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 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.
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.
South of the Border Trip TipsMake 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.