As we hurtled down Interstate 10 near Tucson, Arizona, we had little idea what lay ahead and what adventure we would experience over our long Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Suddenly, Bill, our trip leader, signaled his intent and swerved to the shoulder of the road. With CB radio silent, he jumped from his early-'80s Bronco and hesitantly approached the rest of us as we emerged from our vehicles.
In a quiet voice he confessed leaving his vehicle registration and insurance papers at home, an hour and a half behind us. He knew they lay on his kitchen counter, resting as they would for the duration of our trip. Despite his pretrip reminders to us not to forget our papers, he was confident he could enter and travel through our Mexican destinations without problem. We pressed on toward the border and crossed without incident.
Bill and his wife Nora were in their early 60s at the time and were obsessively adventurous souls. We often wheeled across Southwestern trails with them. Nora, an avid knitter, was always sewing up something on trips, and we could always tell how hard the wheeling was because the tougher it got, the faster she would knit. For this long weekend some 15 years past, Bill had suggested our group of four couples travel south to enjoy the isolation and pristine beach wheeling that could be found along the Gulf of California.
The balance of the group included Stan and Reva in an '85 Ford F-150, Matt and Doreen in a modified '82 Toyota truck, and this writer and his wife in an '85 Toyota Xtracab. Our tight-knit group was large enough for safety and security yet nimble enough to coordinate our trip easily.
Once we entered Mexico, we pulled up to the Mexican immigration office and wandered inside to complete our paperwork. The atmosphere was lax and the service languid. Nobody in this office was at risk of moving too fast or suffering from overwork. With a little effort on our part, we figured out the paperwork we needed and began writing.
With our applications complete, we placed them one by one in the wire basket sitting on the desk of what seemed to be the ranking official. When Bill put his paperwork in the pile, he clipped an envelope with a $5 bill inside to the back. Those in our group with all proper papers clipped a single $1 bill to the back. The officer behind the ancient wooden desk would rifle through the papers, and if he was satisfied with what he saw, give it the rubber stamp and pass it back to the traveler curtly, his hand discreetly sliding the cash into his pocket.
When he got to Bill's documents and looked in the envelope, his faced contorted and he grunted something about incomplete documents. Bill casually retrieved the envelope and stepped outside to add another $5 to the envelope. Once he placed his paperwork back in the basket, the official expedited his request and "all papers" were found to be in order. The only other hitch occurred when we found everyone had his or her visas except for Matt and Doreen. We found Matt hadn't clipped a $1 bill to his application. Once he did this, his visa was immediately expedited as well. We were on our way again.
We traveled decayed pieces of highway south, passing small towns and dilapidated houses. A small taco stand was emitting a tasty scent and the food looked appetizing. We dug into carne asada tacos and washed them down with cold sodas as we took in this lonely stretch of desert highway. We worried a bit about the sanitation practices of our cook, but luckily our digestive systems handled the tasty meal just fine.
Our goal for the trip was to explore the area around Bahia Kino. This small fishing village lay several hundred miles south of the border. Bill knew of a secluded beach site that would offer us grand camping for our Thanksgiving weekend.
By this time, the sun was rapidly setting and we were in the middle of Mexico with no civilization in sight. This trip occurring way before we had GPS and the fact that Bill was basically lost, he picked a star in the sky in the general direction of the coast and tried to soothe our concerns of utter desolation. We managed to avoid getting stuck on the sandy roads, but the night dust was bothersome. We meandered through the dark desert and at each set of crossroads chose the one path that aligned most closely with the direction of that star. Such was our navigation technique that night.
Eventually, we did find water's edge and quickly settled into a slumber in our tents after a long day and night of seeing lots of Mexican scrub brush.
We awoke with renewed vigor, and our spirits soared when we tumbled out of our tents onto a picturesque beach with a million-dollar view. Breakfast never tasted better. We were soon wandering about our newfound paradise, content with our complete occupation of this area, save for some beach wildlife and the gentle cadence of the waves on the sand. This was not yet our final beach destination, so we packed our rigs and continued a little farther south.
Months before our trip, Stan had heard that there were a number of relatively poor Indian villages in the area we were headed. In an effort to help these inhabitants, he had petitioned friends and coworkers to donate good, used clothing items to take to one of the villages. By the time we left for our trip, we had literally hundreds of pounds of cleaned and boxed clothing packed in our trucks.
With boxes in every truck and Stan's camper nearly packed full of donations, we meandered down dusty roads until we found the village we wanted. When we stopped in the middle of the little town, the inhabitants gave us curious glances. We were soon handing out boxes of clothing to appreciative residents, but things got a bit uneasy. Our new friends were eyeing our camping gear and asking about it and some of the residents appeared to bicker a bit over the spoils. We quickly realized that we should probably leave before the situation changed for the worse. We hopped in our trucks and left town, still hauling about two-thirds of the boxes with us.
We followed the beach for another 5 to 10 miles where we found the campsite we wanted and pitched camp on another smooth, desolate beach. We buried our basted and wrapped holiday turkey under a foot of beach sand, nestled in a smoldering pile of wood coals to let it slow-roast for a day or so.
The next morning, a plan was hatched and all the clothing was loaded into Stan's truck and the Bronco. Sneaking back over to the village, the two rigs drove through the center while a couple of us riding in back dropped boxes every 50 feet or so, never stopping. We were satisfied that the villagers would probably be donning new wardrobes in the near future.
With our dispensing task complete, it was time for some sand-wheeling back to camp for some cold brews and idle relaxation. That afternoon we dug up our buried turkey and feasted on the most sumptuous bird, its meat falling right off the bone. Thanksgiving dinner in the boonies with good friends makes for some special times. The day wound down and we soaked up the tranquil atmosphere and enjoyed a bright-orange sunset. Nighttime turned cooler and we communed by a warm fire as waves lapped on the nearby shore.
The next day we set out to explore farther down the scenic beach and visit some spots that Bill and Nora had frequented for some 20 years. As we pulled off the dirt road and headed across the sand toward the water, we came upon the most unkempt campsite, one that told of a lengthy stay near the sandy beach dunes. Parked in front of the tents was a hippified VW bus, and the area was a littered mess. As we steered around it, Bill was leading the way when a dingy long-haired man jumped in front of his Bronco. The hippie yelled that no one had ever driven on this beach and no one ever would. At that, Bill shifted his tranny in Reverse and proceeded to back up. The confused hippie asked what was up, and Bill essentially told him he was getting a running start to run him down if needed. He hit the gas and narrowly missed the beach vigilante as he wheeled down the beach. While this excitement ensued, Nora knitted furiously, making some new piece of clothing for a grandchild.
With the beach ahead clear of distractions, we ran miles and miles of clean white sand bordered by blue hues of seawater. We managed to get stuck a few times, but a quick pull from another rig had us all moving again. We spent much of the day exploring the area and the open beaches.
The following day, our trip north was less eventful than our journey down, but nonetheless fun. We stopped at several of the small ocean villages along the way for refreshments or sightseeing. Finding gas was not so simple as looking for the corner station. We managed to get rudimentary directions that took us to a house with a 55-gallon drum in the front yard. For a handful of American dollars, the owner hand-pumped us a reserve supply of petrol, which we were able to store in our spare fuel cans, figuring to use the possibly substandard fuel only if really needed.
After getting our fill of dusty backroads and bumpy tracks, we hit the asphalt to make a little better time to the north. All trip, Bill and Nora had been hauling a fullsize barbecue grill on the top of their Bronco. But, somewhere along the way as they bumped over a rise in the road, the grill let loose and tumbled and scraped down the highway. Good-natured Bill didn't dare let it spoil the day. We were relaxed in Mexico, so we strapped it back on and off we went.
Those long stretches of remote beaches are a little harder to find these days, but there are always good places to explore off the beaten path. There's sure to be some piece of adventure near you to be shared with good friends with a love of wheeling.