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2019-05-11  
Bahia Animas Camp Adventure, BN
mini location map2019-05-11
54 by photographer avatarwritelots
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Bahia Animas Camp Adventure, BN 
Bahia Animas Camp Adventure, BN
 
Car Camping avatar May 11 2019
writelots
Car Camping
Car Camping11 Days         
 no routes
1st trip
Linked none no linked trail guides
Partners none no partners
This was a long-time goal of mine - to get deep into Baja California and see some of the endemic species found in the Sonoran desert there. My husband and our Mexico adventure buddies were focused mostly on fishing, so this would be focused on the beach - but I figured I'd get to spend some time exploring further inland. While that didn't work out as I'd hoped, I did get a taste of the magic of Baja enough to know that this won't be my last trip to that desert wonderland!

Driving in Baja

While reports of road conditions varied widely, there was a general consensus that they're not good. We entered Mexico at Mexicali, and the highway between there and San Felipe was actually great by Northern Mexico standards. True - the shoulders on the highway are unforgiving (unless a sheer 5' drop is something you're good at navigating), signage is nearly non-existent and aggressive cargo trucks will age you a year in a few seconds. However, the pavement was solid, there weren't many unexpected detours and even the military checkpoints were quick and friendly. Once south of San Felipe, however, our hopes for a quick drive south were dashed. Though many miles of the highway between SF and Punta Final had been paved, the hurricane in 2018 (Rosa) resulted in many catastrophic washouts - particularly at the large bridge abutments. While each one has been detoured by a rough dirt track which is safe enough, in many cases there are only a few large rocks or a pile of dirt in the roadway to signal that the bridge is out. It would be VERY easy to ignore these and do a Dukes-of-Hazard style launch off of the highway bridges into oblivion. (Note: I have almost no photos of this road. While I kept thinking I should take photos, I was also busy trying not to panic as we moved very quickly through these dangerous-feeling bypasses. Here's a link to a forum where they've got images of each washout. They're impressive.http://forums.bajanomad.com/viewthread.php?tid=92811)

The last 30 miles or so of road between Punta Final and Chapala (where Hwy 1 and 5 join) are under construction and essentially unpaved. There are some stretches that are paved, but if you get on them, you may end up having to turn around because the bridges connecting the paved sections aren't in yet. Again - no real barriers, so you have to pay attention or die a horrible death on the rebar bed of shame. We found it easier to stay on the dirt track and dodge the massive boulders that are already falling on the roadbed. It's amazing (dumfounding? completely nuts?) that they've even attempted to build highway across this remote desert mountain pass. In places, the cuts are 50' deep into the ridgelines, and the soils are far from stable. The former Landscape Architect on highway projects was holding her head in a mixture of horror and awe. Dem engineers have balls the size of pumpkins!

From Chapala to Bahia Los Angeles is nice paved road and we cruised once again. To avoid night driving (which I used to scoff but now hold sacred 'cause, well, bridges don't always exist), we camped just south of the junction of Highways 1 and 5, in the heart of the "Valle de los Cirios" (more on that later). Our camp could easily have been most anywhere in Southern Arizona at first glance: brittlebush and bursage, agave, ocotillo and cholla. We even had some criollo wander by. But, if you looked closer, there were some boojums on the hills, cardon in place of saguaros and those agaves - well, they were MUCH bigger up close. Then the fog rolled in and we knew we weren't in Kansas any more.

We turned off the pavement for good in Bahia Los Angeles and headed farther south. We'd been told that camping at LA was super windy, so we headed for a sheltered bay called Las Animas (The Bay of Souls). This ~35 mile dirt track was slow going and required 4wd to navigate deep silt and sand pockets. It was brutal, made worse by the sheer exhaustion of everything that comes before - but it wasn't impossible with the right equipment and attitude. Every single thing including our bodies was thoroughly covered in fine white dust, but we made it. No tires out and no need for tow straps. Win!

Reserva de la biosfera - Valle de los Cirios

It's a mouthfull - but what it boils down to is that this is the ONLY area on earth (except for a tiny point on the Sonoran coast) where you can encounter the wild boojum (cirio in Spanish). I am fascinated by these plants - they are bizarre looking and are an incredible example of plants adapting to their unique environment. Boojums are generally held to be a relative of the ocotillo and share some of their characteristics (drought deciduous, succulent stems, tiny root structure) but can be MASSIVE. One of the specimens I saw from the road was easily 50' tall - amazing when you think that many of these grow less than 2" per year! Seeing the wild boojum was a part of my reason for the trip, and while I would have LOVED to have spent days exploring boojum forests, we only stopped a couple of times enroute to for face time with my teen-crush of the plant world. They are pumpkin cool. It doesn't hurt that they're often found in rocky terrain, surrounded by other cool plants like elephant tree, senita, tree-ocotillo and Datilillo (tree yucca). The desert absolutely lived up to my expectations, and while I was sad that long-term our camp was NOT in an area where boojums were plentiful, I did get to play a lot among other spiny denizens of the desert...

Isla de los coyotes

Okay - so it wasn't technically an "island" per say - more of an isolated peninsula. When we arrived at Animas, the tide was low and we were able to cross the mouth of the estuary to camp on a beach which was protected from the prevailing winds and waves. Twice each day, the tide would come in and block our exit - but we were happy to stay put for the duration. Any time we needed to access the area north of the estuary, we'd use our kayaks.

This was a fantastic camp. The shore was exceedingly shallow - even at high tide I could walk out almost 100 yards into the bay. Oysters and clams were plentiful off the sandy shore near camp and in the estuary. Big oysters. Big, meaty, delicious oysters. A scallop farmer had his camp on the beach on the other side of the estuary, but we rarely saw sign of him - otherwise we were totally alone except for the resident coyotes. They would come into camp while we were cleaning fish and appropriate the carcasses from the gulls and vultures. At night, they would clean out the cast-iron skillet and abscond with water bottles, fuel bottles and fishing lures (we confirmed this with a game camera). We heard them most afternoons, sadly calling across the water and scheming about their evening antics. Hence the name Isla de los coyotes.

We hit a freakish weather window, and the temps were insanely mild. I think the hottest it got was around 85, and 2 days we actually needed flannel shirts to stay warm in the middle of the day. The water was really too cold for swimming, but since it wasn't hot, I wasn't sad. Kayaking was great and sunsets were beautiful. The boys caught fish (mostly snapper) and we ate like lords of a maritime kingdom. What more could you want?

Mystery Walls and Other Explorations

Part of my goal while doing research on the area was to check out some "mystery walls" that had been reported by other travelers. Thanks to a short description and a Route Scout waypoint, I was able to kayak across the bay, hike across the dunes at the shore and navigate my way up to a rocky mesa to find some very mysterious walls. See the photos if you want more - but I have no answers even after exploring the mesa top "ruins". Not being an archaeologist or fluent in Spanish, I've been able to find very little other than gringo speculation on these. The hike was fun, though, and it felt good to find a random point in the middle of the desert on my own.

Dennis and I hiked out one day to explore a drainage. The mountainous terrain is very difficult to navigate - especially along the bajadas which are THICK with some of the least accommodating vegetation I've ever seen (and I've seen some nasty vegetation in my day). We finally managed to make our way up a dry gully and to a cool peak for a view, but we never did find any tinajas or water holes that we were hoping for. Dennis is always looking for snakes, turtles and other herps - and while we saw plenty of smaller lizards, I think it was still a bit cool overall for the larger slithering sort.

Kayaking - it isn't like hiking

I like taking out my pretty little boat. I like paddling it across a glassy expanse to get close to a little island, then steering slowly around the island checking out the inhabitants. That's fun. I like it when the charismatic megafauna pop up to check me out - turtles, sea lions, whales and the like. What I don't like about kayaking - being several hundred yards from shore, paddling and feeling like you're barely moving, with your destination miles away. Sometimes it's like road-walks, a necessary way to get from point a to point b. However, I've decided that I'm a short-distance kayaker at best, and that unless I have good company or an e-book to listen to or something, I don't anticipate setting any long-distance records at sea. Oh well ;-)

I did get to see several sea turtles, a whale and lots of fun other things while out on my boat. I paddled around an island where various birds were nesting and watched their stinky, loud offspring beg for lunch. The conditions were nearly always perfect for paddling, so I spent plenty of time on the water. It was great. My butt hurts, though, and I'm about as brown as I've ever been inspite of sunscreen, long sleeves and big hats.

Random Notes on Baja
  • Don't know if it was the hurricane, prevailing ocean currents or if it's always true - but Baja was WAY cleaner than the beaches we've visited in Sonora. The roadsides had the usual litter, but once you got past them - Baja was spectacularly free of gross trash.
  • We chose our beach specifically because we'd been warned about these ferocious winds that frequent this area. We were so afraid of them, we abandoned our original plan to camp in Bahia Los Angeles and drove the extra 2 hours south. Instead, the whole time on the beach (save 1 afternoon) was calm. Like, freakishly calm (and cool). So, either we chose wisely, or we hit a magic weather window. Future trips will doubtless tell the truth of this.
  • We did NOT however miss out on hellish winds altogether. On our drive home, the wind picked up as we entered the highway north of Puertocitos and did not let up until early the next morning. We had to build a wind break to protect the tent as we camped out that night off the highway. Agents at the border said that trees were blowing down in Mexicali and El Centro. Made for a miserable night, but all trips need at least 1, right?
  • Mexican gas gives our truck indigestion.
  • Frequent meals full of oysters, clams and raw fish gives us indigestion. Keep Baja colorful.
  • Little crabs still have very strong pincers. AND Chacos are not good shoes for clamming when there are crabs around.
  • Baja gets under your skin (and under your fingernails) and I can see why folks return so often despite the literal roadblocks. I can't wait to go back!
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