Baja, The Last Frontier
March 24 - 29, 2009
by Neal Johns
Time to go to Baja! The group was a great assembly of long time friends and fellow Baja nuts. John Marnell had a long background with Score and knew Coco before he left Ensenada many years ago for Coco's Corner. Jay Lawrence wore out a Jeep down there and is now abusing a Tundra. Alan Romspert is the retired Coordinator at Zzyzx, the Desert Studies Center (with passenger Tim, a former manager of the DSC) and has done quite a bit of botany in Baja. Bossing the whole outfit was Dixie Johns, the Siberian Husky. She kept asking Are we there yet? This doesn't look like the Siberia I remember! Oh yeah, Marian, my current wife, was along. Note: All WiW's, remember your numbers!
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We loaded our four Toyotas up with pesos and crossed the border at San Diego with no problems getting our tourist passes (excluding the lecture I received for using a birth certificate instead of a passport). Hwy. 1 was a joy! No tourists! No spring breakers! No severed heads in the median! No cops! On several stretches, the lanes had been widened a foot or so and a two foot shoulder added. Amazing what a difference it made, no more puckering up when a big oncoming truck came into view.
Flower report: We were a little late for the peak of blooms, but still found areas of spectacular Goldfields that completely covered some meadows and hills.
Military checkpoint report: Routine and fast. One wave through Federal checkpoint below El Rosario.
.We had lunch at a taco stand south of Ensenada and went onward to camp at a wide spot off the El Marmol road. The next morning we found an old road previously spotted on Google Earth and drove to a geoglyph site found by old Baja hands Marv Patchen and Eve Ewing. This was a small knoll with a straight path leading several hundred feet down to an arroyo. The rock circles at the top of the knoll were in some disarray and there was little else to see but is was interesting to find. The narrow old road we found was as interesting and exciting as the geoglyph. Creosote bushes put exotic pinstriping on the sides of our Toyotas and no one cared. This is what we bought them for!
Back to Hwy. 1 south, we jogged east over to Agua Dulce to show a couple of the guys where travelers on the old dirt road and the El Camino Real got their water. Back on the highway, we drove to Bahia de Los Angeles, gassed up (two Pemex's will wonders never cease!) and headed south to Las Flores ghost town to camp. The next morning we checked out the jail which is the last building left standing, and the narrow, pinstriping road to the San Juan Mine tram terminal site.
We then continued south on the old inland road. Our first stop in a couple of miles was Arroyo San Vicente for a scenic lunch. There is a ranch about a half mile into the canyon but we did not go to it. Maybe next time. The next stop was Rancho Los Paredones. The ranch was in a pretty canyon but completely abandoned. The rock work on the corral fence caught the eye of one of our travelers. The rocks were placed to fit perfectly and present a smooth face on the inside of the corral with no cement used.
The next stop was a ranch in the mouth of Arroyo San Pedro variously called Rancho San Pedro or Rancho La Bocana. No one was home but some supplies were there and it was obviously used as a line shack for cowboys. We looked around but did not disturb anything. Oops, where is the road continuing? The AAA Baja mapper guy only put part of this old inland road on the map because he told me it turned into just sand. It did just that at the mouth of Arroyo San Pedro but Jay quickly found the good road on the other side of the wash and onward we went.
After a mile or two, we took a sand wash south toward Tinaja Santa Maria on the El Camino Real. We managed to dodge cactus and mesquite bushes for about a mile before camping. In the morning we hiked 0.7 miles to the tinaja. A tinaja is a natural bedrock water tank in an arroyo. I had been there before on one of David K's Lost Mission (BajaNomad.com) searches but didn't know what I was looking at. This time, using David's great Google Earth pictures posted on his website http://www.vivabaja.com/ for an approximate location, Marian found where the ECR trail climbed up onto a bench overlooking the arroyo. We walked in the footsteps of the padres! The trail was positively identified by the large boulders moved to the side during construction umpteen decades ago. I checked with the local cows and they said they didn't do it because cows have trouble moving such large boulders. :-)
Back on the inland road we met a dozen or so oncoming motorcycles and one quad. They thoughtfully pulled over to let us pass and one of the riders warned Marian (driving the lead Tacoma with pop-top camper) that continuing was impossible due to steep hills with loose rocks that they could hardly get up themselves. Marian, playing the little old helpless female, just nodded and said we would take a look at them and turn around if necessary. It should be noted that 68 year old Marian has been driving 4x4's for four decades in Baja. We came to the small go-ups and downs into and out of washes and found them to be no problem at all. They were only a few tens of feet long covered with smooth, slick, river cobbles which probably did pose a problem for one wheel drive bikes. No doubt a well-equipped Jeep could do it too. :-) :-) That was for you, Ken Cooke!
Before too long, we rejoined the main road south and had to give up plans to visit the Lost Mission site because Alan had to be in Cabo to spill wine on his time share rug. David K has posted many pictures so you won't miss much. The next event was a pictograph site that someone had identified on Google Earth. I got into big trouble with the crew on this one. I swore that there was a road I had discovered on Google Earth that went straight to the site. We looked and looked and could not find it. Obliviously someone had planted bushes on it to confuse me. We gave up and camped off the main road a half mile or so alongside a seldom used two track just before it got dark. My reputation was in tatters. Don't tell the crew that when we got home I took another look at Google Earth and found my road was just a wash. Sigh; the first mistake I have make this decade. :-)
At El Arco, we took a road north to visit a ranch in the back country that had Grand Mural style pictographs. After climbing around the hillsides and taking photos, we went back to Hwy. 1 and went north to Catavia to stay in Marv Panchen's cabin for the night. As soon as we got unpacked, here comes Ralph on his quad. He heard some banging noises so checking on the cabin seemed like a good idea to him. Ralph lives at Rancho Santa Inez half the year in the wintertime and is a really, nice, helpful guy. At his house the next morning, we caught up with the Baja news about people we knew, Baja Bucko and Eve Ewing were down riding mules around, Wild Bill and Elena were still on the ham radio net and so on. Alan had left us to go south to his timeshare and John and Jay had taken a side trip to drop off some goodies to Coco at Coco's Corner and would meet us at the cabin. While Coco was in Ensenada getting his last leg amputated, anything that could be sold had been stolen from his place - all the cans, etc. Anyone going down could drop off any construction material, food, etc. if they want to do a good deed. It's tough to live without legs.
John and Jay headed home after we visited with Ralph, and Marian and I poked around the Catavia rock piles for a day. We stumbled upon a new-to-us pictograph site under an overhanging rock. Whee! I will break my rule about divulging the locations of rock art this time. As in common archaeological practice, I refrain from giving exact location because some friends of friends of friends will mistreat or deface the site. This one time, I will make an exception; are you ready? Leaving San Diego, go south on Highway 1 to Catavia area and turn left. Note a rock pile near a green bush, That's it!
Finally, it was time to go home. Hitting El Rosario at camping time, we camped at the famous campground at the Sinahi where a sign exhorts you to keep your pet from shitting on the RV camping ground. There at the same place, we enjoyed a tasty and reasonably priced dinner. On our last day in Baja we opted to take Hwy. 3 from Ensenada to Tecate and it was great! The construction hardly slowed us down as they were using the old pavement wherever they could. No problems crossing the border except the one hour wait in line. Our first stop in the USA was a Burger King! We told Dixie it was Siberia and bought her a double cheeseburger.
P.S. Alan made it back from Cabo. No report on the rug.