Gonzaga Bay and Beyond. Nov. 1996
By Winnie Meyers
If you remember in the last issue of "Manx Mania" after the Baja 1,000/San Felipe event I mentioned that a few people (including seven French members) had planned an extended trip around Baja's northern loop. The starting point was from Purtecitos about 50 miles south of San Felipe (and the end of the paved road) on the gulf coast of Baja. After 4 days and about 560 miles, we'll call this trip:
Whatever Could Happen - Did; Whatever Should Happen - Didn't
We left our well-wishers standing at the entrance of the hotsprings in Puertecitos. Were they wishing us well or were they, well, wishing they were going too? Off we went in a cloud of dust which became our nemesis for the remainder of the day. 50 miles south to Gonzaga Bay, the road is equally as wretched as the view is beautiful. This road has been graded with a volcanic topping of small and sometimes razor-sharp rocks. Constant surprises of boulders half buried in the road (I call them land mines) wait around the "S" curves for the unsuspecting victim. The object in driving this road is to maintain enough speed (about 40-50 mph) on tires softened to 6-8psi front and 10-12psi rear, and just skim over the top, thus not rattling eyeballs or teeth out of your now totally dust encrusted face. Oh what fun we're having! Peter Smiley in his gold-metalflake Meyers Manx tempted the fickle finger of fate and lost to the first flat tire of the trip. CB's crackled a distress signal and all came to his aid. Darkness fell before we found our turnoff to the Bay of Gonzaga. With a natural sense of direction we made our way down the two miles to Alphonsina's restaurant, or was it a better sense of smell for good Mexican cooking! After all, we never stopped for lunch! We spent the night camping on the beach.
The Bay of Gonzaga was like waking up to a picture postcard. I was reminded of the allure of Baja! The pristine beach against a sea of azure blue, partially surrounded by red rock mountains... After a hearty breakfast and a shower behind the restaurant, we proceeded to fix our ill's. A new tire for Peter, a 6v voltage regulator for George Ray (driving a light blue Manx-type) and gasoline for everyone - we're not able to leave until 11:00 AM.
Again the juttery road and the dust. Continuing south-west about 30 miles, we started looking for the turnoff that would take us to the bottom of the Calamajue Canyon. Why is it nothing looks the way it did last time we were here? It is our guess that the road we were looking for had been obscured by a wide graded road built by landholders funneling traffic down to the Calamajue Bay for real estate purposes. This is not where we wanted to go however. Again that strong sense of direction took over and we made our own road until it finally blended in with the almost non-existent trail we were looking for. At the opening of this canyon, up on a mesa, stands (in part) the 230 year old ruins of one of the Jesuit Missions. It is said that this mission failed because of the lack of good water. Only mounds of decomposed adobe indicate the sanctuary walls now. At this point Dave Deal, acting as chauffeur to Pascal and Florence GuiGinard (from France), bade us farewell as they had a plane to catch out of Los Angeles and a long way to go to get there.
We trundled through the beautiful canyon, noting that the natural green slate of the canyon walls was now being mined. The canyon had its own ideas for Bruce Lightner's tire (he was driving his yellow Manx-type buggy with the only spare tire on board). Another flat and the guys are becoming old pro's at tire changing now. We traveled up the canyon mostly driving in the middle of the trickling stream. At one point we came to a drop-off of about 10-12 ft. into a dark greenish-black mire of mud. Nowhere else to go, I said to Bruce, "Give it the gas honey, cause I'm not getting out to push"! We all went for it without a problem, aside from a little(?), stinky, blurpy mud on oneself and our cars.
A short cut to the highway - time to grab a cookie while waiting for the 12v air pump to air up our tires. Heading north it's another 45 miles to Catavina and another race against darkness to get to our nighttime destination. The "Catavina" La Pinta Hotel/Restaurant was a welcome sight for these dirty, cold and hungry travelers. Although, after our fill of Margaritas and fish, we all decided to camp across and down the road a mile at "Rancho Santa Ines". We should be able to buy a $1 shower in the morning. Morning came with the discovery that this rancho had not had water for a week, not to mention that the shower room itself didn't look like it had seen a piece of plumbing for years! Oh well, what's one day without a shower...
After breakfast at the hotel and after we gassed up, we drove on through San Quintin (on the Pacific coast) the 140 miles to Camalu, where a tire repair was made and George astutely made the decision not to continue in lieu of heading home. He had electrical problems that would have been hard to deal with out in the middle of nowhere. Our turnoff at San Telmo found us exuberant with a great graded road that led us up the supposed 47 miles to "Mike's Sky Ranch", into higher country. "Mike's Sky Ranch" is a Motel/Restaurant with swimming pool, that had been operating up in the mountains primarily as a hunting, fishing lodge, having the only trout stream in Baja, but has since become a popular stopover for motorcycle & off-road people. We made good time up to the point where our road disintegrated into more of a trail. Daylight again was fast receding as we attempted to make our way up the mountain. Suddenly the CB's reported that the Tow'd (Jean Michel driving with his brother, Eric) was dead in the road - it's brake drum splines had sheared off, not allowing the wheel to turn as it spun inside the drum. Sunset fast approaching, David Helland (driving his newly restored yellow Meyers Manx), tried to tow the Tow'd up the mile long steep grade. Not possible. The decision was made that we would have to leave it behind to be retrieved the next day. This poor Tow'd (belonging to Godfrey Reade of Australia) has been resurrected and borrowed by several members while waiting to be shipped home. It has had brake problems from the get go among other things such as a sticky accelerator and a non-working headlight. Because of these ills, others ran into a tree, nearly decapitating them - thus the moniker -"the one-eyed tree-Tow'd"! Now it's become a three-legged, one-eyed tree-Tow'd!
It was now dark and, at about 5,000 ft. in the mountains, very cold. The map showed a road that would take us directly to Mike's Sky Ranch, but following it out we found that recently someone had constructed a fence across the road. Other trail choices looked less plausible and we weren't in a gambling mood. We decided to return to the bottom of the grade (near the Tow'd), to a warmer and level spot under a grove of Oak trees, beside a babbling brook to make camp for the night. As wood was collected for a fire and tents were being erected, by pooling our resources (mainly the lunches we never got to eat) we managed to put together a satisfactory meal. We all slept well in our tranquil little campsite. Motel? Showers? Are you sure I promised you that?
Next morning, David and Bruce Lightner took two of the Frenchmen with them to retrieve the Tow'd. Bruce and I were to head back to the good graded road and go to the "Meling Ranch". This is a seductive little resort/ranch nestled in a valley at the base of the Sierra San Pedro Martir Mountains. We would inquire whether or not we could leave the Tow'd there to be picked up later. We kept in radio contact and were surprised to learn that David and Bruce Lightner decided they could repair the Tow'd and drive it out. They discovered that by putting an axle-nut wrench on the axle nut and attaching it's handle with a stainless steel hose clamp secured through the spokes of the rim, when put in gear it un-threaded itself. And so, by changing drums to the opposite side of the car this jury rig actually tightened the nut down. A fine job of Mexicaneering they did! Hats off to you guys!
Plan "B" - Another 24 miles to the Rancho Colorado turnoff, a point farther north between Colonet and San Vincente. We would drive east about 40 miles on a good graded road that would bring us to Valle de Trinidad and Hwy. #3.
A fairly curvy, fun road, and we are having fun! All of the sudden we were surprised by a fast, broadsliding motorcyclist followed by a fast truck on a blind corner, apparently racing as if on the Baja 1,000. Bruce and I managed to avoid them but the "Philippe Mobile" (borrowed by the French guys and driven by Michel and Alain) was not so fortunate. The motorcycle ran into the car causing damage to the fender, a bent wheel and a flat tire. Miraculously the cyclist was not injured and went on his way with very twisted forks and handlebars. After another tire change we were off and running again trying ever so hard to get back to Pete's Camp and our tow cars before dark. Not possible. 48 miles on Hwy.#3 south-east and 23 more miles south on Hwy.#5 brings you back to Pete's camp just north of San Felipe. About 16 miles from camp, the "Philippe Mobile", sometimes referred to as the "FuFu Buggy's" engine seized. We left the drivers to watch over the car while we went on to camp to get a tow vehicle. I might add that our French friends completely rebuilt this engine at our house before returning home to France. After a hot meal, a few toasts to an exhilarating trip, and a shower, - exhausted, we slept, dreaming of adventures in Baja.