Sometime in late winter or early spring of 2002 my children decided that their Dear Old Dad needed to revisit "his" mountain, the San Pedro Martir, henceforth referred to as "The Mountain". Of course I had the minor matter of stomach surgery to be dealt with first. The surgery, on April 8th, went well, and by late May the surgeon told me that a camp trip would be good therapy for me. So, the plan was put into action!
Sub-Comandante Geraldo was the chief organizer and group leader. He assigned all of us to bring camp gear and food. We were to gather at Su Casa on June 30th and depart on July 1st. Our group consisted of Dan and Cath, David and Susan, Ger and Coll, Terry, Katy, Lupita and Greg, Tomas, Gloria, Jessica and me.
Dan passed out caps to everyone, inscribed San Pedro Martir 2002, and a little mountain icon that Iím sure was patterned after the Picaho. As the leader of the group, Gerry got a cap with a gold star on it. Then Dan said that even the general has to report to someone, and he gave me a cap with two stars and an eagle. I felt pretty important!
Lupita fed us dinner in the restaurant the night before we left on the trip, so she was relieved of taking food on the trip. Dan and Cath came prepared to fix one evening meal and one breakfast. Ger and Coll did the same. The girls brought the fixings for sandwiches, fruit and junk food for the lunches. Mother had volunteered to ride herd on Terryís household, so that Terry could make the trip. She also insisted on sending five batches of homemade cookies. I carried the cookies in my truck, so naturally I was quite a popular fellow!
Sun-up of July first found us on the road south. NOT! I think we left the Casa about 8:45. We made up some time by not having to make any stops in Ensenada on the way. Every time I go through Ensenada I am reminded of how easy that used to be. In the old days, as soon as First St. turned south toward Maneadero we were out of town. Today "town" extends at least fifteen miles south, half way to Santo Tomas. Even without stops at the Rey Sol for pastries, for a short conference with Lic. Valle, and a warm orange soda at Maneadero, the passage takes longer than it used to take!
Our caravan consisted of Gerryís SUV, Katyís SUV, Danís PU, my PU, and Gregís Ford car. Terry brought four Walkie Talkie radios, so all but Lupita could keep in communication as we traveled. Gerry led the way and I brought up the rear. Gerry seems to be maintaining a long tradition by stopping at El Palomar in Santo Tomas for pit stops, restrooms and coffee (hot) or sodas (cold!). My Grandfather Utt started the tradition in the 1930ís. He loved to hunt quail and ducks farther south. In order to avoid crossing and re-crossing the border with his shotguns, he left them with the family that later owned the Palomar. He had a 20 gauge pump and a 20 gauge double barrel. I stopped there with him in 1937 on our way to Bahia de Los Angeles. Later my folks kept up the tradition, becoming close friends of the family.
After a brief respite at El Palomar we were off for points south, with David at the wheel of my truck. We had discussed buying some queso fresco, or "cowboy cheese" as Glenn sometimes referred to it. A few miles north of San Vicente David spotted a little store in the middle of nowhere that had a Queso Fresco sign in front. He looked for a place to turn around, and I tried to contact the rest of the group. They had disappeared around a bend and did not get the message. We got a small wheel of cheese and got back on the road. Obviously our group was not too worried about us. They were twenty miles down the road before they stopped to wait for us!
The next stop was at the new Pemex Station in San Telmo de Abajo. Iím not sure it goes by that name now, but thatís what we called it when we lived at Santa Terresa. The town of San Telmo is seven miles up the canyon, therefore San Telmo de Arriba. All of us, except Greg, topped off our tanks. I guess he didnít realize that there would be no service stations on the road ahead. The rest of us should have warned him about that, but we didnít. By the time we were ready to leave it was 11:30. The decision was made to drive to our old ranch in San Telmo to stop for lunch. At this point I took over to lead the group into the wilds of Mexico. We were to be traveling on nearly unmarked trails to the highest mountain in all of Baja. We would be facing unknown peril and hardship, having to overcome many challenges. Who better to lead than this grizzled veteran of so many such expeditions? Of course, it was not much of a confidence builder for the rest of the group when I nearly overshot the turnoff from the highway! Who could have known that the first few miles of the "trail" would be paved?
We arrived at the ranch just after 12:00. Tony Changala and his daughter, Suzie, made us quite welcome. They gathered up some chairs so that we could eat our lunch under a nice shade tree. Best of all, Suzie made a bathroom available to us! The old ranch looks much the same, except for all the trees. In the five years that we lived there the trees had not grown very much. Also, there is an accumulation of "old iron": derelict tractors and trucks. The other major change is that they now have electricity for the pumps, and houses. That sure makes life easier!
After lunch we resumed our journey eastward several miles up the valley, then into the hills, always upward. After dipping down into Arroyo San Jose, which is the upper reaches of Arroyo San Telmo, we started climbing in earnest. This was to be the final assault on "The Mountain". Most of us did not even have four-wheel drive, so this would be the ultimate test of our driving skills. Only long years of experience driving on such roads would take us to the top.
All right, already! So the road was of decent grade and alignment. Though a little rough in spots, it was easily driveable in any passenger car. Still, it was an adventure! You have to admit that my first version makes a better story!
It was late afternoon when we finally topped out at La Corona, which is the west rim of the mountain, about 8300 feet elevation. The east rim is about eight or ten miles east, and somewhat higher. Between the two rims there are low ridges and lots of small valleys and meadows. We drove out into an area known as Vallecitos, where we located a nice camp spot with lots of pine and aspen trees, with a bolder strewn ridge on one side. The finely honed survival skills of the Family Robertson soon produced a cozy little camp, consisting of seven tents, a kitchen table with three Coleman stoves, a table for preparing and serving food, a couple of other tables, countless ice chests, and enough folding lounge chairs for the entire crew.
Without any pre-arrangement, memorabilia of our Glenn, including a nice picture, started to appear on one of the tables. We all knew that he would not have missed this trip, and we felt his presence the whole time. We laughed. We cried. It was a good family time.
Dan and Cath prepared a delicious meal of carnitas, salads and fruit. We all ate to our hearts content. After dinner we sat in a circle and reminisced about times past. We were treated to a nice sunset. By 9:00 I think we were all of us ready to crawl into our beds.
I think David, Gerry and I were all up at about the same time. We were bent on getting some coffee brewed, so that we could start the day. I think that the only thing that was purchased especially for this trip was an old style blue tapered percolator coffeepot. It took the three of us to figure out how to use it. Soon enough we had our coffee, and all was well. Gerry and Colleen fixed turkey bacon and apple pancakes for breakfast. We were now ready to face the next adventure.
We had already decided to try to go to the Observatory. The road is closed to visitor traffic more than a mile from the top, with a 650-foot elevation gain along the way. Terry, Katy, Dan and Cath felt that they would not be able to do that hike, so they stayed in camp. I was going to try, but I doubt that I would have made it at that elevation. The Observatory is at 9250 feet. My hope was that we could find someone that would take us up. We drove into the service area to find someone to talk to. Alfredo Meling had taken us up in 1992, but he was no longer working there. A mechanic in the shop offered to call the man in charge of operations. I told Gerry that I was turning negotiations over to him, since his Spanish is so much better that mine. Soon a young man named Esteban Vasquez showed up. After introductions all around, and much conversation, he volunteered to let one vehicle go up, and the rest could ride with him. It turned out that Esteban spoke fluent English. When we arrived at the Observatory, he took us inside to show us the telescope, and how it works. From there we went outside to a cat-walk that goes all the way around the dome of the telescope. The views from there are just magnificent! Across a canyon to the south-east is the Picacho del Diablo. At 10,154 feet, it is the highest point in all of Baja. To the east the mountain drops nearly straight down several thousand feet to the desert. I donít have a contour map of the desert, but it must be 5000 to 6000 feet below. We could look down into Canyon del Diablo where Dan, Gerry and I hiked up from the desert to some nice little waterfalls many years ago. To the north is Cerro del Venado Blanco, 9220 feet. This is a stand-alone peak off the north end of the main mountain that was visible from the ranch in San Telmo. We could see most of the Vallecitos area where we were camped. We could see the upper reaches of the Gulf of California, or Sea of Cortez. To the south-west we could see the volcanic domes at San Quintin and Isla San Martin offshore.
Gerry got permission to go back to camp to bring up the rest of the gang. While we were waiting for them to arrive, Lupita discovered that Esteban had attended the University with Flor, and that he also knew Glenn. The world isnít so large after all! When the second group arrived, Esteban repeated the tour of the telescope. Since both Dan and Ger are interested in the stars, and have telescopes of their own, they were very interested in the workings of this 80-inch mirror telescope. When we left, Esteban told the girls that he would like to have a picture of Glenn to hang somewhere in the Observatory. He and Gerry exchanged cards, and we were invited to come back for another visit.
Back in camp the girls set out all the "makings" for sandwiches, as well as fruit, crackers, etc. Barbaraís cookies came out after lunch. What a treat! After a short rest, some of us went exploring in Gerryís SUV. We followed all the roads to their ends. We were disappointed that the Tasajera road had been washed out and not repaired. I had hoped that we could drive out to where we camped ten years ago.
The mountain was very dry. There had been very little snow in the winter, and no summer rains. All the places that one might expect to find water were dry. What a change that was from our last trip.
Ger and Col served up wonderful fajitas for dinner. After dinner we made plans for the next day. The consensus was that we would be lucky to leave camp by 10:00 AM.
I think we were all up early. While Dan and Cath prepared ham, fried potatoes and eggs, the rest of us started folding tents, rolling sleeping bags, and in general getting a head start on packing. When we had eaten our fill everyone pitched in to clean up the kitchen things, fold tables and chairs and get all the trash into large plastic bags. All the vehicles were carefully packed, and all the trash heaped on top of my load. We left not one scrap of trash on the mountain. I think we pulled out of camp shortly after eight!
Some photo ops and an unscheduled detour to the Meling Ranch interrupted the trip down the mountain. I think this was Gerryís idea. There was no one around, so we headed on down the hill. Just before we reached San Telmo Valley my truck started to feel a little strange. I stopped and discovered that I had a flat tire. I sent out an alert on the radio, but no one answered, so I assumed that they did not hear me. They were out of sight around a bend in the road. I had Tomas put some rocks in front of the front wheels while I got the jack and lug wrench out from under the seat. What I couldnít seem to find was the jack handle. As I started to study my owners manual, Gerry and Dan showed up to help out. They soon found instructions with the jack, telling us that the handle was stowed under the hood, of all places. David was riding with Gerry, so I had a very complete and able pit crew working on my problem. About half way through the change Katy called to say that she also had a flat. It took her a while to convince anyone that she was not joking. Soon two of the boys were on their way to change her tire for her. The girls think that the tires were somehow sabotaged by detouring to the Meling Ranch. Iím convinced that it was just a matter of sharp rocks breaking the tire casings. In any case, we survived the crisis, and it is now part of the family lore: two flats within a mile of each other!
It was well after noon when we arrived at the Pemex once again. We all filled up with gas, ate some lunch; crackers, cheese and fruit. Terry got in touch with Barbara on the cell phone, and decided that it would be OK for her to continue on the trip. I got permission to leave the trash bags in back of the station. Lupita and Greg headed north and the rest of us south, to San Quintin. We checked into the Old Mill Motel, and made very good use of the showers. Later, we walked next door for dinner at Don Eddieís. The food was good and the conversation even better. From there we all drifted back to our rooms to turn in for the night, or so I thought. Just as I was drifting off to sleep I heard strange noises outside my window. Someone was rummaging around in the back of my truck, and there were scratching noises outside my door, accompanied by a mournful wailing that sounded like "Coookeees". My daughters had decided they must have cookies! Iíll have to admit that I forgot to get them out for lunch.
We all met for breakfast at the Old Mill Restaurant, which had just re-opened after a change of management. About 9 AM we headed out in convoy for a tour of Gerryís berry operation. The first stop was a new office building. Reiter Bros. has made a long-term commitment to growing berries in the Colonia Guerrero area, so Gerry decided to have all the office work done by his own staff, rather than contracting it out. He had at least three people working there. There are also offices for his farming manager and for his general manager, Willie Hedricks. Willie was born and raised in the area, so he knows everyone within a hundred miles! He is very personable and very able. Cath had some on-line classes that needed monitoring, so she stayed in the office to take care of that.
Willie met us at the office, and then we followed him to one of the ranches where they have installed a large Reverse Osmosis plant to desalinate the ground-water, to make it suitable for farming. Gerry had the forethought to have all this equipment installed inside large cargo containers, so that they can be moved to a new location if necessary. Willie took us inside to explain all the pumps and monitoring devices. For maximum efficiency, these systems have to run constantly, which makes it necessary to have a large storage reservoir to accumulate water when it is not needed in the field.
From there we walked out into a strawberry field that had been abandoned for the season, because of low prices. We feasted on dead-ripe berries, and picked a couple of cannery crates to take to the folks that run the motel.
Next stop was in Col. Gurrero for fish tacos, after picking up Cath. Gerry insists that they are the best in the world, and I wonít argue with him! After lunch we dropped David, Susan, Gloria and Tomas at the orphanage. David and Susan know the lady that started that project from their days in Alberta. The rest of us proceeded to the Hedricks Ranch, which is next door to the orphanage. There we met Willieís brother Juan, who farms the ranch in partnership with Willie and another brother that lives in CA. Juan showed us a new raspberry planting, and explained how the plants would be trained on trellises for easy picking. Soon they will put three rows at a time into what are referred to as tunnels. These are literally tunnels of plastic supported by metal arches. So they are really grown in greenhouses.
The last stop was a larger, newer ranch where Gerry, well really Willie, had installed an RO system with three times the capacity of the one we saw in the morning, with a much larger reservoir.
Finally, Gerry and I went back to the orphanage to pick up our passengers, and the others headed south to the Motel.
Since it was the 4th of July, Gerry and Colleenís ninth wedding anniversary, they invited us to dinner at the Jardines Baja, several miles away. The people that run the restaurant own twenty acres or so of land, with a well that pumps somewhat salty water. They have the most beautiful gardens that you can imagine. It truly is an oasis in the desert. Dinner was wonderful. The only unfortunate thing is that it was so noisy that we could not hear each other!
Back at the motel I invited all to come to my room for cookies. We sat on the porch, eating Motherís cookies, and watching a fireworks display. Some thought it to be in honor of the 4th, but Iím sure that it was staged just for us!
As Dad Robertson used to write at the end of his daily trip journal, "and so to bed."
I had slept very well in camp and the first night in the motel, but this day I woke up at 2:30 AM, and could not go back to sleep. About five I got up and started getting my things ready to load in the truck. After that I wandered around outside, and was soon joined by David. He told me that everyone was up, so we moved our breakfast time up from 8:00 to 7:00. After breakfast, and many good-byes all around and much picture taking, we were off for the journey home. We had already decided not to travel in caravan. Dan needed to get across the border before his insurance ran out, and Katy planned to drive all the way home to Westlake, so they were the first ones on the road. Gerry and I started a few minutes later. Gloria was with me. Gerry stopped at our favorite Pemex for gas, and we all used the facilities. I was in front on the next leg of the trip, and went sailing through Santo Tomas before realizing that Ger had stopped at the Palomar. Gloria said she was OK to keep going, so we did.
The military had set up a check-point south of Maneadero. As we approached I explained to Gloria that sometimes it was better to tell these people what they wanted to hear, rather than the whole truth. I had learned from many trips to the Sierra Juarez that they were always spooked when we told them we were going to, or coming from the mountain. I donít know why this should be, but it was. So, I decided not to mention San Pedro Martir, saying that we had only been to San Quintin. The young man with the Uzi looked very perplexed and asked me several times if I was sure that was the only place we had been. Finally he waved us through. A couple of hundred feet down the road I burst out laughing. "I know what he was so puzzled about. What were Father Time and this cute young chic doing in San Quintin for two days".
I caught up with the girls at the Casa. When I told them about the incident at the check-point, they put a different light on it. Apparently they had talked to the same young man a few minutes earlier, and told him the same story-- two days in San Quintin and nowhere else. What none of us thought of at the time was that everyone was wearing a San Pedro Martir 2002 cap. No wonder the man was so skeptical! Itís a wonder we did not end up in a military prison!
The girls had enough lunch things for one last meal, then off for the border. They were a little ahead of me because I had to drop off things at Anaís for Tomas and Gloria. As one might expect, the border was a disaster. From the time I got to Tijuana it took me three hours to go to Otay and get across the border. We all arrived at Terryís at about the same time. I was SO glad to see Barbara. We had planned to go home the next day, but I was too tired. We had a very easy trip home on Sunday.
It had been a wonderful, fantastic trip. Not only for the adventure and the scenery, but most of all because the family had such a good time together. All of our children were there, as well as spouses, and four grandchildren have been introduced to that majestic place.
I truly appreciate the effort that everyone made to get there and make this a special trip for me. And from all of us, a special thanks to Barbara, who made it possible for Terry and Jessica to go.
I love you all! Grampa
Photos of this trip can be found here
Return to the Short Stories and Trips Page