Back on the Sea of Cortez

Heading back to the Sea of Cortez, we are awestruck every time we get a glimpse of its beautiful turquoise waters during our drive.

The sea’s glittering waters hide behind mountains for a bit and then captivate us again and again.

We drove to the lovely Playa Santispac, one of the first coves you come to as you head south in Bahia Concepción. Check out our review of the campground here.

Our campsite was by one of the palapas right on the beach. Hammocks set up, kayaks sitting at the shore, a dream scene.

Our plan had been to stay a few nights and hopscotch to a couple of other beaches that also allow camping, but we scouted them and decided we liked this one best and wound up staying.

The empanada lady and her dutiful husband

Vendors came by selling homemade empanadas, tamales, shrimp cocktail, ceviche, fresh fish for cooking, fresh produce and more. They even bring water to fill tanks. What could be better!

Well, there were also two little beach shack restaurants, one with rural wifi that actually worked at times and the other with live music some nights.

But the best part is the beautiful bay. Although also susceptible to high winds in winter, we were fortunate once again to have calm winds and seas on multiple days.

A big difference between Bahia Concepción and Bahia de los Angeles is that there are multiple islands much closer to shore, only one or two miles away.

And there are others further out as well. Many more accessible places to explore and we did.

Playa Santispac also has an estuary behind the south side of the beach that can be accessed easily during high tide, or by portaging across a sandbar during low tide. One day we paddled over to the estuary.

There was tons of birdlife back there, including blue heron, yellow-crowned night heron, white ibis, reddish egrets as well as lots of duckies (we’re terrible at identifying ducks). The mangroves always make me think of the Everglades, a national park that I love.


On another day of paddling, we crossed over to a little island just across from our beach where there were lots and lots of osprey, pelicans and gulls.


While Hector was taking photographs, I turned the corner heading across to the opposite edge of our beach and heard water splashing next to me – a dolphin! Then another and another.

I tried to paddle to them but they were moving pretty fast. They were jumping out of the water, sometimes even showing their tails as they submerged. So I just stopped and watched for awhile. Dolphins make me happy. Not many photos as Hector was not close enough, but the memory will remain.

Every morning we were greeted with a different light show as the colors changed and the light returned.  The still water reflecting the light.

On other paddling days we visited some more nearby islands. The marine  and bird life were wonderful.

One day Hector spotted a huge sea lion, obviously a male, who raised his head out of the water briefly and swam away. But we were able to see his body arching down into the water and he was like a little whale.

Another nearby feature was a reef that when not submerged was teeming with pelicans, cormorants and other birds. We paddled softly pretty close to them but they didn’t seem bothered at all. Very cool.


Back on another island, we saw lots of little fish in the water and small sting rays.  I love seeing them with their undulating “wings”, they look like they’re flying instead of swimming. The waters around that island also had many pretty sea stars scattered about.

The day of our last paddle was glorious! It was Valentine’s Day and the sea was calm and soft. Hector drew a Valentine’s card in the sand.

So we paddled lazily further out and for a much longer time, taking in all of the beauty of the sea and the life within it. Usually the breeze kicks up mid day but not today.  The water was like glass until well after noon.

We wound up visiting all four islands that day, while Hector attempted to get to a fifth but it was further than it looked. Distances on the water can be really hard to judge. So he bailed out and met me by a pretty little beach on one of the islets.

Hector hoped that by heading out further into the bay that we would see more wildlife. As we were heading back we looked over and saw a pod of dolphins with a motor boat nearby watching them along with some paddle boarders.

The dolphins were swimming in my direction and I followed them when they swam past me. They swam around me for a bit, then Hector joined me and they swam off.

Hector paddled after them this time and I tried to photograph but they got too far too fast. He was able to get up close to them and they swam all around his kayak.

After our spectacular paddle, we had a wonderful lunch of shrimp ceviche and shrimp cocktail. Then it was hammock time in our palapa!

That evening Hector prepared a marvelous dinner of steak, lobster and hash browns. He set up a table on the beach in front of our palapa with some borrowed candles from our neighbors who were spending Valentine’s at a nearby hotel. It was a lovely and romantic dinner.

A wonderful ending to our time at Bahia Concepción!

 

 

 

Heroica Mulegé

Our next drive took us back to the Sea of Cortez through beautiful desert landscape surrounded by mountains to the town of Mulegé (pronounced Moo-leh-HEH) whose official name is actually Heroica Mulegé (Heroic Mulegé).

This is because during the Mexican American war (written as the War of North American Interference on one of the Spanish descriptions I read), the people of Mulegé and surrounding defended the region from being occupied. The U.S. was able to keep New Mexico and California, but not Baja California.

 

Just south of Mulegé is the mouth of stunning Bahía Concepción, one of the largest bays on the Sea of Cortez with multiple coves and beaches. There are many camping options for RVers right on the beaches, we chose Playa Santispac. More on that later. Check out our review of the beach campground here.

Mulegé is another oasis with lots of palm trees and surrounded by mountains. The setting is lovely. The center of town is very hilly and has really narrow streets so it’s not a good place to drive RVs.

There are a few small markets and restaurants and a wonderful bakery, Mago’s.  They have very good “almost free” wifi too!

 

The town cemetery

Best of all in my opinion is the lovely Río de Santa Rosalía de Mulegé that runs through town. It creates a lush landscape with many palms and there is a lighthouse marking the river’s mouth to the sea.

If you follow the river inland a short distance, you will reach the Misión Santa Rosalía de Mulegé, a stunning stone structure built in 1771. This is my favorite mission so far because of the rounded and different colored stone. The interior is apparently not original and seems austere for Catholic standards, I love the interior stone walls.

Another interesting historical structure is the building that used to house the “prison without doors” and now houses the Museo Histórico. It’s at the top of a steep hill at the end of a dirt road.

The prison allowed certain male prisoners to work in the town during the day. At 6pm, the sound of a conch shell called them back. This was prior to the Transpeninsular highway being built, and so it was nearly impossible to escape from this remote area. One prisoner did escape once and another was sent to capture him. The second prisoner succeeded in capturing and returning the escapee.

Museum is kind of a loose term for this place as it has a random collection of artifacts most of which are not related to the prison. It does not have too many informative signs, and most are in Spanish.

One weird thing was some space junk, determined to be an engine part from the upper stage of a Delta II rocket that dropped from the sky into a ranch nearby!

Two very informative ladies from INAH, the Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia, were there when we visited. We speak Spanish when we’re in Mexico, but we assume they spoke English as well. The prison building is impressive and worth a visit.

On Saturday night we enjoyed the weekly pig roast dinner at the Hotel Serenidad just south of town. They’ve roasted a pig there every Saturday since the 1970s!

It’s quite an elegant hotel with beautiful grounds and an interesting history. It once catered to fishermen who could afford to fly to the adjacent airstrip, since the highway didn’t exist at the time. The airstrip is still there and quite active, in fact, there was a group of pilots staying at the hotel when we visited.

Our stay ended with another dinner with newfound friends at the Buenaventura Restaurant down the road. It claims to have the best burgers in Baja, and they were quite good.

And then there were our adventures on the beautiful Bahia Concepción…stay tuned!

 

 

Breathtaking Bahia de Los Angeles

Our side trip to Bahia de los Angeles began with a lovely drive through more desert gardens. Thankfully, the road was in very good condition and a bit wider than the Peninsular Highway.

As you approach the Bay, there is a moment when the Sea of Cortez and its surrounding islands appear before you, it is stunning!

We were relieved to see that the gas station in town was open as it closes if the gas delivery doesn’t come.  Our rig didn’t have enough diesel to make it both across the gas gap and also do the extra hundred miles or so for this side trip.  For cars that run low, there are a couple of pickups with “barrel gas” at the Bahia turn.  Folks do tend to find a way.

Water is scarce here (no campgrounds offer water hookups or water for filling your tanks), so we filled our tanks in Cataviña.  We checked out Daggett’s campground and used the dump there (only one in town). While Hector handled the stinky slinky I checked out Campo Archelon next door.

Daggett’s was nice enough but Campo Archelon had one spot left by a large palapa right by the water and that became our spot!

Campo Archelon has a fascinating history.  Betty and her husband Antonio arrived in 1979 to set up a sea turtle research station.  At that time, the turtle population was diminishing but they were still being hunted for food. Their research ultimately help prove that the turtles needed protection and new laws were finally instituted in 1990 to protect them across the Mexican shores, a critical habitat for the global turtle population.  The research center is no longer there, but the cabanas and the palapas still in place for the RV park had been set up originally to house volunteers and for educational meetings.

There is still a feeling that something good happened here. Antonio senior passed away a few years ago and Betty now runs the place with her industrious son Antonio. Check out our review of this lovely campground here.

We set up in our huge palapa and were able to place our barbecue and outdoor stove on the large table provided by the campground. Instant covered outdoor kitchen!

That night we were graced with the first beautiful sunset of the week. What a spectacular place!


Bahia de los Angeles is known for occasional high winds from the north (Nortes) which were blowing on our first day there. So we drove over to the little town. We found some interesting murals and a few small businesses but not much else of interest except for a lovely little museum.

The Museo de Naturaleza y Cultura is a museum that was founded by an American lady, Carolina Shepard, who has lived 40+ years and raised her family in Bahia de los Angeles. The museum has many examples of marinelife and shell species, indigenous artifacts, exhibitions representing the history and ecology of the region, mining and ranching artifacts and more. It is clearly a labor of love. Surprisingly, we found Betty from the campground overseeing the museum. Carolina humbly gives much of the credit for the museum to all of the people who have given their time to it and Betty is apparently one of those people.  We were fortunate to meet these two pillars of the community,

We returned to our beautiful campsite and took a walk on the beach where we found many lovely shells and watched another stunning sunset.  By the end of the week we had amassed quite the haul.

The sunsets were great.  But the sunrises were even more intense.

An interesting thing about the town is that most of the residents have to get non-potable water from a nearby well, and potable water from a nearby spring. We saw Antonio head out several times in his truck to acquire water. The campground uses a system to capture seawater to flush the toilets and for two little sinks outside the toilets (clearly marked as salt water). They use the good water for the showers and for a faucet located outside the shower building.  Moving water is hard work!

At dusk every day, when the tide was low, shorebirds, wading birds, pelicans and gulls gathered on the rocks to catch their dinner. There were oystercatchers, great egrets, great blue heron, different types of seagulls, pelicans, reddish egrets, greater yellowlegs, and more.

That was our evening entertainment prior to the magnificent sunsets. The sunsets had different colors and patterns each day. A magical place.Antonio the younger has ambitious plans for the place. A new restaurant is under construction and he was continuously working on the garden, the buildings, and helping the guests with advice and assistance.

Campo Archelon was magical.  Our visit to Bahia de Los Angeles was all we dreamt of.  Next up our kayaking adventures while we were in this beautiful place.

Hector and Brenda

El Valle de los Cirios


Just south of San Quintin is the town of El Rosario. This very small town is well-known to RVers because it has the last Pemex station before the central desert of Baja and the longest fuel “gap” on the peninsula. The next gas or diesel isn’t for 223 miles!  Shortly after you leave El Rosario the scenery changes and civilization is left behind. The central desert, or el desierto central, is where you enter the “true” Baja. And where soon you will enter El Valle de los Cirios.

The change is dramatic.  This area is a southern extension of the Sonoran Desert, similar to the beautiful desert around Tucson.

But with some interesting differences. Wild and beautiful and empty of people and development. The Parque Nacional del Desierto Central is the second largest natural protected area in Mexico.

As you near the remote outpost of Cataviña you start seeing what look very much like Saguaros but are not. These are the mighty Cardón cacti (pachycereus pringlei). Also known as elephant cactus. Sort of like Saguaro but even bigger! These monsters are the tallest cacti on earth. They average 30 feet tall but specimens are known to reach 60 feet. They have more arms in general than the Saguaro and the arms tend to branch out from lower on the main trunk.

Slow growers, many of these plants are hundreds of years old. They stretch as far as the eye can see for many miles.

And all around the Cardón are the Cirios, (aka Boojum trees / fouquieria columnaris) which are crazy looking things related to the ocotillo but looking as if it came from a Dr. Seuss book. Sort of like an upside down giant carrot with little green leaves and funny little flowers at the top.

They grow straight up as much as 60 feet tall!   There are a few Cardón and Cirios in mainland Mexico but they are mostly endemic to Baja near the 29th parallel.

This area is called El Valle de Los Cirios (Valley of the Cirios). This desert landscape goes on for many miles but the zone around Cataviña has them growing amidst thousands of giant granite boulders. It makes for an incredible scene.

Oh, and the road is absolutely terrifying!  Narrow, windy, sometimes potholed, and mostly with no shoulder and a little drop off. Combine that with 18 wheeler trucks that blast down the road and it makes for some white knuckle moments. Good reason to keep driving days short.

So we stopped in the little wide spot town of Cataviña at Rancho Santa Ynez, where RV camping is allowed in a large flat open space. There is a tiny restaurant that serves simple decent food attached to the ranch house and not much else. Check out our review of the campground here.

This area is VERY dry and the extent of the RV facilities is one little lonely water spigot by a palm tree with a sign that says “cuida el agua” (take care of the water).

Words to live by.

As we explored the tiny town we ran across a place selling coconuts.  The guy is a transplant from Colima on the mainland, a place with lots of coconuts. He imports them to sell here.  The place is decorated with all sorts of flotsam and junk, very entertaining.  Love to find these weird little spots!

We went for a sunset drive out among the Cataviña boulder field and spotted a little structure propped up against a giant boulder. So we hiked out to it and found this sweet little painting inside, it was a tiny chapel. Love the little angel with Mexican flag wings.

Sunset didn’t disappoint.  The beautiful desert scene made for great foreground.

This section of road also is also where you cross over from the Pacific to the Sea of Cortez for the first time.  Our first stop on the Sea of Cortez is Bahia de Los Angeles. Stay tuned!

Hector and Brenda

The Surprising Beach at San Quintin

South of Ensenada the road goes through an agricultural area and the towns get smaller and further apart.  We try to make our driving days short and  San Quintin is just before the central desert and the longest “gas gap” in Baja where there are >200 miles between gas stations so we planned to overnight there.

With no particular expectations other than we knew it was on the beach we stopped to camp at Fidel’s El Pabellon RV campground.  Check out our review of the campground here. To our delight the beach was incredible.  Wide, beautiful and completely empty. Except of course for the zillion sand dollars that were everywhere and lots of birds.

Fidel was very nice and was busy constructing a new waterfront restaurant focused on local seafood which he hopes will be open in March.  He gave me a tour of the work in progress, looks like it will be quite the addition to the limited local restaurant scene in a spectacular location.

A walk on the beach and a gorgeous sunset. In the morning, we awoke to dolphins out on the water. And a few fishermen returning from early fishing trips. Fidel used to be a lobster fisherman so it sounds like that will be a highlight of his menu.An unexpected treat for sure.

Groucho Marx clams

We were tempted to stay longer but decided to pull ourselves away to get further south.
Off to the central desert we go.

Hector and Brenda

Fun with Friends in Moab, Utah

We made a few more stops after Bryce Canyon and before the end of our walkabout…After leaving the beautiful canyon, we headed east across the dramatic Utah landscape where we planned a brief stop for some fun with friends in Moab, Utah.

As was the case in many of our later travels, our route to Albuquerque from Tucson was turning out to be quite loopy. But since these were the last weeks of our walkabout, we could not pass up the opportunity to see some of our RVer friends once again.

We wanted to boondock in Moab, but weren’t sure about our options, so we reached out to our friend Amanda (WatsonsWander). She told us that several of the better known boondocking areas were pretty full, but suggested Klondike Bluff Road just up a couple of roads from where they were boondocking.

We found a great spot, with 360 degree views and 4 bars LTE signal no less. Check out my review of Klondike Bluff Road here.

Having contacts sure helps when looking for these special out of the way places.

We’ve been turned onto more than one killer (and FREE) campsite through the kindness of fellow RVers.

Thanks Amanda!

Our friend Mona Liza (The Lowe’s RV Adventures) had planned a get together with several folks that were staying in the area on the day after we were due to arrive, and since she knew we were on our way, invited us as well. So that evening we met up with friends for dinner at a restaurant in town.

Amanda and Tim were there with their parents, along with our friends Pam and John (Oh, the Places They Go!). And we met Susan and David (Beluga’s excellent adventure), whom we had heard about from several other RVer friends.  It was a fun time, as it always is with our RVer buddies.

The next day Hector and I took one of our sunrise drives over to Arches National Park. We visited this beautiful park a number of times when we lived in Colorado, but it is another of those places that you never get tired of.

Hector’s ankle was still not doing so well, so we just drove on the park road and stopped for short walks along the way.

Later that afternoon we returned to the park with Angel for a slightly longer drive. This time we drove over to Salt Valley Road which goes to a more remote area of the park. It’s a dirt road with very little traffic, so we had the place virtually to ourselves.

After we had driven for quite awhile, Hector spotted some burrowing owls. Shortly after we realized that this area was also a prairie dog colony. Burrowing owls frequently live amongst prairie dog colonies due to the abundance of insects, one of their preferred foods. They also modify unoccupied prairie dog burrows to lay their eggs.


The burrowing owl are sometimes alerted to predators by the prairie dogs alarm calls. Another one of those very interesting symbiotic relationships in nature. These owls are declining in some areas partially due to prairie dog control factors, as well as habitat loss and car accidents. They are considered endangered in Canada.

We spent a lot of time watching the owls, they are so incredibly cute as they peek out of their burrows! These little guys provided our entertainment for the afternoon. 

Angel got a few walks alongside the road, since there was no traffic.  It was a fun afternoon for all of us, especially the photographer.

The following day Mona Liza and Steve had a little dinner party at their campsite. She made her literally world-famous lumpia (Philippine eggrolls) as well as some pancet, a noodle dish. We had never tried either of these before. Delish!

Pam and John and Susan and Dave were there, and we met two more RVers, Joe and Gay (good-times-rollin) All wonderful people and we truly enjoyed spending time with all of them.  These impromptu gatherings were one of the very best parts of the RV life.

We entered the park one last time for a sunset drive. So beautiful.

The weather had been touch and go and it rained all night the night before we left. This made for quite an exciting exit from our perfect boondocking spot. One of the scariest drives from our entire walkabout. VERY wet and muddy as in – whatever you do, don’t stop! But we made it.