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Baja California RV Travel Uncategorized

Freedom!

The reason we chose the Baja Winters caravan over all the others was because, once they led us into the very southern portion of southern Baja, they cut us loose giving us 14 days of ‘on your own’ time . This was the perfect compromise for Mitch and me – help us get acclimated to a different system and then let us make our own discoveries and mistakes.

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Mitch sporting his Baja hat which cost us a whopping 70 pesos ($3.50)!

Because the drive from Santispac to Los Barriles (our freedom time jumping off point) would have been too long, we stopped overnight at Ciudad Constitucion. Situated on a flat stretch of the Transpeninsular Highway surrounded by lots of agriculture, the town appeared tidy and organized. The most memorable things from Ciudad Constitucion were it’s main street with its strange traffic pattern (there was a regular two lane road in the middle and then an extra lane on either side. You weren’t supposed to make left turns from the road in the middle. To make a left turn, you went into the right lane and then, at the next four way stop sign, you would turn left across all lanes of traffic – a little scary. I guess it was kind of like New Jersey’s jug handles without the handles.), Mitch finding his Baja hat, and my humbling experience at the big supermercado (super market).

After looking all over the store for fresh guacamole I finally went up to the customer service desk and asked, “Tiene guacamole?” (Do you have guacamole?”) As I’d mentioned in an earlier post, I used to have a decent grasp, both speaking and understanding, of the Spanish language, most of which I’ve forgotten. But I still thought that my pronunciation and accent of the vocabulary I remembered was tolerable. However, after my question, the young guy looked at me like I had two heads. So I tried to explain, thinking that, even though every restaurant we’d been in sold it, maybe guacamole was not a thing grocery stores here carry pre-made. “Con aguacates?” I added. (With avocados?)

“Oh, si, aguacates,” he smiled, led me to the huge bin of avocados in the produce section, and began choosing avocados for me.

“No, gracias,” I said. “Guacamole.” Still no recognition on his face. Maybe they call it something else here in Ciudad Constitucion. So I started listing ingredients and making hand gestures. “Con aguacates picados (chopped avocados) y ajo (garlic) y cebolla (onion).” All the time making the motions of chopping, mixing, and scooping a chip through dip.

Finally his face opened up. “Ahhh,” he said. “Guacamole?”

The next day, due to road construction, we had the worst day of driving yet. When they are repaving the roads here, they don’t shut down one lane and then the other, they close off the entire road and reroute all the traffic (18-wheelers, double tankers, 44 foot RVs) onto horrible, steep, sandy, washboard and boulder riddled unpaved side roads. We had to put our truck into 4WD to get up one hill. The other RVs had to go one at a time, letting the driver in front get up the hill so they could get enough speed to make it all the way up.

But finally, we made it through the construction, through the city of La Paz, over a few more ruggedly beautiful mountains and down across a few washes to the windsurfing, four-wheeling town of Los Barriles on the Sea of Cortez where our 14 days of freedom started. No more group pot lucks, no more 8:00 am line-ups, no more scheduled bathroom breaks – a vacation in our vacation. Much more to follow…

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In Los Barriles it seems to be either super-windy or flat calm. When it is windy, the view from our camper was all kites!

 

(Spoiler alert – we are no longer in Baja. For awhile there it seemed like either we had internet with no electricity to turn on the computer, or vice versa, or we were too busy exploring to sit down and get a post out! So we’ve got a little catching up to do!)

 

 

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Baja California Photography RV Travel Uncategorized

Santa’s Pack

The word is actually Santispac. It seems too harsh to be a Spanish word but it is the name of a beach/campground/gorgeous slice of the Bahia de Concepcion about 12 miles south of the town of Mulege (pronounced moo-ley-hey – which I love to say. Mooleyhey, mooleyhey, mooleyhey) where we dry camped for three days. It can be terribly windy but when it is calm, the kayaking and paddleboarding can’t be beat. The water is so clear that you can watch sting rays and fish carry on below as you paddle between the rocky, cactus-covered islands. Stings rays and some little fish – that’s all that I saw when I went kayaking for a couple of hours one morning. Mitch went out after me (stupidly, we only brought one kayak, one paddleboard, and one bike so we can’t do anything together. Hmmm….) and he saw sting rays, fish, AND sea lions, AND a pod of about 100 dolphins feeding and jumping and going crazy! Not fair!

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Friendly people on Santispac beach. I was chatting with a kayaker from Alaska.
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The sea lion that Mitch saw from his kayak.
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One of the islands dotting the bay

 

santispac_bassBecause we have a truck camper we were able to get to the best spot on the beach. We were tucked into a cove right next to a little mangrove estuary where you could hear the fish jumping all night long. Mitch walked 10 feet from our camper, made one cast, and caught a decent-sized bass! Snowy egrets, oyster catchers, reddish egrets, tri-colored herons, and one bird we couldn’t identify feasted at the mouth of the tide run at low tide. And we had friendly neighbors (two from Canada and one from California) who stay in this same spot every winter and filled us in on the area telling us that this past November there were 28 whalesharks right here, off Santispac. The Californian, Eric, even took Mitch for a boat ride and showed him a few of the different beaches spread down the bay.

If you are looking for your very own secluded, quiet beachfront campsite – this is not it. At least not in the wintertime. Every inch of waterfront had wheels parked on it. A steady stream of uber-tanned retired folks paddled past us in ancient Ocean Kayaks without seat backs from their swanky development the next cove up. There were two restaurants/bars on the beach and on Friday night we went to sleep with “She’s a Brick House” echoing through the cove punctuated with the air brakes of the 18-wheelers slowing for the hairpin curves on Highway One just above us.

After three days of 30-second showers and a dog and a cat frolicking on the beach, we needed to upend our camper to get all the sand out. But even with the close neighbors, engine brakes, and “Brick House”, we had a hard time leaving. Luckily, we’ll be coming back here on our way north for a couple more nights.

santispac_pano

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Baja California RV Travel Uncategorized

Yipeeee!! We’re South of the Border

Wow – I’ve got a lot of catching up to do! Don’t worry. I won’t be detailing our travels over the last seven years since my last blog post (seven years – how is that possible??). But this was the year I was going to blog about our trip again and we’ve been on the road a month now with no posts to show for it!

Why blog this year when I’ve skipped the previous seven? Well, we are finally doing something really, really different – for us anyway. We are driving through Baja California from top to bottom and back to top. Because Mitch doesn’t trust my navigating skills we are with an RV caravan group call Baja Winters. And being smack in the middle of a line of 18 RVs with roads too narrow to U-turn is the only way I knew we’d make it south of the border!

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Our first campsite, El Rancho Surdo Mudo, from Mitch’s drone, tucked in between vineyards and wineries.

The first day on the road was short – about 65 miles from the border crossing at Tecate (yes – it’s a real town, not just a beer) to the wine country of the Guadalupe Valley where we stayed in a small RV park run by the deaf school.

My favorite thing about our first day was reading, hearing, and trying to speak Spanish again. I’d forgotten how much I loved the language (I majored in Spanish and lived in Costa Rica for a year) but hadn’t used it in cough-ehemm-twenty-cough-cough-two years. Out of the cobwebs of my brain vocabulary words began to pop into my mouth. Verb conjugations, on the other hand, are extremely stubborn. I’m afraid they’ve been eaten by the spider.

The next day we drove through the busy, sprawling city of Ensenada with its thousands

el-pabellon_camp
Is this campsite amazing or what?? This is south of Ensenada in a town called San Quintin. Mitch took this photo in the morning just before the cloud cover came in again. The campground is called El Pabellon. The showers were very clean and hot but definitely don’t drink the water here – it is salt water!

and thousands of stop signs and spent a chilly night on a beautiful, empty beach on the Pacific side. My favorite thing about the second day was my reintroduction to tamales. As a picky teen I’d labeled them “disgusting”. But thankfully, my eyes have been opened!

cirio
Cirio in Spanish means tapered candle. John (our wagon master) is giving us the run down on this crazy tree. Unfortunately the photo doesn’t show it but it has yellow flowers on the very top of it that look like flames. They can grow up to 30-40 feet tall.

Day three our truck got a work-out dodging potholes and traveling up and up through the beautiful, desolate mountains of the protected Valle de los Cirios. We camped at the Santa Ynez Ranch in Catavina where they served us a delicious bunkhouse meal. I have no idea what it was but we asked for seconds! A cirio is a tree, but one of the craziest trees you will ever see. It is a bizarre-Dr. Suess-looking creation that only grows in this one little spot in the world.

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Another cirio next to a cardon (looks very similar to a saguaro but it’s not!).
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MItch went on a great mountain bike ride at the ranch – sandy but beautiful views.
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Isn’t this hilarious?? A cutout of a soldier holding a machine gun to signify an upcoming military checkpoint. Nothing to be concerned about here!

About half way through day four we crossed into Baja Sur!

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Welcome to Baja Sur!

Yay! Away went the coats and shoes, out came the shorts and sandals! I guess it could have been a cooler weather system that went through, but really, it was as if going across that line brought the sun out and temp up. We covered a lot of desert again but camped in a true oasis, San Ignacio. It is really amazing to come across a tiny valley stuffed with an uncountable number of palm trees after miles and miles and miles of sand, rock, and cacti. The next morning we explored the beautiful mission church built in the 1700s before heading out on the road again.

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Our sparkling personalities cleared the room at the Rice N Beans restaurant in San Ignacio!
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The Mexican dogs are very interested in Taz. Hopefully not as a main course!
oasis
Water in the desert is such a surprise!
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Sunrise over the Bahia de Concepcion out our front door.

And then, day five. After a short drive of about 100 miles we dropped (almost literally!) out of the mountains to the blue-green waters of the Sea of Cortez. We followed the coastline past a huge garbage dump (yes – in a spot with a multi-million dollar view sat a nasty dump) and a copper mine (ditto) up headlands through washes and small towns until we reached the Bahia de Concepcion to Santispac Beach where we dry camped (RV talk for no power, water, or sewer) for three days on an enchanting cove dotted with islands and packed with gringos.

OK – enough catching up for now. Enjoy Mitch’s photos while I pull up my piece of sand and have a little one on one time with the warm Mexican sun!

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RV Travel

Moab in the Rearview

We finally left Moab.  We stayed for nearly two weeks – very ungrasshopperish!  I’ll share just a few more photos.  Keep in mind though, even with Mitch’s great photography, the feeling of this place is nearly impossible to capture on film.  The vastness of the canyons and rock formations alongside delicate details such as the graceful swirl of a petrified sand dune combined with rocks colored orange, red, mustard, and Caribbean blue are things only the human eye can hope to comprehend.  Just go see for yourself!  (I am not a paid promoter for the Moab Chamber of Commerce!)

This is the famous Delicate Arch. That little dot on the far right of the photo is me. Known internationally to photographers as a sunset destination, we hiked out to it on a rainy afternoon thinking we might capture some interesting cloud formations. On our way out, the rain stopped and the blue sky peeked through some of the clouds. We almost had the place to ourselves!
Another spectacular sunset. This is Skyline Arch in Arches National Park.
One bonus to traveling during the winter!
Did I mention that the colors of the dirt and rock around here are crazy?!
We rode our bike to the Needles Overlook in the portion of Canyonlands National Park south of Moab. It was a great ride even though a lot of the road was covered with snow. We saw more bikers than cars on this 32 mile ride. Yeah!
The stories told by the gnarled, weathered old tree trunks are almost as interesting as those of the land.
My niece, nephew, and brother-in-law came out to visit us for a couple of days. It was so great to see them. They showed me a thing or two about bouldering. My 30 seconds on the rock had me wincing in pain for the next week!

On this particular bike ride Mitch was going so fast that his mustache blew right off his face!
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RV Travel

Rain in Moab?!

Wind and water are the insane artists that created the unique canvas of the Moab region.  In our previous travels here we had experienced the wind part of the duo.  One time a camper in the same RV park as us was blown sideways on its jack stands and four telephone-pole-sized poles supporting a billboard were snapped in half like toothpicks.  We’ve been on bike rides here where we had to dodge tumbleweeds flying at us from all directions and even passing us like we weren’t moving.  The grit in these wind blasts becomes part of you – it’s in your hair, eyes, teeth, and water bottle.

Although this looks like molten lava it is just the color of the water after traveling over all of the red sandstone.

And although we’d heard stories of waterfalls cascading off of every cliff face and seen the evidence of violent and not-so-violent water events, we’d never actually seen it rain here – until this year.  And now it won’t stop!

Like the rest of the country, Moab has had a bizarre winter.  Locals say they’ve been covered in snow since November and have had more snow than even the old-timers can remember.  The combination of the snowmelt and the hit-or-miss downpours has made many of the trails here very messy.  Biking through wet clay is like riding through crunchy peanut butter.  We made that mistake once and will always try to avoid it now!

Road biking is still good, just a little cold and damp.  And the upside is that now we have seen what a little bit of water can do when it lands on a huge hunk of rock!

We rode our bikes along the Colorado River to a hotel, restaurant, winery called Red Cliffs Lodge. Even though the clouds threatened and somewhere up valley was getting wet, we stayed dry.
The damp weather in Moab has made for some conditions we have never seen here before such as fog. It was surreal to see the clouds and mist infiltrating the spires and arches of Arches National Park.
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RV Travel

Back in Moab!

I am standing beneath Corona Arch appreciating the incredible view.

Ahhh!!  We’re back in Moab.  My wish for everyone is that they have at least one place that makes them breath a sign of relief every time they return to it.  We are lucky to have a few locations that just seem to click internally and Moab is definitely one of them.

We left San Francisco the day after Mitch’s symposium.  The thing about towing your home behind you is that you have to be vigilant about weather and road conditions ahead of you.  We had to get across the Sierra Nevadas and, although we have enough chains for both our truck and our trailer, we prefer not to have to use them.  So we had to get out before the storms started rolling in.

Somewhere beyond this glassy lake is the famous Bonneville Salt Flats. The historical marker stated that the fastest land speed recorded there so far (the sign was from the 70’s) was 622 mph.

Many people dread the drive on I-80 across Nevada and Utah but I think it is fascinating.  It is as if, without the watchful eyes of all of the millions of people in California, the earth and sky are finally free to do whatever crazy thing they feel like doing.   Clouds reach to the ground and set off dust devils with every patch of sunshine.  Barren mountains jut up a couple of thousand feet and then disappear abruptly into the flattest, sagebrush covered ground you can imagine.  Water becomes salt and salt becomes water indistinguishably.  One day when we have our 4wd self-contained, heavy duty RV we will return to this area and explore it thoroughly.

Moab is Mecca for outdoor enthusiasts.  Almost anything you could ever think of doing to raise your heart rate is possible here.  It is best known for mountain biking.  We didn’t bring our clunky, old mountain bikes with us so we’ll get to rent the new models with all the bells and whistles.  I have no doubt that it will be overkill for my abilities but it will be fun anyway!

Road biking is great in Moab, as well. The La Sal Mountains are the snow-capped peaks in the background of this photo.
This is another view of Corona Arch with a funky rock formation in the wall behind it.
Yet another arch on the trail to Corona Arch. At the base of this arch was a solution hole which drained to another solution hole. The plants here are amazing opportunists. A small aspen tree was growing in the base of the hole with just a hint of soil and even less moisture.
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RV Travel

Golden Gate Kayak Symposium

Even with 50 mph winds and Tsunami waves, Mitch’s kayak symposium was a great success.  It was a beautiful location, literally at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge.  The kayakers took over the beach at Horseshoe Cove, a palette of primary colored boats and paddlers of all sizes milling about in orange and purple dry suits.  The kayakers that signed up for these classes are hardcore (water temp 50 degrees, air temp 50 degrees).  They were looking for conditions to push their skills and they definitely got them.  Mitch took advantage of the west coast venue to improve his rock garden paddling skills and had a great time.

Some more rock garden playing.
Some of Mitch’s fellow rock garden students.
Our good friend Rev. Bonnie Perry from Chicago attended the symposium also. It was great to see her!

 

I had great views of the San Francisco Bay from my hike.  Those tiny white dots are sailboats.  The bay was full of sailors, kite boarders, windsurfers, kayakers.  San Franciscans seem to really take advantage of their beautiful location.
Wildflowers of all colors and shapes covered the hills of the Marin Headlands. I had a strong urge, once I reached the top of this trail, to spread my arms open and spin around singing “The hills are alive…”

 

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RV Travel

Pigeon Point

When we left Santa Cruz we thought we’d head up to Half Moon Bay for a couple of days before going on to San Francisco for Mitch’s kayak symposium.  But about 40 minutes outside of Santa Cruz we stumbled upon a private campground, a KOA actually, that was kind of in the middle of nowhere, relatively speaking, and decided to stay.  It turned out to be a great spot.

Pigeon Point Lighthouse, about 3 miles north of our campground.

The camping sites were fairly well spaced for a private campground and again, we could see the ocean from our site (if the campground hadn’t been mostly empty, we wouldn’t have had that luxury).  The bathroom/laundry facilities each had saunas and outdoor fireplaces.  The campground shared the property with a small lodge and so they also had a restaurant that served great local beer.

After unhooking we decided to explore up the coast and check out Half Moon Bay.  We really both wanted to see Mavericks.  A person would never just stumble upon Mavericks.  It isn’t signed.  Even when you get there, you are not really sure you are there.  You have to know when to turn off of the highway and then you drive through a very industrial-looking area and then make a couple of other unnatural turns.  Finally you see parking for a trailhead.  You walk close to a mile on a trail out to a beach and a headland with big doppler radar on top of it.  We saw a jetty that resembled the one showed over and over in the news clips and we saw a big sign that said the waves could be very dangerous.

Looking out over where the Mavericks surf competition is held.

Finally, we saw a rock with “Foo” carved into it (the name of the professional surfer killed here) and figured that it must be the spot.  The swell wasn’t big enough the day we went to have any organized waves so it was hard to envision what it must look like when it is working.  It looked like an extremely unforgiving piece of real estate, though.

Riding our bikes along Pacific Coast Highway.

The next day we biked from our campground up Pacific Coast Highway for about 10 miles and then turned inland 2 miles to a little town called Pescadero.  It was so cute!  We had a great lunch at the local market, bought some garlic/artichoke bread, and then went to a goat milk dairy just on the outskirts of town.  They had a dairy store open for sampling.  I absolutely love goat’s milk cheese.  Mitch hates it.  So I had a great time.  There were so many choices but I ended up getting a cranberry/walnut variety.

I’m standing in the doorway of the Harley Farms Goat Cheese tasting room trying to decide where to start.
This was a funky dining room above the tasting room. The dairy hosts “Farm Dinners” about once a month – $150 per person! That’s a lot of goat cheese!

We took a different road back to our campground which was a little bit of a risk since we forgot to bring a map with us.  But it worked out.  The road climbed and dipped and skirted a state park and then followed a creek through a beautiful forest until it ended about a mile north of our destination.

After our bike ride we went to the beach for sunset.  Can a day be more perfect?

Waves crashing over rocks at Gazo Beach.
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RV Travel

Grasshopper Defined

In the RVing world, Mitch and I are grasshoppers.  Grasshoppers are the type of travelers who hop around constantly, stopping for just a day or two here and then a few days there.  We land, explore, eat and drink at local establishments, and then we take off to see what else there is down the road.  We rarely make reservations and, many times, we don’t even have a destination.

As with everything in life, there are pluses and minuses to this type of traveling.  Constantly hooking and unhooking the trailer, setting up and then dismantling, never knowing what to do with mail – all can get a little old.  Also, I’m sure we miss out on really soaking up the “vibe” of an area and meeting other travelers (we don’t usually spend any time in the campground).  Yet, for me, I can’t stand the thought that I might be missing out on something better.  It is kind of a sickness.  Not discontent yet never content, I’m always curious about what is around the next corner.  And we have stumbled upon a lot of great spots that we never would have found if we had mapped out our route ahead of time.

This trip, however, has been one of our less “grasshoppery” trips.  We stayed in New Orleans for five days, San Diego for an entire week, and finally, we just left Santa Cruz where we’d been for four whole days.  Four days is about perfect.  The week in San Diego got a little long for me.

We stayed in a campground just south of Santa Cruz called New Brighton State Beach.  The location was great – our spot was on a cliff that overlooked the beach.  We could hear the surf at night.

The view from our campsite at New Brighton State Beach.
This photo is from the cliffs above an area in Santa Crus called “Steamers”. It is directly across from the wharf. The day we were there the waves were lined up like lines of civil war infantry and the surfers were practically jumping off the cliffs to get to them.

Santa Cruz is much bigger than I thought it would be.  I was picturing a quaint beach town, but it is a full-fledged city.  The wharf area has an amusement park (why do people need amusement parks at beaches?  Aren’t the sand and waves enough?  Mission Beach in San Diego actually had a wave pool right beside the beach!!) and a casino.  People could pay to drive out on the pier where there were jewelry shops, and restaurants, and t-shirt shops.  It was just as easy to walk out, which we did.  The shops didn’t interest us but it was a great vantage point to watch the surfers.  I’ve never been able to actually watch a surfer catch a wave from above.

A local told us about a great paddling spot just a little south of Santa Cruz called Moss Landing that had something for everyone.  It is an inlet which is perfect for Mitch and me because I like flat water and he likes the waves and current.  We launched and then parted ways.  I went east, up Elkhorn Slough, and saw sea lions, mother and baby seals cuddled together,

sea otters floating on their backs while cracking shellfish over a rock placed on their stomachs, grebes, loons, ducks…  Mitch went west, out the inlet.  He caught a couple of waves, and then a huge wave caught him.  It tossed him like a javelin.  The nose of his boat jammed into the sand and he crashed hard.  He survived but his heavy-duty NDK Explorer didn’t.

This crack in the hull goes all the way around the boat, unfortunately. It also seems that the top and bottom of the boat have separated.

The day before we left we went on a great bike ride through Fort Ord Dunes State Park near Monterey.  It had been a military base and, similar to Cape Henlopen State Park near us in Delaware, had old ammunition bunkers built into the sand dunes.  The dunes were amazing.  Instead of sea oats like we are used to on the east coast, they are completely covered with ice plants blooming with hot pink and purple flowers.  From the top of the dunes we watched as paragliders floated past on the onshore breeze.  The trail from the park met up with another bike trail that went all the way into Monterey with more great views of the bay.  This coastline is simply incredible.