The Road to Baja

Baja road trip Mexico

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Why am I on this road? And who lets cows on highways?

“Look out, COW!” Jenn shouted just in time for me to avoid the lumbering beast on the road. Why am I on this road? And who lets cows on highways? The Baja highway, aka Mex 1, isn’t for the faint of heart and, perhaps, that is the beauty of this nearly 2000 km road trip down the Bala Peninsula connects San Diego to the tropical destinations of Cabo San Lucas and La Paz. Our choice to drive was about the journey as much it was about the destination, and the magic in the middle.

Resting up at the Hotel Mison Santa Maria

Hotel Mission San QuintinThe coastal plains from Tijuana to San Quintin are indicative of northern Mexico. Bustling towns adjoin the streets as the coastal cities meet the vibrant agricultural fields. There are many reasons to come here from the empty surf breaks to wine tours. Our desire was a deeper plunge into the mysterious darkness of the Baja, so we only stopped for a brief respite at the Hotel Mision Santa Maria.  Side note, this hotel makes for a wonderful, off the beaten track, stop with lovely ocean views and a kick ass Sunday brunch.

 

The Baja Desert is like no place else on Earth

baja domeWith full stomachs and renewed energy, we bid farewell to San Quintin and begun our day’s journey across the foreboding and often dreaded Baja desert. Personally, I love the desert in the Baja. Mysterious plants and startling wind blown rocks are visual reminders that this is like no place else on Earth. It’s stark but not barren. There is life here, and every creature, rock, and structure is adapting to the harshness of the conditions.

 

Catavina – The only gas station in 400 km

Out here there are only a few ranches, all of questionable prosperity. Once we stopped to use their advertised banos and our 10 pesos bought a few sheets of toilet paper and a bucket of water to “flush” the toilet. The largest encampment in the region is Catavina. The town grew up along a stream crossing on the highway. Notice I didn’t say the highway crossing the stream? Water flows right over the asphalt and, every time we crossed, there were remnants of silt remaining from some prior flood. We heard the story of an unfortunate motorcycle guide who, on their maiden tour lost two participants in this stream. They were found, alive, a couple of days later downstream, but not before a very uncomfortable return to America and discussion with their families. Catavina is also home to the only gas stations in 400 km. More of card tables and gas cans lined up like a kid’s lemonade stand, but it’s certainly better than nothing. The same can be said of the road pavement. In 1973 there was nothing. What we have today is better. Drivable. Able to maintain highway speeds in most sections but not at night. Not because of banditos, but because it is dark, twisty, and the cows seek the warmth of the blacktop in the cool desert nights. I found the drive challenging enough in the daylight, lest I attempt it at night.

 

Why did the gringo cross the desert?

baja chollaStop me if you have heard this one. Why did the gringo cross the desert? To get to the other side… On the other side is the remote birthing lagoons of the gray whales and bays in the Sea of Cortez that host 80% of the world’s species of whales and dolphins at various times of the year. There are also bright tropical flowers and birds, generous friendly people, and seas of the most beautiful shades of blue. Maybe those would be compelling reasons if you were hauling toys to enjoy such delights or extended camping gear that required your car for transport of your mountain of stuff on the other side. I believe the real reason to cross that 200 miles of solitude is because it’s there, and it’s worth the doing.

 

To get to the other side

loreto the other side

See also
Driving the Big Sur Coast

 

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