Ride South: Baja California, Part 1

It was a warm San Diego morning next morning, and after some of the previously mentioned maintenance work we headed to the border crossing at Tecate.

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The ride there is a beautiful, twisty road, opening up to views of green pastures and rolling hills.

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Lovely.The border came up quickly.

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I stayed with the bikes while Stuart and his friend Tristan did their paperwork. At the border, you can typically just roll through (no checks of documents done whatsoever!) but in our case, we wanted the tourist card. The Mexican tourist card, or ‘FMM’ is required for longer stays in Mexico and any trip to the mainland. It costs about $20 (US).

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We were losing light fast, and after all the border paperwork we headed down the Mex-2 to find our turnoff to the first dirt trail we could find. Out of light, we opted to camp at a campground instead of riding the dirt South more.

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I know deserts can be cold, but this night surprised us. The wind was already whipping us and as the sun dropped and we ate some roadside tacos and drank Tecate tall boys (of course) the temperature dropped from the low 50s to about 45, and kept dropping.

We approaching freezing temperatures that night. It was really something. With no real fire pits we just turned in for the night and slept.

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The next morning we finally got up to do what most motorcyclists come to Baja for: trails and off-road fun. Our campground was mere miles from the turnoff to the nice and fairly easy Compadres trail, which connects the roadside town of El Hongo to Ojos Negros, on the Mex-3. It’s a perfect way to connect from Tecate to Ojos Negros and get further South towards the Mex-5 on the coast of the Sea of Cortez.

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The Compadres Trail is an immediate showcase of the diversity of biomes in Baja California. Many think (– myself included) of a place full of stereotypical cacti*, plain desert and many rocks.

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In reality, the variety of landscapes is astounding. As we crossed the 100-or so kilometers of the trail we saw high desert, steppe-like plains, deciduous and pine forest and many zones in between. It was beautiful.

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* (in Baja, this would be the Cardon cactus. They get huge, as they are the tallest cactus species in the world! I hugged one.)

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And an incredibly fun ride, too! Some somewhat gnarly parts involved sandy washes, roots and rocks but nothing incredibly challenging. A perfect introduction to Baja dirt riding.

We came upon an entirely burnt down area, too, which made for otherworldly landscapes.

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Ojos Negros was reached and we had some (incredibly great — probably my best ever) roadside al pastor tacos before slabbing it on the highway to Valle de Trinidad. Light was essentially gone by the time we rolled in into a dusty road to the hotel where we happily charged our devices and showered some dust off.

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Still hungry for more dirt, the next day we set off to head to the motorcyclist staple spot in the nearby mountains known as Mike’s Sky Ranch.

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The road to Mike’s famous rancho is about 31 kilometers of pure unadulterated dirt fun (unless it’s wet, in which case it can be a bit of a nightmare).

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While may rip on it with much lighter bikes at higher speeds, we still ripped it up pretty good.

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Stuart got off his bike to take a photo and his bike promptly took a nap in the sand. Whoops.

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Deep ruts of sand, rocky turnouts, downhills, and even a little creek crossing at the end. We were pulsing with adrenaline. It was awesome, even on our huge, heavy loaded bikes. Mike’s was sadly completely empty save for us.

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We put some stickers with its new (and plentiful) companions…and ate some lunch and had a beer before heading back the same way, now even faster.

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From the highway, we made it to San Felipe before we lost all the light, which is a cool if somewhat touristy beach town with a beautiful lighthouse.

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After stopping I broke out some tools to ensure all bolts were still properly torqued after all the bumpy dirt roads. I’d lost one bolt in my bash plate already!

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San Felipe is on the Mex-5, a road that isn’t yet fully paved. It runs by the coast of the Sea of Cortez and eventually connects with the Mex-1, and was a significant leg of the old Baja 1000 off-road race track.

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We had some great fish tacos (Baja is made of great, fresh fish tacos) and toured town taking photos. It seemed really apocalyptic with boats on dry land and many derelict buildings.

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The next day we rode down the Mex-5, treated by incredible views of the Sea of Cortez from the volcanic landscape.

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Incredible landscapes.

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It’s unreal how some parts of this coast harbor absolutely no life, just sharded rock and pumice from long-dead volcanoes. Some beach spots (Puertecitos, for instance) still have hot springs that you can dip into at low tide, emanating that classic sulfuric smell.

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Incredible turn after turn on this freshly (and excellently) paved road. We stopped at the oft-visited Alfonsina’s at Gonzaga Bay. Gonzaga Bay seems to be a quirky community, complete with its own security guard, runway and airplane.

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We met a few other travelers, including a Canadian couple driving this beautiful 1953 car up and down from Canada to Baja and back.

Great fish tacos here, too (no surprise there).

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The Pemex gas station (Pemex is the state-run and only gas station company in Mexico) at Gonzaga Bay was completely out of gas, and we decided to just push our luck and head down the road.

We’d heard some horror stories of the unpaved section of this road connecting with the Mex-1. Some people at Alfonsina’s called it bad — so bad, in fact, one man told a story of a girl traveling North from Argentina who supposedly called it the worst road she’d ridden, ever. We did find the spot the road ran out, and gave way to dirt:

Mexico’s working very hard on it, it seems; I’d be surprised if it isn’t all paved by next year. It was a pleasure riding some of it on dirt.

We made it to the turnoff for the connector to the Mex-1, and right there it was:

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Coco’s Corner. A famous stop of the Baja 1000 and of many trough-travelers. Coco has lived here for 26 years and is an incredibly friendly, generous man. We lost most of our light and really loved the desert scenery… and started debating if we should make it over the worst part of the road.

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Coco chimed in and said we could stay in one of his trailers for free. Incredibly cool. Thanks, Coco.

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It gave us a chance to shoot desert sunset…

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… and the crisp, clear desert night.

And we even recorded some time-lapses. Coco seemed to really enjoy the company so we watched a movie with him — the hilarious 90s erotic thriller ‘Fear’. We ate some ramen he offered and turned in early.

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(Coco also collects underwear and other garments. Yup)

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At the crack of dawn Coco invited us inside to drink some coffee. We paid him some cash for the beers, water and hospitality to reward his generosity and chatted a while. He offered another movie but we had to be on our way… the rest of Baja awaited!

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Until next time, where we go over the pass and explore Baja California Sur.

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