"Baja RV Adventure"
Baja RV Adventure
This was getting ridiculous! I had come to the famous lagoons of Baja to get up-close and personal with the gray whales, but this was harassment! The calf and its mother kept coming back over and over again to be petted. The encounter had been going on for over two hours and I was getting tired. They were so close they were sliming my camera when they spouted to breathe, and believe me, their breath didn't smell too good, kind of like old tuna fish you find at the back of the fridge after a year or two. Finally we tried to head back to the shore. As we slowly moved away from the whales I looked back to see them following us, they wanted to play some more! It was an incredible experience that I will never forget.
The whales are a great reason to visit Baja, but there are many others. I fell in love with the place back in 1975 when I drove the entire 1,060-mile Transpeninsular Highway on my Harley-Davidson. The temperature was a balmy one hundred and five degrees. A funny thing happens on a motorcycle as you drive across the desert. Instead of a refreshing breeze being created by driving six-five miles an hour, the reverse is true. It's like driving a car in the summer with windows up and the heater on, a real blast furnace. Then a true miracle happened. An old Arnold's Bread truck passed my biker friend and I. When they got in front of us, an arm came out of the left and right side windows with an ice-cold beer in each hand. A brew never tasted better. I have gone back several times since and continue to find new and interesting reasons to visit. Making an adventure travel video was the next logical step.
In the mid-1700's a Jesuit missionary descried the peninsula being of " poor shrub, useless thorn bushes, bare rocks, and piles of stone". In 1866 an explorer wrote, " all the vegetation visible to the eye seems to conspire against the intrusion of man. Every shrub is armed with thorns. The cactus tortures the traveler with piercing needles and remorseless fangs. Insects and virulent reptiles infest the region". A combination of horrors that might well justify the belief of the old Spaniards that the country was accursed by God.
I saw beauty everywhere and was determined to transfer this desert paradise to the screen. People tell me there is nothing to see in the desert, it's a vast wasteland. That's because most folks drive by it at seventy-five miles an hour. To really enjoy this place you have to take your time and get out of the car to walk around. Because of the harsh environment things are usually smaller here and beauty is harder to find. If you take the time to really take a close look you are sure to be rewarded.
The trip down Baja became much easier in 1973 when the paved highway was finally completed. Before that it was mostly off-roaders and dirt bikers who came for the adventure Baja had to offer. The new paved road opened the peninsula up for travelers of all kinds. Today many people drive their RV's here to spend a week, a month, or a year. Some drive just a few hours south, others go all the way to Cabo San Lucas. They camp out in the desert or park their rigs a few feet from the ocean. Some never come back.
The first challenge is to cross the border, which is said to be one of the busiest in the world, nearly twenty million people drive across it each year. Going south is easy, heading back north will usually take several hours. I spent a day riding with a U.S. Border Patrol officer. The patrol is now using deterrence as one solution to the problem of illegal immigration, but the US/Mexico border is over one-thousand miles long and has proven difficult, if not impossible to secure. After the September 11th attacks there is new pressure to secure the U.S. borders, but the Border Patrol is under-staffed and under-funded. Even with all the new technology available today, stopping people from illegally coming into the United States will continue to be a challenge.
Once across the border we find that Tijuana is not what it used to be. Some reminders of old Tijuana remain, but things are changing. Shoppers still flock here for duty free goods. Everything from pottery to Louis Vuitton luggage is available at discount prices, but shantytowns are being replaced with skyscrapers, golf courses and shopping malls. With a population exceeding one million, Tijuana is the fourth largest city in all of Mexico and moving quickly into the future.
Because of its close proximity to the states the coast, from Tijuana to Ensenada, is a popular weekend destination for people from California. With about 300,000 residents Ensenada is Baja's third most populated town and one of the most pleasant to visit. The town receives more visitors than any other non-border town.
A cross-peninsula side trip takes us to San Felipe. Just a few hours drive from Phoenix or San Diego the low prices and miles of undeveloped beaches make it a primary destination for RV'ers.
Back on the main highway we head to Park National Sierra, one of Baja's biggest surprises. This is cattle county, where cowboys on horseback still work the open range. The spectacular hill country setting looks more like northern California than what you would expect in Baja. Founded in 1947 this is one of Mexico's least known parks and receives only about three hundred tourist vehicles per year. The park is home to Pico Diablo, which at 10,154 feet, is the highest mountain on the entire peninsula.
In El Rosario we stop at Mama Espinosa's which has been famous for years for its lobster burritos. This was where the pavement once ended and is a favorite stopping place for most Baja visitors. We spend some time with Mama herself as she explains how the restaurant got started. At ninety-two years old she has seen things changes over the years." Bad roads, good people," she says, " Good roads, and many people are not desirable".
After El Rosario is where many people believe the "real Baja" begins. The plant life here is some of the most interesting in the world. A short side trip takes us east to the Bay of the Angeles, the most out of the way place in Baja that you can reach by paved road. When I first visited in 1975 it was known as the turtle steak capital. Today there is a turtle hospital where endangered species are nursed back to health and released into the wild. The bay provides safe haven for many kinds of sea life, birds and reptiles found no where else on earth.
Guerrero Negro marks the north/south border of Baja. The town is famous for salt production and lagoons full of gray whales. They migrate six thousand miles each year from arctic seas to have their calves in the warm, clear, and safe waters. Whalers discovered the lagoons in 1857 and over the next twenty years tens of thousands of the whales were slaughtered. Today the whales have made a remarkable comeback and number around twenty-five thousand.
Continuing south we reach the village of San Ignacio. The town is famous for one of the most impressive churches in Baja. The Mission Church was built in 1782, and thanks to a 1976 restoration is largely in its original condition. Arriving on Saints Day we saw young and old coming to the church to worship and celebrate.
Heading east to the Sea of Cortez the highway reaches the coast at the town of Santa Rosalia. An important seaport it was founded in 1885. Constructed in French-colonial style its copper mines lured workers from Japan and China. This is a working man's town with a unique character.
Further south, Mulege was founded as a Jesuit mission in 1705 and today is called an "oasis in the desert". The place is a welcome tropical paradise after a long drive across the desert. The river Mulege is one of the few fresh water streams here that flow year round. The abundant supply of water brings many species of birds into the area including orioles, vermilion flycatchers, and an amazing array of hummingbirds. Here we try are luck for the most sought after game fish in Baja. Dorado are great eating and put up one heck of a fight.
Here we also take a mountain tour to the nearby cave paintings. The Sierra de Guadeloupe Mountains contain the largest number of known prehistoric mural sites in Baja. It is believed that the rock art dates from 3000 BC to AD 1650.
A few miles from Mulege the Bahia de Conception is considered by many to be the ultimate Baja destination. Thirty miles long and only three miles wide at the mouth the crystal clear, turquoise bay is the most idyllic seashore in on the entire peninsula. Many people spend their entire time in Baja relaxing on these beautiful beaches. The area is also a world class kayak destination.
The highway heads south to Loreto, the first European settlement in the California's which began over three hundred years ago. A museum in town gives us some insight into missionary life. A dirt road side trip takes us to nearby Mission San Francisco Javier, the only mission in Baja still standing that has not been rebuilt.
Heading west we come to Puerto San Carlos, another Baja surprise that many travelers pass right by. Looking much like the Florida Keys Magdalena Bay is a unique marine environment of mangroves and estuaries, home to many species of birds and marine life.
The Capitol City of La Paz is our next stop. Many travelers, including Mexicans, say this is their favorite city in all of Baja. In addition to a beautiful beachfront walkway, La Paz is famous for scuba diving. We spend some time diving with the friendly manta rays and sea lions.
Our final stop is Lands End at Cabo San Lucas, as far south as we can drive. A true tourist town, Cabo is being threatened by over-development with condos and golf courses springing up everywhere.
After this video adventure I hope you will now agree with me that Baja is not the "land accursed by God" that the early explorers proclaimed it was, but a land of beauty and great adventure. Come along for the ride.© John Holod Productions