30 November 1991

 

Dear Friends and Family,

 

Happy 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 Mexico, and to the Canadian Rockies. The former trip lasted a month and entailed 9800 miles of driving; the latter, 3 weeks and 9100 miles.

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 Palo Duro Canyon in the Texas Panhandle, El Paso (where we spent Christmas with Eileen's folks), Organ Pipe National Monument on the Arizona-Mexico border, and the Sierra del Pinacate volcanic region in extreme northwest mainland Mexico. We returned home via El Paso again, after driving an extra 18 hours due to a ferry across the Sea of Cortez being cancelled due to high winds.

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 Rochester area, destroying about one-third of the trees in the area. We were without power for eight days. Fortunately, our basement is not prone to flooding, so we only had to deal with the absence of light and heat. With all the camping we do, this was not too difficult for us, though we were certainly relieved when the power came back on. The house got down to 40 at one point and we had to start worrying about the pipes freezing. We lost only three of our 30 trees, though many had their top 15 feet or so broken off.

In mid-March, we took a trip to the Bruce Peninsula in Ontario, which separates Lake Huron from Georgian Bay. This location, noted for orchids, ferns, and scenery, has had a healthy population of snowshoe hares each time we have visited it in the summer months, so we thought we would try it in the winter, in hopes of seeing the hares in their all-white winter pellage. In this regard we were partly successful, obtaining brief glimpes, but no photos, of the hares.

We were grateful on 18 March when Eileen's brother Paul returned home to El Paso from the Persian Gulf. A little over a month later, our other relative in the Gulf, Patrick (Eileen's sister Kathleen's husband) arrived home in Germany. Thank goodness they were both safe!

Over Easter we visited my father in South Carolina, our visit coinciding with that of my older brother Chuck. I played my first round of golf in 10 years, a rather humorous affair! Eileen and I took a day trip to the attractive sandhill country in the central portion of the state, where red-cockaded woodpeckers still occur in significant numbers. It was a lovely vacation!

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 Virginia waterleaf and wild geranium; our native trees are linden, cherry, hickory, and elm. Eileen has had a wonderful time gardening; spring this year was heralded by crocuses, daffodils, and tulips we planted last fall.

In May we spent three consecutive weekends birding and photographing in Ontario. The first two weekends, at Pt. Pelee NP and Rondeau PP, concentrated on migrating songbirds; the third weekend at Algonquin PP was aimed at seeing some of the boreal breeding species. The latter trip produced some very close moose sightings. In June, we helped census small white ladies' slippers in a local marl (alkaline precipitate) habitat; this species grows in only two locations in the state.

Just before 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 New York state. We immediately turned around, found a pay phone, and called several local birders who passed the word around. Despite the late hour (around 7 pm when we found the bird), about 25 people got to see it before dark. The bird was not seen subsequently.

Our Canadian Rockies trip was thoroughly enjoyable. We drove along the north shore of the Great Lakes (the scenery along Lake Superior was beautiful!) and then angled northwestward. Along the way we visited Riding Mountain NP in Manitoba, and a tall-grass prairie and Prince Albert PP in Saskatchewan. There are a complex of parks in the Canadian Rockies: Jasper NP, Banff NP, Kootenay NP, Yoho NP, and Mt. Robson PP, all of which we visited. Eileen's parents flew into Calgary and joined us for a week in exploring primarily Banff. From there we headed south to the Waterton-Glacier Parks straddling the Montana-Alberta border, and returned home via Custer NM.

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 Adirondacks. Fall foliage was not as good as some past years but was still enjoyable. Our last weekend of camping was in mid-October, when the tamaracks were turning golden. Since then we've been doing the yard work and house work that was neglected during the better weather; printing up photographs from the Canadian Rockies; planning future vacations; and doing some birding. A three-day trip to Montauk Point, Long Island for a pelagic trip was unsuccessful; a storm system produced 20-foot seas which cancelled the trip. From shore we saw many gannets and kittiwakes; great cormorant and purple sandpiper were life birds for Eileen (the latter was #550 for her).

We plan to visit my folks in Virginia over Christmas, and look forward to a trip out west next year.

 

Baja Trip 1991

 

Eileen L. Keelan

 

 

This year, Brian and I decided to take our Christmas vacation in Baja California, Mexico. We realized that, by combining holidays with weekends and the remainder of the 1990 vacation, and adding on part of 1991's vacation days, we could be gone for just about a month. A trip to Baja would be a perfect choice: we'd have plenty of time to cover the distance; we'd be missing some of the very worst of Rochester's winter weather in a more southerly location; we'd be able to do some real exploring of a kind we hadn't done since we'd been to Alaska; and Baja would be an excellent place to try out a recently acquired wide-angle (24mm) lens!

Brian had been to Baja once before, with Marie Kuhnen, a professor of natural history from New Jersey. The fact that he was not only willing to go again but could hardly contain his excitement at the idea, attests to the grand scale of Baja's charms.

 

The Preparation

 

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.

In reading 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 Juarez but he spent almost as much time on the phone as we actually planned to be gone, with nothing to show for it. Finally, we turned to my dad. He is a legal administrator for a law firm in El Paso, Texas; we thought that perhaps someone closer to the source might be able to help us. Sure enough, he said that some of the lawyers in the firm do have contacts in Mexico; he'd see what he could find out. His first efforts with the Ministry of Tourism in Juarez resulted in their sending him a copy the restrictions, which we already had. Only now we had them in Spanish, too. On the second try, a woman suggested that we take everything with us and if we encountered any difficulties at the border we could just leave it there and pick it up on our way back. (Sure.) That idea was not high on our list of possible solutions.

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.

Another potential problem we had to deal with concerned our van. We had already decided to take our vehicle rather than fly to California or Mexico and rent one. Since the van is still fairly new and we were still paying off the loan, technically we are not the owners and thus had to gain permission from the bank in order to remove it from the country. We received a letter of permission after several phone calls and written requests, and had to show the letter when we bought the required Mexican car insurance.

Besides 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 Pasadena, where he lived at the time, his mechanic determined the car was not worth repairing. "By the way," he asked,"how far did you drive it like this?" He was floored by Brian's reply that they had traveled 800 miles!

Because the 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 Toyota dealer before we left. We explained where we were going and asked to be supplied with the necessary spare parts and equipment. We also purchased two five-gallon gas cans. In Mexico, leaded gasoline is fairly easy to obtain but unleaded is somewhat less so. Even gas stations that carry unleaded are sometimes out of supplies. Brian recalled a stretch of 400 miles with no gas on his previous trip to Baja. We filled the two cans shortly before crossing the border and they did come in handy, though gas availability had improved since his last visit.

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.

Lunches proved 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 United States, the problem being, not contamination per se, but that we are accustomed to different organisms in our digestive tracts.) We added what we hoped was a three-week supply of cookies and M & M's and that part of the planning was complete, except for the actual shopping.

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.

 

The Itinerary

 

Jump-off date was set for Saturday, December 22, 1990. We planned that three long days of driving would get us to El Paso, Texas on the 24th of December so that we could have Christmas with my folks. We also wanted to spend an hour or two at Palo Duro Canyon in the Texas panhandle on the way down. Weather permitting, we'd make it a few hours past Indianapolis on the first night, and to the canyon the second night so that we could be there at sunrise the next morning; then we'd arrive in El Paso that evening, after three days of driving. (As it turned out, weather, and a few other factors, made those three days of driving even longer than anticipated.)

We would spend two days in El Paso and then head for the border. We planned one other stop before entering Mexico: Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, in Arizona, a day's drive from El Paso. A night and the following morning would be spent there and we'd cross the border the next afternoon, with three weeks ahead of us to explore the peninsula. Brian planned to map out our day-by-day journey there during the drive to El Paso, but we already knew that we'd travel the entire length of the peninsula, 1050 miles by road, 800 miles as the raven flies. From La Paz at the southern end we'd take a ferry across the Sea of Cortez (Gulf of California) to mainland Mexico and cross the border at Douglas, New Mexico. We intended to spend another day in El Paso before resuming the drive back to Rochester.

 

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 were approaching Indianapolis and we hoped to take a dinner break here, meeting my brother Tom, who is in the Army, stationed at Fort Benjamen Harrison, nearby. Unfortunately (and as he had feared), his schedule was too hectic, he having just returned from leave; and ours was too unpredictable, since we didn't know exactly what moment we'd hit town. We had too far yet to go that night to stop early; so we missed each other, though not by much.

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 Cloverdale, Indiana and spent our first night there, covering 620 miles the first day.

 

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 Claremore, Oklahoma that we began to see improvement in the driving conditions, though snow continued to fall. After eating, we drove a bit farther and stopped for the night in the town of Stroud, Oklahoma. We hoped to make up a little time and so we requested an early wake-up call for tomorrow morning, at 0600.

 

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 Rochester a few weeks later, there was a letter from the hotel; they had re-checked the computer and our room phone. Apparently, a previous guest had turned off the telephone ringer.)

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.

Driving today 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 Palo Duro Canyon, in the Texas Panhandle near Amarillo, where we had hoped to spend the previous night. This is a beautiful canyon carved from the high plains of Texas by the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River; it is far from any similar terrain. A road leads to the canyon floor, passing colorful rock outcrops on the way. There there is good birding along the river, where we saw golden-fronted woodpeckers and black-crested titmice. Brian and his brother Chris had vistited this location a decade earlier on a cross-country trip.

We stopped in the town of Canyon for gas and called Mom and Dad to let them know that we were on the way and that we'd arrive late. It grew dark soon. We drove for a few hours and then stopped in Roswell, New Mexico to eat dinner and get lost for awhile. Then we were on our way again, stopping only to switch drivers. When we reached Alamagordo we refilled the gas tank and called home again to say, yes, we really are on our way. We were pretty tired but the thought of reaching home on Christmas Eve, pushed us on. We drove the last hour or so with Bruce Springsteen turned up loud on the cassette player; you can't sleep through that!

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 reached El Paso at last, via the recently renamed Patriot Freeway, in honor of the missile crews who train at Fort Bliss and who were so successful in the Persian Gulf. As we drove across the city, we could see the huge star shining on the mountain, lit every year at Christmas and maintained by the El Paso Electric Company. This year, they promised it would shine until every Fort Bliss soldier returned from the Persian Gulf.

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 Persian Gulf. My sister Kathleen called from Germany, where she and her son Corey, 4, live while her husband Patrick is away. Later, Dad and I went over to the high-school track to jog and shoot baskets. It was a beautiful, sunny day.

Christmas 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 Indianapolis, called.

 

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 Fort Bliss.) Brian and I managed to sleep a little later this morning. We went out for breakfast but none of the places we tried was open that early on the day after Christmas. So we settled for having a bite to eat at home and going out later for lunch instead, at Leo's Mexican Restaurant; the meal was delicious.

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 Tucson, with one stop in Willcox, Arizona for lunch. In Tucson, we exchanged dollars for pesos (exchange rate, approximately 3000 pesos per dollar), keeping in mind Dad's advice to us before we left El Paso: "Don't take any wooden pesos." We left Tucson on Route 86, the road to Ajo, planning to take it to the observatory on Kitt Peak in hopes of seeing coatimundis. Unfortunately, the road closed at 1600 hours and we arrived at 1545, so we had to pass on that side trip.

We camped at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, our goal for the evening. We took a short drive after dark but saw only one animal, a desert cottontail. It rained that night; we thought we'd be snug and dry sleeping in the van but we hadn't shut the tailgate hard enough and it leaked! Rain dripping on our faces, like chinese water torture, Brian said, woke us up. We slammed the door, dried our faces, and slept dry for the rest of the night.

 

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 Puerto Blanco Loop Road, one of two roads in the park (the other road was closed due to a washout). Our journal notes for the day contain our first lists of Sonoran desert plants and birds, including: saguaro and organ pipe cactus; two species each of paloverde and mesquite; desert ironwood, a tree whose wood is so heavy that it will not float and is difficult to cut with an axe or saw; a group of six Harris's hawks, a species that hunts in family units rather than alone; Gila woodpeckers; gilded flickers; and cactus wrens.

After a stop at the Visitor Center for guidebooks and postcards, we drove the five miles to Lukeville and the border crossing. We had no trouble there: the guard waved us through and it took only a few minutes to park and get tourist cards and car permits. With these items tucked safely into the important-papers envelope, we soon left the narrow dirt roads of Sonoita behind.

Upon examining a map and guidebook acquired at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, we decided our first stop in Mexico would be to the volcanic region of the Sierra del Pinacate. (We had most of the trip planned already but from our AAA map we could not tell if there were any roads into the Sierra del Pinacate region; our new map indicated that there were.) We took Route 8 from Sonoita towards Puerto Penasco, and turned north at KM 51 or 52 on the more easterly road to Cerro Colorado. Along this road we saw the gentle slopes of a huge extinct volcano and many cinder cones. At Cerro Colorado ('Red Hill'), we attempted to backtrack to Crater Elegante, but got 'lost' due to the presence of many more roads than shown on our map. But the drive was beautiful, and we saw superb stands of teddy-bear (jumping) cholla lit by the lovely sunset. As it grew dark, and our concern became finding the correct road out of the region. Right at dusk we came upon a huge formation of jagged aa lava.

As we continued on in the dark we saw approaching headlights and noted that the car had Arizona license plates. Since it was coming from the direction in which we were headed, and had American plates, we thought we'd be able to get directions to the correct road. But to our surprise, the driver spoke both Spanish and French, but not English. Brian called upon his knowledge of French and they were able to communicate well enough to confirm that we were on the right road. And sure enough, shortly afterward, we emerged at Route 2. We backtracked a mile or two and pulled off the road to camp for the night. We'd had our first experience of Baja roads--rough, washboarded, dirt roads--and it was only a taste of what was to come in the days ahead. But the scenery was gorgeous, the weather a bit cool but clear and sunny, and we had nothing more pressing to do than fix dinner, write notes, star-gaze for a while, and go to bed. We would follow this routine, with only a few variations, for the next three weeks.

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 Mexico. We dressed, brushed our teeth, repacked the van and drove out Route 2 toward Mexicali. Breakfast was eaten in the van en route. Once in Mexicali we stopped to get gas and ice. This close to the border, the city was bustling and we had a difficult time finding the road out of town in between trying to watch the traffic and translate signs into English. The fact that the roads were not well marked added to the difficulty. Eventually we made it out, after a few wrong turns, on the road to Tijuana.

We turned left at approximately KM28 toward Guadalupe Canyon, our next planned stop, situated along the west side of Laguna Salada which, at its northern end, is a great salt flat. The dirt road was wide, flat, and very corrugated, so our progress was slow. We'd gone about seven or eight miles when we stopped for lunch. We got out the stove and heated up water for soup which we ate along with cheese and crackers and nuts. The view over the flats of Laguna Salada to the eroded mountains in the east, under a blue sky with spoke-like clouds radiating from a center point, was spectacular.

We continued 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 California fan palms. The camping area itself contained several hot, spring-fed pools. We'd been contemplating a hike up the canyon to the Pool of the Virgin, but changed our minds due to the length of the hike and the lateness of the hour. Instead, we explored the immediate area of the canyon, took a few photos, listened to canyon wrens and rock wrens, and saw numerous western bluebirds, flitting through the camping area.

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 California, Twentynine Palms and Fort Piute), I stood a few feet down the trail from Brian and out of sight, behind a boulder. As we admired the palms, Brian said to me, "You know, I had hoped to be able to hike to the Pool of the Virgin, but at least we got to see the palm trees and that's what I was most excited about." Before I had a chance to answer, another photographer walked up in time to hear Brian's comment. Not seeing me, he glanced around, then said to Brian, "Are you talking to yourself, or is there someone else around here?"

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.

After 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 US.

Meanwhile, 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 Tijuana lay one of the most terrifying stretches of road we'd have to face: the Cantu Grade. This is the only route that crosses northern Baja from east to west, so we had no choice but to take it. Even the description is scary: a 15% grade, two-lane road, with no shoulder or guard rail, steep drop-offs, and sharp switchbacks. To add to the atmosphere of terror, the traffic was heavy and the drivers reckless. Most of them drove very fast and passed slower vehicles (buses and heavy trucks) as soon as they reached them without regard to blind curves ahead and the possibility of approaching traffic. We watched a bus pass a slower-moving truck on just such a curve. The fact that we witnessed no accidents was surprising but did not diminish the impact of the evidence we saw: the wrecked cars and trucks were not removed and the remains of crashed vehicles were strewn down the cliffs for the entire length of the road.

The traverse 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, through Tecate. Unfortunately, we could not find the turnoff to Route 3 to Ensenada. We had planned to go there and then drive up the coast to Tijuana and cross the border. But we ended up in Tijuana first and so decided to visit the Ensenada area after fixing the van. We used the Otay Mesa crossing and though there was a wait, we had no trouble getting through. But it was a sunny Sunday afternoon and there were a lot of returning visitors so we waited in line for close to an hour.

As soon as we crossed the border, we stopped at a gas station in Chula Vista; the mechanic could not look at the car that day but recommended a nearby Sears. There, they diagnosed the problem as a broken oil shock; the oil was similar to brake fluid, leading to Brian's misidentification. The shock was the left front one, the one which would have taken the weight of the tree that fell on the van about a year before, during a fall camping trip. That stress, along with our recent rough travels, must have been too much. The mechanic recommended we replace the original oil shocks with light truck gas shocks, but we'd have to wait until tomorrow to see if they were available. If they weren't, he could still replace the broken one with another of the same kind. This sounded like a reasonable plan, so we checked into a Travelodge Motel and took advantage of the interruption to take showers. After three days of camping without showers, it sure felt good! As it turned out, this interlude was much the briefest without showers. By the end of our vacation, we were still feeling pretty fresh after three days!

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 Persian Gulf last September. He was on a brief R&R in Jubail; it was great to know he was doing OK and on that happy note we went to bed.

 

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 Rochester, victims of three weeks of Baja's roads.

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 Ensenada, stopping at a lagoon at KM 69 where there was a good variety of ducks. Dudleya, a spikey succulent, grew on the cliffs. We continued to Ensenada, but had a difficult time finding Route 3 out of town since the roads were poorly marked. Once we found it, we headed towards Ojos Negros and followed the AAA directions to Laguna Hanson. The one gas station in town was closed but we still had extra gas on the roof.

At the start of the dirt road out of Ojos Negros, we met another vehicle, from California; the driver, whose name was Mike, asked if they could follow us to Laguna Hanson. (Later, we met his passengers, Tessa, from London, and their daughter, Savannah.) Although the day was sunny and warm when we began, as our elevation increased, the temperature dropped. As our elevation increased, we left the coastal plants behind and passed through stands of Ribbonwood chaparral, then through sagebrush flats, and finally into coniferous forests. This ride was nostalgic for us, because the progression of habitats was so like that typical of southern California. The road, though wide enough, was deeply rutted and filled with water from a recent rain. As elevation increased, the water in the ruts was frozen and we began to see, first patches, then a complete covering of snow. As we bounced and lurched through the puddles and potholes, we repeatedly threw up large sprays of water. Mike, driving behind us, later confirmed that at times water in the holes came up over the bottom edges of the van doors.

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 Mexico, by a blazing campfire, watching the bright, full moon--a blue moon, the second full moon in the same month--rise in the cold, dark sky.

 

Day 11: Tuesday, 1 January 1991

 

Despite the 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 Ensenada to have the alternator checked.

We put gas from the roof into our tank and then drove to La Bufadora ("the blowhole") getting more gas and ice in Ensenada on the way. La Bufadora attracts a lot of tourists to a spot where the ocean waves are funneled through a very narrow section of rock, which causes the water to shoot high into the air. There was a nice collection of gulls there, including Heerman's and western. We had a delicious lunch of fish tacos--the first of many on this trip--purchased from a street vendor. Subsequently, we went to Ejido Errendira, near Puerto San Isidro, where we photographed pelicans, Clark's and western grebes, and a Pacific loon.

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 California and Heerman's as well, along with a royal tern, pacific loon and several pelicans.

We left here and took the Meling Ranch Road to the National Observatory. The road, much of it washboard, ran roughly sixty miles, climbing from sea level to 9400 feet. Near the top there were lots of steep drop-offs and scary views. The road was paved inside the park (Parc Nacional Sierra San Pedro Martir), but not very well; it was patchy and full of potholes. We started the climb in coastal chaparral containing Machaerocereus cactus and large prickly pear. Our bird list here included wrentits; Anna's hummingbird, doing courtship flight and calling loudly; Bewick's wren; and brown towhee. We photographed a beautiful Harris' hawk on a fencepost. Habitat changed as we reached intermediate elevations. Now we were seeing ribbonwood, manzanita, and Parry pinyon. At high elevations we saw jeffrey, lodgepole, and sugar pines and white fir. Birds and mammals were scarce but we did hear hairy woodpecker and mountain chickadee.

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 California plates. We fixed a quick lunch that we ate before beginning the hike to the observatory. On this last mile of the road, no cars were allowed. As we approached the top, the temperature dropped noticeably, and the wind picked up, too. But, as if to compensate for the rough conditions, the view was spectacular. We photographed Picacho del Diablo, the highest peak in Baja, 10,150 feet high. The best viewpoint, we felt, was up a slope on the left just before the largest telescope. You could see the land dropping 9000 feet to a dry lakebed, behind which the Sea of Cortez could just be made out. We headed back to the car after about an hour. Becuase of the steepness, the walk back down took us about half as long as to walk to the top. When we got back to the car, it was late afternoon, so we headed out immediately, stopping only briefly to take some habitat shots and to set up the scope on a ferruginous hawk in a lodgepole pine meadow.

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.

There was 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 California sea lion.

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.

Then we 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 Central Desert and therefore had added several new plants to the list; one was the cirio or Idria columnaris, also called boojum trees. They are very tall, and related to ocotillo--their heavy thorns and small green leaves were very recognizeable--and they somewhat resembled, in shape, an upside down carrot. Some were in bloom with a small bunch of yellow flowers on top. The trees usually stand straight and tall but damage by frost or lightning can cause the tops to droop or flop over into some amazing configurations. These trees might have been designed by Dr. Seuss. There were also cardon, a species of cacti that look much like our familiar saguaro. However, they are even bigger, if possible, and have many more arms.

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.

While fixing 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 Adirondacks, and we've been lucky enough to see them a few times. But we never tire of the opportunity of encountering them.

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 Mexico that didn't taste good--we had tuna salad in avocado, fish, and quesadillas. Service was a bit slow: the same man did the waiting, serving, clearing, and bar-tending. (Cooking, too?) But we enjoyed the relaxing evening. After dinner, we took the long-awaited showers and went to bed. We awoke once during the night to the sound of rain drumming on the roof, but were soon back to sleep with no further interruptions.

 

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.

We headed south on Route 1 and took a side road to Bahia de Los Angeles. As we drove down into the village, we had a nice view of the Sea of Cortez and its islands. We saw yellow-footed gulls and managed to get photographs despite a light rain. There were lots of ravens and we enjoyed watching them hop about on the ground or perch on top of cardons, and listening to their raspy, croaking calls. There were also large numbers of copalquin. We ate our lunch on the return to Route 1: crackers with cheese and avocado. While sitting in the shade of the van, sipping gatorade and munching the crackers, we heard a California quail.

Back on Route 1, we continued south until we came to a road that led to the small village of Santa Rosalillita. Just past it, we drove out onto the beach, where we collected shells. We found quite a few sand dollars, limpets, and clams, and several turbans. There was another fellow out collecting and we learned that he was from Ontario and had been a shell collector for years. He gave us advice on how to clean the shells, especially the turbans, which have a pearly shine if treated properly.

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 Guerrero Negro. (Guerrero Negro is the Spanish for Black Warrior; the town gets its name from a whaling ship that wrecked at the entrance to Scammon's Lagoon, in 1858, overloaded with whale oil. The ship is said to have gotten its name because it engaged in trade with Zanzibar.) In Guerrero Negro we were able to throw away garbage and fill up on gas and ice. Then we drove to the old salt-loading wharf, reached by driving through town and taking a road that continued straight for seven miles, dead-ending at the wharf.

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 Clark's and western grebes, swimming and diving in a pool together, so we had good comparisons of their characteristics. When we finally reached the wharf, there was little to see--whales are viewed there on occasion, sometimes within 20 yards, more often as barely visible specks in the binoculars, but we saw none--though we did take a look around and reloaded the cameras for the return run through the bird-infested marshes.

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.

We continued south on Route 1, towards San Ignacio, exiting at the San Francisco Road. We followed the road as it led through low desert and then up a hill and on to a plateau. The late afternoon sun lit up the plain below and several stormy clouds surrounded the high peak to the south, Pico Santa Monica. By the time we had taken advantage of the gorgeous light to get a few photographs, the sun had gone down and it was growing dark.

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 Mexico.

 

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 village of San Francisco. Its claim to fame, as far as the outside world is concerned, is a cave containing Baja's most accessible rock art, which is 800 years old.

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 leaving Arizona. Brewer's and black-throated sparrows flew up as drove past.

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.

After admiring 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 San Pablo Canyon and again to relax for a few moments in the unexpected shade of the little waterfall. Just as we were about to move on, we heard a voice, loud and uninhibited; we looked up and saw a man come swinging around the curve of the road, singing at the top of his lungs. When he saw us, the song quieted to a whistle; he paused only long enough to return our greeting, then disappeared around the next bend.

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.

We meandered 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 Oregon. He was on his way back north while we were still heading south, so we exchanged information about good bird locations, and then continued into town.

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 village of Santa Martha. We found a nice open area amidst the desert vegetation and pulled off there for the night. We ate our dinner under the stars and crawled into bed.

 

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 Wilson's warblers; little blue and black-crowned night herons; hooded oriole; Gila woodpecker; and at least two red-shouldered hawks, calling. We finally left the lagoon when it appeared that the rogue cloud was returning. For a couple of miles we could only see a few yards ahead of the car and we drove very slowly. But as soon as gained a little elevation, we were clear of the mist and the day turned quite sunny.

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 California gnatcatchers and saw both species of boobies, including a blue-foot perched on the shore. We increased our list-of-birds-sitting-on-cardons: magnificent frigatebirds, great blue heron, osprey, turkey vulture, kestrel, yellow-footed gull and various songbirds. We also saw lots of Brewer's sparrows and a roadrunner.

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 the Sea of Cortez.

We drove from Bahia Magdalena almost to La Paz. At first it was mostly farmland and therefore pretty boring scenery, for us, but we did finally see our first creasted caracaras. As we approached La Paz, the terrain became gently rolling with sedimentary formations evident.

Shortly before 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 San Juan. We camped on the beach near mile 23. Once again, while Brian fixed supper, I collected shells on the beach.

 

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 La Paz. We passed great mangrove swamps and Brian recalled finding his first mangrove warbler here on his previous trip. We stopped first at the tourist information office and got directions to the ferry. Our plan was to buy tickets today for the ferry crossing on the 15th. We'd continue our journey to the tip of the peninsula--we were very close--then return to La Paz for the ferry. We could shorten the trip home by nearly two days if we crossed the Sea of Cortez, drove through mainland Mexico and crossed the border at Douglas, New Mexico, instead of driving back up the peninsula and crossing at California.

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.

After locating the ferry dock and exploring the peninsula we drove back through La Paz and spent the better (worse?) part of an hour trying to locate Route 1 south. We had gotten pretty good at maneuvering the van over rutted dirt roads, and negotiating our way among meandering side roads, many of which did not even appear on the map, but we were really thwarted by those city streets. At last we were sucessful, however, and we took Route 286 to San Juan de Los Planes. Bahia de la Ventana was quite scenic. So was Ensenada de Los Muertos; backed by mountains, it would have been superb for photography if not for the poor light at that time of day.

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 Mexico. As Brian put the bracelet on for me, the salesman asked us how long we had been husbands!

We then 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, Wilson's and orange-crowned warblers, and a wheeling flock of frigatebirds.

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 Naranjas Road which we took to the crest of Sierra de la Victoria. From here we could look out and see the Pacific Ocean.

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 Land's End, the southernmost point of the Baja peninsula.

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 the Pacific Ocean and we watched waves pounding on the rocks below as we ate breakfast. When the sun rose, we watched little rainbows dance in the surf splashed up by the waves. A pelican was fishing in the surf; he flew high over the water as the waves rolled in, and swooped down low again as they flattened and pulled out.

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.

After lunch, we took Route 19 north back to La Paz. As we drove, we kept track of our caracara sightings; by the end of the day we had counted sixteen! Shortly before La Paz we took the road to San Evaristo for the second time. This time we bravely attempted passage of the washout and we made it through. We continued north on this road stopping to camp for the night nearly forty miles north of Route 1.

We studied the night sky with telescope and astronomy book and found a southern star we had not seen before, Canopus, the second brightest star in the sky. We ate our leftovers for dinner and then crawled into bed.

 

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 La Paz and paid the fare. We drained the gas container into the van and topped off the tank, and stopped to replenish the ice and cold drink supply. Then we went into a small store to look for some chocolate. It turned out that they only sold it in large quantities--we had enough Baby Ruth bars to last us the length of the Baja Peninsula and clear across the country, back to Rochester!

When these 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 Tecolote Beach at the end of the Pichilingue Peninsula. Here we ate our lunch and watched a feeding frenzy of pelicans and frigate birds eat theirs. After lunch, we photographed Isla Espiritu Santo, across from our beach, with its beautiful red and black cliffs. We climbed part way up the rock wall to get a better vantage point and soon found small plants with little yellow flowers clinging tenaciously to our clothes. We learned that we had to actually scrape them off with a stick to remove them.

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 Kuwait, we said "no" and waited nervously to hear what was happening. But it turned out that they did not know either and were wondering if we'd "heard the news" so we could tell them!

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 U.S., the roads were wide, well-paved, painted, and had shoulders: what a luxury! We drove until after dark, stopping at a fast food place for supper. We picked up our first newspaper and finally learned that the war had begun.

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

 

After sleeping in a rest area in Arizona, we spent most of the next day driving to El Paso. The following day was spent relaxing, including a nice dinner with Dad, Mom, Rob, and Mahrla (Elizabeth, Lindsay, and Sarah had returned to California). We spent three days driving back to Rochester, weather getting colder and snowier as we got farther north. We saw many signs of support for the troops in the Persian Gulf and lots of yellow ribbons.

We arrived in Rochester, Tuesday night, 22 January. Our trip to Baja had been a gorgeous break from the winter weather, and a marvelous adventure, filled with the simultaneous pleasures of exploring, photographing, camping, relaxing, and learning about a new environment, free of routine, mundane duties. What a delightful, exciting, experience it had been!