Friday, December 09, 2011

Baja Solstice 2010 into 2011, part 1

Winter break from teaching means one thing: pile camping gear into the car and bolt for Mexico. With significant trepidation this time, headed back to familiar places alone. But there was no way not to go. It would have been impossible not to, somehow. The previous year, The Poetess and I had avoided Baja and gone to Sonora instead. So I had already been two years out of Baja and it was calling, no matter the emotional challenges and meditations it might require to go back alone.

The swanky Eldorado Hotel, 650 pesos. Always that splurge at the front end of the trip, getting into Mexico in Tecate on a rainy night. A very familiar pattern.

Wandering Tecate in the cool rain.

Holiday decorations in the zocalo.

The next morning, out of Tecate early and slowly working down through the crowded agricultural and industrial part of the peninsula, past Ensenada, Maneadero, Santo Tomas. A roadside stop to check out the flora.

Cylindropuntia parryi 'serpentina':

Myrtillocactus cochal:

Bergerocactus emoryi and Agave shawii:

Cool cholla:

Just south of El Rosario, all of a sudden, El Desierto Central begins. Cirios spring up.

I've been stopping to photograph this ancient Ferocactus gracilis for the past few years.

Ended up vaulting all the way to Guerrero Negro. Some scenes of the town at night.

The next morning, out the sandbar road to the old salt factory and lighthouse, looking for Ferocactus fordii. Pelican crossing.

Desolate and strange out here.

Ferocactus fordii colored up by the mist.

More furniture than I own.

On down the peninsula through the Vizcaino Desert, beautiful Ferocactus.

A quick drive through San Ignacio and down to the Sea of Cortez side again, into Santa Rosalia and through Mulege to Bahia Concepcion and Playa la Perla.

These folks apparently named The Buddhas.

A hike along the sandbar through the mangroves to Isla Requeson.

Whimsical tuberous caudices of Ibervillea sonorae:

Huge stand of Cochemiea poselgeri:

Back to the campsite at Playa La Perla.

An abandoned travel trailer stuck in the muddy sand on the flats near the campground. The only thing not worth stealing: Sal Bahia. A little salt and no saver.

The master bedroom:

The view from camp as the sun began to set.

The camp dog. He desperately wanted a tuna sandwich.

Sunrise! Only day three. I came up with the overly ambitious plan to drive all the way up a side road on the Pacific side of the peninsula to La Purisima, in search of Stenocereus eruca, the fantastic "creeping devil" cactus endemic to Baja. It was one of those days where I was vaguely delirious and not monitoring my level of scattered, cranky insanity. I had been as far south on the peninsula as Loreto, in the past. On my very first trip to Baja in 1991, I had started to drive up over the mountains outside Loreto and the car began to overheat and a huge tarantula crossed the highway in front of my car, so I turned around. That day, I actually drove all the way back to north of Ensenada, in one day. It was crazy.

So this day marked the first time I would get into brand new territory on the main highway. I think that kind of scrambled my perspective too.

The entire way up the road to La Purisima was blown out by recent hurricanes (John and Jimenez, I think), incredible potholes everywhere and all of the villages covered by debris. La Purisima itself looked particularly hard hit, with the arroyo through town choked with destroyed date palms and many low lying buildings completely destroyed. I did find this cool form of Mammillaria dioica without central spines:

But no luck on Stenocereus eruca. I headed all the way back down to the main road in Ciudad Insurgentes and intended to go the short distance to San Carlos, out another spur road toward the Pacific, but somehow missed the turn in Ciudad Constitucion. So I ended up driving all the way to La Paz. I arrived in La Paz long after dark, stuck behind a Tecate truck winding through the hills outside the city, going about 20 miles per hour. In the city, the drivers were typically aggressive, tailgating, whizzing around madly in ill-defined lanes. I wandered around the city in an addled and aggravated state for about an hour and then finally pulled over and checked my travel info, found the way out north to the beaches near Pichilingue and made it (after some highly ill advised driving on sand, living dangerously) to Playa Tecolote. Set up camp in the dark on the free beach, took this picture of the full moon and fell asleep.

In the middle of the night, something odd about the light woke me up. I looked out my tent window to see the full lunar eclipse. I wish I had had the setup to take photos of that darkened moon over the tropical Sea of Cortez. It was a fantastic way to usher in the winter solstice.

Sunrise revealed a fine scene, with Isla Espiritu Santo on the horizon. The folding chair from Dick's Sporting Goods one of the best $9.99 I ever spent.

I went exploring in La Paz, a beautiful, charming, quiet city, very clean and with a sunny, positive energy.

After meeting up briefly with friends of mine from the states (who I would again meet in Todos Santos), I went back out to Playa Tecolote for sunset.

The next morning, a brief hike in the hills by Playa Balandra, some interesting Echinocereus brandegeei:

Beautiful Mammillaria, still not sure of the species.

This, I think is Mammillaria fraileana:

Headed down the Pacific Coast to Todos Santos. A young Lophocereus schottii.

First look at Pachycereus pectin-aboriginum, a close relative of the cardon:

Once in Todos Santos, I started to try to find the beach north of town, where I had heard there was good camping. originally I went up in the hills, through the orchards, and meandered about, basically lost. The Honda wondered what I was up to.

I finally returned to the flats and realized the road to Las Playitas, the beaches north of Todos Santos, is a very broad, well-maintained road. Like everything else in Mexico, easy to find, if you know where it is. I made it out to a deserted stretch about 10 miles north and pitched the tent in the dunes, about 500 yards from the beach. There was the obligatory scare of the car getting stuck in the sand, but she made it out without the need for any assistance, this time.

The beach looking south to Todos Santos:

Looking north:


Only the end of day 5 and nearly to the bottom of the peninsula, finally starting to air out, open up some emotional and head space, feeling that settling of rhythms into Mexican tempos. Heartsore but grateful.

1 comment:

winston james said...

Wow! Great trip, and some superb photos. Absolutely stunning! But not the kind of place for the faint-hearted. Winston