Chilling at Playa El Tecolote

Our next stop was north of the city of La Paz, written up as the best boondocking spot in all of Baja California! Back to the Sea of Cortez, which is now one of our favorite bodies of water. It was time for chilling at Playa El Tecolote. Check out my review of  the  beach here.
This was another wide beautiful beach but with several beachfront restaurants in the middle. There were quite a few RVs parked on the east end of the beach but there was lots of open space. We parked about 100 yards away from the next RV in a nice private spot.

We took a walk on the beach and decided to have an early dinner. As we returned, the RV looked so close to the water that Hector kept checking to make sure that high tide wouldn’t reach us.

That evening we were treated to a spectacular sunset. And the next morning we awoke to a commanding view of the south end of the island of Espíritu Santo amidst beautiful turquoise water.

We hadn’t had much downtime and had covered many many miles so we decided to take it easy and relax and read for a couple of days.

The next afternoon a couple that we’d met at the RV park in Bahia de los Angeles drove in to spend the night.

We hung out with Chuck and Teri and their cute dog, Kokanee. They brought a little firepit and lit a nice fire that evening and we enjoyed another fabulous sunset.

Later that night Hector and I came back out to watch the stars which were beautiful.

The next day we walked over to one end of the beach where there’s a little trail up a hill and hiked up to a road that took us around the bend. And what was over the bend? Another beautiful little beach cove of course. That was the extent of our activity for the day.Some may have noticed that we’ve been wearing hoodies and coats. It’s been unusually cold in Baja but seeing the weather in the States we haven’t dared to complain. Here we finally found the warm weather! On a nice, calm and warm day we went for a paddle. 


There were fish jumping out of the water and of course pelicans and gulls. There were also a lot of frigate birds flying above us which are so interesting with their forked tails.

The water was a beautiful turquoise and swimming pool clear. Just like the pictures we’ve seen that made us want to come to Baja in the first place.

It was a relaxing paddle and a great way to end our restful stay at this lovely beach but  the time had come to hit the big city and their Carnaval celebration.

 

Loreto and the Start of the Camino Real

After yet another beautiful drive along the shores of Bahia Concepcion and across more beautiful desert scenery, we reached lovely Loreto and the start of the Camino Real. Loreto is one of the Mexican towns that has been designated as a Pueblo Mágico.

Pueblos Mágicos offer visitors a “magical” experience by reason of their natural beauty, cultural richness, traditions, folklore, historical relevance, cuisine, art, crafts and great hospitality.

Set alongside the stunning Sea of Cortez, Loreto has much going for it. A beautiful plaza where the first mission in Baja California was founded. Other lovely colonial structures. Lots of fine restaurants and shops.

There are beautiful lanes with trees manicured into archways. In fact, this town was the capital of the Californias (Baja and Alta) from 1697 to 1777.

Our first visit was to the mission church, Misión Nuestra Senora de Loreto Conchó, founded as a simple structure in 1697. This was the first mission in California.

 

The stone structure that stands today was built from stone and mortar in 1740. Its bells resonate through the town every hour. It was also the first of what would be an astonishing collection of missions along the second Camino Real (the first went from Mexico City to Santa Fe) that extended beyond San Francisco in present day California.

 

Next to the church is the Museo de los Misiones, with many beautiful artifacts depicting the history of the mission, the town, and the missionary efforts across the Californias. It was beautifully presented with excellent interpretive panels, the nicest museum that we’ve visited in Baja.

The community’s pride in the town was evident as we drove around and saw people constantly painting and repairing structures and cleaning the streets.

During our visit, there was a small farmers market in the morning where we bought quite a lot of produce for almost nothing.

And there was an arts and crafts fair in the evening with live music and performers.

That night we enjoyed walking along the beautiful malecón, with its many pangas ready to take tourists out on the water.

We enjoyed watching an interesting phenomenon the locals call the picazón both from our campground and along the malecón. When the sardines are running, pelicans are drawn to the area for feeding.


We’ve never seen so many pelicans, and they all are participating in a feeding frenzy. It was crazy.

We also had the finest meals to date in Baja. One was in a lovely restaurant called Mi Loreto, right by the plaza where we had a fabulous mushroom ceviche.

To our surprise we were asked if we had reservations when we arrived.  Since we didn’t we were turned away as they were full for the night!  And moments later there was a last minute cancellation.  Lucky for us!

There is a Uruguayan place in town called Mezzaluna where we were treated to a lovely performance by an Argentinean traveler and musician, Martin Bevacua.  A charming fellow with a beautiful voice.

At the other end of the spectrum, we enjoyed some awesome tacos at the famous “El Rey del Taco”. Cheap and fun!

Another great meal was in an enterprising restaurant just outside of town that adopted the name La Picazón as it is on the water in full view of the pelicans. We headed out there on a long bumpy road to what we thought was a casual little place only to find a beautiful restaurant, off grid, but with delicious gourmet dishes including octopus in a tequila reduction.

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That same evening as an extra treat we watched the beautiful full super moon come up over the water.

We stayed pretty close to the center of town at Loreto Shores RV park, steps from the Sea of Cortez. An urban park with pretty tight spaces, it did have an amazing view. Check out our review of the park here.

We’d planned to paddle a couple of times, but one day we’d planned to I woke up feeling under the weather (I felt better later) and another day weather did not cooperate. The famous north winds blew most of the time we were there.

On the last day we were determined to get out on the water and there was a brief period of calm so we did take our kayaks out but the wind kicked up shortly thereafter. But we did see some dolphins and as we returned to our campground were treated to the pelicans and their amazing feeding frenzy once more.

Loreto is magical indeed.

 

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!

 

 

 

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.