April 2017


Whales & Wildflowers

Baja, Borrego and Beyond

Part 2



April 25, 2017

I wonder if this will become the norm. We make a commitment or two and plan a short trip which turns into a month-long adventure.

With a date to see petroglyphs at Little Lake on February 25 and dentist appointments in San Diego on March 17, we had a three week gap to spend on the road and out of the snow. Jim and I are a little tired of snow this year.

Should we go back to Death Valley? The Anza-Borrego desert? Facebook came to the rescue. English sailing friends were visiting family in Carlsbad. Could we meet up? A high school friend posted photos from Baja camping on beaches and watching baby whales. How cool! A loose plan began to form.

February 27, 2017: Lone Pine - Death Valley

We left the Comfort Inn in Lone Pine after food poisoning or a spewy flu nailed me just after the petroglyph tour. In times like these a hotel room is nicer than a bucket in the van or a shared bathroom or outhouse in a campground.

We pulled into Texas Springs campgroundnear Furnace Creek late in the afternoon. There we met Kim and Derek on their maiden voyage in a new-to-them Sprinter. The long wheelbase 2WD van began life as a coffee delivery truck and Derek has made it into their ideal adventure mobile. Check it out on Sprinter Van Rat's People and Vans we Meet page.

With all the recent rain, the salt pans at Badwater Basin were washed clean and shown brilliant white. A lake of shallow water stretched before the Panamint range on the far side, a rare occurrence. Further south, a few wildflowers were beginning to bloom. Last year Death Valley had a superbloom. Wonder what's in store for this year.


February 29, 2017: Death Valley - Carlsbad

Turns out you can't just show up at a state park in Southern California and hope to get a spot for the night. "You need to go online at ReserveAmerica. There's a 48 hour lead time," said the guy at the gate. So much for spontaneity. We found a room at the Roadway Inn for the night and reserved a site at South Carlsbad State Beachfor March 3-5. Then we beelined it to Dana Point to visit old friends, Larry and Carol. When arriving on short notice, folks appreciate us bringing our own bedroom. Back in Carlsbad we had the van's 20k mile service done at Hoehn Mercedes before checking into our campsite.

What fun to spend time with Liz and Bob again. We met when our boats were moored near each other in Almerimar, Spain in 2007. Liz's daughter, Kate, and son-in-law, Sean, live in Carlsbad and have a sailboat. Guess what we did?

Jim's a planner. I'm a let's-go-and-we'll-make-it-work kind of person. Neither of us had been south of the border in more than 30 years and then it was only as far as Ensenada. We had no guidebooks or maps. It is rumored that Ultra-Low Sulfur Diesel (ULSD) - which our 2016 Sprinter needs - is not available in Baja.

Jim went on forums and found that ULSD is available in Baja California Norte but not Baja California Sur. The last place to get it is Jesus Maria a few miles north of Guerrero Negro which is just north of the lagoon with whales. It was going to work out.

Since we were down that far, we might as well go to Bahia Concepcion, I reckoned. Jim recoiled. We would not have enough fuel to go 250 miles further. Some say it's okay to mix ULSD with regular diesel but there is no definitive proof that it does no harm and doing so would void our warranty. I didn't let up. Eventually he figured if we had two five gallon jugs of USLD we'd be fine.


March 6, 2017: San Ysidro - San Quintin

Armed with insurance from AAA (in Spanish and English) and receipts for our FMM (Forma Migratoria Multiple) completed online, we eased across the Tijuana border crossing at 7:15 am. Just inside Mexico we parked to have our passports stamped and FMMs checked at the office. We were heading south on the well-paved toll road by 7:45 am.

We passed through three toll booths which charged 32 pesos each before reaching Ensenada. About 3:00 pm we rolled into San Quintin and stayed at a hotel I will not recommend because they stole Jim's credit card number and made some charges. The next morning we drove to the lagoon via Hwy 1. The pretty scenery and gorgeous wildflowers made up for the crazy pothole avoidance maneuvers between San Quintin and Guerrero Negro.


March 7, 2017: San Quintin - Laguna Ojo de Liebre

There is no 3G coverage outside the cities in Baja so when we reached Guerrero Negro we turned off, parked, and spent some time online before heading to the dirt road that led through the salt works to the lagoon. Just over a rise along the graded road we came across a Honda Accord facing the wrong direction and high-sided on the roadside berm. The young driver was told he would have fun doing donuts out here but didn't think to wait until he was on flat ground.

We offered to pull them out and they seemed confident in our skills - the van looks beefy enough so we must know what we're doing - until I pulled out the tow strap still wrapped in plastic. Jim pulled them out from their rear and we learned that bumpers on low-clearance cars can act as big scoops in sand and may deform or break. Nothing a little Gorilla tape couldn't handle.

It was blowing a hoolie when we arrived at Laguna Ojo de Liebre Campground, aka Scammon's Lagoon, so we paid for a palapa and ducked into #5. That evening we met Kathy and David at the restaurant. They were leaving the next morning and said we should snag their spot further down the beach if the wind died down. They have a Sportsmobile 4x4 Sprinter and gave us a tour. Check it out here.

David and Kathy keep their extra fuel cans mounted on the rear bumper. These were full when they crossed the border. Officials said it is forbidden to bring diesel into Mexico and escorted them back to the US. So they went to a gas station and gave the fuel to someone who put it in their tank and headed for the border. When David and Kathy crossed again their van was x-rayed. They were baffled by the bizarre behavior and curious why we hadn't encountered any of it. Our full fuel cans were inside, under a bench seat. An official saw them but did nothing. Go figure.

We enjoyed this beautiful and peaceful place and went out to see baby whales twice. The first day we bought tickets at the restaurant and were joined by two other couples and three men from the Mexican government tasked with taking photos and videos to promote the experience among Mexican citizens. Maybe because of them we stayed out for several hours while a mama and baby interacted with our boat. The baby's back was not straight, it was curved like an "S". It rested by laying on its mother for a few minutes between frolicking around the boat. Both mama and baby swam back and forth and alongside our boat. The baby spyhopped and both looked closely when one of the photographers filmed underwater.

The second day we booked with Whale Magic Tours. Shari Bondy has been doing whale watching trips here for decades. No whales came up to our boat, which happens sometimes, but a young male breached often nearby. Also, an adult with a white fluke came close and another female covered in lice looked like she was orange instead of grey. Shari said she might not live much longer.


March 10, 2017: Laguna Ojo de Liebre - Mulege

This stretch of Hwy. 1 crosses the desert from the Pacific side of the peninsula to the Sea of Cortez. It was a gorgeous drive with wildflowers and cacti blooming. Several types of cacti are only found in this area, no other place on earth.

The road is in good condition but it is narrow. Driving at night is not recommended and I understand why: We lost count of the crosses and shrines along the roadside. Here and there on hilly sections were bits of truck panels lying in the dirt far below the road - guard rails, if any, blown out.

There are a few check-points along the way. Near San Ignacio a guard gave a cursory glance inside the van before opening the fridge. He pointed to a Modelo beer with a big grin. Another guard asked for soda and pointed to a Fat Tire ale. The first guard stashed them somewhere in his baggy uniform. Apparently this is like sailing in some countries where officials appreciate cold drinks in the heat. I made a mental note to bring sodas next time.

A mile and a half west of the hwy in Mulege is Ray's RV Campground. We didn't need the hook-ups as driving and our solar panel insured our batteries were fully charged, but it was really nice to have a warm shower. The campground is all grass, and there's a pool, but the best part are the orange and grapefruit trees. Guests are free to pick the fruit. After Jim squeezed juice in the morning, a couple drove up with their car packed with other fresh fruit, veggies, and homemade meals. This was the first of what became a morning occurance until we headed back north.

Mulege is 230 miles south of Jesus Maria, the place we'd last filled up with ULSD. Here Jim emptied our 10 gallons of reserve fuel into the tank before we continued on to Bahia Concepcion.


March 11, 2017: Mulege - Bahia Concepcion

It was a short drive south to Bahia Conception, a stunning bay in the Sea of Cortez. There are many campgrounds; each seems alone in its own part of the scalloped shoreline.

In the mornings and on windless days the water is like turquoise glass, perfect for kayaking. The wind picks up to varying degrees throughout the afternoon. We were caught out one day about two miles south of our site and learned that our foldable Klepper kayak plows through 1-2 foot waves and chop really well.

Jim and I paddled out to and around the off-lying islands. We were happy to watch frigatebirds, cormorants, and pelicans soaring overhead and excited to see about a dozen blue-footed boobies perched on the rocks. There were nesting pelicans and ospreys. We saw two different osprey nests with curious chicks peering over the twigs as their mothers stood guard.

Stingrays glided below our kayak and dolphins jumped in the distance. One morning we heard the low, long blow of a whale before seeing it surface several times.

Ashore we watched herons, egrets, and oyster catchers fish in front of our campsite. Perhaps because we were moving so slowly and resembled the dead or dying, several turkey vultures took up watch on the cliff behind us.

Each day the temperature rose until it hovered around 90. Each morning a few more seasonal campers left to return home. When our time came, we didn't want to leave.
























March 14, 2017: Bahia Concepcion - Bahia de Los Angeles

Stocked with fresh chicken tamales and empanadas, banana bread, and apple turnovers, Jim and I headed north. The wildflowers were even more impressive and we stopped a few times to take photos. Mindful of cactus, we each had close calls. We learned some can penetrate Crocs.

We stopped at the pretty town of San Ignacio, complete with a lovely church and shady square, mainly to get information about trips to see cave art. We found Ecoturismo Kuyima and will plan a trip with them this winter. Baby whales also come to San Ignacio Lagoon so perhaps we will spend more time here.

Jim was relieved to reach Jesus Maria with 1/4 tank of fuel. He'd planned our consumption well. Now we were fine, back in the land of ULSD.

We rolled into LA Bay at dusk and went to Daggett's Campground to spent the night. We'd heard they had wifi and decent showers but the wifi wasn't working and the women's facilities didn't have hot water so, really, it wasn't worth the fee.

We met John and Shalena in their brawny 4x4 Sprinter. They live in the desert, love the desert, and were trying to go as far south on dirt roads as time allowed. In a quandary because they had no extra fuel cans to continue, we offered to sell them ours. Everyone was happy. Learn more about their van here:

After watching a beautiful sunrise and having a leisurely breakfast, Jim and I visited the museum on our way out of town. Filled with artifacts, bones, shells, and displays of ancient life, it's well worth a stop. There's a Pemex station where we filled the tank with ULSD fuel.


March 15, 2017: Bahia de LA - San Diego

The dry lakebed at Laguna Chapala piqued our interest so we went to have a look.

Later we stopped at Los Olivos RV park south of San Quintin. Again, we were happy to have warm showers. Just down the road is a fancy resort with a restaurant so we splurged on a delicious fish dinner and massive margaritas.

We left early to reach the border as early as possible but somehow managed to drive past all the exits to the gate. Backtracking through Tijuana traffic really slowed us down. Debating which direction to go raised the stress levels to those we hadn't seen since navigating reefs. Eventually we found ourselves in a sea of stopped cars and vendors selling everything from Chicklets and churros to blankets and gory crucifixes.

Our daughter had told me how to say, "Our president is a clown, idiot, and asshole," depending on how strong we cared to voice our opinion to our neighbors south of the proposed wall. I used to ignore people selling things in line here but now I was keen to interact, not to buy anything but just give a kind greeting. Two men kept coming back and one finally said something about us being from the US. I practiced my lines and they laughed. Then they taught me to say, "My president has a small penis."


March 17, 2017: San Diego to Borrego Springs

After our dentist appointments Jim steered the Sprinter northeast through Julian to Borrego Springs. His kids' mom lives there and we were way overdue for a visit. She was thrilled we were coming during a spectacular wildflower bloom. After we fended for ourselves among throngs of people the first morning, she took us off the beaten path in her little Jeep Wrangler for a double adventure of four wheeling and flower viewing. What fun!

These colorful caterpillars (along with bees) are quite fond of Brown-Eyed Evening Primrose and chew them right down to the stem. Apparently some small hawks eat them but we didn't see a single foraging raptor.


March 21, 2017: Borrego - Joshua Tree - Mojave National Preserve

Back in the '60s and '70s Jim spent time rock climbing in Joshua Tree and stayed wherever they happened to be climbing. Now that it's a National Park, camping is relegated to established campgrounds and they were all full when we arrived. I guess if we want to stay in National Parks, we'll have to plan way ahead. Not really our style.

It was fun to drive through while the Joshua trees, the largest of yuccas and only found in the Mojave Desert, were blooming.

We chugged north past Twentynine Palms to Mojave National Preserve. We hadn't planned to stop here - didn't even know it existed - until I plotted our route home through Death Valley. The van seems to hone in on sand dunes and we reached Kelso Dunes as the sun was setting. We hustled out to try to get some good shots but were too late.

On the way back we met John who told us about some campsites nestled in the boulders back the road about 6.5 miles. Worried about driving unknown dirt roads in the dark, Jim was difficult to persuade until John finally said, "If it doesn't look good, just come back here." That worked. We went.

We passed several occupied sites before turning up a narrow, rutted path that led to a flat spot with a campfire ring. It was dark so I started dinner immediately while Jim made a fire.

I awoke at first light. Amazed by the beauty, I flung open all the doors and roused Jim. As aspiring photographer, he struggles with the pre-dawn thing of landscape photography and would much prefer to sleep. A storm was on the horizon and the clouds were moving quickly. Their colors ranged from white to purple to light grey to very dark. Here, also, were pretty flowers although not as many as further south.


March 23, 2017: Back to Mammoth

The plan was to stop and camp in Death Valley but I hadn't researched where wildflowers were blooming. This year turned out not to be a superbloom here and we'd seen and photographed dozens further south, so we kept going.

On the road to Lone Pine we were buzzed by three different planes flying super low. The first went straight above us. The second flew off to starboard not far above the power lines. The third came right at us swerving widely with wings tipped vertically. It was super cool and really noisy.

We drove up into the Alabama Hills to camp for the night but a cold wind was blowing so we dropped down to Portagee Joe County Park far beneath Mount Whitney and were the only ones there.

The next morning we had breakfast at Mt. Whitney restaurant before driving home to Mammoth. We'd been gone exactly one month and could have stayed out much longer. This land cruising thing is pretty fun.

Go to August 2017 Part One - Grand Staircase - Escalante, Utah


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