Because of a girl’s weekend in Michigan with my college besties, I only stayed at Cave Creek Regional Park for one day. Therefore, Mitch should write this post. But he prefers photography. So this short interview is all I got:
For years, when we traveled out west, we completely avoided the Phoenix area. Sprawl, traffic, crowds, pollution – not our idea of great camping opportunities. But then we heard from other RVers about a county park near Scottsdale called McDowell Mountain. Nearly impossible to get into but well worth the effort, everyone said. It is now our all-time favorite park. Just outside Phoenix. Who knew??
The word around town was that we had to try the pizza in El Triunfo. We’d passed through El Truinfo on the way from La Paz to Los Barrilles and it looked like many of the other towns along the highway – a cute church, many hollowed-out buildings, a couple of topes (speed bumps). But Becky, our ever up-beat wagonmaster, had assured us that it warranted a return trip.
We prefer to calorically justify our eating excursions so I started to look for blog posts or web guides for an activity to do in El Triunfo other than the heavy lifting required to get pizza slice to mouth. We’d seen a tiny square sign when passing through Triunfo with a bicycle and a directional arrow. Did I dare dream of a biking trail in this tiny town in Baja??
We didn’t find any trails listed on Trailforks (this great app that a mountain bike guide in Los Barriles had told us about). And many of the listings on the on-line search were for mountain bike tours covering all of Baja. But I did find a couple of posts, in Spanish, about a mountain bike race in El Triunfo – Ciclismo Baja Sur. It sounded promising enough and, although the maps I’d found were vague, we figured someone in Triunfo would be able to point us in the right direction.
El Triunfo was once a mining boom town. At its height in the 1890s it had about 4,000 – 10,000 residents. But when the gold and silver ran out, so did the mining companies. Now it looks like there might be a couple hundred people living in the ruins. But they are really cool ruins and a few businesses are moving in to restore the old brick buildings and breath life back into the town. One of two remaining chimneys used in the calcination process (whatever that is) was designed by Gustov Eiffel of the Eiffel Tower and they are trying to complete some much needed restoration work on it.
When we got to El Triunfo (it is about 45 minutes north of Los Barriles) we turned at the arrow/bike sign on the main highway looking for the trailhead. No luck. It is a very small town though so it didn’t take us too long to drive all the way through it, on both sides of the highway, searching for any other possible clues to this bike trail. Still no luck. We parked and I asked a bartender in a cute little restaurant if he knew anything about it. He said that he thought it was behind the chimney. We walked to the chimney but the area was closed due to the restoration work. As we were walking back to the car wondering what to do next, I noticed what looked like a goat trail at the end of a street leading down into a wash. On a piece of paper smaller than a business card stapled to a fencepost (not the closest fencepost to the street), was a black arrow pointing towards the wash. I followed it and found another arrow pointing north. We’d found the trail!
Have I mentioned that we’d only brought one bike? So I ran the trail with Brandi (that’s actually not a punishment – I really love trail running!) and Mitch took the bike. It was marked well at first, although the paper arrows would be destroyed after one major rain. But then, as we got further, the arrows were turned the other way. So we’d missed something, somewhere, but we continued on, going against the arrows. After a little over three miles, going through an arroyo, over some hills, and behind the chimney, we ended up back in town. I decided that I’d call it a day but Mitch wanted to go back through.
About an hour later, Mitch rode into town, relieved that he’d found his way back but with a big grin on his face. “You missed the really cool part,” he said. There’d been a turn that we’d wondered about when we’d passed it. He took it the second time and it ended up being some really fun single-track with great views. Too late though – my brain had moved on to pizza.
The pizza was in a restaurant called Cafe El Triunfo, in an old brick building that the owner has beautifully restored. It was a unique space with one relic-filled room leading to the next, patios, awnings, balconies, and an open air bar and brick oven overlooking the Eiffel chimney. We sat at the bar and watched the staff make our pizza and slide it in the oven while the resident Great Dane buried chunks of bread in the dirt around the patios to dig up later (the server told us that he always remembers every hiding spot).
I am not a pizza connoisseur – almost any dough with cheese makes me happy. But this was goooood!! Nice thin, crispy crust, fresh, fragrant basil, lots of mozzarella. Before we knew it, our large had disappeared.
Calorically speaking – I know I didn’t come close to breaking even. But Becky was right – El Triunfo was worth the return trip.
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!
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
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!
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.
About half way through day four we crossed into 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.
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!
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!)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?