We recently returned from Baja and have many tales to tell – including the story of how we came by the newest resident of our tiny household, Dionisio. Over the course of the coming weeks, I will post accounts of our travels south. Our time away is already taking on a sheen of magic and fiction in my mind – the memory is now a shimmery mirage, precariously wobbling under the weight of winter and work in Moab – but revisiting the details of its reality will help keep it fresh for me. And perhaps you will find it engaging, too. Enjoy!
The day dawned sunny and warm. We knew this would be our last taste of summer in the winter. We were loath to leave. We took Dio on a short hike across the rocky point, enjoying a final whale viewing opportunity. We turned around at the lighthouse, turned around toward home. Though we had one more night in Mexico, this felt like the end of our vacation.
We bid adieu to the point, replete with its Jesus and Guadalupe shrines, replete with its gringo RVers and their ATVs and Confederate flags and snapping dogs. Guerrero Negro sat on the horizon line of the bay, providing our last glimpse of Baja Sur.
From Punta Santo Domingo, we began the long push north through the deserts for one more night in Baja before crossing and home. One view I will never forget is that of turkey vultures perched atop cordon cacti in the morning light. Each vulture had his wings raised to dry in the early sun, standing as a cross atop the crosses that the cordons made. The organic crosses atop crosses are burned into my memory, standing as a mental shrine built for Mexico. Read the rest of this entry »
Morning’s light found Dio hanging out with Daisy at the neighbor’s camp. I was done bearing a grudge against them – my feelings were nothing personal – so I decided to make amends. Patty and Jim were a pleasant couple from Sisters, Ore., who used to spend a lot of time with their girls on the bay, even home-schooling them there. This trip to this spot was one of memories and reminiscing of a time long gone for them. Their girls are now in their late 20s.
Dio delighted in romping with Daisy – it was nice to see him playing with other dogs rather than dominating them – and Patty was generous enough to offer the use of her sea kayak while she and Jim hiked for the day. We accepted the offer and ventured out to a small island near our camp. With wetsuits and snorkeling gear, we swam the rocky waters, viewing multicolored fish, all varieties of coral and enormous starfish with 25 arms. It was an amazing chance to get a peek at an entirely different world. If I hadn’t gotten cold, I could have spent hours there, trying to memorize all the sealife. On the island itself, blue-footed boobies, pelicans, herons and gulls populated the rocks. I’d never seen such diversity of life before. The small, isolated bay became more magical by the day. Read the rest of this entry »
We left the masses at Cerritos Beach and began the return trip home, wending our way through Todos Santos, La Paz, Constitucion and points in between. Dio patiently spent the day in the truck, slowly recovering from the previous morning’s surgery. On the map, we noticed a dirt road that slowly made its way through mountains before hitting the Sea of Cortez. We figured the mountainous country would be deserted and would provide good camping for a night on the way north. However, when we found the road and its offerings, we knew we would be staying for a while.
The mountains were reminiscent of both the House Range in Utah’s West Desert (one of my favorite places in the world) and Zion Canyon. Here, narrow, steep-walled canyons gave way to thousand-foot, sheer escarpments that made up the treacherous slopes of each peak. And the mountains rose immediately from the beaches of the sea. Thus, azure waters lapped at the base of redrock canyons flowing forth from striated cliffs, giving rise to grand peaks. Amazing country. We felt that we could spend months just in that one location, seeking out the secrets of the undeveloped mountains. Read the rest of this entry »
After we set up camp in a dry forest of cactus and deciduous trees, we decided to speak with the locals about where we might find trails and how to get to the elusive La Laguna. Up the road from us, at the dead end, the old man who lived at the ranch affirmed that we could hike to La Laguna from our current location, and yes there were trails, but he would only tell us that the route was across the way, motioning across the valley. He gave no more specifics than that. Next, we walked down the road to a small thatched home surrounded by a well cared for yard with the gravelly dirt raked nicely as in a Zen garden. The woman at home told us that the man at the ranch above the wash, Felix, had keys to the gate of entry for the trail. We should talk to him. So onward we went. We found Felix’s ranch and had to call through the fence, stating our intentions, before Felix – a dapper man despite his worn clothing, in his 70s, with a generous application of cologne – came to the gate. He, too, was vague about the location of the trail and the gate. Then, another man came forward – this the husband of the woman we had spoken to – who was also vague about the gate and his ability to open it for us. However, for a fee, he was willing to act as guide into the Sierra La Lagunas, but it would take two days to get to La Laguna. He said this as he took long drags off his cigarette, adjusting the waistband of his jeans to accommodate his belly. The men would obviously be of no help to us, and we were not interested in a guide whom we would likely have to save from heatstroke or the like. We told them we would think about hiring a “guide” and went back to camp.
We whiled away the afternoon at camp with connection and conversation before making delicious tacos for dinner. We went to bed in hopes of a hiking breakthrough in the morning. Plaintive cowbells and moos accompanied us into the dream world. Read the rest of this entry »
The next morning, we took Dio out for a walk on the beach, as much to stretch his legs as to check out our surroundings. Thanks to the early hour, the beach wasn’t too crowded yet, and Ty and I went for a swim. However, as we were leaving, we noticed the surfers were all preparing to enter the water, and the crowds were starting to arrive – to watch, to sunbathe, to eat at the restaurant, and drink to their heart’s content. Not long after our return to Sandy’s pad – where we enjoyed some great bird-watching, including the Bullock’s oriole – Erin emerged. Though we’d originally planned to leave that day for the mountains, we decided to roam Erin’s temporary neighborhood for a while. We walked back down to the beach and enjoyed expensive but delicious seafood cocktails (Ty had been craving one) at the restaurant, watching whales spout and breach from our table in the sand. Then, we went for a hike, exploring the neighboring beaches by traversing the rocky points in between. It was a gorgeous stretch of ocean. We even found enormous tide pools in the rocks that would accommodate all of us in their warm embrace while tiger-striped fish flittered beneath us. I floated on my back for a bit, enjoying the tide-pool-calm amidst the sensation of surf pounding against the rocks beneath us.
Instead of retracing our footsteps along the coast, we walked back on a rural road paralleling the beach. This place – Pescadero is the name of the town – is a fascinating mix of people and economic realities. The road we walked held working farms and modest ranchos alongside abandoned and unfinished multi-million-dollar homes and inhabited Turkish palaces. A strange place, indeed. The enormous yellow hotel that sits on the point overlooking Cerritos Beach – the one we dubbed Banana Manor – has a room that rents for $900 a night. Read the rest of this entry »
The rains came to the fishing village after two days of overcast. Though the clouds were a nice break, I found myself ready for sun again – ready for warm walks on the beach and the energizing influence that clear days provide. Also, Dio, Ty and I were a bit bereft with Joel and Olive gone. At their departure, Dio watched the car until it disappeared from sight. I think we all found that we missed our travel companions more than we expected. Dio had especially come to rely upon Olive as company and compass in this new place.
Strangely, with Joel’s leaving, I found that I, too, was ready to go, though we still had two weeks of vacation remaining. Perhaps some of that had to do with feeling done with the surf beach and the weather that had descended upon it. A lot of it was probably related to Dio, anticipating all the transitions and changes that lay ahead of him, wanting to get it all out of the way so he could just settle in at home with us. I was feeling anxious for him. I wanted him to get comfortable with us rather than become unsettled by strange cities, vet visits and long car rides. I was also worried about getting him across the border. Read the rest of this entry »
Our return to the fishing camp was a blur of joy and new experiences with Dio. We forged deeper connections with more of the people there, especially Ray, enjoying a lovely evening with him. We went over to his camp before sunset and engaged in fantastic conversation about politics, economics and the future of our country, including our hopes for what might and could come. Ray shared his tequila and food, and we stayed up until 9:30, well past our usual bedtimes. He is a lovely man with such a zest for life. At 72 years old, he hasn’t lost his love of adventure, his interest in the hopes and dreams of the youth, his voracious curiosity, or his will to live life to its fullest. He is an inspiration. Though he lost his wife to breast cancer at an early age, he hasn’t given up on love and still enjoys his adventures in female company. He can’t seem to fully retire from teaching – I think the connection to young minds is too important to him – but he also loves the retired lifestyle that he’s crafted for himself.
I deeply appreciated our group conversation with him over dinner. It stretched my brain in ways it hadn’t much been stretched on vacation. Ray’s big question to each of us was how we might approach the future of our political/economic situation in this country so as to remedy some of the problems we see now (with the disappearing middle class, the accumulation of wealth by the financial sector’s elite, etc.). Ty’s immediate suggestion was “bigger planet, more resources.” Joel’s answer had to do with unions and the generation of manufacturing jobs, which makes sense given his family ties to Michigan. And mine had to do with a combination of self-reliance/sustainability measures and a return to social programs akin to the CCC. It made for engaging conversation in an arena I don’t actually know enough about. I found myself wishing Ray were staying all week – instead of us guarding his coveted campsite while he made a run to town – so we could continue the discussion. But at the very least, we forged an enduring friendship, one that might provide more conversational connection through cyberspace, back in Baja and beyond. Read the rest of this entry »
The next day was our big hiking day. On our woefully inadequate map and in our deficient guidebook, we saw that there was a place in the mountains called La Laguna where a large lake had been until 1870 when it was drained for mining and agricultural purposes. However, in its place, there is now a large meadow replete with a waterfall and swimming hole and expansive views of the ocean and sea. We figured the trail might take us there, and if not, the canyon would lead to it. As we prepared to leave, I made Ty a breakfast burrito and set it on the table for him. Before he could take it, Dionisio swiped it and swallowed it. Thus diminished in our collective opinion, DiDi remained at camp for the day. We figured without us there, he might find his way home.
We piled into Joel’s vehicle and drove to the end of the road. The trail was well marked and easy walking for the first mile or two. Then we branched off into a side canyon that seemed like it would lead to La Laguna, and cairns continued to lead the way up. This drainage is where our workout began in earnest. It was filled with large granite boulders that required constant scrambling, climbing, leaping and shimmying to traverse. Poor Olive was only up to the task on part of it, relying upon Joel to lift her in certain areas.
We found a fresh water spring up canyon and marveled at the diversity of plant life. Ferns grew amongst the boulders and vines draped themselves across palms and cactus alike. A group of enormous mango trees left us wishing it were harvest time. Tall reeds stood sentinel in deep pools while unforgivingly dry and prickly hillsides rose above it all. Read the rest of this entry »
We set out the next morning for the Sierra La Laguna and points unknown. This time, it was Joel who was stopped at the police checkpoint as we watched from afar. Except for when one spills a beer in the vehicle before meeting the cops, there seems to be little rhyme or reason at the police checkpoints (as opposed to the military ones) regarding who gets stopped. The road we drove continued on to Los Cabos, but we pulled off at Santiago, the eastern entrance point to the Lagunas. The town is sweet with a newly built town square and perfectly groomed trees. Apparently, the first mission here was not successful, and hostile natives killed its padre. Since then, the town has quietly found its niche in growing sugar cane and catering to stars such as Barbara Streisand. Santiago provided us no information on the sierras, however, so we headed off blindly into the mountains, our only destination being the end of the road in a canyon called San Dionisio.
The variety of birdlife was stunning as we ascended the road, with egrets and cardinals sharing space in the cactus. The plant life, too, was varied, including all kinds of deciduous trees (such as enormous oaks), date palms, fruit trees, cacti aplenty and more. Our favorite trees were the ones I came to call bubblegum trees for the way they strung and smeared themselves across the boulders. They turned out to be fig trees, and apparently they thrive growing on rocky surfaces, trunk and roots becoming indistinguishable as they spread out in no discernible pattern. Also interesting with the myriad trees was how each variety seemed to be following a different calendar. The date palms were fruiting, the mango trees were green but not quite ready to blossom, the oaks were verdant and dropping acorns, the birches were barren, and others were changing colors. Read the rest of this entry »
Another morning dawned bright and beautiful at our Pacific Coast camp, and a routine emerged: I wrote and ran in the mornings while Tyler and Joel surfed. We would then meet for lunch and plot out the course of our lazy-warm afternoons. This beach seemed separate from conventional time measurements, exhibiting an elasticity dictated by natural elements rather than cultural convention. Mornings were full, fast and lively with a dozen or more men stalking waves, lying in wait for their tidal prey before one or the other side was ambushed. Once the off-shore breeze switched for the day, the wave-hunters retreated to camp to lie low until the next hunting opportunity emerged. Afternoons then took on an air of waiting, of gestation and anticipation, the hours elongating into undifferentiated sandy space. Evenings brought respite in its ultimate outcome of waves or wavelessness, in its deepening of shadows and relenting of light. Evenings were social and fluid as everyone cracked beers, admired sunset textures and hues, and shared newly made and distant stories. Read the rest of this entry »