30 November 1991
Dear Friends and Family,
holidays! Eileen and I hope that you all have had a good year, as we have. I
think our primary memories from 1991 will be of our two major trips this year,
to the Baja peninsula in
Our work situations are about the same as previously. Eileen continues to do substitute teaching, mostly in social studies at the secondary level, working about two days per week during the school year. I am still doing research in photographic systems analysis; my job involves a stimulating mix of computer modelling, psychophysical testing, photographic analysis, and system design. About half my time is spent working on my own projects; the other half is spent carrying out studies requested by other areas in the company.
The Baja trip
occupied the end of December and most of January. We drove our four-wheel drive
van to allow exploration of the many interesting 'back roads' on the peninsula,
and to simplify our camping. We carried 12 gallons of gasoline and 25 gallons
of water on the roof, as well as a water purifier; when I visited Baja as a
graduate student, gasoline, potable water, and ice were very scarce (the
situation in this regard has improved considerably, though the extra supplies
on the roof were used several times). We also carried all the food we needed
for the three weeks we would actually be in Baja, though we took advantage of
every fish taco stand we could find in our travels! We drove out via
After two days of Mexican roads, we broke a shock and had to briefly cross back over the border to get it fixed. Yes, the roads are that bad! One 20-mile road took 3 hours to traverse without stops. Other roads were single-lane width but went tens of miles with harrowing drop-offs and no guard rails. We had to navigate one 36% rutted dirt grade with large rocks and a dropoff, but once at the top, were treated to the best forests of copalquin (elephant tree) and cardon (a cactus like a saguaro, but heftier, with more arms) that we saw on the whole trip.
We did so many interesting things on our trip that I cannot even begin to recount them all here. Eileen has written an account of this trip, but it is 28 pages of single-spaced type, and so was too long to include here! Some of our more notable experiences were a blue moon over a natural lake at 5000' elevation, on New Year's eve; a panaramic view dropping 9400' down the east slope of the rugged Sierra San Pedro Martir to the Sea of Cortez in the distance; countless water birds foraging in the marshes of Bahia San Quintin, with barren volcanos rising in the background; blue palms in the magnificent, boulder-strewn Arroyo Catavinacito, which was in flood; photographing an incredible selection of birds in the marshes at Guerrero Negro; observing gray whales as close as 30' from a small boat in Laguna Ojo de Liebre; the simply astonishing scenery of the San Francisco Mountains, especially Canon San Pablo with its cave art; the deserted tropical beaches starting at Bahia Concepcion all the way to the cape, where we could picnic, swim, and camp; phenomenal sedimentary formations along the coast, northwest of La Paz; viewing the southern cross on two different two nights from the cape (the peninsula, the longest in the world, stretches 800 miles to below the Tropic of Cancer); collecting shells along the beaches, and minerals in the roadcuts and abandoned quarries; and camping in remote, private spots night after night, looking at the stars through the perfectly dry, clear air. This was a trip we will never forget.
After our return, a number of weekends were spend sorting slides, making photographic prints, cleaning and organizing shell and mineral specimens we collected, etc. While in Baja we took a number of 4x5" negatives with a view camera, ten of which were used to create a display of 30x40" prints at Kodak. We have copies of three of these prints displayed at home; they dwarf the 11x14" prints which cover our walls!
On Monday 4
March a terrible ice storm struck the
we took a trip to the
grateful on 18 March when Eileen's brother Paul returned home to
Over Easter we
visited my father in
In late April
we concentrated on photographing some of our favorite spring wildflowers, which
bloom before the leaves come out and shade the forest floor. These include
bloodroot, hepatica, spring beauty, trout lily, etc. An exciting find was a
stand of the white trout lily, a more westerly species we had not encountered
before. We were pleased to see that the bloodroot and mayapple
which grew on our property before it was graded,
survived the process and flourished this spring. Other native wildflowers in
our back yard are
In May we
spent three consecutive weekends birding and photographing in
leaving for the Canadian Rockies, we joined a friend one evening after work to
band black tern chicks. I was looking forward to our first canoe trip of the
summer, but, before we had gotten 200 yards from shore, I spotted a
white-winged tern in full breeding plumage. This species is a very rare
Eurasian straggler, and our sighting constitutes the first photographically
documented record for
Rockies trip was thoroughly enjoyable. We drove along the north shore of the
Great Lakes (the scenery along
The prairies of Waterton had spectacular wildflower assemblages in bloom. In these parks we saw the two species of larch (tamarack) that we had not seen previously: western and subalpine. Other exciting trees included all three hemlocks, and the magnificant western redcedar. We saw many new wildflowers on this trip, including a blue columbine, avalanche lily, butterwort, shooting-star, various avens in tha alpine regions, bead lily, and a number of orchids. In addition, we saw some of our old favorites, like wood lily and wild rose, in record numbers.
Eileen and I each got five new mammals on the trip: Swift Fox (very rare), hoary marmot, mountain goat, Columbian ground squirrel, and red-tailed chipmunk. We saw 30 species of mammals on this trip, our record total. Interesting bird sightings included several sightings of Black Swift (including foraging in mid-day); a boreal owl in Jasper hunting in the middle of the night, seen by spotlight at close range for 30 minutes; a merlin sitting directly over our heads plucking a freshly caught thrush, filling the air with feathers and screaming the whole time; black-backed woodpecker at a nest; and red-necked grebes calling from their breeding ponds.
Most of our
weekends in August and September were spent canoeing, primarily in the
We plan to
visit my folks in
Baja Trip 1991
Eileen L. Keelan
Brian and I decided to take our Christmas vacation in
Brian had been
to Baja once before, with Marie Kuhnen, a professor
of natural history from
And so the preparations began. One of the first things we did was to check the library for any material it might have. We found that books on Baja were remarkably scarce. We did come away with a couple of them, including a guide book and a photo-essay from Time-Life. The guide-book dealt mostly with such things as transportation (air-ports, buses, trains, etc.), hotels, restaurants, and city-oriented tourist attractions, whereas we preferred to spend our time camping, hiking, photographing, and exploring the less settled areas of Baja. It did have a helpful section on the logistics of a trip to a foreign country, such as visas, car permits, currency, customs, and so forth, and we did refer to it several times. The book also contained a list of further readings on the area and we acquired one of them, The Baja Adventure Book, by Walt Peterson; it proved to be the most helpful in planning the trip, as well as being enjoyable reading in its own right. We referred to it repeatedly, both during the planning stages of the trip and during the actual adventure stages. The AAA tour guide to Baja also was quite informative and we used it often in conjuction with the Adventure Book.
these books we came across one item that immediately threw a glitch into our
plans and that was restriction on photography.
Bringing back photos of our trip was one of the pleasures we looked
forward to and one of our first considerations when we began making plans. We
intended to bring three 35mm camera bodies and five lenses as well as borrow
the view camera from Brian's lab; and we had two tripods and 125 rolls of
various types of film. We were getting
pretty excited and then we read the restriction: one camera body, 12 rolls of film, no
tripods, and no commercial photography.
The only item on the list that did not present a problem to us was the
last one. We couldn't think of a reason
for these limitations nor of a way around them. Brian tried contacting the Mexican Embassy in
Eventually, Dad got hold of someone who explained that the reason for the restrictions is so that tourists do not bring equipment and film into the country to sell. The explanation seemed a bit dubious to us--we had difficulty envisioning a real black-market demand for tripods, for example. Nevertheless, we did follow their suggestion: make a list of every piece of equipment and roll of film we were taking with us, have the list notarized, and be prepared to show that we were bringing out of the country everything we had brought in. We found this idea to be the best we were offered by way of exception to the rule--even though it did not address the issue of commercial photography. We carried the notarized list with us in our folder of important papers, along with birth certificates and tourist cards; naturally, we did not encounter even the faintest hint of problem or question about our well-stocked camera bags.
potential problem we had to deal with concerned our van. We had already decided to take our vehicle
rather than fly to
permission to take the car out of the country, a car permit, and Mexican
insurance, we also had to bring with us the necessary repair equipment in case
we had any difficulties. At one point
the AAA estimated that, due to the extremely rough driving conditions, one out
of three cars taken down the Baja peninsula did not survive the trip. In fact, Brian's previous journey was cut
short when a torsion rod snapped and left the car seated on the tire. He wedged a piece of wood between the car and
the tire which gave it an inch of clearance but there was virtually no
suspension left on the driver's side of the car. When he returned to
AAA recommended bringing along replacement belts, hoses, fuses, spare tires,
jack, jumper cables, and various fluids--brake, power steering, oil, and so
forth--we made a stop at the
With the car items checked off our "to do" list, we turned to the problem of food and water supplies. We planned to carry with us most of the food we would eat. We have a Coleman stove, so cooking would not be a problem. We also have a cooler but Brian recalled that ice was virtually non-existent on his last trip so we decided not to take any perishable food with us. We would be in the country for three weeks, so we needed three-weeks' worth of breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. Breakfast was easy: Our typical camping fare is hot chocolate and oatmeal, so we stocked up on the instant type of both items. Dinner was not hard either. We loaded up on pasta and spaghetti sauce, both easy to prepare on the Coleman stove. For variety we added Tuna Helper--it comes in several flavors and despite package directions to add butter and milk, we have found, through experimentation, that neither was necessary.
We did another experiment, but it did not give such promising results. For even more variety, we thought we'd try Hamburger Helper and just substitute tuna for the ground beef, since Brian is a vegetarian. Unfortunately for us, the Hamburger Helper is definitely developed to go with hamburger--it had a distinctive meat flavor. We only ate it for one meal and stuck with the Tuna Helper after that. We did add soup and crackers to go along with these meals.
to be a bit more difficult. Without
reliable ice, we couldn't plan on sandwiches and we didn't want to have to set
up the stove every day to cook lunch, although we did bring a few instant
soups. We finally settled on cheese and crackers. A friend had introduced us to
"spray" cheese, cheese in a pressurized can, that
did not require refrigeration. We added
a few munchies like nuts and raisins and figured we'd be ok. Anyway, we hoped to at least sample the
Mexican fare, just avoiding the potential trouble-makers like water and
produce. (Apparently, Mexicans often
suffer the same complaint when they come to the
We did have to deal with the question of drinks and water and we finally settled on bringing the larger cooler and filling it entirely with ice before crossing the border, and using it only for drinking water, draining it it as it melted. By not opening the cooler at all, and keeping it shaded, we hoped it would melt very slowly, which in fact it did. We would bring a smaller cooler as well, so that when ice was available, we could chill drinks (coke, lemonade, and gatordae, the latter two from mixes) at least temporarily. For cooking and washing, we gathered together five five-gallon water containers and filled them with water before crossing the border. We carred them on the roof of the van. However, the roads were so rough that the lids were constantly jostled loose and all but one of the containers leaked. As it turned out, both ice and bottled (purified) water were much more widely available than when Brian went to Baja before, though we still used a water purifier to filter local water on several occasions.
We did not have to plan what camping and cooking equipment to take, because most of our gear is permanently stored under a wooden sleeping platform in the van. This way, packing is much facilitated, especially when we're in our weekly camping-trip routine. We took only a few items of heavy clothing and packed mostly jeans and tee-shirts, in anticipation of the sun and warmth of the peninsula at that time of year. An extra, long-sleeved shirt or sweater usually was all that was necessary on the cooler days.
was set for Saturday, December 22, 1990.
We planned that three long days of driving would get us to
We would spend
two days in
Day 1: Saturday, 22 December 1990
We pulled out of our driveway at 0830 on a gray, rainy morning. We'd arranged for a neighbor to pick up the mail and for friends to stop by occasionally to check on the house, water the plants and refill the bird feeders. We took turns driving, switching every hour or two. Brian spent his "rest periods" planning the Baja excursion with the aid of The Baja Adventure Book and the AAA tour guide and I spent mine reading Shelby Foote's The Civil War.
By evening, we
An hour down
the road, however, the weather conspired against us. As it grew darker, the temperature dropped,
what had been a drizzling rain all day began to freeze and the road surface
turned icy. Traffic slowed, cars slid
off the road, rain turned to snow, visibility worsened, and for safety's sake
we decided we'd better call it quits, though we were short of our intended goal
for the night. Other motorists having
the same idea, some motels were full, but we found room in
Day 2: Sunday, 23 December 1990
It was still
dark and very cold when we left the motel, and the roads were slippery. But we wanted to get going, so we picked up
some doughnuts and ate breakfast in the car.
Snow was falling and road conditions were poor; we drove far below the
posted speed limit of 65 mph. We started
the day already behind schedule and now we lost even more time. It was not until we stopped for dinner at
Pizza Hut in
Day 3: Monday, 24 December 1990
When I awoke
this morning and saw bright sun around the edges of the drapes, I knew it was
much later than 0600. I looked at the
clock, confirmed that it was closer to 0800, and roused Brian. It did not take long to dress, pack, and
check out. At the desk, Brian asked why
we did not receive our call. The
attendant checked her records and insisted that the computer indicated it had
dialed our room. Though very tired the
night before from all the driving, I found it difficult to believe I'd have
slept through a telephone ringing beside my head. (I could believe that Brian would do it
though!) Anyway, as a substitute
teacher, I am accustomed to being awakened before six by a ringing telephone. So, we were somewhat annoyed, but there was
nothing we could do, so we went on our way.
(When we returned to
It was so cold overnight that yesterday's leftover doughnuts were frozen. We tried thawing them in front of the car heater vents. They did defrost, but did not taste very good.
was easier. Temperature was still very
low, but roads were clear, and the day was sunny. We pushed on through the afternoon, eating
the leftover pizza for lunch. It was midafternoon by the time we reached
We stopped in
the town of
Because it was
late, there was very little traffic and we drove through quiet towns, dark
except for the luminarias (lit candles placed in sand
contained in a paper bag) that glowed on so many yards, driveways, and townsquares. We
It was after midnight when we turned into Mom and Dad's driveway, tired and stiff from driving. Brian went straight to bed and I soon followed, after chatting with Dad and Mom for a few minutes.
Day 4: Tuesday, 25 December 1990
Merry Christmas! Even after only a few hours of sleep, I was too excited to stay in bed, after being awakened by little voices down the hall. Finally I got up and opened the bedroom door and was soon greeted by Lindsay, 8, and Sarah, 5, my sister Elizabeth's daughters. They were trying to convince Mama it was time to get up, but she has more sense than I do, and stayed in bed. Eventually, of course, everyone got up and met in the living room: Mom, Dad, Elizabeth, Lindsay, Sarah, and me; Brian came in a bit later. My brother Robert and his wife Mahrla also arrived. Gifts were opened around the tree while the adults enjoyed a cup of coffee or tea.
Then, we all
sat down to breakfast, offering a toast to my brother, Paul, and
brother-in-law, Patrick, who are serving in the
dinner began with another toast to our absent soldiers. We had ham (tuna for Brian), sweet potatoes,
broccoli, and mashed potatoes. A box of
Christmas chocolates was passed around for dessert and while enjoyed these, my
brother Tom, from
Day 5: Wednesday, 26 December 1990
Dad had to go
to work today, and so did Robert. (Rob
is the technical director of the Music and Theatre Branch at nearby
We also visited the AAA office so we could fill out tourist card applications (and save a little time at the border) and buy the required Mexican auto insurance. Later in the day, we went over to visit Robert and Mahrla and see their new house, and then the whole family went out to dinner at Forti's, another favorite Mexican place.
Day 6: Thursday, 27 December 1990
We were up early today in order to shower, dress, and pack the van. Mom fixed breakfast for us, and Sarah helped us pack. We said goodby to everyone and backed out of the driveway, another lovely, sunny, blue-sky day.
We headed west
on I-10 for
We camped at
Day 7: Friday, 28 December 1990
Last night we
set the alarm clock for 0600, eager to get started but we discovered it was
still dark that early in the morning so we slept a little later. The air was
fresh and cool when we did get up and still misty from the rain during the
night. We ate our breakfast in the
car--leftover pizza and homemade poundcake flavored
with rum, that Mahrla and Robert had given us at
Christmas. We then drove the
After a stop
a map and guidebook acquired at
continued on in the dark we saw approaching headlights and noted that the car
On this evening, Brian fixed spaghetti for supper while I wrote in the journal. We specifically noted senita cactus and our first horned lark and rock wren. As we ate, our French friend passed us again on his way out and honked his horn, which we did in return. I sat wrapped in a blanket in the front of the van while Brian did the cooking chores. Then, to bed.
Day 8: Saturday, 29 December 1990
We rose at
about 0700 on what was to be our first full day in
We turned left
at approximately KM28 toward
our drive into the canyon after lunch, a total of 35 miles. Our first view of the palm oasis was
incredible--even from a distance we could see a mass of green that looked
somewhat out of place in the desert.
There were quite a few campers in the oasis, though we had passed no one
during the two and a half hours it took to drive the road. It was late afternoon when we pulled in and
parked. The canyon, which takes its name
from a tall rock spire, the shape of which resembles that of the Blessed
Virgin, was filled with
While we were
photographing the fan palms--far more than we had ever seen at one time before
(compared to our more familiar sites in
As it grew dark, we drove back out of the canyon about half a mile in search of a place to park and camp for the night. We wanted something a little quieter than the campground promised to be, and a view of the canyon in the morning when the first light hit it. Soon we found a spot and got settled. The evening became very cool as it grew dark. One or two late arrivals to the campground drove slowly past us, maneuvering carefully through the boulder-strewn entrance; their headlights were visible long before they drew close enough for us to hear the sounds of the vehicles.
This evening we mixed tuna fish with hamburger helper for supper; though we did not find it to be a very pleasing combination, we did finish it, but promised ourselves not to try it again.
We'd had a long day of driving, exploring, and photographing. Dark came early and we were in bed by eight.
Day 9: Sunday, 30 December 1990
We got up in the dark at 0630; it was still cold so our breakfast of oatmeal and hot chocolate tasted especially good. A few stars were still sprinkling the sky and in the telescope we could see Jupiter and three of its moons.
We were only a few yards from the overlook from which we wanted to photograph but we drove to it anyway so we could set up the camera on top of the van, on the wooden platform we'd erected for that purpose. Brian set up the view camera on the platform and I photographed from the gound with the 35mm. It was growing light and as the early sun touched the rock walls of the canyon, it turned them red. We took a few shots and then waited for the rays of the sun to reach deeper into the canyon and light up the palm trees.
photographing the canyon by morning light, we headed back out. We'd been driving for an hour along the rough
road, when Brian thought the brakes smelled hot and upon inspection noticed
some leaking fluid. Although the brakes
seemed to be functioning properly we thought we ought to have them checked
before we went any farther on the trip.
Since we were still so close to the border, we decided it would be
easier to cross back and have the problem taken care of in the
thankfully, the brake fluid indicator did not show any loss and the brakes were
still working fine. That was a good thing because between us and
of that road seemed to take forever but at last we reached the top. In the town of La Rumarosa
we got gas and ate lunch--cheese and crackers--in the van as we continued west,
Unfortunately, we could not find the turnoff to Route 3 to
As soon as we
crossed the border, we stopped at a gas station in
We went to an
El Torito restaurant for supper and did some laundry
at the hotel. Then we called my Mom and
Dad, to let them know where we were and what we were doing. We learned that Paul had called home for the
first--and, as it would turn out, the only--time since he had arrived in the
Day 10: Monday, 31 December 1990
We got up and
repacked the van in time to call the mechanic by 0800. It took a couple of calls, but by eventually
he confirmed that the gas shocks were available, so we drove over to Sears and
dropped off the van. We then walked to a
nearby restaurant, called Allies', for breakfast. After enjoying the buffet we wrote some
postcards and mailed them on our way back to Sears. The timing was good: they were just finishing work on the van. I wonder what they would have thought if they
had known that the the heavy duty shocks they
installed would be declared dead on arrival when we got back to
We asked the
cashier for directions to a place where we could exchanged
dollars for pesos. We crossed the border
at San Ysidro, had no problems or waiting. We took the toll road south to
At the start
of the dirt road out of Ojos Negros,
we met another vehicle, from
It was close to sundown when we reached the summit and the few people that were there for the day were soon gone, hastened, no doubt, by the still-dropping temperature. One of them had left behind a campfire which Mike scooped into a wheelbarrow with a shovel and carted over to his campsite next to a huge boulder. We chose a spot on the other side of the rocks and photographed across the lake before the light was lost entirely. Though the lake was dry, it was covered with snow. We saw a coyote trot along the edge of the lake near the woods. It paused for a moment, as though curious, then disappeared. We turned back to the camera and looked up a few moments later to see that our friend had reappeared. We watched him for a few minutes and this time when he left we did not see him again.
We returned to our campsite and started dinner, then were alerted to the rise of the moon by Mike and Tessa. We drove out to where we had a view unobstructed by the trees and saw the moon, full and bright, low in the sky. We took several photographs before returning once again to the dinner, which was augmented by a salad of fresh greens and homemade dressing (avocado with lemon and tamari) delivered by Mike, who, we learned, had a farm near Santa Rosa, California and a ranch near Mexicali; he grew the produce himself. After eating, we all gathered around the campfire and shared dessert--cookies and a box of See's chocolates. The warmth of the fire was inviting, but the night was so cold that, even close to the flames, staying warm was difficult.
Thus we spent
New Year's Eve: on top of a mountain in
Day 11: Tuesday, 1 January 1991
cold, we did manage to get some sleep last night. But the thought of having to cook breakfast
and wash up afterwards produced too many shivers, so we just packed up and
left, first thing. We did pause to take
a couple of photographs with the dawn light on the clouds and rocks though, and
it was then that Mike's van began to exhibit the first of several
problems: the battery died. We got it going with jumper cables and headed
out but it was fortunate that he was not traveling alone since we had to jump
it several more times on the way down the mountain. By the time we reached Ojos
Negros, he was also nearly out of gas. So were we.
Fortunately, the gas station was open.
However, it only sold leaded gas.
That was fine for Mike's van and we left him there to put gas in the
tank and head to
We put gas
from the roof into our tank and then drove to La Bufadora
("the blowhole") getting more gas and ice in
It was early evening when we left and dark by the time we arrived at our destination for the night, San Antonio del Mar, where we camped among huge sand dunes; our closest neighbors were only twinkling campfires in the distance. We fixed spaghetti and mushroom soup for dinner. The moon came up big and bright but slipped behind the clouds. We went to sleep listening to the waves pounding on the other side of the dunes.
Day 12: Wednesday, 2 January 1991
We had oatmeal
and hot chocolate for breakfast but we decided that the water in the containers
had a bad taste. In the daylight, we
could see that we were surrounded by dunes.
The Mesembryanthemum was in bloom with purple
flowers. We could hear a white-crowned
sparrow, a Bewick's wren and a long-billed curlew
that flew over the campsite, calling.
After photographing the dunes, we drove out to the beach where we could
see the waves come in and roll over into foam.
Little sanderlings skittered back and forth in
front of the waves. There were gulls
too, mostly western but a few
We left here
and took the
We saw no one
on our drive up the mountain but there was one other car parked at the gate
when we arrived; it had
We stopped when it got dark and camped off the road, about sixteen miles shy of Route 1. It was a very pleasant evening, considerably warmer than up at the observatory. We had spaghetti and crackers for supper and went to sleep.
Day 13: Thursday, 3 January 1991
We got up around 0545; it was just starting to get light but we'd been hearing roosters from a nearby ranch for at least an hour. We repacked the van and headed out, eating granola bars for breakfast. We saw the Harris' hawk again and had another go at photographing him.
We returned to the main road, turned left and drove to Bahia San Quintin, where we put gas in the van. Then we took the road west at the south end of the military camp and explored the four-wheel-drive roads near Pedregal. We could see six volcanic cones and were able to approach two of them closely. We also had a close look at volcanic rocks between Campo Ostionero--where we played hide-and-seek with a western grebe--and a fish processing plant.
excellent birding at Bahia Falsa.
We saw thousands of brant and much eelgrass (on which
the brant feed).Other birds here included: tri-colored heron, marbled godwit, many
willets, wigeon, three species of grebes, ferruginous
hawk, many pelicans and cormorants. We
also had good looks at four or more Anna's hummingbirds zealously competing for
a few blossoming plants. Our mammal list
here included Audubon's cottontail and
It was around noon when we returned to San Quintin, stopping at a small store just outside town for cold drinks. They had no ice however, so we drove on into town for it and also decided to top off the gas tank since there was a long stretch before the next gas station. The ice we obtained at an ice factory and then we had a delicious lunch at a small cafe.
From here we drove south along the coast visiting bluffs near El Campito and Arroyo Hondo. We spent a few minutes on the cobble beach--it was still too cool for swimming, but otherwise very pleasant--where we found walking somewhat difficult on the big round pebbles, and discovered a few turban shells. We were impressed by the high numbers of Mammalaria cacti in Arroyo Hondo. These small, egg-shaped cacti have some bright red spines which are shaped just like fishhooks. A few were even in bloom and we stopped to photograph one.
Next we drove south to El Rosario, a very small town, where we were able to refill the gas tank again. We took a road from town 2.3 miles toward the coast through cliffs pockmarked with cavities, which contain fossilized dinosaur bones. Unfortunately, part of it had been used as a town dump but it was otherwise quite beautiful. When the road became too bad to continue, due to washout, we returned to El Rosario and stopped at the store for cold drinks and spaghetti, which we needed after the hamburger-helper fiasco.
continued southeast on Route 1 and, since it was now early evening, turned off
on a dirt road that led to the Mission San Fernando, to camp. We were just inside the
Brian fixed a supper of tuna helper while I compiled our list and wrote the notes. I commented on how good the meal tasted, especially as I was so hungry. A light rain was falling and, of course, picked up a bit when we decided to reorganize the supply boxes. The water containers on the roof continued to be a problem--the rough roads caused the lids to jar open and the jugs to leak; the roof was constantly wet.
We were in bed and just about to drift off to sleep when Brian said, "I just realized something." "What's that?" I asked. "I got out the can of tuna fish," he replied, "but I never added it to the tuna helper!" We had eaten the whole meal, commented on how good it tasted, and never realized that we were eating just helper, no tuna.
Day 14: Friday, 4 January 1991
We got up today at 0705, under an overcast sky, with a light mist falling. Our campsite was a sandy opening in the dense forest of cacti and other desert plants.
breakfast, we heard a coyote call nearby.
He sounded so close that we looked around for him and saw him trot by
about 125 feet from the van. Shortly
after he disappeared from view, we again heard him howl, this time accompanied
by the high-pitched yips of some young ones.
Apparently we had seen an adult returning to the family group after a
night of hunting. We've heard coyotes
many times both in the desert and as a fairly recent addition to the
After breakfast, we repacked the van, and drove back to Route 1. From here we took the road to El Marmol, an old onyx mine. The dirt road was, for a change, a fairly well graded one. The mine was spectacular! There were huge boulders and blocks of onyx everywhere, strewn about and heaped on top of each other; these were interspersed with smaller bits and tiny chips scattered on the gound and on top of the larger specimens. Nearby, stood the ruins of an abandoned schoolhouse made entirely of unpolished onyx. There were also a few rusted wrecks of automobiles and trucks. The mine gave every impression of work having stopped and the place deserted on but a moment's notice, though it had actually been about 30 years ago. We were the only people there and we spent about an hour clambering among the boulders, exploring, and photographing. The onyx gleamed from the wet of a recent misty rain; we collected a few specimens before we left.
When we left El Marmol, we returned to Route 1 and took a dirt road to Cerro Blanco. This road also led to an onyx mine and though we never found it, we did enjoy some really gorgeous desert scenery along the way. Although for the most part the road was in fair condition, it did have one extremely steep grade of 36%, that was deeply rutted and quite rocky. We made the attempt even though Brian was not sure we'd get through; he was sure there'd be no turning back, regardless of our progress, once we got started.
If Brian was correct about no turning back, then the possibility exists that we might still be there; but he is actually quite good about maneuvering through these tricky places, and, with me encouraging him with such helpful comments as, "I think we're tipping over" and "Are you sure we won't get stuck?" and "Why are we doing this if you're not sure?", we forged ahead. Naturally, we made it up the hill without any trouble. (I didn't have any doubts.) One of the first things we saw was a stand of copalquin, a tree we'd been looking forward to seeing ever since we read its description in the guidebook. This "elephant tree" has a distended trunk in which it stores water; in spring it may become covered with pink or yellow blossoms. We also had our best stands of cardon, including the largest individuals we'd seen, estimated at forty feet tall with 15-20 branches. We spent the afternoon exploring this road and only passed one or two other vehicles. We ate lunch along the way, cheese, crackers, and avocado, which we'd bought at San Quintin.
It was dark by
the time we'd returned to the main road and reached Catavina,
a hotel with a gas pump. We filled the
tank and continued down the road to look for a place to camp, and then decided
to return to the motel and stay there for night. The camping was great but we looked forward
to taking a shower again. By the time we
got back, only a few minutes later, all the lights were off and we wondered if
the place could have closed. But it
turned out to be a temporary interruption of the electricity, due to
generator-failure. We checked in by
candle--and flash--light and the electricity was restored by the time we went
down to the restaurant for dinner. I
don't think we had any meal in
Day 15: Saturday, 5 January 1991
We were up at 0600, repacked the van, and left, eating breakfast--granola bars-- in the van. While still in the hotel parking lot, packing, we saw a gray thrasher, a species found only in baja, and a life bird for me. We then backtracked a bit to the boulder fields we'd seen late yesterday afternoon, when we were too tired and the light too dim to really explore them. We took a few photographs, including some interesting cracks in two rocks, where a matching vein of quartz showed that once they had been just one rock.
After scrambling around for a while, we headed south on Route 1 and stopped at Arroyo Catavinacito. Last night's rain had overflowed the arroyo and water was still rushing across the road. Growing along the edges of the arroyo were Califoria fan palms, like those we had first seen at Canon Guadalupe, and blue fan palms. We had wondered if it would be difficult to tell the two species apart but, seeing them growing side by side, there was no doubt: the blue fan palms are well named. We took out the camera bags and started to set up for a photograph of this remarkable place. As we shifted the camera about, trying to frame the scene as we liked best, we kept noticing new plants or different aspects of the arroyo: senita cactus, copalquin, cardon, cirio. As the water tumbled over the rocks, the sun came out from clouds still threatening rain, streamed down into the arroyo, and touched water and fan palms. We took the shot and that photograph remains one of our favorites from this trip.
south on Route 1 and took a side road to Bahia de
Back on Route
1, we continued south until we came to a road that led to the small
The sun was going down as we headed back to the car, so we paused to enjoy the sunset: huge, fluffy clouds tinged with pink and reflected in the water.
Back on Route 1, we went south a short distance then took another side road to El Tomatal where we camped on the beach. There were a few other campers there, including one couple whose van had gotten stuck in a soft place in the road. We tried to pull them out but had no luck; they'd have to wait for a heavier vehicle. In the meantime, they set a lantern a few yards ahead of their van, so any latecomers would be able to see them in the dark, and settled in for the night. Brian and I found a spot for ourselves, just beyond reach of an incoming tide, and fixed a light supper. Then we took a walk out to the edge of the water. Overhead, the stars were beautiful in a clear sky. We saw Orion, Venus, Mars, the Pleiades, Jupiter, the Big Dipper, Cassiopeia, the North Star, Taurus, Aldeberan, and the Milky Way. In bed inside the van, we could hear the waves crashing as we fell asleep.
Day 16: Sunday, 6 January 1991
We were up early; the moon shining down on the beach and the waves while we fixed breakfast--oatmeal and hot chocolate--were lovely. While Brian washed the dishes and put away the stove, I hunted for shells and found quite a few turbans, three sea urchins, and an intricate shell that Brian identified as either a whelk or a conch. While searching, we also saw some ruddy turnstones.
Back on the road,
we continued south on Route 1 to the town of
This road was
bordered by marshes that were spectacular for birds and we enjoyed some of our
best bird-watching as well as some of our best bird photography of the entire
trip. Especially noteable
were high numbers of reddish egrets (20); long-billed curlews(150);
marbled godwits (75); avocets (100); and black brant
(200); as well as three snowy plovers, and two American oystercatchers. There were also both
We had a much better chance of seeing whales at Scammon's Lagoon, labelled on the Mexican map as Laguna Ojo de Liebre; Scammon was a whale hunter who contributed to the near extinction of the gray whale. The road to the lagoon runs between salt beds. They look drifted and fluffy but, upon closer inspection the salt crystals proved to be large and quite hard. I got out of the van to scoop some up to see what it was like but had a difficult time just trying to break off a small piece.
Once out at the lagoon, we had to pay an entrance fee to go into the whale-watching area. There were quite a few other watchers there and we parked among them and got out to look over the lagoon with the binoculars. In the distance, we could see several whales blow, but even in the telescope the views were brief and unsatisfying. So, we decided to purchase a ticket on the whale-watch boat.
It was a bright, sunny afternoon. There were six passengers, in addition to the captain. He guided the boat away from the shore toward where we had seen the whales blow, as we all looked around excitedly, cameras and binoculars at the ready. The captain was obviously experienced, as he brought the boat to within 30 feet of the whales. We all had excellent views of the huge animals and were lucky enough to get some fairly good shots as well. We even saw them spy-hopping several times, a behavior wherein the whale emerges from the water in such a position that he appears to be standing on his tail. One theory states that he does this in order to take a look around. Sometimes the term is confused with breaching; in this behavior, the whale heaves his entire body out of the water and lands again with a tremendous splash. Some scientists believe that breeching may serve to loosen and remove barnacles that attach to the whale's skin. We were close enough to the whales that we could see the barnacles, as well as the blowholes, and even the ridges along the spine. As one whale passed by the boat, in full view of us all, we realized that it was a mother with a baby. When the captain at last headed the boat back to shore, we were surprised to learn that we'd been out for two hours.
Back at the van, we reloaded the cameras and rustled up a quick lunch to eat as we drove back to the main road. We saw our first and only tarantula on the road to the Route 1. We got out to watch it crawl across the sand and managed a photograph before it disappeared.
south on Route 1, towards San Ignacio, exiting at the
We had to spend several minutes searching for a place to camp: in some areas there was not enough room on either side of the road to pull off and park; in others, the mud was too soft. But finally we came to a lovely spot with plenty of room far from the edge of the plateau.
Orion was up;
we were so far from distracting city lights that the glowing nebula in his
sword was clearly visible. We continued
watching the sky as we ate dinner:
Jupiter rose above the horizon and we could see four moons in a perfect,
straight line. We located Venus, Taurus, and reddish Mars
high up next to the Pleiades. Wrapped in
a blanket against the cool evening, we identified everything that was familiar
to us and used the field guide to learn new ones. We've never had such an excellent opportunity
as on this clear, crisp, dark night, high in these remote mountains of
Day 17: Monday, 7 January 1991
This morning started clear but while we were fixing breakfast a cloud rolled in and obscured everything. We could see the thick mist down on the plain first before it rolled up over the edge of the plateau and wrapped us in its damp silence. Visibility reduced to only a few feet, we delayed our departure by almost an hour before the sun came up and burned off the fog.
A bit damp but
otherwise none the worse for being stranded in the "rogue cloud", as
Brian called it, we headed out into the now bright, warm day. We were headed for the tiny, remote
The road to
the village was not in very good repair:
it was an extremely rocky dirt road that in some places came very close
to the edge of the mesa, with drop-offs.
Recent rains in the area had caused quite a bit of damage also leaving
it rutted and muddy. So we traveled
slowly enough to maneuver through the ruts and around the rocks without
rattling anything--car parts, our teeth--too loose; we could enjoy the view at
that pace, too. We saw a gray thrasher
and Brian got good photos of it perched on top of a cardon. There were lots of rock and canyon wrens and
a female vermillion flycatcher. The road
was lined with large cacti, including organ pipe, the first we'd seen since
It took us three hours to travel twenty miles. We finally pulled the van off at a wide spot in the road about a mile and a half shy of the cave. The road had been getting narrower and closer to the edge of the canyon and one of us had refused to drive any farther on it. Actually that person had been refusing to go any farther for at least the past hour, but Brian kept insisting it was safe.
The sun was high and hot so we packed water in the backpack, along with the cameras, and hiked on to the cave. We didn't have to worry about traffic and views of the canyon were spectacular. Palm trees were just visible in its shadowy bottom. Its red rock sides were eroded into gullies and trails that outlined the path of the water. As we came into a curve on the opposite side of the trail, we discovered a sort of grotto of lush plant growth and tall trees where a thin trickle of water dripped along the cliffside and fed a tiny pool at its base, providing enough moisture for this explosion of greenery.
Finally we arrived at Cueva Raton. Visitors are required to hire a guide from the village, another mile up the road, to take them to the cave site, so Brian hiked on ahead, while I stayed with the pack and waited for him. No one in the village spoke English but Brian managed to communicate that he wanted a guide. Brian signed the guest register, made the requested donation, and set off with the guide, who expressed surprise that we had hiked the last few miles.
Meantime, I sat on a rock in the sun and listened to canyon wrens' songs bouncing off the cliffs, and read from a book I'd tucked in the pack. As I waited, I heard a bell tinkling and looked up to see a herd of goats clambering up out of the canyon some yards down the road. They trotted along the road, baaing and occasionally breaking into a run, while I alternately read and watched, hoping that goats don't attack people and wondering why Brian was taking so long to return with the guide. As the goats drew closer, (where was Brian?) I shifted casually on the rock and at that movement, all the animals--apparently concerned that people might attack goats--broke into a gallop, and thundered around a bend in the road and out of sight. Whew! "Are you back already?" I inquired carelessly when Brian showed up a few minutes later.
The cave itself was about 200 yards in from the road. We followed the guide along a rocky path that led upward to the cave. It was quite shallow, little more than a rock overhang really, but it was beautifully painted, though a bit faded with age. It was quite a thrill to look at those walls and see the figures of people and animals, sometimes overlapping, painted in both red and black.
the walls and taking a few photos, we picked our way back down the path,
thanked the guide and returned to the car.
We stopped once more to gaze in awe at the spectacular
Back at the van, we pulled out cold drinks and some crackers and began the drive back. We were passed by a pickup truck containing a load of children and adults who smiled and waved as they pulled in front of us and went bouncing off down the road. We were securely seatbelted and drove at a very sedate pace, compared to the folks in the truck who were all merrily jumbled in the back as they rattled along, leaving us in their dust.
down off the plateau, across the plain, and back out to the main road, which
brought us to San Ignacio by early evening. The first view of the town, with
its heavy growth of palm trees, was one Brian remembered from his first trip to
Baja. We spent a few minutes at the
lagoon looking at birds and met several other people doing the same thing,
including one fellow, named Gary, who was on his annual visit, by bike, from
We parked in
the town square, a tiny park surrounded by shops, with an old mission church at
one end. We went into one of the stores
to get some cold drinks and then visited the church. We also tried to get directions to a
campground. We had seen several signs
for RV parks but even with directions we were unable to find one. Got a pretty good idea of the layout of the
town though, by the time we gave up searching.
It was full dark by then so we just returned to the main road, drove
about nine miles, and turned off on a dirt road leading to the
Day 18: Tuesday, 8 January 1991
We returned to San Ignacio Lagoon this morning, eating granola bars for breakfast on the way, to look for Belding's yellowthroat. It would be a life bird for me; Brian had seen one on his previous trip, though it hadn't been easy. He had been told to look for it at the San Ignacio Lagoon. He checked his map, labelled in Spanish, found Laguna San Ignacio, and set off down a dirt road that he has insisted ever since is the worst in Baja. He rattled down rough washboard for four hours under a blazing sun--it was midsummer--and arrived at the laguna to find it nearly devoid of vegetation which might harbor the hoped-for bird. He camped overnight and headed back to town in the morning. Stopping by a small pond bordered by cattails, he went to work cleaning sand out of the brakes, only to hear a yellow-throat giving its flight song! Apparently San Ignacio Lagoon, five minutes off the paved road, should not have been confused with Laguna San Ignacio, a day round-trip to the coast.
I finally got
a good, though brief, look at a bird that Brian could hear calling but did not
get to see. However, we did enjoy seeing
some of the other birds at the lagoon, including: orange- crowned and
We continued south on Route 1 toward Santa Rosalia, stopping to collect some samples of gypsum at a site described in our guidebook. When the road was being built, workers blasted through a hill; which, it turned out, contained a huge deposit of gypsum that was now exposed and glittering in the sun on the sides of this road embankment After a few taps of the mineral hammer, we were back in the van and heading south again. The canyon and arroyo scenery was breathtaking.
We stopped in Mulege for lunch. It is a small town with winding streets. We wedged into a parking lot and bought fish tacos at a little stand. The were delicious--we were fast becoming hooked on them! After eating, we visited the old Jesuit mission. Just below the mission, is a riparian area where we saw a male vermillion flycatcher, a ladder-backed woodpecker, a black phoebe, and a hooded oriole. While I attempted to photograph the phoebe and the vermillion flycatcher, Brian wandered over to the marsh where he found three least grebes, probably the rarest birds on the trip.
When we finally pulled ourselves away from Mulege, we went to Bahia Concepcion where drove along the shore, then cut across the south end and took a road north, along the east side of the bay. We stopped for the night about a quarter of the way up the shoreline, on a pebbly beach. On the way, we had seen many frigatebirds, an osprey, and an elegant tern. We also saw, briefly, both boobies.
At our campsite, we changed into swimsuits and had a refreshing dip, coming out only when the sun went behind the mountain. We took some photos of the mountains, glowing in the low-angle light. It was growing dark as Brian fixed supper while I made a small driftwood campfire on the beach in a fire-ring of shells. Just as I was about to toss in a new piece of wood, I saw a scorpion crawl out of a crack. We grabbed the camera for a photograph before we shook him free and reminded ourselves to be more careful when collecting the firewood.
As usual, the stars were out in all their glory and we admired the night sky until the fire burned low, when we doused its remains and went to bed.
Day 19: Wednesday, 9 January 1991
After breakfast, we continued our drive along Bahia Concepcion, a distance of about 32 miles from Route 1. The road was quite primitive, at times a barely discernable track amidst the desert vegetation that edged the bay. Occasionally, it wound its way out on to the beach, so close to the water that, at high tide, it would disappear entirely.
Along the way,
we saw and heard
We'd seen no one all morning and when we reached the end of the road we changed clothes and went for a refreshing swim. We had the entire sandy beach to ourselves. The sun was warm, the water reflected the blue of the sky, and we swam in the waves until the call of lunch lured us back to the shore. We air-dried while we ate and then hopped into the van and drove full-speed back down the road, travelling the entire 32 miles in only three and a half hours.
Back at Route 1, we drove on the beach at the south end of the bay trying to relocate an elegant tern roost we'd seen late yesterday. The beach sand was very soft and deep here, so we had to let air out of the tires in order to escape. We drove back north on Route 1 to photograph, in the afternoon light, from some bluffs we'd spotted north of Playa Requeson. From here, we had a beautiful view of the waters of the bay and how they changed color with the depth, from the warm turquoise in the shallows to the cold, purple-black of the deeper water.
We drove south on Route 1 again, toward Loreto and camped just past the city, several miles down the side road to San Javier. Between Loreto and the campsite we saw a nighthawk and a burrowing owl. At the site, as we readied the van for the night, we heard a western screech owl. A jackrabbit startled us, just before we arrived, by dashing suddenly in front of the car.
It had been a long day and we were tired. Our evening routine did not go as smoothly as usual: for some reason, the air-compressor would not refill the softened tires on the van; the water filter needed cleaning and was not pumping well; and the cooler had leaked in the back of the van and things were wet. We decided not to deal with these problems tonight. We fixed supper--spaghetti--quickly and went to bed.
Day 20: Thursday, 10 January 1991
Sure enough, things look better in the morning after a good night's sleep! And we were getting plenty of those on this trip. We did very little driving after dark and that meant we were usually stopped for the night by six or seven pm. Even taking into account our very leisurely evening routine--fixing and eating supper, washing up, writing notes, star-gazing--we were still in bed most nights by nine pm. Getting a full eight or nine hours of sleep every night, no exception, does wonders for your energy and your spirits!
Anyway, we felt better equipped to handle things this morning. First, we drained the large cooler of water, making sure to close the drain hole when we finished (the cause of yesterday's leak). We put the remaining ice into the smaller cooler, along with some canned and bottled drinks. We shook all the blankets and sleeping bags free of sand, put them back in the van, and reloaded the food boxes and other equipment, leaving the damp spot empty so it could dry. Then we had breakfast. While Brian tended the stove, I wandered around our campsite with my cup of hot chocolate and discovered that paloverde trees are much sturdier than they look: I tried to brush past one, got tangled in the thorny branches, and came away with several long scratches.
We drove back
a mile or two, into Loreto, for gas and ice.
We also stopped at a tire place to get air in the tires. Then we drove to Ciudad Constitucion,
where we made a side trip to Bahia Magdalena, a large
bay with nice sand dunes in the distance and extensive tidal mud flats, and
Puerto San Carlos. We saw mangroves and
added Caspian tern, whimbrel, and short-eared owl to
our list. On the way south from Loreto,
there was fine mountain scenery with steep green slopes dropping directly into
We drove from Bahia Magdalena almost to
reaching the city, we turned off on the road to San Evaristo
(San Juan de la Costa). The road washed
out just past the fork to
Day 21: Friday, 11 January 1991
I hit the
beach again while Brian did the breakfast chores; shell collecting seems to be
rather addictive! Afterwards, we
photographed the outstanding sedimentary formations and then drove into
We found the ferry office and made reservations without any trouble but we could not actually buy the tickets until the day of departure. We stopped at a gas station and then had lunch--fish tacos from a street-corner vendor. We drove to Pichilingue to find the ferry dock. There were many nice beaches, with beautiful sand and blue-green water but this close to the city they still felt somewhat developed. After our travels through remote, undisturbed country and deserted, pristine beaches, we were becoming rather spoiled.
the ferry dock and exploring the peninsula we drove back through
We had planned to take the coast road south from here but changed our minds: the description of it in the guidebook gave us visions of a narrow road with steep drop-offs. Also, we had spoken to someone earlier who recalled that most of the roads in the region had suffered some rain damage and who thought we probably wouldn't get too far before we were turned back by wash-outs anyway. Instead, we took Route 1 south to Los Barriles and then took the road north to Punta Pescadero. The AAA suggested that the scenery along this route would be spectacular. We did not find it quite that stunning but we did enjoy one especially good overlook with a twisted fig tree in the foreground. On the way back out, we camped on the beach, taking advantage of another opportunity to look for shells.
Day 22: Saturday, 12 January 1991
We woke up on the beach south of Punta Pescadero. We hoped we were far enough south now to see the Southern Cross, but, even if we were, the sky was too cloudy this morning. We slept later than usual this morning--0730--and we didn't feel like cooking anyway, so we just hopped into the van and headed out, munching granola bars for breakfast. The road was so close to the water's edge that when we stopped to photograph a group of pelicans sitting on a rock, we found that they were practically just outside the door.
We returned to Route 1 and continued south, then exited for La Rivera. We followed the coast roads all the way to San Jose del Cabo, making a brief stop along the way at Cabo Pulmo. This location is notable for having a coral reef; reefs are rare on the western sides of continents. Brian went snorkeling but visibility was not good, so we continued on our way. At Los Frailes, we saw the eastern tip of the Baja peninsula.
About eleven miles south of Cabo Pulmo, we followed a pair of ruts over a hill left of the road, to the beach. We parked and Brian climbed to the top of the hill in order to gain a vantage point from which to photograph an enormous sand dune just to the north. Then, we went swimming. The water was warm, the waves medium-sized, and the ocean bottom was mostly sand, with just a few rocks. After about an hour spent cavorting in the waves, we came out and had a lunch of cheese and crackers and pecans. Then it was back into the van and time to move on.
We passed many magnificent beaches as we drove along, most of them sandy, some rocky. The water everywhere was a beautiful, inviting, blue-green. The road was washed out in many places. We had learned, from talking to a few people, that there had recently been heavy rains. Fortunately, we had missed the storms, but not, it became clear, the after-effects. Most of the roads were in great disrepair, and a few were actually impassable. However, not all the storm results were unfavorable: in one flooded arroyo, we counted nearly 100 Bonaparte's gulls. We also saw diminutive ground doves several times and observed common terns fishing. In two washes we found ancient specimens of zacalates, or fig trees, with unusual horizontally- extended trunks.
We reached San
Jose del Cabo around three p. m. Our first activity was to stop at a roadside
stand to search for a suitable memento of the trip. Bright, colorful blankets hung at the back of
the stand and the tables were filled with jewelry and hair ornaments of silver,
turquoise, malachite, onyx, and black coral.
We finally decided on a bracelet, a chain of silver mined in mainland
visited the estero (lagoon) in San Jose del Cabo,
where we added blue-winged teal and moorhen to our list. There were also a pair of hooded orioles,
We got a motel for the night. Showered and dressed in clean clothes--what luxury!--we went down to dinner, followed by an early curfew.
Day 23: Sunday, 13 January 1991
We knew we were far enough south now that, if we had clear conditions, we should be able to observe the Southern Cross shortly before dawn. So we set the alarm for 0500. Brian went out alone first to see if it was actually visible before I had to get up. But he came back happily for me and for the camera. We crept back outside. It was very dark and there were no lights coming from the motel. Even the pool area lights were off and, as there was no fence around it, Brian nearly had nearly fallen in on his first trip! Now more familiar with the route, he carefully guided me around the pool.
We stood on
the beach in the cool darkness before dawn, heavy waves crashing and foaming in
front of us, and looked up into the sky and saw the Southern Cross. It twinkled and glittered, three big, bright stars and one small,
bright star, and we gazed back at it as though there were nothing else in the
sky to look at. Finally, we took some
photographs and headed back to our room for a little more sleep before we got
up for good and repacked the van. We ate
breakfast on the run as we headed for the
There were several birds we hoped to see as we followed the twists and turns of the narrow, rutted road, but they eluded us: we did not find the San Lucas Robin nor did we find any hummingbirds but we especially did not find Xantus' hummingbirds. We did however add quite a few songbirds to the trip list: plumbeous solitary vireo, black-throated gray warbler, Pacific slope flycatcher, western tanager, and lesser goldfinch.
There were also many marvelous, wet canyons where fig trees grew with wild abandon.
The road was
partially washed out in many places but readily passable and we entertained the
notion of following it to its end at the Pacific. We changed our minds at the crest, though,
and returned the way we came. From San
Jose del Cabo we drove west to Cabo
San Lucas, stopping on the way to photograph at
In Cabo San Lucas, we found a roadside stand where ordered quesadillas with hot salsa for supper then drove north out of the city on Route 19. We camped for the night on the beach; as we drove in we saw in the headlights a snowy plover and evening primroses in bloom.
Day 24: Monday, 14 January 1991
We woke early
to see the Southern Cross again before the sky grew too bright. We had camped on a sandy bluff overlooking
I walked down to the water's edge to look for shells but did not have much luck. Brian drove the van down after me and we got it stuck again in a patch of soft sand. We had to let air out of the tires in order to drive out. Then we drove north to Todos Santos and out onto a beach just south of town. The day was sunny and warm and the water blue and inviting. But, as we watched fifteen foot waves crashing into shore, we easily talked ourselves out of going in for a swim. We did enjoy a leisurely couple of hours reading and napping in the sun before we headed back into town to look for a fish taco stand where we could have lunch.
By now, of course, we considered ourselves experts on the subject. Each stand had its own special touch, but we could always count on the fish to be fresh and delicious. We had also learned that the tacos were fairly small and that therefore three or four of them made a good meal. So when we stopped for lunch on this day, instead of ordering one for each of us first, and then going back for more, Brian just reqested eight--four for each. He returned to the van, where I was waiting, with the biggest tacos either of us had ever seen! We ate our lunch in the shady town square and then wrapped up the leftovers to save for dinner.
we took Route 19 north back to
We studied the
night sky with telescope and astronomy book and found a southern star we had
not seen before,
Day 25: Tuesday, 15 January 1991
We did not take time for breakfast this morning as we were anxious to get started photographing the colorful sedimentary rock formations in the early light. When we had taken a number of pictures, we continued north to a point 53 miles from Route 1, enjoying the scenery along the way. On the return trip we saw numerous brown boobies. We also added up the number of crested caracaras we had seen for the entire trip and reached a total of 31!
We returned to
the ferry offices in
chores were finished we went back to the street corner where we'd gotten fish
tacos on our first trip into town several days ago, and picked up lunch. Then we drove out to
Just as we were about to photograph, a car pulled up and several fisherman got out and were about to trek across the stretch of beach that was to be the foreground. After explaining to them what we were doing, they very kindly stayed close to the cliff edge where their tracks wouldn't show. We had a chance to return the favor later on when the fishermen were ready to leave. One of them got in the car, at the wheel, and the other three began to push. Brian went over to help and discovered that the car had no reverse! They had to push it backward until they had room to drive forward. "But," as one of them explained, "we have plenty of horsepower!"
So we spent a relaxing afternoon on the beach, reading, photographing, catching up on notes, and looking for shells. We also reorganized the van a bit for the ferry trip: we had to separate everything we'd need on the eight-hour crossing since once on board we could not return to the van.
Then we drove back to the ferry terminal and were in line shortly after 6:00 pm, as directed for the 8:00 pm launch. Around 7:30 we learned that the ferry had turned back to Topolobompo due to rough seas and so we would not be able to cross tonight. There was no guarantee that it would go out tomorrow either. The ferry crossing would be convenient only if we'd been able to depart on time. Now, every day we waited would put us another day behind schedule--and we weren't even sure when the next one would depart.
However, we could do nothing more this evening. It was too dark to get a head start on driving back and too late to go to the ferry office for a refund. So we drove back along the Pichilingue road and pulled off at what appeared to be a suitable campsite. We dragged out the stove and heated water for soup, after which we went to bed.
Day 26: Wednesday, 16 January 1991
We were up at 0630 and fixed a hot breakfast. We ate hurriedly because we had discovered last night that, in the dark, we had camped near a mangrove swamp; the tiny insects that made it their home were still plagueing us next morning. We were at the ferry office by 8:00 am, where Brian had no trouble getting a refund for the cancelled ferry trip. We then began the long drive back up the peninsula.
We made fairly
good time since we were not making any stops, except for gas at Guerrero
Negro. There, two American vacationers
asked if we'd "heard the news."
Since we knew that we'd reached the President's deadline for Saddam
Hussein to withdraw from
Shortly after dark we pulled off on the road to Santa Rosalillita. We fixed spaghetti for supper and got ready for bed. As we'd driven farther north, we'd noticed that it was cooler. It was also very windy and we felt fairly certain the ferry would have been cancelled again.
Day 27: Thursday, 17 January 1991
We were awakened this morning by coyotes calling close by and looking out the window we could see several of them surrounding our campsite and calling to each other before trotting off into the dawn mist. We'd seen three coyotes yesterday evening and would see one more this afternoon returning several times to a road kill.
We crossed the
border at Tecate, where we exchanged pesos for
dollars and mailed the postcards we'd written along the way. One of the first differences we noted was in
the condition of the paved roads; in the
We stoppped around 9:00 pm, and called home to let Mom and Dad know we had crossed the border without incident (there had been some concern about border closings, now that the war had started). And then we camped for the night--for the last time on this trip.
Days 28-32: 18-22 January 1991
in a rest area in
We arrived in