Y.B.D.B. October 1997 Baja California Road Trip
(October 3-6, 1997)
Early Trip Planning in Fish Creek
We hatched the idea for a Baja road trip during a pre-run for the
Manx Club's Third Annual Run - Julian Banner and Borrego Squeeze, April
19-20, 1997. A little beer and some boiled (shell-on) shrimp during a
road-side luncheon in Fish Creek talking about the good times and tense
moments we had in November 1996 in Baja made us ripe for another
adventure. Trip plan: San Diego, Tecate, Rancho Veronica, Mike's Sky
Rancho, Mellings Ranch, the
Observatory of Mexico (at San Pedro Mártir), Laguna Hansen,
Tecate, back to San Diego.
We actually left more "on time" then we've ever been...including the
Meyers (no doubt thanks to Winnie-the-Planner). EDT from San Diego was
~10:00 AM...we got going before 11:00 AM. Bruce Lightner and Dave
Helland didn't get near enough sleep as they were working on their
buggies until the last minute (Bruce on his driving lights, Dave on
his rack). Also along for the adventure was Dave's wife Barbara and
Bruce and Winnie Meyers. Barbara speaks fluent Spanish, we had a GPS
unit along...we were ready for anything!
Tecate, Mexico Lunch Stop
Just after noon we were at the Mexican border at Tecate. We filled
up our cars and gas cans with fuel on the US side. First stop after
crossing into Mexico was for lunch in town. Bruce Lightner forgot his
tellow Y.B.D.B. T-shirt, so Dave loaned him a spare...we were mistaken
for some kind of "gringo gang" during the trip, thanks to our matching
Trip Planning in Tecate (Note "The Map" & GPS)
Lunch in Tecate included a trip planning session, using a
"scrollable" topographical map that Bruce Meyers had pieced together.
(Unforunately, he had cut off all of the latitude and longitude
markings!) Guess what kind of beer they have in Tecate?
After lunch, we headed south to Rancho Veronica, a campgound/resort
about an hour south of Tecate and a few miles off the paved road. The
resort (as usual) was filled with a number of motorcycle riders. Dave
and Barbara took a room...with hot showers. Winnie and the Bruce's
opted for a (cheaper) campsite in the oak trees...cold showers only.
We all eat dinner in the resort's resturant. We made a camp fire after
dinner...with oak flooring we found stacked under an oak tree! We were
immediately adopted by the local dogs. By morning we had a full
campsite...a number of Mexican families arrived in the night to camp
for the weekend.
Cow Pasture at Campsite at Rancho Veronica
Between the cows in the pasture next door (the local dogs barked at
them) and the coyotes (the local dogs barked at them) and our fellow
(late-night) campers (the local dogs barked at them), we didn't enjoy
uninterrupted sleep for the night, but we all managed to get some
Buggy Lineup at Rancho Veronica
After the (Bruce Meyer's) required buggy line-up and pictures (no
show-and-shine awards...darn!), we were on the road south by about 9
AM...a Baja AM departure time record?
Dave Stops to Debug His New Rack
We had our first equipment failure of the trip...Dave's newly
constructed roof rack began to settle onto his polished chrome
roll-bar...bummer! A little road-side engineering fixed the problem.
(Over the course of the trip, Dave would pile more and more stuff on
his new roof rack, until he had to begin carefully checking clearance
Water in the Desert...Got'a Stop
Just before noon we found a stream crossing and just had to stop.
Bruce Get's Stuck (Going for the Perfect Photo)
Bruce Meyers learned why there was a cement berm across the stream
after he convinced Winnie to "drive Old Red into that sandbar so we can
get a photo over there". Oops...the streambed was made of "quicksand"!
The "Other Bruce" Gets Stuck Too!
Bruce Lightner tried to cross the stream with Old Yell'r to tow Old Red
out...guess what happened to his buggy? All ended happily as we had a
hand winch, plenty of rope, and lots of trees. Dave towed Old Yell'r
out and then we winched Old Red out.
After extracting the buggies from the quicksand we decided to stay
for lunch. We also drank some beer. We took a GPS fix and decided
that we didn't know where we were! So, we drank some more beer.
Barbara Got to Drive Too
After lunch we packed up and continued south, with Winnie navigating
with her AAA map...not a lot of detail there! We had lots of options
(i.e., forks in the road, cross-roads, etc.) but with a few false
starts she eventually found the pavement (Highway 3) and we headed for
the turn-off to Mike's Sky Ranch. At one point it looked especially
bleak (to the uninitiated), we were clearly off course, it smelled like
dead things, and buzzards were circling in the sky! (It was just a
dead horse beside the road!)
The Local's Check Us Out
A few miles before the turnoff to Mike's Sky Ranch we encountered
one of the many military checkpoints one finds in Mexico. As usual
they asked if we had any drugs or guns. (Bruce told them he was sorry,
and that he only had beer!) The soldiers were quite taken by Barbara
and her command of Spanish...they told Winnie that Barbara was "muy
Mike's Sky Ranch in the Morning
We soon turned south off of the pavement and made the 20+ mile trip
up to Mike's Sky Rancho. Mike's is a class-A (for Mexico) mountain
resort which caters to motorcycle riders and off-roaders. A flat rate
gets one a room, dinner, and breakfast. They even have a swimming
pool...there was a dog swimming in it when we arrived. Barbara said it
needed pool care badly...she decided that maybe it would be OK to swim
in because you actually could see the bottom!
Electric power (and the water heater) comes on at dusk for a few
hours...each room has a kerosene lamp. Most of us took cold showers as
it wasn't quite dark and the generator was not yet on. Nobody went
swimming. We swapped a few stories with the dozen or so motorcycle
riders at Mike's and got advice on the road ahead. We had seen
evidence of water damage (a hurricane had hit Baja the weekend before.)
Breakfast at Mike's Sky Ranch
The Mexican hospitality found at Mike's is legendary. You have no
choices as to what you eat...but no matter...the food was great.
Kitchen at Mike's (No Electricity Required)
Barbara took a picture of the kitchen help. They do it all without
electricity and/or microwave ovens!
We were all up with the sun after a great nights sleep...no dogs, no
coyotes, no electric motors, no TVs, no radios.
We Followed the Motorcycles Out
A man and a women on bikes left first (just before us). Our goal
for the day was the observatory in the San Pedro Martir Mountains near
the top of the Baja pennisula's tallest peak, which is 10,154 feet
high. There are several ways south from Mike's. We followed the
motorcycle riders out...not an easy road...not well marked either!
Bruce Lightner went trail-blazing...following the fresh motorcycle
tracks. A number of forks in the trail added uncertainty...plus, we
knew we would be restricted in our wanderings by limited fuel onboard.
Lost Again: What Does the GPS Say?
Dave finally stopped and took a fix with the GPS...we were right on
the trail and very close to the spot were we all got lost (in the dark)
in November of last year, looking for Mike's Sky Ranch, but coming from
We Found the Spot We Lost in 1996
Soon we came upon the mountain cross-roads where we had got lost
last November with the Manx Club's seven French visitors. Last year we
were close...but so far...given the road, the fact that it was dark and
cold, and that we had abandonded (and would need to retrieve) a buggy.
Better Mood than in 1996 (Lost, Cold, and Hungry in the Dark)
The "lost in the mountains" spot was not near as spooky in the
daylight...the trees were a lot smaller too!
"Lost Frenchmen" Camp (Picture from Nov. 1996)
We found the spot by the stream where we camped last year after
giving up on Mike's Sky Ranch.
8,000 Feet and Climbing in Baja California
After a quick stop a Mellings Ranch to check on gas (they were
closed), we headed up the mountain...a good 6,000 foot climb. The road
must be very interesting with snow. It wasn't long before we
were driving in the pine trees.
Lunch at the Observatory
More Lunch at the Observatory
We reached the Observatory
Observatory of Mexico at San Pedro Mártir) at lunchtime.
The public (dirt) road stops at a paved road...2 kilometers from the
mountain-top and the telescopes. We were told that we would had to hike
(not drive) to the top. After lunch we started hiking...that was the
longest 2 kilometers anyone remembers...2 kilometers as the crow flys,
The Big Dome (2-Meter Telescope Inside)
At the very top we found the "big dome"...a much smaller affair than
Mt. Palomar, which houses a 2-meter telescope.
Bruce Gets Out His High-Dollar Lens
Bruce Meyers, a late arrival at the top, given his leg-brace handicap
lugged along his telephoto lens. (Can you tell that the road is
very dusty from his picture?) Bruce stood way back
(about 100 yards!) and took pictures of us with that lens.
Overlooking Diablo [Not So] Dry Lake and San Felipe (Note Duct Tape Bandaide)
The view from the top weas great! From there one can see
both the Gulf of California and the Pacific Ocean (which was
covered in low clouds that day). To the east, the topography drops to
near sea-level (9,000+ feet) in the space of a few miles. We looked
down on Diablo Dry Lake, a great place to off-road, except that it was
full of water from the previous weekend's hurricane.
After taking lot's of pictures at the top, we headed back down to
our cars...a real hike in the thin air. One of the astronomers,
Gaghik H. Tovmassian, Ph.D.,
was kind enough to Bruce Meyers a ride down the mountain to our buggies.
We started our drive back down the mountain late in the afternoon.
Given our low fuel supply, we decided to head for the Pacific
coast...60+ miles away. Bruce Lightner was almost out of fuel, so he
coasted down...a good 9,000+ foot elevation change! Dave (and
especially Barbara) thought Bruce was going too fast, given that he
wasn't running his engine! (Actually, Barbara thought eveyone was
going to fast, especially Dave...the road is narrow, steep, gravelly,
sloped the wrong way in places, has 100-foot drop-offs, and lacks guard
We had our second equipment failure on the trip to the coast...Old
Red's carborator float stuck. This amounted to a 30-minute
delay...Bruce Lightner was way out of CB communication range
by that time...but he was smart enough to wait.
We Put Out a Random Brush Fire
Near the bottom of the foothills, Bruce Lightner come upon the
remains of a brush fire...not quite out. (Nobody seems to bother trying
to put brush fires out in this part of Mexico.) He buried the
smoldering logs, then took a picture. (Last year this same canyon was
ablaze when we entered it...with lots of smoke.)
Camping on the Beach at Punta Colenet
We finally found the Pacific coast highway, then headed out to the
beach at Pt. Colenet. After an extended search for the "perfect
campsite", we pitched our tents well back from the breakers on
cobble-stones. (We need to bring a tide calendar next time!) We were
all very crusty from the dusty trip...Bruce Lightner went swimming in
the high surf, in the dark, to get clean...Dave played lifeguard with a
We had the beach completely to ourselves. We made a fire with wood
taken from the forest on the mountain top. The Meyers discovered that
their roof-top water bottles leaked during the day's the trip...wet
bedding! Luckily the Boy Scouts (Bruce L. and Dave) carry spare
everything...including sleeping bags! We BBQ'ed steaks for dinner.
Breakfast on the Beach
We all had a good night's rest to the sound of the surf. Breakfast
camped on a deserted beach...it doesn't get any better than this.
Punta Colenet Beach (All to Ourselves)
In the morning we watched the dolphins play in the surf. Bruce
Meyers chased the pelicans and sea-gulls with his "long lens". Soon it
was time to head north...for the first time in three days. Winnie used
her AAA map to find us a "short-cut" to the highway...another
adventure...but good off-roading with a little mud, and a many mile long,
"vehicle eating", sand wash.
Lunch in Ensenada
After a quick fuel stop, we headed towards Ensenada where we stopped
for lunch. We were all getting pretty crusty, and hungry by that
time. The Meyers found a great spot near the water where we could watch
our buggies through the front window. The food was good...so were the
Margaritas and (Tecate) beer all around. Another trip planning
session at lunch lead to the decision to avoid a potential Tijuana border
crossing mess and to cross the border in Tecate.
A Dog's Comment on Dune Buggies
Dave lost a spark plug wire and began running on three cylinders, so
we had to stop for a quick field repair. A local dog mistook the
Meyer's buggy Old Red for a red fire hydrant...we keep telling him to
paint it Y.B.D.B. yellow...but he won't listen! By this time Dave had
achieved a new "high" in terms of "rack stackage". (Also by this time
Barbara was getting worried because she was the only thing
left inside the buggy besides the driver!
Border Crossing in Tecate
We dumped our fruits and vegtables in Tecate then headed for the border.
School had just let out...we were a ready made mini-parade in downtown Tecate.
A quick and easy crossing was made by all. More fuel on the US side, then
back to civilzation.
Back in the USA Heading for Home
We hit San Diego traffic just before 5 o'clock rush hour. Everyone
made it home just fine...although Dave now has an ominous new noise
coming from his motor. (It's his turn to rebuild his motor.)
Mon Nov 17 15:40:15 PST 1997