A Few Days Solo in Baja
Until recently I had never really given much thought to a trip to Baja. It’s a long way from Maine and I just never really thought about it. I’m not the type that’s into racing, Dakar or anything like that, I just like to ride. But, a few months ago I bought a DR650 to keep at my brother’s house in AZ (more about that here) and as I started researching places to ride out west I came across a lot of ride reports and inquiries about Baja. There seemed to be a tremendous amount of interest in Baja among dual sport riders. So, since it was only about 375 miles to Baja from where my bike would be kept in AZ, I started doing a little research and preparing for a possible exploratory venture into Baja during one of my visits to AZ.
It became obvious fairly quickly that opinions on riding Baja were split pretty much right down the middle. There were those who said Mexico is too dangerous, don’t even consider going there, especially by yourself - the drug cartels will kill you, there are banditos, crooked cops, scary military checkpoints everywhere, federali ’s will get you and lock you up forever, etc., etc. Then there were those who said Baja is a wonderful place full of friendly people, don’t do anything stupid and you’ll be fine. What I noticed during my research was that the naysayers were typically people who had never been to Baja, and those who said it was a wonderful place full of friendly people were the ones who had actually been there. This stood out to me.
I’m old enough and wise enough at my age not to take lightly any adventure riding solo into remote areas, whether it be any foreign country or my own home state. So, a lot of research and planning was done, even though I wasn’t entirely sure when I might actually get a chance to go - I figured if I was prepared then the opportunity would arise. I think it’s safe to say I spent well over a hundred hours researching and preparing - reading ride reports, gathering information wherever I could find it, asking questions of experienced Baja travelers, finding the best maps, studying those maps, collecting and creating GPS tracks, purchasing and studying a Baja guidebook, etc. I intended to be prepared. By the time I was ready to actually venture into Baja I was very familiar with the geography and main roads, to the point that I could have found my way around the main roads of northern Baja without a map or GPS, of course there aren’t really many main roads. All this preparation and all I was really planning was what I considered a “recon” trip. I planned a three-day loop around northern Baja to get a feel for what Baja was really like, what the people were like, what the roads were like, what real “dangers” there may be, etc. If all went well, perhaps I would plan a longer trip in the future.
A few things I did to prepare that are worth mentioning:
Monday February 20<sup>th</sup> . . . 6:00am in Sierra Vista, AZ - all packed up and ready to roll.
A few hours into the ride I made my first stop - fuel.
A couple hours later . . . a rest stop to stretch the legs and check in with my brother since they were all sleeping when I hit the road. He said the SPOT tracker was working great and they had been following my progress all morning. One of the reasons I went with the SPOT device. They were able to follow my progress every day, and I was able to send a message via satellite every night letting them know all was well.
You've gotta love the desert . . .
I made it to the border crossing in about seven hours, but gained an hour at the CA border since they’re on Pacific Time so it was only noon. I decided to have lunch at the Subway in Calexico before crossing into Mexicali. At the Subway I experienced what would really be the tone of the entire trip - a local EMT stopping in for lunch struck up a conversation with me and offered info about Baja since he’d been there often for the great surfing on the west coast. He wrote down his email address and told me to email him when I got a chance and he’d send more info with GPS coordinates for some great spots. Hadn’t even crossed the border yet and already people were trying to help me!
The border crossing was a non-event. Rode into Mexicali and kept going thru the city to MEX-2 and headed east toward Laguna Salada.
The dry lake bed I'd be heading into
My plan was to spend the night at Canyon de Guadalupe. I had been told it was a beautiful spot to camp and there were hot springs there. It wasn’t too far from the border so it seemed like it would be the perfect spot for the first night.
It was only about thirty miles from the border to the turnoff onto this dirt road down Laguna Salada, but it was another 35 miles of dirt to get to Canyon de Guadalupe.
I had ridden across the Wilcox Playa recently (a dry lake bed in AZ that's about ten miles across), but this made that look like a dried up puddle. This dry lake bed is huge.
The road followed along the dry lake bed next to the mountains for about 25 miles before turning toward the mountains and winding its way into the canyon.
If you’re going to ride in Baja, you’re definitely going to ride some sand.
There was even some road signs.
The road changed quite a bit after the turnoff toward the canyon
It got a little rougher as I neared the canyon
The final obstacle before reaching the camping area was a water crossing - runoff from the hot springs. It was knee deep - not too bad.
I felt like I was definitely in the right place when I saw this sign. It became apparent everywhere I went that moto’s (bikes) are very popular in Baja.
The camping area was beautiful. A very well maintained area, and the canyon was beautiful too. It seemed a little strange however, that I was the only one there. I walked around the whole place for about a half hour taking pictures, and there was nobody there.
Oficina . . . nobody there
I finally heard some voices on the other side of the canyon at the only other camping area here, and it even sounded like they were speaking English - this would be a good thing since I speak no Spanish. I got close enough to shout over to them to ask about camping. They said I needed to speak to Ernesto and he should be nearby.
I walked around a little more and eventually met up with Ernesto, and his dog. Thus began my first conversation with someone who didn’t speak my language. It went surprisingly well, and didn’t really seem that difficult. I noticed the word “campo” on one of the signs leading into the canyon so I repeated that to Ernesto and he got the message – why else would I be there, really. Ernesto said $35, and I raised my eyebrows and, with a smile said something like “$35, for one night?” I thought $35 was a lot, and I wanted to let him know that, but I didn't want to insult him. He said something back in Spanish and I motioned around at the camp spots asking him to show me where I could camp, and again he got the message and led me to one of the sites. It was beautiful, but I didn’t like it because I couldn’t get my moto next to the tent site, so I motioned around by the tent site, shook my head no and said moto a couple times, and guess what - Ernesto got the message and showed me another site where I could park the bike right next to the tent. Then he says; “$35, but you $30.” I smiled again and offered him “$300 pesos” to which he replied “OK.” So the actual cost was a little less than $25 US dollars. I still thought that was quite a bit, but it was well worth it.
I got the feeling throughout the trip that everything was negotiable, and that the initial price was based on what they thought they might be able to get out of you. I almost always worked out a better deal than what they initially told me.
So with the campo fee paid I rode the bike up to the site and began setting up camp. I had enough time to get my tent up, enjoy the hot spring, and walk around a little before the sun began to set behind the canyon wall.
A network of pipes had been set up to bring water from the hot springs right to the camp sites
The pool of water was very warm, but the water coming out of the pipe was hot! It sure felt good after a long day on the road.
I went to bed as soon as it got dark and there was still nobody else in the entire place. A little while later I heard a group of people arrive at a nearby site, but they were the only other people who came while I was there.
Day one had gone as planned and I slept well in my little tent at Canyon de Guadalupe. So far, nothing but friendly folks in Baja, but I was just getting started.
Subscribed! I like your prep work and hope to do exactly the same thing "when opportunity arises". Great pictures of the surroundings :clap Looking forward to more :lurk
:lurkOK, let's see where this one will take us............IN.
What a wonderful ride!!
Aww, damn. I was hoping this was a complete ride report. Subscribed to read more!
. . . day two coming up
Day two . . . on to Gonzaga Bay
On day two in Baja I was up with the sun after a chilly night. I took a few more pics of the area since the sun was in the east now and shining right into the canyon.
Packed up and ready to roll
The water crossing was the first thing I encountered upon leaving the campo - still knee deep - no problemo!
I passed this farm on the way into Canyon de Guadalupe yesterday, right at the intersection where the road splits to go into the canyon, but didn’t get a pic of it so I stopped in the morning to get a shot of it. There were rows of trees that went on for what seemed like at least a mile. The entrance was beautiful, and very well kept. I didn’t notice anything growing on the trees so I don’t know what they were, but I could hear what sounded like a farm tractor at work deep inside the fenced farm area.
From this point I had two options. My destination for today was Gonzaga Bay - Alfonsina’s. If I followed the dry lake bed it would lead me to MEX-5 just a few miles north of La Ventana, this would be about a fifty mile ride. Or, I could ride about 25 miles back out on the dirt road I came in on, then about another 70 miles of pavement to where I’d come out if I followed the dry lake bed. The problem with continuing along the lake bed was that I had been told it was pretty much all sand, with a few good-sized silt beds thrown in. It also did not appear to be a very frequently traveled route. Fifty miles of sand and silt didn’t really sound too appealing, and it sounded like it could be slow going so I might not really save much time, if any. Since I was traveling solo and not really running optimal tires for sand I decided to skip the sand and silt route. Maybe I’ll try that route next time when I’ve got better sand tires, and maybe a riding partner.
So I headed back out to MEX-2, then east back toward Mexicali, picked up MEX-2D over to MEX-5 and headed south. I must say, as I began heading south on MEX-5 I was very disappointed and discouraged by the amount of trash lining the sides of the road. I expected it near the city, but even ten miles outside the city there was a lot of trash lining both sides of the highway. Twenty miles outside the city - not much better. Thirty miles outside the city - not much better! It was really discouraging, and I started to wonder if it was going to get any better, and if Baja was worth the effort. I didn’t take many pictures in this area, and I didn’t take any that included the trash because I really never wanted to see it again, and it’s not how I wanted anyone to see or remember Baja. It was really surprising how far this went on, but as I neared San Felipe it began to disappear and it wasn’t long before the beauty of Baja had all but erased any memory of it.
Did I mention the dry lake bed is HUGE! It runs all the way from MEX-2 down to ME-5 just north of La Ventana, crosses MEX-5 and looks like it goes on all the way to the Sea of Cortez. Absolutely massive!
I came to my first military checkpoint a little north of San Felipe. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. The soldiers didn’t really seem to speak any English, and my Spanish consisted of the word “campo”, but I found them to be very professional and polite, even friendly. I pulled up to two young soldiers with automatic rifles and shut the bike off. One of them said something in Spanish and I responded with “No habla Espanol.” He said something else in Spanish, but seemed to understand what I said and started pointing at my saddlebag so I got off the bike slowly and opened the saddlebags and rear box for them. They talked to each other a little in Spanish as they looked in my luggage, but I really didn’t understand anything they were saying. Although they looked carefully at what I was carrying, they seemed just as interested in my bike. As one was checking my cargo, the other was looking over my bike with seemingly great interest. He tried asking me something a couple times and I could tell he was asking about my bike, but I just couldn’t understand anything he said. When they finished checking my bags they motioned that it was OK to close them up, so I did, then I got back on the bike and they were both close on each side of me really checking out the bike when one pointed at it and said with a heavy accent “off-road?” Finally, something I understood. A big smile came to me as I looked at him and said “Se, se, mucho off-road, yes!” They both shook their heads and smiled in approval as they stepped back indicating it was OK for me to proceed. I started the bike and rode off with a big smile. So much for being worried about scary military checkpoints! I think this was the point when any fears I may have had about traveling in Baja started to disappear - seemed like Baja was going to be just fine.
Shortly after that I came to San Felipe, a small town on the east coast of Baja. I fueled up, but didn’t really stop for anything else but a few pics. It was pretty much what I expected, fairly small, but big enough to get most things you might need, not as well kept as what we’re typically used to in the US, but that seemed to be true of just about every place in Mexico.
From San Felipe the road followed along the coast the rest of the way and I had about a hundred miles to go to get to Gonzaga Bay.
I wasn’t sure how scenic this area would be, thought it might just be a road to get me where I was going, but it turned out to be quite nice.
I didn’t expect to see much in the way of people or homes through here, but I was surprised to see numerous areas where there would be a string of homes along the coast, in the middle of nowhere really.
Puertecitos was the one “town” I did expect to see, but it didn’t consist of much.
As I made my way further south the coastal views just kept getting better and better. The road was great and the scenery was beautiful.
Never knew what I’d find around the next corner.
The road was in amazingly good condition, but I had heard that the pavement would come to an abrupt end somewhere south of Puertecitos. And it did. Termina Pavimento!
The highway ended . . . and a dirt road began . . .
The dirt section started out pretty flat with a lot of washboard, but it got worse. I found myself standing on the pegs and keeping the speed up most of the way to skim over the washboard. I learned that at the right speed you can skim the washboard and float thru the sand, as long as the sand doesn’t get too deep!
I was quite surprised when I went over the rise in this pic and encountered an 18-wheeler pulling a flatbed heading north on this road. He was crawling along at about 10 mph.
The rest of the ride to Gonzaga Bay was quite scenic
Made good time and reached Gonzaga Bay at about 2:30 in the afternoon.
I was a little concerned to see the PEMEX gas station was closed, because this place is a long way from anything else. Uh oh! I soon found out that the station closes from 2:00-4:00, siesta time I guess.
Keep 'em coming - I never get tired of seeing Baja pics
You're right - ride reports are pretty time consuming!
Thanks for taking us along
Great ride report and pictures. I am looking forward to the next installment! Thanks for sharing!
Nice work! Anyone who has ever attempted a ride report knows the effort involved. Thank you!
Good on ya for heading out solo and not listening to the naysayers. I did a 3 day 750 mile loop the week after Thanksgiving. Down the west coast and back up along the Sea of Cortez. Solo also, no problems. Those first views south of Puertocitos are mesmerizing, aren't they?
Thanks for taking the time to share your trip and prep info. Baja is on the list.
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