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Thursday, February 19, 2015

Straight Shooting

Oasis in San Ignacio
We drove onwards across the desert passing mountains, cactus and barren arroyos. The road dropped out of the mountains and straightened out into an impressively consistent road. In Guererro Negro we passed into Southern Baja and our car was sprayed down with pesticides. Over the next few hours we passed little except military checkpoints until we made it to the San Ignacio. We saw the town from above and were impressed by the swath of vibrant green vegetation due to a large oasis that feeds water to the area. On Hannah’s recommendation, we checked out one of the oldest monasteries in Baja aka I hung out in the garden taking photos of the various identified plants. I neglected to bring a Baja botany book, a big mistake.

The sun was getting rather low so as we left town we were immediately on the lookout for camping spots and chanced into one after crossing a massive bridge over an arroyo system. We followed a telephone line road to a perfect glade where we stopped for the night. Pink lupines bloomed across the sandy bottom of the arroyo and strange euphorbia, purple blooms and red ocotillo trumpets filled the desert nearby. 

James at the mission
We enjoyed a tasty dinner and a few beers, passing out early. When the sun goes to bed, so do we. In the morning we headed to Santa Rosalia passing some wonderful and painful sights. The Volcan Tres Virgines erupted out of the desert with charcoal black basalt lava flows oozing out of the base. Then we passed a massive open pit landfill that was up in flames, burning the trash away. Then we passed massive copper mining and smelting operation. All of the industry shocked us after driving through pristine desert. We picked up a cell phone for James and re-upped our grocery supply at a supermarket in Santa Rosalia. Most importantly we grabbed a bag of oranges from a lady on the side of the road! Oranges are cheap and a daily necessity. Further south we entered Mulege where we came back to the ocean. From there the road wound around Bahia Concepcion, filled with turquoise blue waters and white sandy beaches; the multitude of just off shore islands blew our minds. At the bottom of the bay we pulled off onto a rocky road which we thought was going to bring us to our dream campsite. Alas after 45 minutes of bumping along with few good looking places, we decided to turn around and found a comfortable wash to camp in.

Camping in the arroyo

Not too shabby a place
After an Italian Dinner replete with zucchini, bolete (porcini), and sun dried tomato spaghetti sauce served over pasta, I was finally able to get the group to sit down have a discussion about group norms. As a social change organizer and camp counselor, I was adamant that we have the conversation. We created a massive list of everything, from how we want to treat each other, to our individual money situations, our pet peeves, how we plan to deal with robberies or tense situations. Afterwards I was happy to hear James and Josh exclaim that the conversation was actually way more useful than they believed it would be.

In the morning we headed south to tranquil Loreto. The town was heavily policed with many gringos walking the streets. Trees lined the streets and the central square was filled with well maintained gardens. We picked up groceries, gas and tequila as well as a fishing license and an extra snorkel. From Loreto, the road hugs the gorgeous coastline. We had to pull over and drink in the vista because the scene was so gripping. Isla Coronado, Isla Monserrat and the massive Isla del Carmen stretched along the coastline. We moved down the coast finding a secluded campsite at Puerto Escondito where Isla Danzate framed our view out over the Gulf. 

View from our campsite in Puerto Escondito
After setting up camp, Josh, Brian and I jumped out in the water. We had noted this area as one for snorkeling and spear fishing. Unfortunately the wind was blowing as a fairly decent clip stirring up some larger waves and sand from the bottom but we had our hearts set on snorkeling and catching fish. This was my first time snorkeling. Wind, chilly water, and my slight fear of turbid water made the experience a bit tough. I eventually calmed my breathing down enough to actually look under the surface and enjoy the marine life there. Being a total nerd, I was instantly excited when I started seeing even the occasional bit of marine life. Tiny puffer fish and occasional starfish left me ready for more snorkeling. Brian found a couple fish to shoot at but came up empty. Finally after drinking my fair share of salt water I headed back towards land. When we came back to shore we met our neighbors Penny and Suzy who became our wonderful surrogate mothers. The two hail from the Lost Coast of California and have been coming down to Loreto and camping for a few months at a time during the winter. Suzy and her husband have been coming down to Baja for years and have traveled the peninsula extensively; Suzy and her sister even drove Highway 1 the first year it was completed!

Of course Suzy had a son who is a graduate student at Oregon State University and the world being tiny, Brian had gone to a lecture that Suzy’s son presented. Suzy gave us the low down on the area and shared her wealth of knowledge of Baja, letting us in on her favorite snorkeling spot in Baja and which canyons to hike in the area. 

The next morning we headed to the canyon right across the road from our campsite. Two miles later and we were at the mouth of the canyon and we started upwards. Massive swarms of butterflies flew from the upper boughs of a strange tree that engulfed a cliff face. The white bark of the tree contrasted with the lush, large green leaves. The trunk was many smaller branches that eventually coalesced into a larger trunk, looking similar to a mangrove but far larger than most mangroves. The walls of the canyon narrowed as we hiked onwards and we ogled at the high cliffs above.

Entering the Canyon

What a good looking guy
Crazy butterfly tree


Red, tan, black, green, white and purple rocks lined the canyon. The predominant rock was a beautiful conglomerate while occasional and volcanic rock with quartz veins crossed our path. Soon after entering the canyon we heard water flowing. Rounding a corner we were treated to pristine pools; water in the desert. Palm trees appeared and we hiked higher. The water carved the canyon and would periodically disappear to only reappear a few hundred meters farther along. Clambering over massive boulders we made our way higher and higher. Every couple hundred feet of gained elevation brought new and different plants. The diversity was like nothing I have ever seen; these mountains were so close to the coast and receive more rain than the surrounding desert leading to the diversity. The year previous was exceptionally rainy, bringing massive floods through the canyon and Susy had warned us that the going might be tough. Occasionally house sized choke stones blocked the narrow canyon and we had to use ropes to climb higher. This just made for more climbing and more fun! 
Palm Grove at the top

Brian and Josh decided to relax next to one of the larger pools while James and I explored higher up. The views back down the canyon and over the islands and the gulf made for pleasant sights. Ultimately we made it to our destination, a massive palm grove high in the mountains. Trekking down, we made it out of the canyon just as the sun started to set, throwing orange light over the craggy peaks behind us. Night fell as James and I walked back the final two miles to camp where we found our exasperated friends. We had all forgotten that the keys were in my pocket when we parted ways so they were stuck outside of the car without access to food and warm clothes while James and I hiked. Alas we developed a better protocol for avoiding the situation in the future

The next morning we headed south again on straight roads towards Ciudad Insurgentes eventually making it to Punta Conejo. The waves were rolling in in massive curling sets. Brian was beside himself. He had never seen waves like these. Absolutely perfect. While Brian jumped in the water with the surfboard, Josh and I headed out to search for tasty shellfish. As we looked under and around the tidal rocks, the sun slowly set on the horizon lighting up the stratus clouds above us with a light mauve and the massive cumulonimbus thunderheads out over the Pacific with brilliant yellows and oranges. Both Josh and I stood dumfounded, our gathering mission forgotten. I motioned Josh over and we sat on the rocks taking in the spectacle. In the east, the legs of a double rainbow shone brightly while the sun continued to set in the west. Flocks of seagulls passed overhead along with groups of feeding brown pelicans, each silhouetted by the sunset. We made scrumptious chile rellenos stuffed with chorizo and onion for dinner. We are true hobbits; we eat well.
In the morning we prepared some delicious burritos while Brian and James hit the surf with our new friend, Will of Bellingham, Washington (most recently, as he has been living out of a well set up Sprinter van for the past three years). Will is en route to Envision, a music festival in Costa Rica with two brothers, Cole and Sam. Seeing the two brothers made me realize how much I wish my awesome brother, Ian was with us! Once again we were reminded that while the horizons of Baja seem vast and the world a huge place, the reality is that we are a small, interconnected community. Will had been climbing with Meghan’s (James’ ladyfriend) brother in law and was also good friends with Morgan Foster, a dude that I grew up playing soccer with. 

Punta Conejo was filled with surfers, all of whom were incredibly friendly folks. No sooner would one conversation end than another would begin and we would connect over being from Oregon or a love for camping in the middle of nowhere. John, our resident seagull, otherwise known as the owner of Kite the Bay in San Francisco tried to buy a cup of coffee and oranges from us. We laughed at the audacity. Come have three of each and eat some breakfast with us. 

“Seriously?” He asked. Of course! We had another friend.

Sunset at Punta Conejo


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