Updated: Mar 21, 2022
As the sun rose over Bahia Gonzaga I knew that this was going to be how most of my days in Baja would start. You simply couldn’t resist stepping out onto the sand to take in the brilliant red sky and its mirror image rippling across the water. As I brewed some coffee and packed up my gear I decided to take a quick tour of Pueblo Gonzaga. Quick being the operative word. 16 houses, RV shelters, shacks, and lean-to’s lead up to the bar which sits next to the harbor… and that’s pretty much it. Walking through the bar on my way to the beach my plans were changed by the smell of breakfast wafting out from the kitchen. I placed my order, grabbed my coffee and headed out to the beach to explore for a bit while the old woman in the kitchen started on the eggs. Isla Santa Rosalia de Gonzaga sits off the end of the beach and the tide was low enough to allow me to wander out there to poke around a bit. A couple of rays were swimming along in the shallows, and I saw my first Frigate Bird of the trip drifting along on the thermals that were already starting to rise up off the top of the island. I wandered back to find my breakfast set up on a table practically at the water’s edge. I feasted on Huevos Rancheros with fresh tortillas and a bottomless cup of coffee. The family running the place couldn’t have been nicer, and I was completely content to start off my day fully fueled up and decompressing by the minute. Heading West from Gonzaga I had been told that the road improves dramatically. It soon became obvious that nobody who I had spoken to had driven this road because I was soon staring down 40 miles of the 2nd worst road I had ever driven. After about 6 miles I heard a crunching sound from my front left tire that just made my heart sink and stomach drop. It sounded like at least $400 of buckling and I expected to look out and see my wheel outpacing me down the hill. But there it was, rolling along exactly where it was supposed to be. I figured that given my level of mechanical skill the best thing to do would be to push on and see what happened. Heck, I was only going 12 mph at this point anyway. Dirt paths began winding off into the desert as soon as I dropped out of the coastal mountains. The Baja 1000 had run through here a few months ago, and I assumed that these were the passing lanes and alternative routes that had developed along the way. The sand looked a little soft, but the washboarding was much gentler over there. I made the executive decision to ditch the road and head off into the desert using my compass as a guide and keeping an eye out for the road from the high spots along the way. As long as I kept going West I had to run into Hwy 1. When the mountains jumped back up the dirt tracks returned to the “road” and after a couple of kilometers I was desperately searching for another dirt track. At the top of a particularly nasty climb I was surprised to look down and see an ’82 Corolla sitting in the bottom of the ravine with 2 old Mexicans tinkering with it amongst a dozen of so gallon jugs of water and gasoline. I pulled over to see if they needed a hand and after a little confusion ended up pulling a climbing rope off the back of the Jeep and tying the little Corolla to the back for the ride out of the desert. We were a solid 30 miles from the highway, and these guys had basically ripped the transmission off the bottom of their little car. The Jeep stood up to the extra cruelty, and those guys rattled around behind me happily enough. There were a couple of spots that I felt bad dragging them through, but I wasn’t confident that they could make it on the dirt tracks that I wanted so badly to turn onto. After about 10 miles we got to Coco’s Corner. This ramshackle tienda in the middle of the desert has been a landmark for years since Coco moved out here from Ensenada after losing a leg in some sort of accident. The stories vary on the details, but Coco is famously gregarious and practically fell over laughing when I explained why I was towing a loaded down Corolla across one of the worst roads in the world. I was in no particular hurry, and I figured the Mexicans I was towing couldn’t really complain about much so I took advantage of the opportunity to sit and have a cold beer with Coco and poke around his place for a while. Most of the décor is strings of beer cans and there are hundreds of pairs of panties nailed to the ceiling. All he needed was a couple of big Greek letters out front and he could have started rushing up the freshman class at San Diego State. We bid Coco a fond fair-well, and after a couple more hours we finally reached the highway. I swear the Jeep sighed as the asphalt rolled beneath my wheels for the first time in 2 days. I pulled the Mexican guys to the first mechanic we could find where they untied the rope and send me on my way with a quick “gracias” and a nod. It was almost as if they weren’t certain that they were happier to be here than they were stuck on the side of the road. I did sort out that they’d bottomed the car out the night before and had slept on top of their car, so I figured they were good to go. Bahia Los Angeles was calling me and I charged southward with new determination and open eyes. Highway 1 crosses virtual oceans of massive Saguaro Cactus and there were Red Tailed Hawks everywhere. At the turn off for Bahia L.A. I started seeing these funky plants that looked Dr Seuss’s version of Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree. Tall, thin, cone shaped trunks reached up from the desert covered with spiny, frilly leaves topped by a shaggy orange tuft. Totally bizarre, but very cool. As the road wound its way toward the coast I could occassionally see the the Sea of Cortez peak out from in between a couple of mountains. Then, all of a sudden, there it was reaching out in front of me. A dozen blues wrapped around a half dozen rocky islands out toward the horizon. These views are literally breathtaking. I had to stop on the side of the road for a few minutes just to take it all in. Pulling into Bahia Los Angeles I quickly found a grocery store and a taquerria to take care of my immediate needs. With a belly full of Tacos Pescados and a cooler full of icy beverages I was off to find a place to camp. I had read about a spot called Campo Archelon with rock walled palapas. The wind the night before has reached about 35 kts coming out of the mountains, so I thought a rock wall sounded like a great idea. A couple of RV folks tried to convince me to check out a place called Dagget’s, but once I found Archelon I was home. The proprietor, Antonio, had build 6 or 7 nice sized palapas right on the beach with sturdy rock walls on the landward side. A few simple folding cots had been cobbled together by previous guests, and my palapa even had a little shelf constructed out of flotsam and driftwood. There were only 2 other folks in the camp, and I set up in the Southernmost palapa away from the rest of the world. In a word, this place was perfect. By the time I had set up my new little home I realized that I needed a shower in a bad way. This was the point at which I discovered the one draw back to Campo Archelon. I probably could have gotten wet quicker by spitting on myself than from the dribble of cold water that struggled to escape the faucet, but I was in no mood to complain about anything. I got as clean as I could, built a fire, cooked some more fish, and settled down to read my book. I immediately felt any weight that was left on my shoulders lift off as I realized that for the first time in a while I literally had nothing to do tomorrow. I wasn’t going anywhere. I didn’t have to meet anybody. I had food. Perfect. I slept like a dead person that night.
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