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Touring Baja With An Off-Road Racing Legend

Posted in Events on May 15, 2017
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Photographers: Courtesy of SkyjackerJohnny Wood

Directly below California’s U.S. border lies the Baja peninsula. Some call it the last bastion of the Old West—a throwback to times when urbanization did not sprawl as far the eye could see. Most of Baja is still the same as it was 100 years ago. It is still very wild. To the adventurous and experienced, this makes Baja an enticing and exciting destination. However, for many the unknown is uncomfortable. That’s why traveling with someone who has experience in Baja can make the trip comfortable and enjoyable.

Enter off-road racer and 2015 Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Fame inductee, Curt LeDuc. Without spending the next 1,000 words to tell you Curt’s life story, let’s just say that Curt became a legend by being one of the hardest charging and most prolific and successful Baja racers in the history of the sport. Curt LeDuc was winning in a time when being an off-road racer meant having guts, skill, an incredible sense of direction, and five lucky rabbit’s feet and a prayer to bring you successfully across the finish line. Back then there wasn’t the race support seen today, GPS and trackers didn’t yet exist and pre-running every possible route toward the finish line was imperative. This is the guy you want leading a historical adventure tour of Baja!

When we learned of Curt LeDuc’s Baja Legends Tour presented by Skyjacker, we decided to join one of the four-day, three-night adventures. LeDuc leads tours into Baja for company getaways as well as for individuals wanting a great vacation and road-trip adventure. About 150 miles per day is covered, and a drive on the beach is guaranteed, regardless of route. Each night is spent in rustic, yet charming accommodations, meals are provided, and an EMT travels with the group.

Our trip began with the Baja Legends Tour group crossing the border Monday morning and headed for the dirt. We would do 130 miles of off-roading driving toward San Felipe, the Sea of Cortez, and the Hotel El Corte, which incidentally is right on the beach with a pool and cantina.

The second night of our trip was spent at Rancho Meling. The working ranch, which also functions as a guest ranch, is high in the mountains and temperatures drop dramatically once the sun goes down.

The next morning, The Baja Legends group—well rested and fed—grabbed breakfast overlooking the water before heading to the sand dunes on the Sea of Cortez. From there it was straight to the beach to drive a long stretch of coastline on the sand before turning in to hit a part of the current Baja 1000 race course. Eventually, the route would bring us back to San Felipe for some famous fish tacos and an hour of shopping on the Malecon—a famous boardwalk on the Sea of Cortez. After lunch, the group crossed Laguna Diablo dry lakebed before retiring for the night high in the mountains at Rancho Meling—a working cattle ranch where man-made light does not interrupt the view of the stars.

After daybreak, we headed toward Valle de Trinidad for some very authentic Mexican food at El Rancho Asadero and then climbed out of the valley on some 4WD trails. We eventually ended up back on the highway and headed toward some old wagon trails used during the 1800s gold rush in Mexico. Being able to traverse these trails is something exclusive to Curt’s group, as it crosses private land and has a locked gate. However, years ago, Curt walked up to the gate, found the owner, introduced himself, and got a lifetime pass. The property owner was a fan of Curt LeDuc, and considered it an honor to let Curt travel his roads. While the terrain was quite challenging due to some of the worst winter storms in almost four decades, the trails were manageable for even the stock JK that joined us on the Baja Legends Tour. After some long trail miles, we ended up back in Valle de Guadalupe for a night’s stay in a wonderful little hotel.

This is the chapel at Rancho Meling. Mexico is primarily a Catholic country, so you’ll find chapels such as this through the Baja peninsula.

The final day started with a hearty breakfast at the hotel before heading across the valley to Rancho Sordo Mudo—a school for deaf kids. Curt has long been friends with Eddie Everett, who makes sure the place runs smoothly. Stopping here isn’t just for a friendly visit, though. Curt makes it a point to bring much-needed supplies to the school. He makes sure to give something back and take care of the Baja peninsula that he loves and spends so much time on.

After a short visit and tour of the auto shop in the back of the school where kids are taught skills and a trade, we headed out and up a closed highway with rockslides on it. We zig-zagged back and forth around a bunch of K-rails meant to stop traffic and right past construction workers. We figured Curt had some kind of special permission, until we started seeing the occasional other vehicle on the highway too, along with bicyclists and joggers! Apparently “closed highway” is just an advisory statement down there. We stopped at the top and clicked off some pictures overlooking Ensenada before the group continued on to El Tule Winery. Our next stop was the Cheese Cave, which is just what it sounds like, a cave with cheese in it, for lunch.

With the last few hours of the trip approaching, the group headed for the Compadre Trail that took us back toward Tecate and the Mexico-U.S. border. Was Curt’s Baja Legends Tour all it was cracked up to be? Most certainly. Would we go again? Definitely. If you’re interested in learning more about Curt LeDuc’s Baja Legends Tour, check out bajalegendstour.com.

While the Skyjacker crew brought out some radical built-to-the-hilt JKs, notice the absolutely stock JK Wrangler in the picture that was able to do every part of the trip as well. While there is some moderate off-roading to be done, there is nothing that requires bigger than 33-inch tires to make this trip.

South of the Border Trip Tips

Make sure your passport is up to date and bring it with you
Absolutely get Mexican auto insurance before you cross the border
If you’re not bilingual, take the time to learn a few basic Spanish words and phrases before you leave
Get paper maps—don’t rely on your windshield GPS or your smartphone working south of the border
Traveling with at least one other person is always safer. There is safety in numbers.
Convert U.S. dollars into Mexican pesos at the border
Don’t bring firearms
First aid kits are a great idea
Carry some long-lasting and/or non-perishable food and drinks.
Don’t be flashy—No one likes a showoff, and in Baja, it could cause you problems if someone likes your stuff more than you do
Pack for 100 degree weather and 30 degree weather. You’ll get both in Baja
And make sure your vehicle is ready for a 1,000-mile trip. Pack with the expectation of having something go wrong. While our Cherokee’s cooling system failed and ultimately took out the head gasket, we had a fairly complete set of tools, RTV, extra serpentine belt, extra wire, and 8 gallons of water onboard. We moved slowly, but we were self-sufficient.

Throughout Baja, you’ll see lots of stickers slapped all over doors and walls. They are reminders and markers of history. Lots of off-roaders have passed through here. Curt added his own Baja Legends sticker to the mix.
This Ford has been there a while! This wasn’t part of our tour—just another Baja relic we found on the side of the road in Valle de Guadalupe.
Our little overworked XJ, carrying triple its normal human cargo, was simply failing at keeping itself cool. Johnny Wood, one of our passengers, would fill the radiator while we popped off a heater hose and filled it with water. We had already popped out the thermostat.
If you’ve never eaten in a Cheese Cave, maybe you need to go on Curt LeDuc’s Baja Legends Tour. It’s an experience you can’t get anywhere else.
The Saguaro is a native cactus in the Southwestern U.S., as well some parts of the Baja peninsula, and can live to be a couple hundred years old. They are also make great backdrops to pose a Jeep-tour group under.
Lonnie McCurry Jr. and a few others from the Skyjacker family joined Curt’s trip this time. As sponsors of the trip, they wanted to tag along and enjoy the scenery and great four-wheeling too.
After dealing with some overheating issues, we converged with the main group at El Rancho Asadero in Valle de Trinidad. What better place to meet in the middle of Baja than at a taco stand? And they were good tacos too!
It’s amazing how off-roaders can seem to find each other in the middle of nowhere. The owner of this Commando saw our Jeeps in front of El Rancho Asadero and came by for a quick visit.
Posers.
From here, we were about to cross onto private lands and follow an old wagon trail from the days of the gold rush. Luckily for us, the landowner knew of the famous Curt LeDuc and opened up access to him and our group.
After countless overheating issues and yet another stop for cooling down, Johnny Wood sighed, laid down in the grass, and simply enjoyed not being at work that day.
Curt LeDuc has more history in Baja than most. Decades of off-road racing made him an easy choice as a leader for an off-road adventure to Baja. Radios are provided during the tour to keep the group together and so Curt can share a bit of the Baja history as we pass through it.
One of our final stops was Rancho Sordo Mudo—a school and home for deaf kids. Last year, a fire swept through and destroyed their shop and some other buildings, but they are rebuilding as they can.
Doug Combes and one of the many dogs on the property check out what the group brought for the kids. LeDuc makes sure to drop by and bring supplies to help Rancho Sordo Mudo. Doug used to own a company called Baja Bumpers many years ago before moving to Baja full time to help out at Sordo Mudo.
A neat piece of art to be auctioned off to help the Rancho Sordo Mudo school. This, along with custom cars they learn to build in the auto shop, brings in extra money to continuously help make the school a better place.
In the back of the school sits an old race car—Mexican 1000 era. We could make out “Mister Neon” in the fire-peeled paint. Who knows the history of this car?
On a closed highway covered in rockslides (which we happened to be on), we stopped at an overlook above Ensenada.
The Skyjacker boys think they’re hilarious. I was a good sport though and stood by the sign they made for our overheating Jeep.
When you’re traveling with a guy named Johnny, you make him go order something from the place called “Tortas Johnny.”

Sources

Skyjacker Suspensions
West Monroe, LA 71294
888-905-5044
www.skyjacker.com
Baja Legends Tour
951-318-9242
bajalegendstour.com
Rancho Sordo Mudo
646-171-1770
ranchosordomudo.com

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