Road Trip Log: Tent Camping from Texas to Baja Sur

We recently moved to Mexico with two loaded cars and two dogs in the midst of a global pandemic. As conscientious (and cautious) travelers, we opted to tent camp along the route from Fort Worth, TX to San Juanico, BCS to avoid hotels and the risk of infecting ourselves or others. I’m not sure we’ll ever do it differently. Tent camping was a great experience. We found beautiful spots to stay every night, and along the way, built a wish-list for future trips. Here’s our daily road trip log. May it be of benefit to future travelers!

Day 1: Fort Worth to Monahans, Texas

We managed to leave Fort Worth by 9am on Day 1 with our two cars fully loaded. Blanca, the 2006 Toyota Tacoma and Amanda, the 2001 Land Cruiser 100. We knew day 1 would be the least gorgeous driving, so expectations were low.

Since we were tent camping with two dogs, we cut our days short to avoid pitching the tent in the dark. We were pleasantly surprised when we pulled in to Monahans Sandhills State Park for the night. This place was an oasis in the middle of the West Texas oil fields, the saddest part of our drive.

The dogs loved running through the sand dunes, and all was just bliss until Sport dog got two stickers embedded in his paw. We broke out our emergency dog muzzle and pliers for the extraction, only to find out the muzzle was two sizes too small. Still, it was a successful experience removing the stickers. Sport was traumatized though, and opted to stay in the tent until morning.

Wish List Spot: On another trip we would have loved to check out the camping at Balmorhea State Park. This time around, the park was closed.

Day 2: Monahans to Cochise, Arizona

We got up and out early the next morning, after the most spectacular sunrise over the sandhills of Monahans. Drove through the day and made it to a great boondocking spot on West Ironwood Road in the Coronado National Forest. Views were to die for, and the place was abundant with wildlife.

We pulled in and found a nice quiet spot to the left of the entrance where we couldn’t see anyone nor could we be seen. Although it’s dispersed camping, the spots to the right on W. Hunt Road felt like a campground. They were closely packed and mostly full. The place is a popular for rock climbing, and having arrived on a weekend, we were lucky to find an isolated site.

Maybe because it was raining when we pulled in? As pro campers we donned our raincoats, had a fantastically quick tent set up, got the dogs fed and dried, then hit the sack at 7:30 and slept for 12 hours.

Here’s one difference between RV life and tent camping, no bathroom. Here’s another difference, when tent camping, you tend to just go to bed when it’s dark. What else are you going to do?

Wish List Spot: Seems like there’s a lot of great camping in this area, and tons of RV spots too. On a future trip, we might check out Indian Bread Rocks.

Day 3: Cochise to Yuma, Arizona

We wanted to arrive at the Mexican border first thing Monday morning, so on Day 3 we drove all the way to Yuma, just 30 minutes shy of the Los Algodones crossing. We were worried about finding a nice campsite in this desert area that caters to the dune buggy crowd. But we scored!

We found a great campground at Fortuna Pond which was surprisingly pleasant, a tiny oasis in the middle of the desert. The route in was a tad strange, on dirt roads through private farms, but it landed us at a small offshoot of the Gila River where we were surrounded by reeds, palm trees and a variety of birds.

We found a site among several friendly long-term campers. Everyone we crossed paths with was eager to chat and have a conversation. Most were fishing and it turns out the catch here is pretty good. I just hope the farms nearby are organic.

Sport dog loved the chance to swim, his favorite thing. We got a few things organized for the next day’s border crossing. But again, once nightfall hit, we were in the tent in bed.

Wish List Spot: There aren’t a ton of great tent camping options near here. But if we’d wanted to head a bit further north of route 8, we could have checked out Ferguson Lake.

Day 4: Crossing the Border at Los Algodones

We woke up relatively early with the sunrise and hit the road to gas up and head down to the border. We had no idea what to expect. With one car full of furniture and odds and ends for the house, two dogs, and rumors of health checks and all sorts of pandemic-related border headaches, to say we were worried barely describes it.

But….it couldn’t have gone more smoothly. We were at the border by 8:15am. Only the “nothing to declare” line was open so I chose that one. Drove through slowly to find no one in the booth. Drove past the second booth, nobody. Finally heard some whistles and realized I was being asked to pull over.

After a quick check of the truck we were invited to park at the side of the road and head in to the office to submit our FMMs.

Here’s where I remind the readers that since we’re residents of Mexico, we’re not traveling as tourists. For us, this trip qualifies as essential travel. Would that have mattered at the border? No. Despite regulations that say otherwise, Mexico seems happy to be inviting visitors at this time.

The whole process took less than 20 minutes. Thanks to Google maps, we were able to easily navigate the insanely narrow, winding, and crowded roads of Los Algodones onto route 2 and towards Mexicali.

Day 4: Los Algodones to Bahia San Luis Gonzaga, Baja 

The Algondones border crossing is awesome because it’s so small, but it made me grateful we opted to leave our RV in Texas. Honestly, I don’t know how we would have done it. There was gridlock, corners were tight, and roads were super narrow. This is a theme that would continue throughout the rest of our trip. RV drivers, you are champs. I don’t know how you do it on the Baja roads!

In San Felipe we stopped for gas and fish tacos. This was the first time since March of 2020 that we’d eaten “in” a restaurant. The good thing about Baja is that most dining is outdoors by default. We found people wearing masks everywhere (much more so than in the states) and the road-side taco stand kindly offered a large bottle of hand sanitizer. After our amazing fish tacos, we headed south to Bahia San Luis Gonzaga.

On the way, we passed through the first of several military check-points. Often at these check-points, it seems the search is less for drugs and more out of interest. The soldiers wanted to know what each gadget was and how it worked. They found an old headlamp and asked to buy it, but we offered it for free.

We stopped for the night at Rancho Grande. This was some of the best car camping I’ve ever done in my entire life. If it wasn’t unseasonably cold I would have asked to stay another day. You check in at the store across the street (very well stocked, by the way) then receive access to the beachfront palapas on the bay. Palapas are protected from the wind on three sides, and each has it’s own pit toilet across the parking lot.

It was Sport and Bijou’s first time at the beach and they absolutely loved it. As expected, Bijou the Beagle spent all her time trying to find things in the sand to eat. Sport dog spent all his time chasing the ball, in and out of the water. Everyone was happy.

Wish List Spot: Puertecitos Hot Springs was high on our list, but when we drove past, it seemed closed. We’ll go back another time and check it out.

Day 5: Bahia San Luis Gonzaga to Guerrero Negro, BCS

We woke up to the sun rising over the Sea of Cortez and took our time packing up so the dogs could enjoy the beach a little longer. Thanks to the recent completion of highway 5, we enjoyed freshly paved road all the way past Coco’s Corner to Route 1. The traveling was much faster than the last time we drove this stretch on a rocky dirt road.

Baja insiders will know to say hello to Coco, you now have to drive off this road toward the south, as the newly paved section bypasses his ranch. It’s worth the stop for those taking a slower trip. Signs mark the route.

Just before Guerrero Negro, you officially cross into the state of Southern Baja. Here, we encountered our first official COVID-19 safety measures. At the border, we had our temperature taken with a no-touch thermometer. Perfecto, he said, and waved us ahead.

They also charge you $20 pesos here to spray the undercarriage of your car. A measure taken to protect the agricultural industry or the flora of Baja Sur, I’m not sure which.

Once we made it to Guerrero Negro we stopped for lunch at an old favorite, The Malarrimo Motel. Four socially distanced outdoor tables were set up at the restaurant and we felt comfortable dining in with the dogs parked within eyesight in front.

Day 5: Guerrero Negro to Mulege, BCS

We’d been nervous all morning about the world (in)famous check point at San Ignacio, so we were stalling a bit as we enjoyed our breakfast. But, the show must go on so we hit the road and tried to embrace a ‘que sera sera‘ attitude.

Turns out, Baja will surprise you if you let it. At this military check point we came across the friendliest soldier of the trip so far. He wished us a nice day and waved us right through. I love being reminded I worry too much, the world is a great place, and ‘anything can happen’ means good things happen too.

Just south of San Ignacio, the route cuts back to the Sea of Cortez one more time. The last time we made this trip we opted for the North Road to San Juanico, so this stretch of pavement was a new one for us. It was likely the most beautiful stretch of the trip. (Again, driving an RV? I don’t know how you do it.)

We arrived in Mulege to camp at Huerta Don Chano for the night. This place was an amazing oasis. First, there was green grass everywhere. This is a rarity in Baja and the dogs loved it. It made tent camping cozy, but what’s more, there was excellent WiFi and hot showers. Yes, this was our first shower in 4 days.

We walked the malecon for a bit, but our unruly beagle forced a turn around. Navigating street dogs with two spoiled dogs will be something we’ll all have to learn.

Wish List Spot: The beaches just further south of here, in Bahia Concepcion are heavenly. I noted Playa Coyote and Playa Requeson as must-stop places to camp at on future trips.

Day 6: Mulege to San Juanico, BCS

As we headed south from Mulege we stopped to get gas and for the second time, I paid in all 20’s. This would be like getting $50 USD worth of gas and paying in all $1’s. But at the bank in Texas I asked for smalls, so this is what you get. On the plus side, I’m now very good at counting out cash in Spanish.

The drive from Mulege south to Loreto must be among the most scenic routes in North America. Bahia Concepcion was to die for. Here, the Sea of Cortez gets tourism-brochure-picturesque. If we’re ranking beauty, this place wins. For us, it was just too close to the previous night’s destination to stop and camp, but we’ll definitely be back.

In Loreto, the last ‘big’ town before San Juanico, we stopped to take care of some business. Breakfast outdoors at our usual favorite. Here, they set up hand sanitizer at the front door, as well as rubber pads with bleach in them to sterilize the soles of your shoes.

After breakfast we made our way over to El Pescador, which is the largest grocery store we’ll see over the next few weeks. Again, clean your feet at the store, get a no-touch temperature check, then sanitize your hands before grabbing your cart. Overall, I’ve been very impressed with the measures taken to keep everyone safe from COVID-19. Sigh, the United States could do so much more.

We loaded up our cooler and the back of the Land Cruiser with goodies, and then for the first time ever, got to say, “we’re headed home!” From Loreto, it was smooth sailing back to the Pacific Coast and up towards the north.

We’re grateful for our safe arrival and couldn’t have asked for a smoother trip. Now that we live here, we look forward to revisiting these places and all the spots on our wish list.

Sara-Mai Conway is a writer, yoga and meditation instructor who’s excited to say she now lives FULL TIME in Baja California Sur. Follow her adventures on Instagram @saramaic

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