We didn’t want to leave, but if we’re going to quit our jobs and come back to Scorpion Bay to stay, we’ll have to go home and get the dogs anyway. So…back we go to Texas. Wanting to test out an alternate route and see new things, we opted to take the east coast home and follow the Sea of Cortez. (we came down through San Diego and Route 1) The first part of the journey was a slight retracing of steps, then we would veer off towards the east coast around El Valle de Los Cirios for the remainder of the ride. Step 1: finding our way out of Scorpion Bay.
We had been so excited when we arrived that we barely took note of which of the dirt roads we came in on! After 1 quick U-turn, we were back on the North Road towards San Ignacio. Although it was only our second time through this unpaved 100 mile stretch, it was suddenly familiar and seemed far less confusing than the first time through. We recognized all the turn-offs we needed, and it was easier to spot the most-traveled path.
Traveling the North Road is perhaps one of the coolest parts of this trip. We passed by little streams, and through rocky river beds. We passed through small villages, lone ranches, graveyards and grazing cows. It’s a beautiful reminder that even ‘the middle of nowhere’ is somebody’s somewhere.
One of my favorite things about Baja are the roadside shrines and small graveyards. These little spiritual outposts are lovingly and elaborately designed and decorated. They often tell the story of what happened through small dioramas, painted names and the like. They are well maintained and it’s clear they are visited often and cared for by the family of the deceased. It certainly makes you wonder, if the roads in America were marked with every spot in which someone had lost their life, would you drive more carefully? I think we lose something when we hide death, and we gain so much when we’re reminded that death could be there for us any time.
As we passed through the last of the little fishing villages along the North Road we stopped to grab a drink and these dudes came out to say hello. Other favorite part of Mexico? The dogs.
Next up was a stop at our favorite military checkpoint (sarcasm) and true to form, our car was searched again, although the guys were a little less ornery this time. After a quick fill on gas and tires, we stopped at the off-roader’s favorite, Ricardo’s Rice and Beans for lunch. Wasn’t a huge fan of the fare, but the wifi, the clean bathrooms and the decor were all welcome after 5 hours on the road.
North of San Ignacio it was all pavement, albeit pot-hole ridden and perhaps more difficult driving than the dirt, as we made our way to Guerrero Negro for the night. We stayed at the 1970’s motel, Malarrimo. It was super cute and lived up to all it’s 70’s glory, especially the restaurant, which was full of antique items and the dream finds of beach combers. The coffee was decent enough to drink 3 cups, and their huevos rancheros held up.
We took off after breakfast and hit the road towards the north. One long unpaved stretch remained, approximately 20 miles from the west to east coast. First things first, we filled up with gas one more time at a pirate gas station and emptied some of the air out of our tires. These rogue gas stations are a necessity in Mexico. Along this stretch of Highway 1, there just isn’t a government-run Pemex. Even if there was….we’ve been turned away from gas stations because there was no electricity (and therefore pumps were down), because there was no gas (and yes, folks were waiting at the pumps for the truck that might show up within the hour) and one time because they only had premium and we just didn’t want to spend the money. Extra gas can? Probably a good idea.
At this point, it was HOT. The road was rocky, uneven and under construction. The famous Coco’s Corner marks the half-way point, and is a welcomed pit stop for road trippers. Coco’s Corner is a Baja institution. Coco has lived in this middle-of-nowhere junction for upwards of 30 years. His place is a refreshing outpost for overlanders and a famed check-point for off-road racers. Folks stop in for a drink, spend the night in one of his campers, or simply enjoy the decor. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see the man himself, as he was in La Paz for a medical visit. Coco’s caretaker was there and was full of stories and smiles. Cold drinks were available. This place is odd, but puro Baja and full of love.
From Coco’s it was a straight shot to the Sea of Cortez. We were stoked to hit pavement as we neared the coast. Bahia de Gonzaga is a place we’ll most certainly return to for camping when the weather is cooler. We spent little time exploring the beaches and small villages, but we did stop for lunch at Alfonsina’s. This hotel and restaurant sits at the end of a jetty alongside the bay, and as we were eating high tide arrived. Travis moved the truck to dry land half-way through our meal. Others weren’t so lucky. I’m fairly certain the ocean made its way through the doors of a few cars. The drive back to the main road after our meal was probably the craziest in-the-ocean off-roading we did all trip. Our awesome little truck, Blanquita, handled it like a champ.
After miles and miles of small fishing villages, ocean-side camping outposts, and gringo developments we landed at the Cowpatty in Puertecitos. Cowpatty’s was classic. An old bar decorated with off-roading memorabilia and Baja tchotchke (that allegedly serves hotdogs) with a handful of super friendly gringo patrons drinking beer and tequila shots at 2pm on a hot day, manned by a bartender so drunk he could barely take our money. Needless to say, we loved it.
Views along the drive were amazing, and we wanted to pull off at every little dirt road heading down towards the ocean. Alas, we were eager to get a head start on a heat wave in the American Southwest, so we decided to push for miles and head for the border. We crossed at Algodones. Algodones is a border town with more highly condensed with pharmacies and dentists than perhaps anywhere else in a world, and serves a US population that’s looking to get meds and inexpensive dental work within a short distance from the border. Border economies are a fascinating subject. It was an easy breezy crossing for us, no wait, at about 7:30 on a Saturday night.
Yuma was our evening destination and I believe we found a new tradition – and the best possibly re-entry into the US of A. Milkshakes at Lute’s Casino. This place was quirky enough to ease potential culture shock. The waitstaff was fast and friendly, and the food was good. That pecan milkshake was much appreciated after a full day in a hot car. We spent the night at the Historic Coronado Hotel and again, were pleasantly surprised by the service. The front desk said the room rate was $120, but when we mentioned we saw it for $59 online, it was $59. We enjoyed the pool, enjoyed the water gun someone had left behind, and had a good night’s rest.
Making our way through New Mexico and west Texas towards home was a bit of a wild ride, but absolutely gorgeous. We drove through heat, insane thunderous downpours, and pulled over for hail. As evening rolled in, we lucked out with a reservation (thanks to a last-minute cancelation) at the Eleven Inn in Balmorhea. This place was built in the 1930’s and the old resort style motel has probably changed very little since then. We checked in late at night with the world’s sweetest inn-keeper who lives on site with her husband. Children were playing on the vintage playground equipment and gathering sticks for a fire. It was a summer fantasy land, and a return with the dogs for a swim in the springs is hopefully in our future.
East coast vs west coast Baja driving? Both offered amazing things to see and do. It’s hard to say if one is better. I certainly would like to return to Sea of Cortez in slightly cooler weather and do some camping. Baja, we love you so much, and we’re so glad there’s still much more of you to get know. Until next time…
Sara-Mai Conway is a yoga instructor in Austin, Texas and a retreat planner with Baja Surf Yoga. She loves a good road trip, because her husband does all the driving. To rent her home in San Juanico, visit BajaSurfCasa.com.