Here’s what’s been hiding in our Google Map, which appears in the sidebar of the blog. Going forward, I’ll send these place-based notes once a week.
This is Ghost Rock Canyon, located along the 110-mile stretch of I-70 known geologically as the San Raphael Swell, which contains no modern ‘services’ or noticeable civilization, save some fences.
Approaching the junction of I-70 and I-15 from the east, you’ll see directional signs: “Salt Lake City – Stay right” and “Las Vegas – Left Exit” Ryan: “Heaven, or Hell. Better choose now.
One of the busiest border zones in the world, Tijuana’s traffic moves swiftly in the southbound direction; the northbound lanes may require the 2+ hour wait indicated on the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) website.
Note that Mexican customs and immigration are not located in the traffic zone. To get your tourist card (or have it stamped, if you printed it online beforehand) or register your vehicle for temporary import, you’ll have to look for the offices, on the righthand side, past the main glut of lanes crossing the border.
This development-gone-South was built up around a natural hot spring right at the water’s edge. Soak in the pools at mid-tide for 20 pesos/person (I think). We loved it, as we are warm-water junkies.
Camping includes a palapa, table and power for around $17US. However, power is off overnight and late into the morning, if not mid-afternoon. The bath house, half-finished and in disrepair, has flush toilets only. Cold showers are gravity-fed from a catch barrel at your palapa (not potable).
The area has several residences, though the only people we saw were gatekeepers and other transients who were widely knowledgeable about other curiosities up and down Baja. Thanks, Warren!
Located seven miles north of town, just inside the Area Especial (protected area/park), this pebble beach offers tranquil rustic camping.
We loved the views (seals and birds just off-shore) and other campers we found there, including a family from Colorado, a ‘sub-30’ (person under age 30) who’d been on the road on his 3-horsepower Honda motorcycle for three years, and two vanfuls of surfers who snorkeled in many layers of neoprene (the water is COLD this time of year).
Arriving late afternoon, we drove out to the lighthouse, across the salt flats that provide this town’s principal industry, met a couple inebriated watchmen, there obstensibly for security, and decided instead to stay under a palapa at Restaurant Lala, also near Puerto Viejo, or the old port.
We pushed the button to pop up Eliza’s bed in the camper and….nothing. Turns out the circuit board is blown, but we wouldn’t know that for another few days, after several calls to the shop that built it. Instead, we checked in after dark at Hotel Caracoles right on the main street in town.
NOTE: It’s common for hotels that appear on the Internet (Priceline, Booking.com, Hotels.com, TripAdvisor, etc) to say they’re pet friendly, then outright deny pets on-site or charge $20-$40/night per pet, regardless of whether this was indicated in their fine print.
This stems from a cultural discrepancy between the US, where pets are considered family, and Mexico, where pets, especially dogs, serve dual purpose as companions and guardians of property.
Pets that spend most of their time outdoors, by default, are considered too dirty to be indoors with their human owners.
Our 14-year-old Vizsla, Roubin, and year-old fox terrier, Sylvie, are total anomalies here, though Sylvie does bark reliably to announce the approach of anyone she doesn’t know or trust.
We followed AirBNB recommendations to a rental, Casa Rio, in the expat neighborhood of Rio Oasis for two nights to regroup.
This art-infused town has several handy amenities, including grocers that carry real butter and Johnsonville cheddarwurst, for example, when you’re craving Midwestern dairy.
We had our first AirBNB fail here in La Paz — because we tried to book late in the day, for that very night. It’s not easy for property managers to ferry details in a second language (on either end) when they have day jobs and multiple homes to manage.
The issue was the parking. The neighborhood in which our rental was located, bordering the Malecon, or boardwalk in downtown La Paz, is rapidly being reclaimed, which is awesome.
However, the street parking felt a little too sketch for a full-size Mercedes Sprinter van, and the interior gated parking felt a little too tight. So, we Priceline-d the Hyatt out by the very gringo-ed marina — only to go without water for 1.5 days (water pump repair). Part of the adventure, no?
We picked up Ryan’s folks, Marv and Karen, from the airport in trendy Cabo San Lucas, then spent two days in a hotel a few blocks from the hoppin’ beach. Too much civilization for us!
We did love Amber’s Market, the only gluten-free restaurant/smoothie bar in Cabo, which happened to be next to our hotel. And we liked adding other personalities to our small travel orbit.
Marv and Karen also carried very precious cargo — the original title to our van, which we didn’t think to bring (we had only copies) but which is necessary to board the ferry to mainland Mexico — or get back into the US, for that matter.
Driving out to a beach we had stumbled upon five years ago, on our first trip to Baja, we found an encampment of conservationists carefully tending a greenhouse.
Inside were wooden stakes in the sand marking leatherback sea turtle nests that they had dug up by hand along the 22-miles of beach and relocated to the greenhouse for safe hatching.
In this part of Baja, the sand temperature is just cold enough this time of year that the eggs would not have survived otherwise. When the turtles emerge, volunteers release them after sunset, giving them a greater chance of navigating their watery new home without being illuminated/casting shadows, making them easy pickings for birds and other predators.
This method also protects the hatchlings from ATVs, domestic dogs and other hazards in the modern age of reptilian reproduction.
A beach village with a national marine preserve off its coast, Cabo Pulmo is an off-grid mecca for scuba diving, snorkeling and general beach living.
Established originally by three Mexican families, the community includes several American residents who’ve been slowly adding amenities and building out private (sometimes rentable) residences since the 1970s.
We had high winds and some turbidity, so our diving wasn’t spectacular, but Jacques Cousteau called the reef off-shore (in the Sea of Cortez, the northernmost live specimen in Central America) ‘the world’s aquarium.’ If you’re hell-bent on seeing it this time of year, be prepared to wear many mils of Neoprene — it’s the cold water that keeps people modest about its exploitation.
Located on the northeast side of the city center, the Gallery District is indeed home to many high-end artisan galleries, featuring especially silver and precious-stone jewelry, embroidered handcrafts, bright pottery and stoneware, sculpture, and paintings.
Restaurants are also recommendable here — we liked Baja Brewing Co.‘s mesquite-fired thin-crust pizza (super Mex, I know), and La Casita’s courtyard ambiance. Baked goods your thing? Check out French Riviera Bakery & Cafe. Also good but untested by our group: Lolita Cafe.
South of the US border, we’ve found that AirBNB reliably guides us to communities that have amenities we like: enterprising home and business owners who reach out to visitors (by listing their amazing homes/rentals), reasonable cell/Internet, and local activities that warrant travel off the beaten path.
In La Ventana, it’s wind sports, specifically kiteboarding and windsurfing. The local campgrounds are full of devotees, many of whom have been coming for decades and who camp out for months at a time, their rigs bristling with solar arrays. We rented a home made of upcycled shipping containers — a take on the ‘small house’ theme that we’d like to model ourselves, someday.
We’re currently encamped at Casa Verde, a boutique hotel and small RV campground. We’re the only ones here, as it’s the end of the official ‘kite season,’ and have full access to the camp’s outdoor kitchen, shade palapas, and restrooms/showers. We feel pretty lucky to have stumbled upon a spot that offers hot and potable water, TP in the restrooms, and very clean facilities (thanks, Phil, Monica and staff!)