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1999 Trip report - Copper Canyon, Mexico

19 January 2014 | 1999 Trips

The Lost Tribe Mini Trip Report

written by Neal Johns

Most photos by John Page, but some by Marian Johns, Marilyn Martin, and Virginia Hammerness

Copper Canyon again? Seems like we were just there, but I guess it has been over three years! You would think it would get easier each time, but it must be like childbirth; you forget the pain after a while. This time I will remember the pain for a long, long time. It wasn’t the people, they were great, but the gods seemed to snow on me (euphemism). Seven vehicles (Charles and Mary Hughes, John Page/Paul Ferry, Virginia Hammerness/Pat Loomis, Warren Alksnis, Ann Marie Nelson/Bill Turpin, Bob and Marilyn Martin and the Johns) met in Tucson where, to my horror, AAA would not process the border crossing paperwork as in past years. Then Warren got lost in the restaurant (thus The Lost Tribe name), and I started to get that funny feeling about things. Was this trip going to be like the task of herding cats? Short answer: Yes.           


The border crossing could not have been easier, thus lulling me into a sense of false security. The trip to Colonia Juarez (a left-over from an 1895 LDS settlement)  was uneventful, and we met with the wonderful Mike Romney family.  Everyone promptly fell in love with them.

This didn’t set too well with me because I had previously staked out a claim on Gwen and gorgeous daughter Stephanie. Remember George Romney, the Michigan Governor and American Motors CEO? He was a local Colonia Juarez boy (not to be confused with Cuidad Juarez on the border). This is the family that had captured and adopted Marian and me in the Valley of the Caves several years ago. At that time the first thing they did was take us (complete strangers) home and shower us. There may have been a message there - we had been camping out for several days. I held back some of Gwen’s fudge from The Tribe and am eating it now. Their many kindnesses would take another article to enumerate. We went to the Valley of the Caves the next day, and on the way Virginia had a flat tire. No big deal we thought. However.....It soon became obvious that the gods were not on our side. Several plugs failed to fix the leak, and when the spare was about to be put into service, it was noted that it was several inches smaller than the rest of the tires. But Wait! If you order now there is more! It was noted that the spare could not be removed because the trailer hitch was in the way. So we removed the trailer hitch which required removing the bumper. Did I mention the spare was locked on, and good old Virgie had no key? We made it to the Cave of the Olla without further ado and then visited Mata Ortiz, spending all our money on pots, and meeting Juan Quesada, the man who started the pottery revolution in the village. The next point of interest down the highway was the prehistoric ruins of Cuarenta Casas where an elevation loss and gain of 1,000 feet sorely tried my ancient feet and lungs.  

The next day, with a little help from Bob Martin, we found the Basaseachi waterfall nearly dry  and then headed toward Creel in a snowstorm. Yep, a real snowstorm on a dirt road no less.  I get nervous in snowstorms, reminds me of when my mother put me out in a basket for the wolves to get. Creel had not changed much, well maybe a little, like the new KOA we stayed in.  That darned Gringo culture is showing up everywhere! Got the troops lost twice trying to find a nearby waterfall. 

Then pointed them toward Batopilas at the bottom of one of the four canyons which make up Copper Canyon Country. Running late, we stopped at the old silver mining ghost town of La Bufa and found the local character, Don Bush. 

 I plan to go back someday and steal his library. Outstanding! He took us to a Tarahumara Easter dance but didn’t tell us they put a curse on the Hughes’ radiator.

Four or five of our guys, led by Paul, took it out and fixed it. One to do the work and four to tell him contradicting stories on how to do it. The high point for Pat was the friendly but drunk Tarahumara who showed up in their solitary darkened campsite with an apparent crush on white haired Gringas. 

Back in Creel we let Warren go off by himself, and he promptly flung his truck sideways into some poor Mexican kid. He claims the kid ran into the side of the truck of course. Everyone went down to the police station and surprisingly, in a friendly fashion everything was sorted out.

Then we were off to points on the railroad like El Divisadero where you can look down into Copper Canyon. It was then that the cat herding became impossible. Three of the crew left to head home early. This left Page/Ferry, Dippy Nelson (w/Bill), and the Martins to go to Urique with us.

 We noticed Page’s front wheel leaning but presumed it was just cringing from the several thousand foot drop at the edge of the road. A closer look showed it suffered from the usual Nissan bolt-dropping syndrome. The next town (Bahuichivo) had two auto parts stores and three repair shops, or was it the other way around? Eureka! They had the right bolt and two stripped bolts were replaced with different threaded bolts for 10 bucks. Got him all the way back to Anna (Who probably didn’t care anyway after the way he kept trying to apply shampoo to my poor wife’s wet slippery body the whole trip). 

The high point of the trip was no doubt the Roach Hotel in Chinipas. We gave our roaches names which made it kind of homey. Overheard on the street was a screeching sound when someone backed into the Martin’s cow skull. The Caves we had heard rumors about were a two day hike UP to the top of the mountain. Forget UP, so we headed on to Alamos with The Fearful Leader running at both ends.  Hard to command respect that way. 

Alamos was a bust. Dr. Pender was sick, and Bernie had left the day before so we had no hacienda to show people. There was, however, La Mansion, the converted-to-hotel hacienda we stayed in. Our bedroom suite was almost bigger than our house!

 The trip home was uneventful for our group, but the poor Hughes’ got run into in a gas station and had to go to the police station getting the same good treatment as Warren. I have never traveled with such a large number of criminals before. And my Toyota? Came home without a scratch, but there is the matter of the broken coil spring in the front. Probably sabotage from someone I yelled at. Toyotas rule! Thanks to the several people who, trying hard to lighten our communications burden with the natives, mistakenly thought they were speaking Spanish! Ha!


DE Logo-with-coyote



Copper Canyon Completion


by Charles and Mary Hughes


After much discussion we decided to leave Creel Monday afternoon figuring we could make a 100 or so miles before dark. So we left, and the adventure began. Warren thought if we got to Madera we could camp at 40 Casas as the signs we saw at the park said it was OK to camp. We got there about eightish and the gate was locked. Went north a ways, nothing. Turned around headed back to 40 Casas. About a mile south of 40 Casas we spotted a dirt road and took it. A good spot for camping was found. 


We were on the road early next morning. Warren found the gravel road, and we took it to the blacktop. When we got to Gomas Farias we retraced our steps through town. Warren thought we were going the wrong way and made a "Uey". After a little discussion we turned back and found our way. At Buenaventura we missed the left turn and went the wrong way on 10. I thought it was the wrong road as nothing looked familiar. I thought Warren did such a good job the day before he must be right. The further we went the more I thought it was wrong. As I reached for the "mike" Warren called and said he wanted to check the map. I felt all along we were wrong and should have said something sooner about it before we got to Ricardo Flores Magon. Made a "Uey" back to Buenavetura (60 clics). Made the turn and on our way to Janos. 


At Janos we stopped at the Pemex. I left Mary in the car and headed for the men’s. I came out and Mary said someone hit the car bashing in the doors on the right side. The guy would not trade papers and was very belligerent about the whole thing. I asked the Pemex guys to call the Policia, and they said no Policia in Janos to go to the next town. I told them I would not move the car until the Policia came ( We were blocking the pumps ) Mary said the car would not start. Sure enough it was dead. Warren gave us a jump, and it started. The Police came, and I moved the car to the side. We went to the Police Station, and they brought the driver in. After much discussion they gave me his driver info etc., and said they would make out a report and send it to me. I didn’t think they really would, but I had no choices and hoped I had enough info for the insurance Co. We left, headed for the border a 100 miles away. About a mile up the road I stopped to check the load on the roof and retie it when 2 of the cops pulled up behind me. They said they needed $10.00 to do the reports. I gave them the ten and told them I would send another ten when I got the reports. They shook hands on the deal, and away we went. 


We got to the Border, and Warren headed to US customs. I told him we had to turn in our car permits. He said US Customs would take them. I said no way they don’t care about them. It’s not their concern. Luckily he asked a Police Officer, and the Officer got him out of line to head over to Mexican Customs where after a 45 minute wait they took the stickers off. We crossed the Border. 


In Douglas I found the local Wal-Mart and with the battery warranty got a new battery. The battery was only 18 months old so we got a new one free. Off to Tucson. Just outside of Bisbee I turned on the headlights. Went to turn up the dash lights, and the car died just as I touched the switch. I said what the hell has that got to do with the car stalling? It cranked OK so I assumed my low fuel light was also out as the dash lights didn’t work. Dumped in the 5 gallon can of gas. Car restarted. Got into Tombstone and the cops pulled me over. I said what now? The whole day was downhill. I might as well get a ticket to top it off. The officer said my tail lights were out. I said I was having electrical problems as the dash lights were out also. I told him I was headed for the gas station just ahead to fix them. He said OK. We put in a new fuse, gassed up and decided to camp in Tombstone as it was so late after all the fooling around. Warren asked the gas guy about camping, and he sent us to a good area. 

Early AM we were off for Tucson where we split with Warren. He wanted to follow us to BHC to make sure nothing else happened. We convinced him it was not necessary as we have AAA+ and could get towed home if needed. We got home without further mishap, no leaks, no blown fuses, no lights out, no dead batteries. We were very, very fortunate to have been traveling with Warren. He was always thoughtful of us, never in a hurry and never complained about all the setbacks we continued to have on the trip home. He was just great. Once home, Mary became violently ill, which lasted into Friday. OK now, and we have finally settled back in. Our thanks to all for the help given at La Bufa. It was greatly appreciated.


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2000 Trip report - Baja California

22 January 2014 | 2000 Trips

Baja Xmas

by Neal Johns

December 23, 2000

Met son Dave Cox, friends Ken and Diane Sears, and Dave McFarland at 11:00 a.m. in the mini-mall (very) parking lot just left of the Tecate border crossing. Tecate is the only way to go; no crowds, no wait, no hassle. We asked permission to park in the few custom inspection spots and received it with two of us sent to park across the street in the reserved spots. Dave McFarland inadvertently parked on a gardener's hose and quickly moved when the gardener complained. The upset gardener told him $25 dollars or he would report his license plate number to the authorities. No deal said Dave M. So far Dave M. is still a free man but who knows who the gardener knows? 

We took the free route east on Hwy. 2 and tried to top off the gas at Rumarosa. No gasolina! We were going to do a lot of canyon exploring so we went to the outskirts of Mexicali and topped off, then back to take the road south toward Guadalupe Canyon (hot springs). We turned right in a few miles on a faint track seeking the Canyon de la Palmas Azules (blue palms - Erythea Armata). Blue palms are bluish green and are less common than the regular Washingtonia Filifera fan palms. Oops, wrong road. We found ourselves in a nice little cove/playa which would make a great campsite. Sharp-eyed wife Marian said, "Stop!" and walked over to a rock in the middle of the playa which had been used by Indians as a metate for grinding mesquite beans into flour. As usual, there was no mano (the hand held grinding rock) around. It's always a thrill to find the artifacts of an ancient people lying around. We left it there to bask in the sun, returned to the racecourse road parallel to the Guadalupe road and whooped further south. Finding another track, we tried again and found ourselves on the right route. Palm logs had been washed down miles from the mouth of the canyon so because it was getting dark we camped for the night. 

The next morning, we hiked up the very rocky canyon bajada for a mile and a half before pooping out just at the actual mouth of the canyon. The palms are usually a ways further up the canyon where there is permanent water and hey! give me a break, I'm 70 this month. 

Dec. 24 

The next canyon we tried was Tajo. We found the two-track road OK and drove to the end where a Gringo tent was erected. Tire tracks were there but no people. Left a DesertExplorers.org card on their table for a surprise. Just before we got to the end of the road there were a few Indian sleeping circles that we all admired and photographed. We were in a hurry (and sore from the rock hopping hike up Las Palmas Azules) so we retreated down canyon in our vehicles. 

We continued south and went toward Canyon Guadalupe where we stopped briefly in the flat spot where the roads to the left and right camping areas split. The two Daves had not seen Guadalupe before so while they checked it out, Marian wandered around finding many nearby bedrock slicks that had been used for metates and two mortar holes. Surprisingly, the campground was not crowded. Heading south again, we took the road toward Canyons Palomar and Isabel. Before we got there, we stopped and camped for the night in Canyon Alamar (commonly known as One Palm because of the single palm at the mouth). We had previously gotten permission to go through the gate and camp there from the vaquero who was tending the line shack (the original shack was gone – replaced with a slide-in camper on the ground). No one home this time. 

The Sears cooked a great Mexican meal for all of us. 

Dec. 25 Xmas day! 

Surrounded by the white sand of the canyon mouth under a palm tree in Baja. Life is good. We hiked up the canyon a mile to the petroglyphs, water, palms, and grinding slicks. There is a tinaja (natural bedrock water tank) nearby but it was dry. After the hike up Alamar, we headed south to Canyon El Mano. I had never driven up it before and today was the day. No problem getting to the bottom, but then the rocky foothill seemed to take forever to climb. Finally we came to the "Locked Gate" shown on the AAA Map and ….….. it was an unlocked cable across the road. Clean living, that’s what does it. Thinking doesn’t count, does it? Once upon a time, a long, long, time ago, the canyon was used for a SCORE race as evidenced by the painted arrows on the rocks. Other than that, no one in their right mind would go up it. Did I really say that? A few steep, loose, places made locking differentials nice to have but not absolutely necessary. That’s easy to say, since we all had them. Ha! The El Mano ranch house is used as a line shack but not lived in. Further on, we came to a "Y" and thought we had to go right through a very locked gate. Heart failure time turned out to be brain fade time because we determined left was the correct direction and proceeded with no problems. At the top, we wandered south through the pine forest until we got to Hwy. 3 west of Heroes de la Independencia. When we got back to the Sea of Cortez, we camped just after nightfall in the wash a mile or so northwest of the Hwy. 3/5 junction and had Xmas dinner! Roast pork, mashed potatoes, gravy, cauliflower, almond beans, jello-pineapple salad, flan and apple pie! Life is tough in the wilds of Baja. 

Dec. 26-27 

After eating Xmas dinner the night before, we struggled up by 8:00 a.m. and got underway to the nearby gas station at El Chinero. After I was 2/3 full, the attendant started wiggling the hose. "No mas!" he said. I gave the other people a smug smile and said I sure hoped they had gas for them in San Felipe. They were not amused. Gassed up in San Felipe and headed out to Agua Caliente Canyon. I had been by the ejido several times but never to the canyon. After lunch, in the mouth of the canyon, we drove to the end of the road (about two miles) and as usual, decided not to hike the two miles further to the hot springs. On the way out, we met two nicely dressed "agricultural workers" walking in, exchanged friendly waves and "Buenos tardes", and soon saw their two wheel Ford pickup parked at the canyon mouth. At that time we were not aware of the, ah, "bean field", that Baja friends David and Lorenzo had found further up. We went back to San Felipe and picked up Jimmy James, an Bill Chapman who stayed home for Xmas. Had dinner at George’s (we recommend) and drove north to camp near El Chinero junction again. The next morning, we went to the Jose Saldaña/Tres Pozos road and took it and the racecourse route west. A couple of miles from the pavement we stopped to rescue the Mexican army. Two of the young soldiers had taken mountain bikes out and one had a flat. Dave M. pumped the tire up and everyone went away smiling. 

We proceeded to Canyon Isabel and checked out the abandoned hunting lodge on the edge of the cliff overlooking the canyon. If anyone has the real story on this, let me know. I have heard two stories: This million-dollar establishment was built by a drug lord or was built by a crooked politician. It has large diesel generators, a guesthouse, beautiful swimming pool, and all the trimmings. It has been dead for a decade but used to have Keep Out, National Park signs on the roads leading in. We had lunch near a former Indian encampment and went north to Canyon Palomar. After taking pictures of the circular corral made of palm logs at the mouth, we continued up canyon via a 4WD road to Rancho Palomar. No one home as usual. There were dozens of palm trees and many grinding slicks in the large rocks in the streambed (no water – except for a trickle keeping the palms alive). We worked on the road past the ranch for a few minutes and continued up canyon a mile or so to the hot springs. There were long unused structures up on the bank and several pools. The water was lukewarm and the pools would require a lot of time and effort to clean. The lower concrete pool by the parking lot/end of the road needed another one or two hundred feet of hose to fill it with warm water so we camped there overnight unwashed. 

Dec. 28-29 

Back across the racecourse road east to Tres Pozos for lunch. Returned to San Felipe for gas and headed toward Canyon Matomi via Valle Chico. We camped for the night a few miles out of San Felipe at the small cave-filled hill area called Cuevitas. Many clamshells in the area spoke of ancient Indian inhabitants also camping there. The road up Matomi was far better than a couple of years when we chickened out. Near the end of the canyon, at Rancho Matomi, Rodrigo, the vaquero who had been there only a month, greeted us warmly and showed us around. The high point was the waterfall and pool that Baja friend David K. had mentioned. It was like Shangri La. My current wife reminded me that many years ago (before we were married), we had come here. In those days, I was, of course, an incomplete person and prone to forget things. Now I get reminded incessantly! Rodrigo's only transportation was a horse and the nearest town was 30 miles away so it is no wonder that he was proud of the deer he had shot for food. Poor Bambi. After affixing a David K’s "Viva Baja" bumper sticker to the door of a defunct pickup, we headed down canyon. Rather than retrace our steps or go down Parral Canyon, we elected to go down Matomi. The only problem was the dreaded squeeze through the narrow rocky part call White Rock. Surprise! It was like a freeway. Either the rains had cleared it out or the Baja 1000 people had worked it over. The crew mutinied at Puertocitos when we stopped for gas, so we camped in the palapas next to the restaurant, had dinner there that night and breakfast the next morning. Wimps. Marian was served beef burritos instead of the shrimp ones he ordered and took a bite out before she realized it. No problem. The waiter took her bitten burritos to another table that had ordered them. 

Dec. 30 

Headed south toward Mission/Canyon Calamujue. The road was in great shape, almost like it was when new! Gassed up again in Gonzaga (never pass by a gas station in Baja). Stopped at Las Arrastras for lunch and then took the lesser road from there east, which is the route of the El Camino Real. The Mission ruins consist of melted adobe walls, which were the hapel and the storehouses, and fallen rock walls that were the Indian quarters. The nearby artesian spring and the resultant white tufa formation had the most flow I had seen. The water from springs flows in the road for more than a mile but never fear, the mud has a bottom. After reaching Hwy. 1, we headed north to gas up in Catavina from five-gallon cans at $3 a gallon, and camp in our hidden palm oasis with a trickling stream through it. We went to sleep with a frog serenade. 

Dec. 31 

Got rolling this morning and headed for a pictograph site we had not been to. After going north on the Hwy. to El Progreso, we headed south on dirt for twenty miles or so and following some old, out-of-date directions, finally found Tinaja del Palo Verde. In a small arroyo, there is a natural tank in the bedrock, which was dry even though a small concrete dam has improved the tank. On the rock walls there were abstract painting hundreds of years old. Nearby, on the banks of the arroyo, discarded seashells from long ago feasts littered the ground. True to its name, Palo Verde trees shaded us as we ate lunch. This is in one of the most isolated places we had found rockart. Getting lost is half the fun of Baja travel and lost we were. The directions to the next rockart site were impossible to follow correctly, so we went on some "interesting" roads. Tipping over 30 degrees in a pickup with a pop-top camper on it should qualify you for the Adventurers’ Club. Giving it up, we returned in the dark to Arroyo San Fernando to camp in the nice sand wash a mile from Mission San Fernando. We had an uneventful New Years Eve. 

Jan. 1-3 

Went over to see the Mission, and at the petroglyph site near the Mission, we found an archeologist and group camped there. We had met the other half of their group near Tres Pozos on the other coast. Small world when it is only 60 miles across. A fancy new gate and fence showed off the adobe Mission ruins well. By this time, many of our people had headed home to take up their real lives. We took the last remaining soul to the Las Pintas petroglyph site southeast of El Rosario. There was no water in the waterfall so we got to explore the maze of passageways underneath the boulders below the falls. He was more interested in the fossil filled boulders than the rockart. On the way out, we decided to check how far up Arroyo San Fernando we could drive. After a few miles, the road dumped us into a ranch compound filled with two dozen people. Torn piñatas littered the ground. Apparently the relatives and kids had gathered for a big New Years Eve celebration. They talked us out of going further on the "malo camino", so we turned around and retraced our route to the highway. Headed home, we stopped for the night at Celito Lindo in San Quintin. The food was good which augurs well for the Spring Gathering there that M is cooking up. 

The next morning we headed for the Tecate border crossing (the only way to go). As usual, we stopped for lunch at Mustafa’s restaurant a few miles past Ensenada. The catch of the day was swordfish, which had –surprise!- a fishy taste. Next time we will ask what kind of fish before we order. At the border, in response to the usual question of "What do you have with you?" I answered, "Just an old wife and an old dog". La Migra rolled his eyes and said ‘Pass friend, you will soon have big troubles talking like that". And so I did.

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2003 Trip Report - Neal's Rescue from Mexico - Five versions of the same story

26 January 2014 | 2003 Trips

The story of Neal's Mexico Rescue - All five versions!

Size Counts (story #1)

by Marian Johns

I know what all of you are thinking, but in this case, it was a bigger hammer we needed, rather than the smaller one we pack along on our desert travels. A big hammer and a small Mexican named Pancho saved the day. Actually, the real heroes of this drama were some incredible friends – Bob and Marilyn Martin and John Page – who came 500 miles when we called for help. Plus, there was a little instrument of modern technology called a satellite phone, courtesy of son (and satellite tester), Jonathan, which was an indispensable item that enabled our rescue.


A week of exploring and wildflower viewing near Cataviña in Baja (about 300 miles south of the border) started off well enough as we “oohed” and “aahed” at the solid blankets of orange poppies covering the hills along I-15 between Corona and Lake Elsinore. But fate had other plans, and she dealt us a hand with a few unpleasant surprises. First of all, Neal’s bridge broke as he was pigging out on Jelly Bellies we had just purchased at Tom’s Farms. After considering different options, we found a dentist in Escondido who temporarily cemented it back in place. By the time Neal’s teeth were fixed, it was too late to cross the border, so we camped in the boonies near Tecate on the U.S. side.

The next morning, Wednesday, we crossed the border with no hassles, enjoyed the beautiful drive between Tecate and Ensenada, had lunch at our favorite restaurant, the Misión Santa Isabel in San Quentín, and arrived at our destination in the late afternoon.

The following day, we explored some two-track roads off in the boonies east and south of El Marmol and were heading back toward the main, paved highway. We had just started down a short slope into a wash, when a horrendous BANG! brought us to an instant stop. Besides a downward tilt, the front of the truck was listing noticeably to the left. With all of that, we were still unprepared for the sickening sight of a wheel turned at a right angle from its normal position. Closer inspection revealed a separated ball joint, and a lower “A” arm buried in the sand. The truck wasn’t going anywhere, and, consequently, neither were we. Should we try to walk out? It was about 10 miles to the highway. We would have to carry a lot of water and take Tessa (our Husky) too. And then what? We needed a new ball joint assembly, but where could we find that? Probably back in U.S.

My next thought and question was, “Did we bring the sat phone?”. Was I ever relieved when Neal said, “Yes.” And Hallelujah! the blessed thing worked! From there in the middle of nowhere, we were able to reach Bob Martin who readily agreed to come and help. Fortunately, Neal had written down the GPS coordinates for each of the junctions where we had made turns. He relayed those to Bob and also suggested that Bob come with someone – maybe John Page?

The truck was at such an odd angle, there was no way we could have slept in it that night, so in the dwindling daylight, we managed to jack up the front end and then dug out the rear wheels until it was much more level. Then the wind began to blow – persistently and with ever-increasing force – over 20 mph. It rocked and buffeted the truck and camper all night long. Even though we had two jacks under the front end, we expected, at any minute, the truck to fall off. But somehow, despite the raging wind, it managed to stay up on its precarious perch.

Friday morning, the wind continued, but at 10:00 a.m. we learned, via another phone call, that Bob and John were rounding up the new part and would be heading our way later that day. Things were looking up! Next, we braved the wind and hiked about a mile to the last junction where we tied blue tape on the bushes as a sign for Bob to turn there.

There was nothing to do then but wait. Because of the wind, we stayed holed up in the camper the rest of the day. We read and played cards, took a nap, and read and played cards.

The wind continued to howl through the second night, and on into the next day. About 1:00 Saturday afternoon, Neal turned on all of the radios we had – the CB, the two-meter ham, and the GMRS (General Mobile Radio Service). I was ecstatic when, finally, about 3:00, we began to hear our rescuers on the CB. They had planned to pretend they could not hear us, but chickened out when they heard the relief in our voices. It was a beautiful sight to see the Martins’ and John’s trucks coming over the hill.

The men immediately set about to remove the broken ball joint, and worked until dark. Unfortunately, no amount of hammering loosened the ball, so they decided they would somehow have to get the truck out to the highway. The wind continued throughout a third night.

In the morning they tried binding the parts together with a steel cable dog leash we had. We packed up everything and moved about one-eighth of a mile before it broke. 

What now? Then we remembered that Neal had several chains stashed away in his menagerie of emergency goodies. So they tried one of those next, and (another Hallelujah!) it held the whole the way!

It would have been too dangerous to drive on the highway, should the chain break. So, John and Neal took John’s truck and drove another six miles on the paved highway into Cataviña in search of a mechanic with the proper tools. They returned with Pancho and his BIG sledge hammer. Wow! With just a few whacks, he had the old ball removed and the new part installed. 

The secret to his success was the big hammer, and....he pounded at a downward angle instead of from the sides.

What a wonderful feeling of relief! And, besides that, the wind had finally died down. We weren’t really able to properly express our thanks and appreciation to Bob, Marilyn and John, but you can bet we will be forever grateful for their kindness and willingness to come all that way to bail us out of trouble.

During our ordeal we all but forgot about wildflowers, but as we headed home in our repaired truck, we were able to appreciate the colorful fields and roadsides where they seemed to be blooming everywhere.

Thanks again Bob, Marilyn and John!!!

Rescue mission (story #2)

by Marilyn Martin

About 8 p.m. while we were collapsing in front of the TV, the telephone rang. On the other end of a frequently disappearing connection was Neal Johns describing a Baja horror story. Of course, when we had the facts, we agreed to start an immediate search and rescue mission.

First there were our own problems to be dispensed with. We had been in Victorville all day making one of Marilyn’s all too frequent trips to Kaiser for yet more tests. As we live out in the boondocks any trip to town entails completing the list of things that need to be done there in addition to the main mission. To that extent we had a car load of items, some needing freezing, acquired at Costco. Marilyn had announced when we got home she was too tired to cope with them and would do it in the morning - famous last words.

We had not been to Baja for some time so immediately a list of to do items was started. Again living in the country causes a few inconveniences, not the least of which is acquiring cash. We have a MacDonalds but no bank. We had no Mexican auto insurance. Our membership in Discover Baja was long-expired. The dog had no international health certificate. ( No, we have never been asked to show it; however, we had friends who were asked for one, and their horror story of acquiring one in Mexico so they could get home really impressed us.)

Luckily John Page was available and volunteered, not only to go with us like the Lone Ranger, but to seek out the needed part described by Neal so Bob could get the stuff we needed while Marilyn coped with the Costco groceries and the loading of the truck and notifying our sons to be on the lookout for us in case we needed additional help. Bob also checked with the local mechanic, who has worked not only on our truck but Neal’s as well, to see if he needed any additional tools. “Just a big hammer”, was the answer - “nothing else”.

Somehow everything got done and we were on the road about 11:30 a.m. Friday morning. The wind in Cajon Pass was awful. It never stopped being awful all the way to San Diego. There were lovely wildflowers south of the 91 all over the hillsides.

The proper part was waiting for us at Toyota in San Bernardino. Once again Bob asked if we needed any special Toyota tools. Once again, “No, just a big hammer.”

We had to stop at Discover Baja in San Diego as they could not guarantee that we would receive our policy in time to leave Saturday a.m. (Once more the small inconvenience of living where the air is pure and the views go on forever.) Naturally the traffic was stop and go, and we took a “wrong” turn. That was number 1.

KOA San Diego was a welcome sight. John Page was an even more welcome sight. Going into Baja alone did not appeal to Marilyn to say the least; and having someone to help Bob and Neal seemed a really good idea. Not only that, but John appeared with a lovely seafood salad to share for dinner.

We crossed the border about 6:30 a.m. and were told no matter what we had been told we had to pay the $21 U. S. each for our Tourist Permits. We were in no position to waste time arguing. O.K. so we forgot to take the route marked Scenic and had to take a detour through Tijuana. Luckily it was early morning, so we found the right route without major mishap, and Marilyn got to try her limited and mostly forgotten Spanish.

In Ensenada we decided to very carefully follow the highway signs and wound up going the wrong way again to take the former, and luckily still open, go-around down by the harbor. There have been changes and a lot of growth in Ensenada since our last visit. John took over the lead, and no more wrong turns ensued. He couldn’t seem to stop the wind, however, and it was the worst we have encountered in a long time. The gasoline gauge decreased at an alarming rate. At one point we actually saw zopilotes flying backwards. Believe it! There were lovely wild flowers along the highway, and everything was green.

A lunch break at Misión Santa Isabel restaurant was greatly enjoyed. This place is really clean! The food was good, and we were inside out of the wind.

Finally we reached the place to start our GPS search. We had agreed to let Neal think we couldn’t find him. This was great fun for a while as we could hear Neal on the CB and continued to ignore him. Soon, however, we came to some unmarked intersections, and the fun ceased. The place Neal broke down is a warren of dirt roads. You could easily get into the wrong canyon. Then you would have to back track and start over. Luckily Bob guessed right (no wrong turns this time), and we finally found the sought-after blue tape.

A sorry sight greeted our eyes. How they managed to sleep in that truck is beyond me. The only comfortable one was Tessa. After all, sled dogs like bad weather. The men worked on the truck with no luck until dark then everyone crowded into the Martins’ camper to eat supper. At least the company was good.

The wind blew very hard all night, and at one time it got our attention when the blowing sand or leaves woke us up sounding like rain. Luckily it was a false alarm. That would have been the last straw.

As we drove prayerfully out at 5 miles an hour to Cataviña we got a chance to enjoy the lovely cardon and cirio garden that surrounds it. Some of the cardon were blossoming.

Pancho, whom Neal and John were darned lucky to find, and who understood a lot more English than he would admit, had the truck ready to run in short order. Some teasing ensued about all we needed in the first place was a real man - not to mention a really big hammer. A single-jack is not a big hammer!

As Neal, Marian and John hiked in the wind to see the palm canyon, Marilyn and Bob elected to set up camp and called time out. We noted we are none of us getting any younger and no one should go into Baja’s back country without some sort of a back up or at least a means of summoning help. Cell phones do not work. Neal’s and Bob’s ham radios were never heard, and even Marilyn’s voice did not carry far enough in the wind.

The trip home was nice, if hurried. The wind was down, and the wait at the border was only 40 minutes. The Thousand Trails at Pio Pico where we were to spend the night was a welcome sight. At 6 a.m. Tuesday we gratefully headed for home thankful that the trip had gone so well, and, except for Neal’s pocketbook, no real harm was done to man nor beast.

Search and Rescue of Marian and Neal (story #3)

By John Page

Thursday night, March 27, 2003: message on the Page answer machine from Bob Martin: “Are you ready to go to Baja to rescue Neal?”

I thought briefly about the many insults and injustices I’ve gotten from Mr. Johns over the years, but then I realized that the lovely Ste. Marian was also in peril, so I returned Bob’s call, and agreed to join his rescue mission.

Bob told me that he’d gotten a call for help from Neal on his satellite phone, who was stranded with a wife, a dog, and a broken Toyota in remote Baja back-country northeast of Cataviña, several miles off the old road from El Marmol. Neal had given Bob his GPS location, directions to that location, and the name of the broken part: the lower ball joint assembly in the left front suspension of a 1999 4wd Toyota Tacoma.

There are several Toyota dealers near my home so we agreed for me to get the new left front lower ball joint assembly. We would meet at San Diego KOA Friday afternoon and cross into Mexico early Saturday morning.

I packed my truck that night and my clothes in the morning. I included a small floor jack, a couple of jack stands, and two torque wrenches to my regular assortment of repair tools. and, later, after talking with Toyota, added a large single-jack (small sledge) hammer.

Called my Toyota parts person. He did not have the part in stock but would order it, and I should have it on Monday. I said no. So then he searched the Toyota parts database and located the only lower left front ball joint assembly in Southern California at the Toyota dealer in San Bernardino; easy for Martins to pick up on their way south. I asked about special tools, and he said all we’d need is “a very large hammer.”

Called Toyota in San Bernardino and confirmed that they had the part, which I told them to hold, and then called Bob, who agreed to pick it up.

Called Discover Baja who renewed my membership, sold me three days insurance, and e-mailed (PDF file) the policy to me so I could print it out at home. I really expected to be home Sunday night but added Monday to be prudent, which was wise, although, as it turned out, I did not need the insurance.

Late Friday morning, I kissed Anna goodbye and drove to Chula Vista, where I checked into a KOA Kabin for a fast start the next day. The Martins had not arrived yet so I drove to San Ysidro to change $400 into pesos for Martins and myself.

Then back to Chula Vista Costco for gasoline and a Shrimp and Krab salad plate to contribute to dinner with the Martins. (Turns out there is a money exchange at the Costco, so I could have avoided the drive to San Ysidro.)

Pleasant dinner in the KOA campground with the Martins, but we retired early because we had a big day ahead.

Up at 5:30 and across the border by 6:30 after paying $21 for the Tourist Pass which we had expected to be free because the duration of our trip was less than seven days. [Later: I reported this to Discover Baja who said they would discuss it with the Mexican authorities they were scheduled to meet in a few days.]

We took a scenic side trip though northern Tijuana after the Martins missed a sign to the “Scenic Road” to Ensenada.

Then we made it through Ensenada by about 9:30 in spite of the Martins missing the turn to Ensenada Centro which is the shortest way through town.

Worked our way south through very strong winds, which took a heavy toll of gasoline from the Martins’ truck with its pop-top and large frontal area. Great lunch at Misiõn Santa Isabel restaurant in San Quintin. Gas in El Rosario.

It has been several years since my last trip down Mex 1, and a lot of memories came up as we passed side roads to places we’d visited on previous trips over a period of 40 years.

At 3:00 we were off the highway a few miles north of Cataviña and started following Neal’s directions to his location. The directions Bob had were pretty good, but he had to make a guess at one or two Y’s. Luckily, he guessed right.

Found the Johns by 3:30. They acted as if they were happy to see us.

The truck was heading downhill on a little bank into a 50-ft wide wash. The front tires didn’t line up very well, the left having fallen over on its side when the ball joint failed. We used the floor jack to raise the truck and jack stands for safety before we started working on it.

The failure was in the socket which “uncaptured” its ball, allowing the ball to pull free. The ball, mounted on a tapered pin, had to be removed before we could install the new assembly.

We could not remove the old part. Toyota people had told us all we needed in the way of special tools was a large hammer to break the tight fit between the tapered pin and its sleeve. The Toyota Manual recommends use of a rugged, special “puller” tool which uses a strong screw to push the pin out of the tapered sleeve.

We supported the pin using Neal’s light hydraulic jack while we beat and beat on the sleeve, to no avail. We tried heating the sleeve so that it would expand away from the pin and hit it some more; that didn’t work either. We tried hitting down on the sleeve using a bar; that didn’t work either. We finally quit working just before dark. It was
pretty clear that we needed either a better tool, or more smarts on balljoint removal, or both.

Spent the night in my tent to avoid the blowing sand. Slept well.

In the morning, Neal and Bob figured out a way, using a steel dog leash, to lash the ball joint together to, maybe, get us to Cataviña for help.

We started out, and the dog’s leash failed right away, so they found some small chain that was stronger and looked like it would work just about as well, maybe better. That lash-up worked O.K.

Drove 5 or 6 miles at about 5 mph (plus stops to check the lash-up) to the La Virgen Shrine on the old main dirt road where we decided to hold up because it is quite easy to get to and has a nice flat, firm, working area.

Neal and I left the others at the Shrine while we drove my truck 6 miles to Cataviña to find a mechanic on Sunday. The guy in the tire shop across from the La Pinta hotel said he couldn’t help us, but he had a friend who was a good mechanic who lived in a nearby rancho.

Neal asked the tire guy to guide him to his friend’s rancho. The tire guy said O.K. and closed up his shop, and they took off in my truck. I stayed at the café next door to the tire shop and sipped on agua purificada while Neal and the tire guy rounded up the mechanic.

They returned in a very short while, along with the mechanic, Pancho, in his own truck.

Pancho did not want to drive his truck into the back country, so we took him, with Neal sitting/lying comfortably on the console of my truck. The mechanic asked if we had tools and we said “yes” but Pancho still wanted his BIG HAMMER, which he brought along.

When we returned to the Shrine and the Johns’ truck. We jacked up the chassis, removed the left front tire, and set the safety jack stands. Pancho wanted a solid support for the pin before he started working on it, rejecting Neal’s small hydraulic jack in favor of my larger hydraulic jack.

He jacked up the pin and disappeared under the car with the BIG HAMMER. Bang, Bang, BANG! and the pin was free!

A few more minutes with conventional wrenches and sockets and the old part was out and the new one in place. The whole operation took 20 minutes or less. Apparently the secret is to have the pin very solidly supported and to hit down on the sleeve with the BIG HAMMER. My contribution to the operation was the amusement generated by my offer to supply a torque wrench for re-assembly to Toyota specs.

We all drove to Cataviña to return Pancho to his truck.

It was early afternoon, too late to return home, so the Johns offered to take us to a pretty canyon they had just found.

We decided to visit that canyon, crossing a broad wash that looked like a good campsite, where the Martins hunkered down while the Johns and I went on for some sight-seeing.

We parked at the mouth of the canyon and hiked half to three-quarters of a mile up the canyon, past a couple of tinajas (pools of water) and looked around at the many palm trees, including some up high, far from the water table. As advertised, it was a pretty canyon.

Returned to the wash with the Martins and set up camp. I called home, using Neal’s satellite phone, to tell Anna that we had found the Johns and fixed their truck and all was well but that I would not be home until Monday night. The wind was finally waning, so I slept comfortably on my cot, sans tent.

Up a few minutes after 5:00 the next morning, we broke camp early, and drove back to the old road where we separated; the Martins and I heading north along roads leading to the highway, and the Johns going the other way to continue their vacation.

We stopped briefly for a tailgate lunch by the El Palamar in Santo Tomas and made it through Ensenada to the Tecate border crossing by mid-afternoon, without any wrong turns. We waited about half an hour in line to return to the U.S.. After crossing, we exchanged our remaining pesos back to dollars, and the Martins headed west towards Otay Mesa to an RV campground they knew, while I went east to Campo, Ocotillo, and north on S2 and 79 to I-15 and the 210 in order to avoid the San Diego and LA traffic.

I arrived home about 11:00 Monday night after a helluva weekend.

The Truth (story #4)

By John Page

It was really Marian on the CB that led us to the scene of the broken Toyota.

When we got there we found Neal lying huddled on the sand in the wash in the fetal position. He was twitching and jerking and sobbing hysterically. We could hear him babbling to himself “Save me, save me, please somebody, save me.” There was sand stuck to his face where the tears, the spittle drooling from the corners of his mouth, and the stuff coming out of his nose had all smeared together into a gooey, slimy mess. His eyes were red, and his pants were stained. He smelled of vomit.

Marian stepped calmly out of cab of the truck and looked at her miserable husband with disdain. “There, there, Neal,” she said, “I told you everything would work out OK.”

Bob found a roll of blue paper shop towels and wet it; the three of us, with some help from Marilyn, cleaned Neal up as best we could. He, of course, resisted being touched by water, but we overpowered him. It was quite a while before we had him wiped off, and he settled down and regressed to his normal obnoxious self.

Dear Editor:   (story #5)

As I read the account in the May issue of the newsletter of the Johns’ recent misadventure in Baja, I was surprised on several accounts.

First, who would have thought that Neal Johns still had two friends left in this world, let alone two intrepid souls willing to pay Mexican authorities $21 just to save his sorry little you know what, especially when his demise would have left a first rate Husky and a serviceable woman available for adoption?

Which brings us to the second surprise. Wouldn’t you think that Neal, a founding member of the Desert Explorers, would be knowledgeable not only of Rule 5 of the By Laws (“maximum loss (vehicle or people) is 10% per trip”), but also of Amendment B? This clearly states that the leader cannot be included in that percentage; of course, any children, animals or spouses legally in his/her possession at the time of the trip are eligible for inclusion. Perhaps this is what Neal was thinking of.

And the biggest surprise of all was to discover the Neal Johns still HAD a ball capable of being separated from its joint. Had the editor not included 3 eyewitness accounts and detailed photographs, I would have dismissed this as so much coyote melon.


Joan McGovern-White

  • Click to enlarge image 1BeforeBJFailure.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 2BustedDown.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 3 2ndFix.jpg
  • Click to enlarge image 4the-real-mechanic.jpg

2009 Trip Report - Baja, The Last Frontier

04 February 2014 | 2009 Trips

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!

(click Read More, below, to continue)

Member Doings - Baja Bucket List

03 August 2014 | 2014 Trips

Baja Bucket List

by Neal Johns

Friend and follow Desert Explorer Jay (Taco Feliz on the Baja Nomad board) offered to lead a laid back trip to Baja with the main goal being a mile hike over a pristine section of the El Camino Real (a centuries old mule/foot trail connecting the Missions) about 370 miles below the border. Since I had wanted to do this hike for some time, I jumped at the offer. Our crew consisted of three vehicles (two Tacoma’s and a Tundra) and six people (Jay and his friend, Stan, Marian and me, and Ivan and Janet – new Desert Explorer members from Colorado).

     We all crossed the border separately and met at Papa Fernandez’s camp on Gonzaga Bay on the east coast of Baja. The weather was perfect the whole eight day trip. The next day we headed south and took the old, pre-pavement road to the abandoned mining town of Desengańo and turned north to visit the famous Tinaja (natural waterhole) Yubay on the El Camino Real. Well, at least I did; our Fearful Leader Jay and Ivan (who claimed this was his favorite road) missed the turn. Current wife Marian, soon to be replaced if she does not change her ways, said over the radio “Why can Neal remember every rock and turn in Baja but can’t find his way to the grocery store at home?” Despite a several year drought in Baja, there was water in the Tinaja and a large bird flew away as we approached. Back in the day, I told people it was a short, 20 minute walk to the Tinaja, but now I am ashamed to mention the time it takes me to stumble and weave over the rock-filled dry streambed. Nevertheless, it is always a pleasant hike. Ivan and I were the only ones that completed the walk – which included visiting nearby rock art and bedrock metate grinding sites. We were gone for quite a while and the waiting wimps were getting nervous about us being in trouble.

     The next day we continued south to Bahia de Los Angeles where, after applying Rule One in Baja (gassing up any chance you get), we took a bad road north along the coast to La Gringa (named thus because a deceased American lady’s body was found there decades ago according to local folklore). Our Fearful Leader, Jay, was not impressed with the camping spot there so we went back to camp at a more civilized palapa at Daggett’s Camp on a nice sand beach, named after an early explorer and miner of the area.

     Dawn broke and we headed south toward Tinaja Santa Maria, stopping to visit the only remaining building in Los Flores, the jail. Los Flores is the abandoned village at the bottom of the abandoned San Juan Mine tramway. We later visited the abandoned rancho of Los Paradones and the occupied rancho of La Bocana after turning off the main road. La Bocana is misnamed on the Baja Almanac maps as San Pedro. We fed lunch to the vaquero at La Bocana while Jay translated his stories. His father had ranched there before him and his brother lived in the house we passed on the way down the valley. Continuing onward a few miles, we headed south down several interconnecting sand washes to where the El Camino Real went north over a 150 foot saddle near Tinaja Santa Maria and camped.

At 5:30 a.m. the next morning, Marian, Ivan, Janet and I started north on the El Camino Real hike. It had previously been located on Google Earth and it was amazing to see the 150+ pound stones that were moved to one side to make the trail. Cattle and an occasional vaquero are the only users now. The 150 foot ascent was easy while we were fresh but we had decided to retrace our steps back to the vehicles and the return ascent was 300 feet. Guess who was the last straggler back up the hill? The shame, the shame, even my ancient wife beat me up the hill.

     After a Mountain Dew, we headed south for a pictograph cave a few tens of miles south, stopping at San Francisquito Bay for a too expensive lunch. The place was run down and we were the only gringos there. Proceeding to the site of the pictograph cave, we arrived just in time to camp. The next morning we hiked up to the cave and were treated to several paintings of Grand Mural Style art. Then onward to Mission Santa Gertrudes where we watched two horses browsing on short, sparse, grass on the edge of verdant pools. A hungry cat attached itself to our group and got fed for its troubles. Purr, purr.

     After checking out the Mission, we got lost in El Arco, regrouped and went to Guererro Negro for dinner at old faithful Malarrimo Motel where we camped and showered. In Guererro Negro we went to several auto parts stores looking for metric bolts to repair Ivan’s sway bar bracket which had parted company with the frame on one side. Finally, we were directed to the Caterpillar store where the bolts were supplied by helpful employees. Bring your own metric bolts to Baja.

     On the way to Mission San Borja we took the southeast route from Rosarito which was passable by cars but rather bumpy. Old acquaintance, Jose, and I had a limited conversation (due to my 200 words of Spanish) while most of the crew was given a long tour of the Mission by his wife and son. Most of his kids have flown the coop and live in town.

     The next stop was the well-known pictograph site at Montevideo. Marian lost her head and took 70 pictures! After that, we camped by the cliffs and were entertained by bird songs.

After driving out the north road, we back-tracked to Bahia de Los Angeles and gassed up before heading north toward home. Ivan left us to return on Hwy. 5 via Mission Calamajue.

     We took a not-so-short detour to the petroglyph site at Las Pintas south of El Rosario and found the farm on the way abandoned, probably due to the drought since it was dry land farming. The spring above Las Pintas rocks was barely wet and no water was at the bottom. What there were at the bottom were huge boulders embedded with of thousands of fossil shells. There was a small spring where you enter the small valley and a pipe led to a pila (above ground cistern) on the far side of the valley. No crops were growing. No tire tracks were evident. Baja tourism is way down due to the drug violence in mainland Mexico although Baja is very rarely affected. It is a great spot to camp – and we did.

     Next, on the way north on Hwy.1, we had lunch at one of the best restaurants in Baja, Restaurant Mision Isabel. It has both locals and gringos eating there, always a good sign. Wanting to be near the border for a Tuesday crossing at Tecate, we camped near Santo Tomas at a campground that Jay had found on the internet and Google Earth. When we got there it turned out to have been dead for several years but was a beautiful place with empty buildings, a dry little creek and many trees. And it was free! However – at dusk, when it was too late to move, an apparently somewhat inebriated gentleman showed up in a beat-up truck and said $24 dollars please for camping on my land. Sigh. There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.

     In the morning, we took Hwy. 3 from Ensenada to Tecate and had brunch at another favorite eatery: Mustafa’s. After several years’ absence, Mustafa’s hot daughter was back helping dad. I hardly noticed her – and I have the bruises to prove it, just ask Marian. Soon Tecate appeared and we got in line for the border crossing. It took about 50 minutes which is somewhat more than average. Jay was sent to Secondary for further inspection and we have not seen him since. Oh well, easy come, easy go. We are home in Lytle Creek! Another great trip was completed with no major problems of any kind


Neal and Jay's Excellent Adventure

(Jay Lawrence’s version of the trip)Late Spring 2014 Baja Loop So Neal says to me “Gee, I’d really like to hike this one piece of the Camino Real sometime, it’s only a mile or two. “Only 100’ altitude gain” he said, without a lot of spin. Further conversation revealed the piece he was talking about was right near Tinaja Santa Maria, south and west from Bahia de Los Angeles. Also the site of an earlier exploration we had done with John Marnell, Allan Romspert, his buddy Tim, and Neal’s current wife Marian in 2009 or so. On that expedition, we found the tinaja we were looking for only after spending hours one day bushwhacking up the wrong arroyo until the supporting cast mutinied in favor of cold beers and dinner. Not wanting to risk a repeat performance, we traded Google Earth images and .kml files until we agreed on exactly where we were heading. This is a VERY good idea when traveling with Neal. He has some scrambled priorities, not the least of which is that he would rather sleep in a burro wallow than stay anywhere near water.This spot was also near a place I had passed too many times without exploring, the wall paintings on the side of Mesa el Carmen near El Arco. OK, we’re on, this time for sure! Neal roped new friends Ivan and Janet from Colorado in on the deal and we made plans to meet near Gonzaga Bay at Rancho Grande. I conned my friend and Baja traveling buddy Stan into coming along and the plan was put into motion. From experience, he has become quite wary when the words “Neal” and “trip” are used in the same sentence. My faithful dog Escuincle (Squink for short) completed the entourage.

We did meet at Rancho Grande, there was no gas at the Pemex or the store so we tallied up our mile ranges, fuel supplies and headed out. First stop was to say hi to Coco and drop off some cat kibble. He was doing well and we swapped stories for a while and eventually said our goodbyes. On toward Mex 1 with a short stop for Ivan to diagnose and repair a broken idler arm. OK, something broke. Now it was a real Baja trip.

After a brief bit of pavement, Ivan expressed an interest in the El Desengaño cutoff on the way to LA Bay. Neal piped up with “well, if you’re going to go there, we should also swing by Tinaja Yubay, it’s right nearby!” So we did take the cutoff. To say it is now pretty whooped out would be a generous description. Only foundations and a claim marker remain at El Desengaño now. The old cabin and shaft ladders are long gone so it’s easy to go right by, which we did. Took the Yubay cutoff and made our way to the arroyo. I had been there years before (like 25?) and didn’t recognize our trailhead. The “twenty minute walk” turned into an hour plus of boulder hopping. Neal and Ivan made it to the tinaja, the rest of us wimps bailed at various stages. Another hour passed and almost another without seeing Neal and Ivan. We hiked to the first saddle on the trail and lo and behold, here came our two stragglers. Finally. They had found the tinaja and had kept up the hike to the pictograph site nearby. Neal got an earful from Marian about making her (us) worry. Again. I told him we would ratchet strap his mouldering carcass to the hood if we had to drag home after he took a header into a boulder pile. It’s good to have friends.

We retraced our cutoff trail to Desengaño, took a brief look around and headed off to LA Bay and a great dinner on the water with adult beverages. Thinking we might camp at La Gringa, we took a run down that crummy piece of washboard and found it wanting. Clearly the only good place to camp had been fenced off and developed. A quick run back toward town put us at Daggett’s for a fine overnight site with palapas and warm showers. Civilized.

Hit the Pemex, hit the market, hit the auto parts store and headed south toward Las Flores where we stopped for a couple of minutes for photos then moved on. Taking a turn to the south about a dozen miles below Las Flores we headed off the beaten path, making a stop at Rancho Las Paredones with its big rock wall corral. The cabin was gone, the Karmann Ghia wreck was gone. Very abandoned. Another ten miles south and we stopped at Rancho La Bocana. The rancher was home so we offered him some lunch and we had a fine meal together under the only tree nearby. He told us a bit about the area and that his family had been raising cattle in this area since his father was a boy. We talked about Tinaja Santa Maria and the trail we wanted to explore. He wished us well and we headed on toward our trailhead, hoping to hit the correct arroyo this time.

We did. The first mile was a piece of cake, firm sand, wide spaces between the cactus and few surprises. Thank you GPS and Google Earth. The going slowed as the plants and terrain cooperated less and less. I had put my friend Stan at the wheel and he asked me “Are you sure you want to do this?” more than once. I assured him I did and we carried on with Neal and Marian in the lead in their Tacoma followed by Ivan and Janet in their Tacoma and us bringing up the rear in my Tundra. We had a sizeable bit of new desert pinstriping but we did make it to our trailhead at which point it was time for the customary ‘safe arrival’ beer. Neal scouted out the Camino Real trailhead and it turned out to actually be about 25 feet from the drivers door of my truck.Ever eager, Neal convinced Marian, Ivan and Janet to hit the trail at 5:30am! Stan and I declined, quietly agreeing that if we had wanted to get up before dawn to hike we would have joined the army. The hikers took off the next morning, time passed and about the time we expected to see them back I hiked up to where the trail went over the ridge to see if there were any survivors. Janet turned up first, then Marian and finally the stragglers, Ivan and Neal, looking more than slightly worn. Turns out the route they originally wanted to take back to camp was too overgrown and they came back up the way they walked down. The “100 foot altitude gain” spoken about had increased in a mighty way somehow.

Once everybody had a breather we made our way back down the arroyo, joined the east-west trail back toward San Francisquito and headed there for lunch. The once unpopulated hurricane hole known by every boater that was ever in that area has been turned into an official looking marina with cyclone fence and guard gate. The old place at the foot of the runway now has more buildings everywhere, a couple newish dirt roads and crazy prices for lunch. A couple of us opted to eat out of our coolers and the rich folk had fish tacos for $12 per person. Too rich for my frugal blood. A peanutbutter sandwich and a Negro Modelo would do me just fine. Squink Dog enjoyed a good shoreline romp.

Onward to Mesa el Carmen. Easy drive, we arrived in time for coctail hour, and with enough sunlight to make an educated guess at our trail for the next day. Ivan had spotted the correct route and we put the plan into action in the morning. The hike up to the shallow cave turned out to be easy, and what a reward. The wall paintings (pictographs) were outstanding, in the Grand Mural style of the paintings in the canyons below San Fernando de la Sierra. Many photos were taken and there was some exploration of nearby shelter caves. A very, very worthwhile hike.

We headed toward El Arco with a brief stop at Pozo Aleman (abandoned) to take a look around. In its day it must have been quite a place. Looks a bit rough these days except for the cemetery which is well tended.

On toward Rancho Miraflores and Mision Santa Gertrudis. For Neal and Marian this was a return engagement but for the rest of us it was a spot we had managed to miss over the years. The mission site is a beautiful spot with a small spring and a couple of ranch buildings. The caretaker opened up the restored mission for us and gave us a bit of the history. We were glad to have taken the time to get there and took a lunch break in the shade.

Ready for a hot meal, the entourage headed for Guerrero Negro, but not before getting briefly lost in the maze of roads at El Arco. Some day I’ll be able to find the road I want on the first try but it hasn’t happened yet. Dinner at the Malarrimo restaurant and hot showers in the morning.OK, northbound now. North to Ejido Nuevo Rosarito then northeast to Mision San Borja. The compound is looking good and Jose and family are prospering. Son Genaro and his mom graciously escorted us all over the mission and the grounds. Most of us had been there over the years but there are always things to see and new questions to ask. Genaro has become a very knowledgeable archeologist, splitting time in his Mexicali office teaching and exploring the Baja penninsula. A really good guy with a wealth of information and an exceptional spirit. You could sense how proud of him his parents were even though they didn’t say so out loud.

We visited until the mid-afternoon and said our goodbyes, heading out on the north road to overnight at Montevideo. The evening was beautiful with a fine campfire. Sunrise arrived with some high fog to the north, giving everything a completely new look. We explored, took photos and eventually headed back to LA Bay for a bit of Pemex.

We visited until the mid-afternoon and said our goodbyes, heading out on the north road to overnight at Montevideo. The evening was beautiful with a fine campfire. Sunrise arrived with some high fog to the north, giving everything a completely new look. We explored, took photos and eventually headed back to LA Bay for a bit of Pemex.

Wanting to stop for the day within easy striking distance of the border, at Santo Tomas we turned toward La Bocana and looked for the old campground David K had mentioned at some point. We found it, abandoned, and pulled up some camp chairs and enjoyed the evening. Just about dark a thrashed pickup with two very inebriated men in it pulled up and the driver explained that this was his property and we needed to pay him $20 to stay there overnight. I did, and somehow when Neal talked to him it turned into $24. Oh well. We thanked him for his hospitality and he and friend made their way back where ever they called home. No idea if either one of them was actually the land owner but the situation did not look good for additional questions and answers. Dog agreed.

Back to the border zone. Lunch at Mustafa’s in Valle de Guadelupe, head to the border, wait in line, spend some time in secondary. The usual. The agent in secondary was super pleasant and without any hint of attitude, which we really appreciated. A great trip was had by all. Good people, met new friends, visited with old ones, ate good food, few things broke, saw some new places, only got a little lost. An excellent Baja run. Just makes me want to get back again quickly.Jay

  • Click to enlarge image Pictos Yubay.jpg


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