Part 2: El Golfo to Puerto Penasco and Back


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The Trip

Dan had the idea that we should take the Rzrs along the beach and around the salt flats to Puerto Penasco for lunch, then return via the inverse route.  This was an interesting idea, but the distances were daunting.  The map suggested 60 (airline) miles, but the on-the-trail miles was much longer.  Plus, we suffered a mechanical failure due to the deep, soft sands of the beach increasing the travel time.  We did not reach Puerto Penasco (AKA Rocky Point) until around 1400.  Given an hour for lunch, we had a very long trip back to the hotel and would arrive in the dark unless some magic was performed.  We finally decided to travel a portion of the route on the highway and then swing south past the salt flats back to the beach.  It was a good thing that we used the fast route as we arrived at dark anyway and the dim light of sunset made choosing paths on the beach very challenging.

The Photos

The photos below are what we saw.

We left the hotel and headed down the arroyo to the beach and then turned east.  Many of the locals drive on the beach resulting in ruts in the sand which made for tough going on the motorcycles.  You can see the mud flats clearly in the photo above; very soft, very mucky, very dangerous.

Our first stop was the lighthouse on the bluffs above El Golfo.  This structure has been decommissioned, is no longer in use and has been the target for plenty of graffiti.

From the hill we had a commanding view to the south and west.  The spine of Baja was lost in the marine haze.

Dan and Bobby tried to make it up the hill to the lighthouse, but they were foiled by the loose sand.

From the top we had a clear view of some of the camping areas near the beach.  These are palapas for rent.  Note the mud flats with the isolated pools of salt water that create dangerous hazards when driving near the water's edge.

These mud flats are very soft and difficult, or impossible, to traverse on foot.

There are a set of bluffs that parallel the beach that can trap you at high tide.  Inspecting the tide chart before attempting a beach run is critical.

The soft sand makes using a kickstand on the motorcycle impossible.  So, the standard procedure is to allow the rear tire to dig into the sand and support the bike.

"What's that burning rubber smell?"  Bobby inspects the rear of his Rzr and discovers that it has eaten the drive belt.  We had an extra belt (they fail quite frequently), but it would take an hour of work to replace it.  Note the smoke coming from the rear of the vehicle.

We removed the rear cargo cover to gain access to the engine compartment.  Note the smoke.

We had the tools we needed and Kai had replaced these belts before so the most difficult part of the task was removing the kevlar fibers from the clutch.  We used my Leatherman to cut the fibers and pick out the debris.  The new belt went on easily but did require several folks to push the vehicle to allow the belt to seat properly.

Kathleen took this photo with her iPhone while we were rolling (thus the blur) and it shows the slope on the beach.  At very high tide, the water is up to the cliffs at the left of the photo above.

After perhaps 20 miles on the beach, we turned inland toward the salt flats.  These areas are above the average high tide but below the maximum high tide so they periodically get flooded with salt water.  The relentless sun dries the seawater resulting in hard, white salt flats.  But beware.  Some of these areas are only hard on the surface and if you break through, it is bottomless muck that is impossible to traverse.

"Gee Bill, why did you take a photo of a hole with water in it?".  This spring is one of the only sources of non-sea water for 50 miles in any direction.  The water is salty, but potable and supports a number of nearby trees, bushes and grass.

Heading north from the spring, we followed the salt flats until we found the path that would allow us to continue east.

These flats look hard and dry but they are not.  The dirt is silt and the crust, while appearing dry, is likely not dry underneath.  Travel on these at your own risk because if you break through the crust, it is bottomless muck underneath.

As we got further north, we got a nice view of El Pinacate to the east.  These are volcanic craters and are the predominate landmark of the area.  We have been to the area before and the terrain there is very harsh.  The salt flats make a perfect foreground for the foreboding peak in the distance.

At the north end of the salt flats, we turned east again.  The trail follows the railroad tracks.  Though the tracks are in low use, we did encounter a train.  The engineer was clearly bored as he laid on the horn for us as he passed.

Much further east, El Pinacate comes into clearer view.  The white object is some kind of section boundary marker.  Also visible is a dune field to the west of the peak.  We have traversed those dunes in the Unimogs in a previous trip.

When we arrived in Puerto Penasco the bikes were running on fumes so we immediately pulled into the first Pemex we saw.  This area has grown significantly since the last time we were here.  This wind turbine is new.

After fuel, we headed to the Malecon (sea front) to find a restaurant for lunch.  We had eaten at this restaurant before, Flavio's, and they have a nice deck that extends over the water and provides a nice view of the condo towers in the distance.  The shrimp trawlers were in the bay hard at work.

Puerto Penasco is the closest water to Phoenix, AZ and Nogales, Sonora so it gets plenty of tourists.  This crew was being pulled by a panga, but left a body in the water which is visible at the left of the photo above.  They finally turned around to get him.

Lunch was good, albeit a bit pricey (tourist prices....).  From the left: Kathleen, Roberto, Kai, Dan, Bobby.

It was getting late so when we finished lunch, we headed out and back to the trail.  We followed the railroad for a while until it was clear that we were not going to make it back before dark.  We exited the trail and came south until we hit the new highway and then ran on the highway at 45mph until we got near the salt flats, then turned south.  The flats provided a final view of El Pinacate before we lost it in the coastal haze as we traveled west toward El Golfo.

The flats go on for many miles and are essentially a no-go zone for both man and beast.  If you break through the crust, you have big problems.

We traveled as fast as we could back to the beach and then headed west.  The deep, soft sand made high speed travel hard as the rolling friction of the sand put big loads on the Rzr motors.  Mindful that another broken belt would create a big problem, we traveled as fast as we thought the machines could withstand.  The sun was sinking rapidly in the west making visibility difficult.  Note the flooded tracks in the mud.

Roberto was following Dan and Bobby and due to the waning light they got much closer to the water's edge than they should have.  The Rzr, due to the wider tires, was able to escape, but Roberto's moto was not as lucky.  He dug a deep trench and it required several strong backs to get him out.  As the light was waning, we made best speed back to El Golfo.  We arrived after sunset, but there was just enough light for us to see what we were doing.  We washed the salt mud off the vehicles and then headed out for a tasty dinner at EL-46.

Next morning, we headed north back into the dunes.  From the top of the mesa north of El Golfo we could see the 10,000 foot Picacho del Diablo across the Mar de Cortez.

We traveled in the dunes for most of the day and then headed back to the hotel to clean up and get some chow.  The distant mountains are likely the Sierra del Rosario.

The Altar Desert served up a tasty sunset for our enjoyment.  In the distance, Dan and Bobby are out on the mud flats looking for "stuff".

We attempted to have dinner at the place we ate the night before, but he had run out of meat of any kind.  But, while we were there we realized that it was a day before Halloween and Dia de Los Muertos and there were people in costume.  This gal agreed to pose with us.  From the left: Bobby, Dan, Kai, unknown girl, Bill and Roberto.  After the photo, we hopped in the minivan and headed along the main street to look for any place that was open.  Being a Sunday night in El Golfo, the choices were limited.  After inspecting many places, we finally settled on a street taco vendor.  We had adobada and carne asada and it was very good.

Tomorrow, we head back to San Diego via the highway.  Not a difficult trip, but it did involve several Mexican military checkpoints, a border crossing and several CBP checkpoints.  Another well-executed expedition!

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