato. We stopped for lunch at a north facing windy beach that was piled with drift wood. This was the only beach we saw with that much wood piled up.
Conception Bay — Photo Galley
From Punta Chivato we continued south passing through Mulegé at the mouth of Bahía Concepción and then on to the beach at Playa Santispac. There are actually two separate camping areas here. The first one is Santispac on a sheltered cove with a southeast facing beach. It can be crowded and quite busy. Driving through this campground to the north brought us to a northeast facing beach that is more secluded, has fewer campers and can be windy.
Bahía Concepción to Aqua Verde
We stopped in Loreto for lunch and supplies on our way to Aqua Verde. Loreto is one of the first towns in Baja and has a rich history. The old part of town has the look and feel of an old Mexican town and is a delight to wander around in.
Loreto — Photo Galley
Aqua Verde is about 40 kilometers from the MX 1. The first 10 to 15 kilometers is paved and the rest is gravel. The gravel road winds it way across the Sierra la Giganta mountains through two mountain passes. The switchbacks are many and the road is steep, narrow and washed out in spots. The views of the Sea of Cortez more than make up for the road conditions.
We kept in touch with a group of friends, who we had traveled with in the past, and were also traveling in Baja. Cellular phone service is limited to the major cities in Baja. This did not matter as we stayed in touch with them using a Garmin inReach for satellite text messaging. As planned the group of friends were already on the beach at Aqua Verde when we arrived.
The town of Aqua Verde has about 350 residence. Talking with some of the locals we found out that many of the school classes are conducted over the internet. We walked through the town and saw that most of the houses, school, grocery stores, and restaurants had solar arrays and satellite dishes. Internet connections were available at the grocery store and restaurants.
The beach like all the ones we stayed at was beautiful. The bay is popular with the sailboat crowd due to its sheltered position on the Sea of Cortez. There were about eight sailboats anchored when we arrived. A small cruise ship dropped anchor one night and spent the following day in the bay.
Aqua Verde — Photo Galley
Shortly after we arrived François, Frank, from Montreal pulled in. He is on a three month trip around southern U. S. and Mexico. He was headed to Cabo San Lucas to pick up is girlfriend before heading back north.
We had planned to spend three days here but actually spent four. I made the mistake of purchasing a cream filled donut from a local vendor. It was delicious. Unfortunately it came back out quickly later that night. I spent the fourth day relaxing and getting my system back in working order.
Aqua Verde to San Juanico
Produce at Ley's — Photo Galley
From there we turned north on MX 53 and then west to San Juanico. The road was paved all the way with only a few miles of rough potholed pavement.
San Juanico is noted in the surfing community as having one of the best surf breaks on the west coast. We stayed at Scorpion Bay Campground that had a beautiful view of the half moon shaped bay. The surf was not up but there were several people in the water on stand up paddled boards and kayaks trying to catch the perfectly formed sets of small waves as they swept along the bay. The campground has a good restaurant, showers and WiFi.
Sunrise at San Juanico — Photo Galley
San Juanico to Loreto
Bougainvillea in La Purisima — Photo Galley
At San Isidro where we turned south on to a gravel track that would take us across the peninsula to a paved road leading to Loreto. Along the way we stopped San José de Comondú, to look at the missions, 1708 to 1827 there. The first mission was built from stone and was later demolished to use the stone for a school building. A second stone mission was built a few years later and is still used today as the local church.
Mission at San José de Comondú — Photo Galley
The road past San José de Conondú was very rough and washed out in spots making for slow going. We eventually made it to the end of the dirt road and turned right onto pavement to San Javier mission.
The San Javier Mission, 1699 to 1817, is a very impressive stone building with a bell tower that is about four stories tall. The mission is free to enter and wander around. There is a very good museum attached to the mission that has artifacts dating back to the 1800s. It is worth the entry fee.
Mission at San Javier — Photo Galley
We backtracked on the paved road that winds through the mountains to Loreto. We stayed the night in town at he the Riviera del Mar RV Park that is near the malecón (sea wall and esplanade). The park was full but the owner was kind enough to find spots for us. The park has hot showers, WiFi and laundry facilities. The only drawback to the park is that it is located in town so there are lots of nighttime noises like, roosters crowing at 2:20 am, garbage trucks at 6:00 am, dogs barking at all hours and traffic.
Across the street from the RV Park is a laundromat where you can leave your clothes and the attendant will wash, dry, and fold your clothes for about US$5.00. A couple of friends took advantage of this when they were in a Loreto. We used the park laundry the following morning and will use the laundromat next time we are there.
We decided to walk down the malecón to Augie’s Restaurant and Bait Shop, a local expat bar and restaurant for dinner. The food was good, the WiFi signal strong, the people friendly and the TVs were showing three different college basketball games. After dinner we retraced our steps back to the RV park along the malecón.
Loreto to Juncalito
Pelecans — Photo Galley
It turned out that Juncalito was also the place to meet people. There was Victor from Spain who shipped his motorcycle to Chile and then rode it to the tip of South America. When we met him he was headed north to Canada and then on to Prudhoe Bay in Alaska. We suggested that he might also want to go to Tuktoyaktuk in Canada as it is farther north than Prudhoe Bay. We told him that Prudhoe Bay is all oil related and you need to be on a tour bus to get to the Arctic Ocean where as Tuk is a village of indigenous people living and working on the Arctic coast.
Russ, a true cowboy, and Carol are from Montana. They own a ranch where they run 1,500 head of cattle. They have been coming to Baja since their grown up children were little. Their two door Jeep Rubicon was packed full, floor to ceiling front to back, with their camping gear. Carol is planning on getting a van for their next trip after seeing all the living space in mine.
Juncalito — Photo Galley
Steel showed up with four friends from Ireland that were traveling around Mexico and the U. S. in a small old motor home. Steel promptly got his pickup stuck in the soft sand so we helped him get out. It turned out that he owns the Punta Chivato Restaurant and Hotel. He invited us to come there and stay at his beach house and fish camp. More about Punta Chivato is below.
On Sunday several vendors came by selling hand made blankets and jewelry. I bought a blanket and Charles bought some earrings and a blanket. Later a fisherman came by and we bought a package of fresh prawns. Those went on the barbecue that night. They were delicious.
Juncalito to Ensenada San Basilio
We left Loreto and headed to Ensenada San Basilio. There is no sign telling you where to turn off MX 1 so you need to know where the turnoff is. To get to the cove you need to cross the San Basilo rancho on a gravel track and open and close a couple of gates. Watch out for for the 1,500 pound cattle that are wandering around on the ranch. The cove is gorgeous with several sailboats and yachts anchored offshore.
Ensenada San Basilio — Photo Galley
The camping area reminded me of a state park with semi designated camping spots and a couple of gringos acting like camp hosts even though they were just staying there. This was the only time we ran across this situation. I was expecting to camp on the beach like at other areas.
The beach was fenced off to vehicles by the ranch owners due to previous campers making a mess of it. Camping is restricted to the brushy area behind the fence. Even though the camp sites are close together most of the people got along well together.
Sunrise at Ensenada San Basilio — Photo Galley
A short walk back up the road is the rancho’s organic garden where the yachters and campers can purchase fresh vegetables and eggs.
Ensenada San Basilio to Punta Chivato
Punta Chivato is one of the few beaches in Baja that is faces directly south. It looks directly at Mulegé and down the throat of Conception Bay. The bay large with a beautiful crescent beach. At one end is an abandoned hotel that was once one of the hot spots to visit in Baja. At the other end are expat's beach homes. Charles and I walked around the grounds of the abandoned hotel one morning. We could see the one time elegance of the place.
Punta Chivato — Photo Galley
Part way down the beach in the other direction and next to the airport landing strip is the skeleton of a partially constructed restaurant that was going to be a pilots lounge and hangout. It is located on a bluff above the beach and has an amazing view of the bay from both the first and second floors. When the hotel closed the air traffic into the area plummeted taking the pilots lounge with it.
View from the pilots lounge — Photo Galley
We had dinner Saturday night at Steel’s restaurant. The food was excellent. His place is closed on Sunday so he arranged for us to have a traditional home cooked meal at the other local restaurant. The food here was outstanding.
Punta Chivato to Home
It was a great trip where I met many new friends from all over the world, got to be in a warm, sunny and dry location in winter and saw some beautiful and amazing scenery. I will definitely go back to Baja again some day.
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