Part 1: San Diego to El Golfo de Santa Clara, Sonora, Mexico


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The Experience

Our good friend Roberto picked us up at our house in his wife's minivan and we traveled east on I-8 and then south into Mexicali.  Since it was a week day, traffic was light and the minivan was able to travel at full highway speed.  We crossed the border in Mexicali and then headed east toward San Luis de Rio Colorado and had lunch.  The other members of our group met us at the restaurant and from there we traveled as a caravan to our destination in El Golfo.

The Photos

The photos below are what we saw.

We stopped for lunch in San Luis de Rio Colorado just south of Yuma, AZ.  From my seat in the restaurant I could see the confused wiring used by the locals.  Given the shoddy nature of the setup, I could only assume that they were pirating electricity from the electric company.  Cost effective, but very dangerous.

From San Luis we headed south on the new toll road toward El Golfo.  The road was laser-straight across the featureless plains of the Colorado River delta.

The tidal areas are mirror-flat and stretch for tens of miles in every direction.  There is nary a tree to be seen.  Above, you can see all the way across the gulf to the mountains on the Baja side of the Sea of Cortez.

Roberto reserved our hotel and it was basic in every way, but it met our requirements.  Roberto carried his motorcycle on a "hitch-haul" which worked well, but caused us to scrape on every little bump in the road.

Every country in the world has a group of "haves" and "have-nots".  Above is a "have-not" domicile made out of cast-off materials.  In case you are interested, this place is for sale.

This place was across the street from our hotel and the photo above shows the view from our balcony.  These folks are the "haves".  In the distance you can see the Sea of Cortez.

The hotel was basic, but clean and in reasonable repair.  It had two pools and outdoor seating and BBQ areas for cooking.

The street above is next to the hotel and is dirt.  When it is dry and windy, the area is very dusty.

We walked from the hotel to the beach and we spotted this whale vertebra so Kathleen posed next to it to provide a sense of scale.

While at the beach, we spotted a fishing crew returning in their panga.  They will put ashore on the shallow beach and use their pickup and trailer to recover the panga.

Across the Mar de Cortez is - Picacho del Diablo.  At about 10,000 feet it is the tallest mountain in Baja and perhaps 50 miles from El Golfo.  The dark spot at the left-center of the photo above is a person in the water.  The muddy areas of the tidal flats are clearly visible.  These areas are dangerous for vehicles of any kind.

We had a nice dinner at a local restaurant called El Delfin and then returned to the hotel for some alcohol therapy.  Next morning we were up at daybreak.  From our balcony we could see the fishermen heading out to sea.

We headed to the VIP for ham and cheese burritos and gasoline.  Our Rzrs were packed with the essentials: gas, water and beer.

Kathleen has finished stuffing her face with her burrito and is ready to roll.  The sign in the window shows the day's exchange rate: 17.85 pesos to one dollar.

Most trips to and from El Gulfo seem to go through the city dump.  The dump is in a canyon that goes from the tidal flats to the mesa above.  Once on the mesa, we could see the high dunes of the Altar Desert to our north.  We still had quite a distance to go to get to the dunes, but unlike the Unimogs, we were able to travel at high speed across the rough terrain.

We set our sights on the distant dunes and settled in for the ride.

The trail to the dunes was laser-straight but quite rough.  The blowing sand makes hillocks that we refer to as "tundra" and it makes going very rough.  The good news is that the suspension in the Rzr is excellent and allows travel at reasonable speeds without shaking loose the fillings in your teeth.

It has been some years since we had been to the Altar and it was just a daunting as we recalled: massive dunes with steep faces that go on for over a hundred miles.

The Rzrs were able to go down nearly every slope, but returning uphill was not always possible.  The sand is powder-fine and very soft making some slopes impossible.

Kathleen was fully suited up in protective gear and having fun.

We made the all-important beer stop to check the equipment.

As we proceeded north, wide sand valleys opened up between the tall dunes.  We were lucky that the wind was calm so there was no blowing sand.

From the crest of a high dune we could see across the Mar de Cortez to Picacho del Diablo on the spine of the Baja peninsula.

When we roll, we all have full protective gear: boots, helmets, ear protection, goggles and body armor.

We took a winding path through the dunes following the natural flow of the sand slopes.  Some of the dunes presented sharp faces that are called "razorbacks".  A long razorback is visible in the center of the photo above.  These razorbacks are difficult and scary to traverse.  Also visible is El Pinacate volcanic peak 60 miles or so to our east and north of our destination for the next day.

Look closely at the center of photo above and you can see two sets of tracks coming from the ridge to the bowl below.  The Rzrs were able to make the descent, but once you start down, there is no going back.  The sand is so steep that you can only follow a straight path or risk rolling.  This was a very, very large dune.

We had high clouds which moderated the temperature somewhat, but it was still hot requiring frequent water breaks.  From the left in the photo above: Kai, Bill, Dan, Bobby and Roberto.

A classic razorback dune with the graceful "S" shaped crest.

Plenty of really tall dunes.  Many of these large "star" dunes have hard-pan bottoms that are flat.  When we have traversed the Altar with the Unimogs in the past, these bottom areas made reasonable campsites as they were somewhat sheltered from the relentless wind.

The group traversed the dunes with relative ease as none of us got stuck.  This was in great contrast to our Unimog trips where every truck got stuck at least once every day.

By 1400 we were tired and hungry, so we headed back to El Golfo and found a small street vendor who was selling seafood cocktails.  He just pulls his truck up to the curb and sets up shop.

Note the size of the serving containers on his work bench.  These are large glasses that he filled with mixed seafood: shrimp, octopus, sea snails and clams.  Then he adds cucumbers and a combination of tomato and lime juice.  Served cold with saltine crackers and tortilla chips, these are both refreshing and quite filling.

We headed back to the hotel for a dip in the pool and some alcohol therapy.  Tomorrow, a beach run along the tidal flats of the northern Sea of Cortez to Puerto Penasco for lunch and back.

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