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July 2011 4Word - Editorial

Phil Howell | Writer
Posted July 1, 2011

One More Story From Baja California

For two months, you’ve put up with my reminiscences of Baja. I’d like to tell you about just one more trip down there.

Back when Tom McMullen was president of McMullen Publishing and I was at the helm of 4WD&SU during my first stint as editor-in-chief, Tom wanted to check out Baja California between the Sierra Juarez and Laguna Salada. We ended up at Agua Caliente, an obscure oasis in the desert hills. There were interesting canyons and oasis to explore along the way. We had invited a number of people to come with us, so we had quite a group of vehicles.

We met on a Wednesday evening in Ocotillo, California, and after dinner at Denny’s, Tom suggested we head south from there and check out a place he knew. It was well after dark, but we hopped in our vehicles and wasted precious gas exploring two canyons that turned into slots, then ended in high rock waterfalls. Backtracking a bit and heading east, we found a large break in the hills with a wide wash going south and a BLM route marker on it. We took off down this wash, spreading out until we could only see the glow of each other’s lights occasionally as we bounced up and down through the desert.

After a few miles of this, I saw the lights of a power station and a highway up ahead. It turned out to be Highway 2 in Baja California. We had passed no border fence or anything else to indicate we’d traveled from the United States into Mexico. Things have changed since then. We regrouped on the pavement, went east, then turned south on the dirt road to the west of Laguna Salada. Now it was time to step on it. We tried to go much faster, but ended up settling on 50 to 55 mph as that was all our archaic suspensions and shocks could take. When we finally stopped to make camp for the night, my shocks were too hot to touch and had burned the labels off!

The next morning, we checked the map and the brand new GPS unit Mark Gonske had brought from his day job in the USAF Space Command and pinpointed where we were. This was the first time any of us had seen a GPS unit. All the satellites weren’t up yet, but it still worked. The GPS showed that we were near El Palomar, one of the canyons we wanted to explore, so off we went. The beginning of El Palomar turned out be a beautiful, wide and flat wash with white sand and palm trees along it. The sand ended in big boulders, where we dismounted and hiked, marveling at the prehistoric rock art all along the canyon. We went back to the vehicles and backtracked to the dirt road, heading over a ridge to the next canyon.

Tom McMullen was a character. He couldn’t wait to go on a trip, then couldn’t wait to blast through it and get home. Tom was having a fit because we didn’t want to go straight to Agua Caliente, then straight home. We told him that we hadn’t come all the way down to Baja go immediately home, so we headed up the next canyon, leaving Tom to pout at the canyon’s mouth. As we followed the track up this canyon, we soon encountered a rushing stream and crisscrossed it as the road traversed the canyon from side to side. We rounded a corner and a fantastic view met our eyes. Hundreds of palm trees filled the canyon, growing around a series of springs that fed the rushing stream we’d been following. It was very beautiful and a great place to eat lunch. While we were eating, Mark showed us on the GPS and map that we had actually reentered El Palomar further up.

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