Baja Backcountry, 1972

I canít seem to pinpoint the time frame of this little adventure. I know that it was at a time that I was driving an International Harvester pickup. That narrows it down to 1953-1980. That doesnít help much, does it? Well, the PU was white, which narrows it some, 1953-1973. Maulhardt Equipment Co. was still operating, 1953-1972. Iím almost certain that the PU belonged to me, not the Equipment Co. I bought a white IH PU in 1968, and a red one in 1973, so that pretty well brings the time frame to 1968 to 1972. Tommy thinks it was after I started farming, so letís make it 1972.

By that time, my father had been delving into the history of the Missions of Baja for some time. He had planned a trip south to look for the location of a Visita, or sort of a stopover for travelers between Missions. He also planned to go to San Juan de Dios, east of El Rosario. He invited me and my younger brother, Tommy, to go with him on this search. All of us had heard Grandfather Utt talk about his trip on horseback from Mission San Pedro Martir to San Juan de Dios, so this was a chance for us to finally go there!

Tommy and I drove down to San Miguel, where we joined forces with Tom and Jose Cesena. Jose was a very interesting man. He had grown up in the mountains north of San Jose Del Cabo. His ancestry goes back to a Spanish soldier, sent to Baja around 1734. Jose had sort of worked his way north, ending up in El Sauzal, near Ensenada. He served as guide, driver, and general handyman for my father. He was great fun to travel with, as he seemed to have either friends or relatives wherever he went. He was also great in camp, able to do whatever needed doing. He had many stories to tell at the campfire after dinner.

We set off the next morning, not quite at first light, I must admit. We more than likely stopped at the El Rey Sol to pick up some pastries for the trip, then stopped briefly to see Lic. Valle before heading south. (Never mind, thatís a family joke!)

Somewhere south of San Quintin and north of El Socorro, we turned east toward the mountains. The road climbed gradually up and over a long ridge, then dropped into a narrow canyon with a little running water. There was space on the south side of the stream for a nice camp, with shade trees and firewood available. What more do we need?

I think Tom slept in his camper, and the rest of us just put our bedrolls on the ground. When I woke up in the morning it was just barely daylight. I could hear pots and pans rattling, firewood being cut, or broken, to be put on the fire. My first thought was that Tom had done his normal thing; that was to get up at daylight and be on the road at sun-up. When I got dressed and wandered over to the fire, I found not Tom, but brother Tommy. He was laughing and grinning from ear to ear! "Iíve been waiting for this all my life! For as long as I can remember, the old man has been getting us up at daylight. Now itís my turn to get him up!" We sort of quieted down after that. After all, our father was old enough to have earned the right to sleep a little later in the morning.

Soon enough, Tom and Jose joined us for breakfast. We lingered in camp, and did a little exploring upstream on foot. Tom had seen a buck deer in the canyon the afternoon we arrived, and we thought we might be able to get some venison for dinner. We spotted no deer, so we retuned to camp, and we were on our way again. My recollection is that we climbed out of that canyon, over another ridge and down into another, much wider canyon, or valley. We followed the valley upstream for quite a distance, until we came to Rancho Rosarito. This was what Tom was looking for. The buildings and the size of the non-native trees told us that the ranch had been there for a long time, but there was no one around to tell us of itís history. I have no idea whether or not he was ever able to confirm that this had been a stopping place on El Camino Real. Looking at the map, it was about half way between Mission el Rosario, and Mission San Pedro Martir. Quien sabe?

We decided to follow the road as far as it would take us, just to see what we could see. Along the way we came to a newly created road heading south, and the bulldozer that had built it. Weíll check that out tomorrow.

Iím not sure of the sequence of the next two events, but in the end we made camp in a nice flat area with at least one abandoned vehicle nearby. I discovered that I had a broken main-leaf in a front spring. Looking ahead to 1986, and back to 1953, that made three failures of front suspension on three different vehicles. Does that make you wonder if I was driving too aggressively? Donít answer that!

On close examination, I found that the main-leaf had broken about twelve inches back from the front end, which meant that there were at least two more leaves under the broken leaf. I figured that if I could fashion a U-shaped clamp to hold all the leaves together, I would be able to limp along just fine. Toward that end, I started examining the abandoned vehicle. It had been stripped beyond recognition, so that only the skeleton remained. Soon I found a bracket of some sort that I could unbolt from the frame. I forgot to say that I always carried a rather complete set of tools. I had wrenches of all sorts, several pairs of pliers, several screw drivers, a hack saw, a claw hammer, a heavy hammer (at least two pounds) several punches, pointed and flat, and a rolling head bar, among other things.

My steel bracket had a bolthole in each end, but they were too far apart. I could use one hole, and bend the bar into the U-shape I needed, but that left me one hole short, without a drill of any kind. I was fussing about this when Tommy said, "itís easy, just use your hammer and a flat punch." He went on to say that if I could find a hole in the frame, then place the bar over that hole and position it so that the point where you want the new hole is directly above the hole in the frame, you can use the hammer and punch to literally punch a hole through sold steel. I was skeptical, but I had to try something. I found the hole in the top of the frame that I needed, used a pair of Vise Grip pliers to hold the bracket in place, and set to with the hammer and punch. I worked on it for what seemed an eternity, and was feeling quite sure that Tommy was laughing at me for being so gullible. Finally, I noticed an indentation in the steel where I was working with punch and hammer. Tommy was right after all! Soon I had a nice round bolthole in my bracket. I positioned it on the spring, put a bolt through the two holes, and let the jack down. Weíre ready to go! My patch held together for the rest of the trip.

The next morning we drove on out to the end of the road, to a ranch called La Suerte. There was a small house, and some corals for livestock. We went to the house and found two or three cowboys inside, doing what Mexican Cowboys do when theyíre away from their womenfolk; making flour tortillas, enough for the day.

Our son, Glenn, always made great flour tortillas when we were in camp, but he swore us to silence about that fact. He didnít want anyone in his household or his restaurant to know that he could make tortillas!

We learned from the cowboys that the high ridge to the east of the ranch was the peninsular divide, an extension of the Sierra San Pedro Martir. We could have walked to the top in probably less than an hour, but decided to leave that for another day, another trip. Another trip that never happened, by the way. They also told us that the new road we had seen would take us to El Rosario without getting back on the main road. So off we went, to explore some country we had never seen before.

The new road took us mainly south, but winding through canyons and along ridges. Our route took us slightly to the west of Cerro San Miguel and Pico Alfonso (4600í elevation). Farther to the east we could see Cerro Matomi (4500í elevation). Matomi is the last high peak at the southern extreme of San Pedro Martir. Along the way we came to several forks in the road, not knowing which to take. Eventually we came to the very deep, steep, canyon of Rio del Rosario. Soon after climbing out on the south side we encountered some cattlemen that directed us toward our destination.

We followed a broad arroyo to where it narrowed, and cut through a low ridge. There we found the ruins of the old San Juan de Dios, Mission Asistencia. (Meaning that it was a branch of another Mission) We made camp there for the night. From camp we could see a very distinct, and obviously very old trail coming down the ridge from the south. We presumed that this was part of the old Camino Real that at one time connected all the missions. There were some pools of nice clear water on the upstream side of the north-south ridge.

After breakfast the next day we drove on out the road to a ranch called Rancho Nuevo. We were very surprised to see a diesel engine pumping a large stream of water to irrigate crops. That was about the last thing we would have expected in that vast desert plain. From there we headed west again, soon reaching what was then the main road. In Rosario, we stopped to visit Tomís long time friends, Eraclio and Dona Anita Espinosa. They operated a service station and restaurant, as well as being in the cattle business. From Eraclio we learned that the local Cattle Ejido owned the little bulldozer we had seen, and built some of the roads that we had traveled the last couple of days.

I forgot to mention earlier that the main road had been paved as far as Socorro, and possibly Rosario, by the time we made this trip, so the journey from El Rosario to Ensenada should have been routine. Well, almost!

Tom and Jose were out in front on this part of the trip. Tom decided we should stop at a little store in San Quintin for soft drinks. Except for the major population centers, soft drinks consisted of very sweet orange, grape or lemon sodas. They were on the shelf, not in the refrigerator, even if there was a refrigerator. Thus another family joke about stopping for warm orange sodas. Anyway, we went into the store, and got our sodas. There was a young lady tending the store, and a dog asleep on the floor. We could see that there was a door leading to another room. Presently, a man walked out a side door of that room, pointed a .45 revolver in the air and fired. The dog ran for cover, the lady shrugged her shoulders, and the four of us beat a hasty retreat!

Tommy and I took the lead on the next leg. I needed gasoline, so I turned off to the left in Camalu, thirty miles or so up the road. Tom and Jose were close behind us, but somehow failed to see us turn into the Pemex station. We got our gas and took off to overtake the other pickup. I was burning up the highway, but they were nowhere in sight. When I finally caught them at El Salado, south of San Vicente, I found out that they had been speeding to catch up with us, thinking that we were still ahead of them. Oh well, no harm no fowl!

It was a short trip, but one that Tommy and I enjoy reminiscing about over coffee. No more warm sodas!

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