Camping in Baja 1961

I have checked with the boys, and this is our collective memory of the trip. I believe that it was in 1961 that I took Dan and David on a camping trip to Baja. Iím sure that we must have spent the first night at the folkís house in San Miguel. The next day we drove south to San Quintin, intending to camp on the peninsula between the bay and the ocean. Along the way we drove past a portion of the inner bay that had been turned into a salt works. Low dikes had been built to form evaporation ponds. There was some equipment there and a small mountain of salt awaiting shipment. This was a new enterprise. It had not been there when we lived in San Telmo.

Beyond the salt works the road went mostly through some sand dunes. Actually the dunes were mixed with some hard ground. It was our misfortune to fall in behind a driver that had no idea of how to drive in the sand. He kept getting stuck, and soon there were two more vehicles behind us. We all got out to help him when he stalled. I soon tired of this, and at the first opportunity managed to get turned around and headed back out to the main road. For the uninitiated, there are some cardinal rules to follow for driving in sand. First, maintain as much speed as possible. Second, always stay in the ruts. The sand below the ruts has been compacted by other vehicles. Third, donít spin your wheels; it only makes matters worse. Of course there is always the trick of partially deflating the tires. You need to have a tire pump of some kind to re-inflate them when you get back on hard ground.

Back on the main road we headed south until we came to a wide arroyo leading up into the mountains. We drove only far enough to find a nice camping place with a good supply of firewood. I believe that the first year Gerry had strawberries in San Quintin one of the ranches was on the mesa on the north side of that arroyo.

Heading north the next morning, we turned east on the road to San Telmo. I donít recall stopping at Rancho Santa Terresa, where we lived for five years. A mile or two east of the ranch we turned left onto the old timber road, up Arroyo Las Chollas, then followed some long ridges, past Rancho Buena Vista (one of the Meling Ranches), finally arriving at Tom Farlowís Winter Camp. Tomís main ranch was up much higher, at the foot of the mountain. As he got older the winters became too severe for him at that elevation. I think that eventually he spent all his time at the Winter Ranch. A man named Edwards had built this road. He had obtained a permit to harvest timber on the north end of San Pedro Martir. He managed to push through a road all the way to the top that curved around the very north end of the mountain. Not to the very top, of course, but far enough to break out into flatter ground and meadows. He had set up a small sawmill at the Winter Camp, where there was a nice stream of running water. The harvest permit was withdrawn before commercial harvest could begin, so the whole project was abandoned. See Adventure in San Telmo for more details.

We stopped for a short visit with Tom Farlow, then onward and upward. We soon came out on a plateau with a dirt landing strip that served Mikes Sky Ranch. The ranch itself was in the Arroyo San Rafael. We drove down to look around, and David thinks we had lunch there. After lunch we went back out to the airstrip and headed east again towards the mountain. The road went through a long, narrow and steep canyon. The road was badly eroded and had quite a side-slope as well. Almost to the top, the wheels started to spin, and the truck started sliding sideways. By the time I stopped, and got out to assess the situation, the rear wheel was on the very edge of the road. The only thing to do was to back down, but to do so was quite tricky. The boys and I worked for an hour or more digging a little trench for the rear wheel to follow that would gradually lead it back to the center of the road. I very carefully started to back down, as the boys pushed against the side of the truck, to make sure that it followed the little trench. Danny called instructions to me about which way to turn the front wheels. The plan worked perfectly! We backed on down until we reached a somewhat flat area. There we gathered a bunch of large rocks to put in the back of the truck, to give the tires more traction. With the boys in back for even more traction, I built up as much speed as I could, and hugging the high side of the road, we managed to get to the top.

Next we passed what Mr. Edwards called The Water Camp. They had made a crude road through a long canyon down to the Arroyo San Rafael to keep the camp supplied with water. This was a very easy grade. I had hiked down and back on that road years before with Bob and Tom Cannell. From there we fished up as far as a sharp turn to the right in the arroyo. On this trip our goal was to go as far as we could on the timber road. We drove as far as the old Powder Camp, so named because from there on the road was blasted out of solid granite. This camp was located next to the Johnson Ditch. This ditch had been built to carry water from the San Rafael to Socorro for the mining operation there. The ditch was built in the 1890ís, and had been abandoned for more than fifty years. From the camp we walked up the road to see if it was passable for a pickup. It didnít take long to see that going any farther was out of the question. We made camp for the night.

The next morning we gathered lunch, water and fishing gear and set off for the arroyo far below. The trail down was very, very steep. We caught some fish as we worked our way down stream, around that sharp bend that I spoke of. My plan was to go downstream until we came to the easy trail leading out to the Water Camp. We went a long way downstream, but did not find any thing that looked familiar. At this point my memory started playing tricks on me. I didnít know whether to keep going downstream, or turn back in case we had already passed the trail. Finally we did turn back a little, then followed what appeared to be a well-worn trail. The farther we went, the steeper it got, and the fainter the trail was. Finally the trail gave out completely. We had already gained quite a bit of elevation, so I didnít want to go back down and start over. Soon we were having to break brush in some places. I was picking the route and breaking brush. The farther we went the steeper it got. Finally, I sat down to rest. I soon realized that I could not get us out of there. I told the boys that if we were going to get out, they would have to lead the way. So, they took turns breaking a trail that I could follow. After what seemed like an eternity we came to the old Johnson Ditch. I knew that if we followed it downhill it would lead us to camp. It was getting dark by the time we got into camp. I flopped down on my bedroll, telling the boys to fix whatever they wanted for dinner. After an hour or so I managed to get up long enough to eat. I was so proud of the boys. They responded to the challenge nobly! I might still be on that mountain if it were not for them!

The return to San Miguel must have been uneventful, because I have no memory of it.

Notes:

Soon after the Timber Road was completed, Tom, Tommy, John Wilson and I drove to the very end in a Jeep. From there we could walk around in the large pine trees.

Danny remembers doing the same thing with Tom and Santiago Campbell. This had to have been about the same time that I went.

Today that last stretch of road is gated and locked. The cattlemen in the area use it to move cattle to the high pastures in the summertime

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