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Sunrise at Bahia San Felipe
Baja. Just the name invites intrigue and mystery. I have lived in the Southwest for most of my life and despite that fact, I have been enthralled with the idea of Baja California. Baja is unique in that it is relatively close to the continental US and has large tracts of undeveloped desert and mountains. For years, the off roading community in California had made trips to Baja seeking adventure, solitude and in some cases, just respite from the day-to-day grind of life in these United States.
I, too, was trapped by the lure of Baja. Well before I made my first disastrous trip down into the wilds of the interior, I had sought out all the information I could find. I scoured the used bookstores, both new and used, for books and travel guides. Buying and reading them only further increased my desire to go there. It was 1980 before I made my first trip, but it greatly exceeded my expectations for adventure.
The links below tell the sordid stories of my adventures in Baja. Some of the pages have photos. Sadly, the earliest trips happened before I owned a camera and therefore must be described solely in words. The later stories have scanned photos from standard prints with varying degrees of photo quality.
I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I did in remembering the trips to Baja.
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The following figures were from Baja California Almanac and show the index pages from the book. At $25, this book is reasonably priced, an outstanding value and is a great help when navigating the peninsula. I strongly recommend that you get it before you heading south as it is the best one that I have found. It is available, among other places, at the Map Center in San Diego as well as direct through their web site. They also sell a folding map that is not as detailed, but still provides great information. As you can see in the figures, the book a detailed section (2 pages) for each numbered region on the map. These are full topo maps and include a section for traveler's notes.
As you can see, Baja is a big place. Nearly 1100 miles long, careful attention to logistics are required before you go. As any person who has been there can attest, services are not always as they seem. Just because there is a Pemex station does not mean they have fuel. Forewarned is forearmed, so go prepared with fuel and water. Be sure to arm yourself with the most recent information before you go. Oh, one other thing. Baja is a desert. Water is in short supply -- most of the time. Rains can take a casual situation and turn it into a crisis, washing out roads, bridges and other infrastructure. Recently, in the fall of 2003, a hurricane put ashore at La Paz causing substantial damage and interruption to traffic on the main north-south highway. You can be stranded for days should such an event occur, so insure that you have extra food and water to meet your needs.
Figure 1. Baja California Norte (North)
Figure 2. Baja California Sur (South).
Mike's Sky Ranch and the Self Destructing Scout 1981 This is the story of my first, ill-fated journey to Baja and my suffering at the cruel hand of fate. We started at point number 11 on the Norte Map (Figure 1).
San Felipe Follies 1982. Since I did not get enough pain the first time, I came back for a second dose. San Felipe is point 12 on the Norte Map (Figure 1).
Baja 1000 1983. No stranger to the mishaps that can happen when traveling in a foreign country, I still elected to return. We were at San Matias wash which is point number 9 on the Norte Map (Figure 1).
Laguna Hanson 1985. We did this trip with the 3 wheelers as well as the trucks. Laguna Hanson is point 5 on the Norte Map (Figure 1.)
Rancho San Luis and the Great Pig Chase 1986. Just another great baja story. Fetid mud and pork.
While there was pain suffered in Baja, even knowing what I know now, I would still do it over again. Even today, in 2004, Baja is still a place of great adventure. In fact, even as I write, we are planning another trip to the wild Pacific side southwest of San Ignacio. If we get lucky, we will get to witness the migration and calving of the Pacific Gray Whale. I can't wait.
Having made many trips into Mexico, every one is different. Preparation and planning are critical for both having a good time as well as returning with your vehicle. Many obstacles exist on the roads in Mexico. I cannot count the number of flats that I have had, but I can say that there have been multiple occasions when I have had 2 flats at the same time. So, you need to be prepared to change flats yourself. Even if you were in an area where there was cell phone service, and that is rare, the auto club will offer no help. Be self sufficient. And be cautious. Roads and bridges are narrow. Cattle and other livestock are on the road. Locals may drive vehicles without brake lights, or in some cases headlights, at night.
You will need liability insurance when you cross the border. It is not expensive, but the cost of not having it if you are in an accident will be very expensive. They will toss you in jail and the final outcome will be dependent on how much money you are willing to throw at the problem. Independent of insurance, accidents are best avoided, so drive within the limits of your skill and the conditions on the road. Seems like simple advice, but having been there many times, sometimes simple advice is not simple.
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Copyright Bill Caid 2004