My latest trip to Baja proved to be a little more challenging than I expected. Fortunately, I can say that, for the most part, I was prepared for it. So here is my story, while it is primarily about chasing the next horizon, it is also a cautionary tale about preparation and decision making when the going gets tougher than expected.
If you are not aware of the topography of the northern and central Baja peninsula, it is primarily two coastal areas separated by a large mountain range, the Sierra de San Pedro Martir. This range is topped by the peak known as Picacho Del Diablo (Peak of the Devil), at just over 10,000 feet. Just a few miles inland from the Sea of Cortez, Laguna Diablo lies at 2,000 feet and from there the mountains rise in a near vertical wall to well over 8,000 feet.
The inability to cross this range is the dominant feature of Baja travel. To the north, highway 3 crosses at San Matias. From there it is 150 air miles south until the next traditional crossing at Laguna Chapala where the mountains taper off. It is a significantly longer drive to cover this distance.
Crossing the mountains by motorcycle has become something of an obsession for many. It is also the fodder of plenty Baja legends and tall tales. There is one story of two riders who descended by motorcycle from the observatory road near the summit back in the 70’s. An impossible feat, but that does not keep the story from circulating every couple of years.
Today there are two current crossings for motorcycles down south near Catavina. The first goes by many names. I believe the most accurate one is “Fred’s Tractor Trail”. It is also referred to by some as The Overlook and The XR Trail. Apparently, back in the early 70’s, Fred decided he could cut a shorter route over the mountains to reach Gonzaga Bay. The result was something that could have never been passable by anything other than a Jeep, but today remains a great motorcycle route.
The other crossing is the infamous Bill Nichols Rock Trail. It has been in use for a little over ten years and is one of the most innovative routes ever put together in Baja. It is a challenge for most riders, but certainly rideable for the average experienced rider.
Jimmy and I suit up for the day ahead
Even with these routes over the peninsula, there is a huge area of vacant space on the Baja map with no roads or trails. Those routes that do exist all dead end somewhere in the mountains. For some time now, my goal has been to find a new path across, something that has never seen a motorcycle track.
It was a year ago, while riding in a remote area east of San Quintin, I happened across a local rancher who told me about a route he knew. Going over the map, he showed me how they travel east by horseback to gather cattle. He also explained to me the route by which a descent down the mountains towards San Felipe would be possible. This was much farther north than any of the existing routes.
Now, I never take any of this kind of information too literally. There are often large gaps in the ideas of navigation by locals. Typically this is because they do not use maps, or they do not travel very far. Therefore, their names and locations are not always the same as we find in the literature. Still, this rancher convinced me of the possibility of a previously unknown route for one specific reason; new roads. He explained that there were a number of new roads that gave access to the general area. This could possibly open miles of access that would have previously required cross country travel.
Armed with this new information, I handed the idea to trail master Jimmy Sones. I gave him the general concept and reference points. Using this information, he plotted the most logical known access routes on Google Earth and saved them into GPS files that we could use as a guide. As for the final part of the route, the cross country travel, that was all my doing (for better or worse).
That was all many months ago. Last spring, during the SCORE San Felipe 250, I headed out to scout some of this area from the eastern side. I spent an entire day down in the bottom of the canyon that would be our objective to reach from the west. I could find no sign of any route that might be navigated by motorcycle. Never the less, it was a beautiful area with water and a small palm tree oasis. I could see the summit of the mountains; the descent was steep but relatively short. At the time, I felt this recon trip was not fruitful, yet it would later prove very helpful.
Time, weather and money kept me away from the area for nearly a year. Finally, Jimmy and I found the right time to put a trip together to go and explore this area from the west side. We had a number of routes that we hoped to learn in a few days time. We loaded up the van and pointed south to El Rosario and Mama Espinoza’s to use as a base camp for our trip.
Next – Part Two, what starts easy becomes very hard