On The Road
February 3 - 4
February 5 - 6
The drive from Prescott to the border south of San Diego is a long but obviously necessary evil. The desert that we have to pass through in Southern Arizona and California is immensely beautiful, but today there were wind advisories and large clouds of dust obscuring not only the views but even the road itself.
Despite the warnings to delay travel, we pushed on through with only a few scary moments of sideways momentum.
Arriving late afternoon in San Diego, we were surprised to find the temperatures quite low and chilly. There were even spots of snow on the ground...snow in San Diego! Thank goodness the camper has a heater. On to the warmer climes in Baja!
Crossing the border at Tijuana was about the easiest thing to do. Because we are heading all the way down to Lands End, or Cabo San Lucas, we are required to get tourist permits. We pulled into the immigration section just yards from the border crossing and parked amidst the soldiers patrolling with their rifles. Talk about secured car parking! The permit cost 180 pesos, about $19 US.
The first stretch of highway is a well maintained toll road that runs the 90 miles from Tijuana to Ensenada. After that, the road gets progressively narrower until it is little more than 20 feet wide and the shoulder on the side of the road disappears entirely.
|In Ensenada we made a beeline to the fish market at the harbor. Here the fishermen come to sell their fresh catch. We wandered through the stalls and selected our purchase...fresh clams and fresh shrimp. Yum!||
Then we stopped at one of the adjacent food stalls and ordered a couple of shrimp tacos topped with a special yogurt sauce. Just down behind the stalls is the marina where all the fishing boats moor. As we walked along the quay, we spotted several huge sea lions floating in the water apparently waiting for a handout of fish scraps. We ended our day by camping on the beach just south of town.
Today was a long day as our next destination is the desert region of Cataviña. We made our lunch stop at the ruins of the Dominican mission of San Vicente Ferrer, GPS coordinates of 31° 19.84N 116° 15.62W.
|The ruins are not much more than heaps of melted adobe. Here we can see the walls of several buildings and just two small corners of the sanctuary standing.||
Then it was back on the road until nearly sunset when we spotted the adobe ruins of old rancho and decided that it would make a perfect camp for the night.
After a leisurely morning soaking up the Baja countryside, we headed out for the remote El Marmol (meaning marble in Spanish) Onyx mine. Digging began here in the early 20th century, the mine producing beautiful onyx that was turned into products like bathtubs and sinks for the rich and famous people around the world. The mine was abandoned in the 1950's as onyx was unable to compete with low cost, high quality plastic reproduction. High prices, mostly due to the costs of transport from this remote area was the mine's death knell. The miners left behind large blocks of onyx plus the world's only onyx schoolhouse.
We spent an interesting couple of hours wandering around the ruins and exploring the mine. Though operations have ceased there is still a lot of onyx lying around. Large blocks litter the hillsides and small pieces beg to be picked up and admired. It is a very interesting place to explore.
Leaving the mine behind, we retraced our steps to Highway 1 and continued on to the Cataviña area. This magical place contains a number of plants that are found nowhere else in the world. In addition, the entire area is covered with granite boulders, some the size of motor homes.
The skinny, up-side down looking trees are known as boojums, cirios or Idria columnaris. Related to the ocotillo, they are found only in this area of Baja California, plus a very small area on the Sonora mainland. They grow slowly and a 50 foot tall tree may be as much as 360 years old. Check out the photo pages to see what these and the following plants look like.
The Cardon cactus may have 20 or more branches and also exceed 50 feet in height. Some people confuse these plants with their northern neighbor the Saguaro cactus, although the Saguaro are considerably smaller. The Cardon is also only found in Baja and Sonora. Also endemic to Baja are the Copalguin, or as it is more commonly called, the Elephant tree. The term elephant refers to the thick, gray gnarled trunk and branches. The papery bark continuously peals off and reveals the dark green truck. From May to September it has small pink flowers. It's thick trunk acts as a reservoir for holding water for the drier times of the year.
We will be spending a couple of days exploring this region, documenting the flora, and hopefully the fauna, and posting some photos for you to view. Thanks to our solar charging system by EV Solar, we can keep all the batteries charged for our computer, satellite transmitter and expedition vehicle.
Our day in Cataviña was leisurely, hiking through the beautiful cactus and boulder fields. Check out the descriptions of the flora on the photo page. We also spent some time doing laundry and updating the website and downloading our e-mail. After answering questions off-line, we set up the satellite phone and uploaded the web page updates and our e-mail responses.
|It was pretty windy in the afternoon and we had to find a sheltered spot to set up the satellite antenna. Those big boulders came in handy as a wind break!|
The next day we had a long day of driving ahead of us so we got an early start. We stopped in the Cataviña arroyo and hiked up to a cave with Cochimi rock art. What a beautiful grouping of colorful symbols such as suns and geometric figures. It was nice to see other people there as well, also enjoying the history of the area.
Our long drive continued through beautiful desert scenery, up and down hills and around curves. The roads in Baja are very narrow and the big 18-wheelers take up their share and then-some. It is a little unnerving to encounter one on a tight curve, especially when there is no shoulder and everything off the right is down a steep embankment or cliff.
At the half way point (Hwy. 1 and the Bahia de Los Angeles road) we stopped and purchased gasoline from a gentleman selling it from a 50 gallon drum on the side of the road. For some reason all of the Pemex stations between El Rosario and Guerrero Negro (a distance of about 221 miles) have closed. A number of entrepreneurs along the way have set up primitive stations to help motorists along. This was helpful because the expedition vehicle averages 11 mpg and we have a 23 gallon gas tank. That means we can go about 253 miles on a tank of gas. That's cutting it a little too close for comfort.
Coming into Guerrero Negro we crossed the 28th Parallel which is the border between Baja Norte and Baja Sur. There is a big monument designed to be an abstract double eagle. The purpose of the monument is unknown although now there is a military camp that surrounds the monument. What's funny is that according to our GPS, the monument is actually slightly off the 28th Parallel - but we won't tell them!
Guerrero Negro is the home of Laguna Ojo de Liebre, otherwise known as Scammon's Lagoon after the whaling sea captain who discovered the wealth of the whales in Baja and almost caused their extinction. It is also home to one of the largest sea salt evaporation plants in the world. On our way north we will be stopping here to tour the plant.
We are currently camped at the oasis of San Ignacio. 200 years ago, Spanish missionaries brought date palms called datiles to the San Ignacio area. An underground river fed them and they have multiplied many times over since then. Last count has them at over 100,000. They are a welcome sight after many hours of driving through the desert.
|The current mission at San Ignacio was built in 1786. The walls are 4 ft. thick, the wooden beams were carried from the Baja mountains and the carved wooden doors were brought from mainland Mexico. It is a beautiful structure and we enjoyed walking around it.|
We also found the bells that awakened us at 6am this morning. Boy they start their day early!
Next on our agenda was the 40 mile drive down the "world class washboard" road that goes to Laguna San Ignacio where we can whale watch. It took about two hours to get to the lagoon. We have found from past experience that sometimes it is better to run the washboard at higher speeds and you kind of fly over it. We averaged 20 mph and that worked pretty well. The worst part was right before we arrived at Antonio's Whale Watching Camp when we had to cross washboard and mud at about 2 mph.
Our camp is near the end of the lagoon and we can see whales rising to the surface and spouting right from the beach. Tomorrow's whale watching should be fun.
But first there is dinner. Shrimp and lobster are on tonight's menu, cooked up by Maria, the camp's cook. Accompanied by salad, tortillas, rice and beans, the meal is a feast. We are absolutely stuffed and completely satisfied as we head to our camper for the night.
Morning dawns windy and foggy. Oh no, how are we going to see the whales? Pushing our original start time back to 10am from 9am, the sun comes out and the fog burns off. Whew!
We headed out toward the entrance to the lagoon and around a point called Punta Prieta. At first the whales that we could see blowing from a distance, all seemed to disappear as soon as we stopped the required 100 feet away.
|But all of a sudden a mama with her baby approached us. Mama surfaced next to the boat followed closely by baby.|
After making a couple of passes and checking us out, Mama decided to check out another boat that had come up. Over the next 1/2 hour, mama and baby went back and forth between the two boats, coming alongside to be scratched or just to hang out. After a while we moved away and the two whales followed us! We slowed down and let them catch up.
For the next hour, these two whales stayed with our boat, coming alongside, diving below, hanging out at the surface and spyhopping (sticking their heads straight out of the water). The baby in particular liked to come up at the rear of the boat as if he liked the sound or movement of the motor. Everyone got a chance to pet the whales and feel a close communion with them.
For whatever reason, the whales in San Ignacio Lagoon have a reputation for being "friendlies". They like to come up to the whale watching boats and watch the people watching them. It is an absolutely incredible experience to see a 40 ft. whale come up next to and underneath an 18 ft. panga with the ultimate in grace and dexterity. This was an experience we will never forget.