Lost Way to the Lost Mission – Copper Canyon Adventure

Back in December of 2004 I traveled with a group of four wheeling friends to Barrancas Del Cobre, a Parque Natural in northwestern Mexico and home to Copper Canyon, Mexico’s answer to our Grand Canyon. We traveled a dirt road the 90 mile milk run from the rather touristy town of Creel, on the rim, deep into the canyon to the old silver mining town of Batopilas, then 8kms further down the river to the “Lost Mission” of Satevo. This three domed cathedral was built by Jesuit missionaries sometime before 1750 and stands out in these rugged remote canyons like a space ship in an Amish field. Known for over a century only to the local Tarahumara Indians, its existence was “lost” to the knowledge of the outside world until a mining boom created Batopilas around 1880.

After reaching the mission in 2004, our travel plan was to then do some “real” four wheeling and head northwest to Urique and on westward to Chinipas on some very remote, rough tracks before reaching civilization at Alamos, near the coast. However, it was raining during our entire trip. Locals in Batopilas assured us that we would never be able to cross the swollen river at Urique and thus would have a long backtrack to Creel. We opted on the safe side and headed back the way we came. Ever since that retreat I’ve wanted to return to the area and complete that run…

Kat and I arose from a rough sleep and watched our ferry dock at the tiny port of Topolobampo. Bleary eyed, I drove Charlotte from the bowels of the ship and on to the Mexican mainland. Kat climbed in and we looked at each other.

Now what?

“Well, I’d really like to take you to Copper Canyon… the back way,” I said.

“Let’s go!” replied my ever adventurous soul mate.

We headed for the port exit. Passing through the parking lot we noticed several Overland vehicles gathered. We stopped and met the group, a bunch of Germans with three Toyotas, a Land Rover and a Ford Raptor (!) They were also heading for Copper Canyon and for about five minutes we almost joined them. The Land Rover was having electrical trouble (of course) and they indicated they could be a while. I foresaw what that meant… add a vehicle, add an hour. We said goodbye and headed off on our own adventure.

We hadn’t gone 20km inland when I passed a cop waving his radar gun out the window of his menacing looking Dodge SRT patrol car. The lights came on and I was busted. I was going 43mph. He was a typical tough guy cop with a trailing sidekick. He repeatedly demanded my license, ignoring my dumb, “No hablo espanol, habla Inglés?” and “No comprendo señor.” I comprendoed all right. He clocked us at 70km in a 60km zone. About 42 and 36mph. A 6 mph ticket, but you’d think I’d just outrun Mario Andretti while getting away from a bank heist. He started babbling something about going to the station with him tomorrow (today was Sunday) to pay the fine, which was 1200 pesos or roughly 100 bucks. I tried to explain that we were not going to be around mañana, but of course he knew that. He wrote 1200 on a piece of paper then 900 ahora (now) next to it. Yeah, I got it. Been here before. I offered him a 500 peso note ($40) which he quickly pocketed with his first smile. He then explained to his partner how they were not going to inconvenience us with a ticket and a trip to the station since we were on vacaciones. Hope they had a nice day with lots of beer on us. Welcome to the Mainland Amigos!

We headed north on the four lane toll road for about half an hour before getting itchy feet for a back road. We turned east on the first one we came to and quickly learned that our Garmin GPS is a great urban tool. Put it on a back road in Mexico and it’s not worth the dust it collects on our dash. It thinks it knows where it is though, and we spent the rest of the day thinking it did too as we followed a very circuitous route from El Fuerte towards the town of Alamos. We never did make Alamos that day but we sure saw some great thorny desert and neat hidden Ranchos. We camped hidden under a bridge and finally found Alamo around ten the next morning. A wonderful breakfast was had in a beautiful courtyard restaurant, the gas tank was filled and we headed out for day two of our backwards jaunt to the Lost Mission.

Charlotte rolls onto the Mexican Mainland for her first time after spending the night in the bowels of the ferry.

Charlotte rolls onto the Mexican Mainland for her first time after spending the night in the bowels of the ferry.


Local Topolobampo dock workers enjoying breakfast with us at this little open-air restaurant we hit once we left the ferry.

Local Topolobampo dock workers enjoying breakfast with us at this little open-air restaurant we hit once we left the ferry.


Once we got off the highway we began passing through little villages with colorful houses like this one. Check out the power meter built into the concrete pole to the right of the house.

Once we got off the highway we began passing through little villages with colorful houses like this one. Check out the power meter built into the concrete pole to the right of the house.


We drove all of Day 1 on good graded dirt roads like this, passing huge cacti and thorny bushes with beautiful purple flowers adorning the hillsides. The roads were lined with barbed wire fences made from hand-hewn fence-posts.

We drove all of Day 1 on good graded dirt roads like this, passing huge cacti and thorny bushes with beautiful purple flowers adorning the hillsides. The roads were lined with barbed wire fences made from hand-hewn fence-posts.


This village reminded us of the song from Mark Knoffler and Emmylou Harris, “Donkey Town.”

This village reminded us of the song from Mark Knoffler and Emmylou Harris, “Donkey Town.”


On the morning of the second day of our quest to drive the back way to the Lost Mission we arrived in Alamos. It was a super clean old town with cobblestone streets and wonderful turn-of-the-century buildings.

On the morning of the second day of our quest to drive the back way to the Lost Mission we arrived in Alamos. It was a super clean old town with cobblestone streets and wonderful turn-of-the-century buildings.

Charlotte was offered courtyard parking so she could watch us eat a great breakfast at this beautiful restaurant we found in Alamos.

Charlotte was offered courtyard parking so she could watch us eat a great breakfast at this beautiful restaurant we found in Alamos.


Too bad we hit the restaurant for breakfast and the bar was closed. It looked like a pretty cool place to hang out with all the tequila offerings adorning the walls.

Too bad we hit the restaurant for breakfast and the bar was closed. It looked like a pretty cool place to hang out with all the tequila offerings adorning the walls.


We haven’t been hurting for lack of eating on this trip!

We haven’t been hurting for lack of eating on this trip!


Every little Mexican town has its church and Alamos was no exception. Although this one wasn’t too exciting to look at from the outside…

Every little Mexican town has its church and Alamos was no exception. Although this one wasn’t too exciting to look at from the outside…


…the inside was pretty spectacular.

…the inside was pretty spectacular.

Now following our paper National Geographic map, we headed into the Sierra Madre mountains on a still fairly smooth dirt road, heading for the village of Milipillas. We crossed over the first of what, over the next two days, became many spectacular passes. Each one offered tighter, steeper switchbacks and a rougher surface than the last; and the views – the pictures will never do justice to the jaw dropping sites we took in.

Late in the day we passed through Milpillas. This was a REMOTE town, 80+ rough miles from anywhere. The main track through town was a creek bed complete with hub deep water and the roughest holes and ruts yet. The buildings were the usual tumbledown shacks with broken junk everywhere. However, just about every other house had a new pickup and/or a shiny quad. The kids were dressed in sports clothes and the women in tight jeans and the latest fashions. At the school yard, teenagers were working on laptops! It was all very weird. What business are these guys in???

We drove on. The Nat-Geo Map was proving to be very inaccurate as well, so we were now following the Garmin again which was assuring us it knew where it was taking us. (We’re either slow learners or eternal optimists) After another hour at 10 mph in 1st or 2nd gear, and with the light fading, we reached a dead end. The “road” turned into a quad track and then a horse path. But ‘ol Mr. Garmin still insisted we were headed for Chinipas. We turned back and ran into three caballeros on mules who, through sign language, indicated the road to Chinipas was back another direction out of Milpillas.

Since it was now dark, we made camp for the night and broke one of our cardinal rules. We camped alongside the road in plain view. We hadn’t seen another vehicle on the “road” since around 2pm so we figured we were safe. We made a nice dinner, played music and crashed around 8pm. Around 9 we had our visitors. Two drunken teenagers in a Suburban pulled in, blocking our escape route. With stereo blasting they banged on Charlotte’s windows until I opened one a crack and acknowledged their presence. In their inebriated state their Spanish wasn’t much better than mine, so playing dumb seemed to be the conversation of choice. Eventually they tired of getting no fun out of this game and returned to their car. As a last gallant act of bravado, the passenger grabbed one of our folding chairs we had left out (another rule broken) and they roared off, poor Red Chair dangling out the passenger window.

We spent the rest of the night with one eye open and discussed our mistakes in the morning. We were lucky this time. From now on we hide before camping, no matter how hard finding a spot is. A moment of silence was observed for Red Chair. In a way it seemed fitting that it went on to a new home in Mexico. It was given to my daughter Emily, 12 years ago by Coco, our iconic Mexican friend in Baja. It was the Energizer Bunny chair. It had out lived at least five other el cheapo folding chair partners and was still going strong. I hope its new owner treats it well.

We drove back into Milpillas and began our new form of navigation – ask the locals. After several inquires it became apparent the road we wanted wasn’t out of Milpillas, but Chinacas, another village not on any of our maps, yet another hour back down the trail we’d covered yesterday. Leaving Milpillas, we were flagged down by Fren who needed a ride to Chinacas. Fren was an old rancher who now only owned about 100 head of cattle and a small Ranchito back near Alamos. He had a long way to hitch-hike but didn’t own a pickup because driving made him nervous. His body language indicated so did mine. Before getting out he showed us the correct road and the Lost Gringos were once again headed for the Lost Mission.

After leaving Alamos the roads deteriorated and life became much more remote. By mid-afternoon of Day 2 we arrived in Milpillas. This was Main Street which was a running creek-bed. We had an impromptu drag race with these four young girls, who were cruising around on a fancy quad.

After leaving Alamos the roads deteriorated and life became much more remote. By mid-afternoon of Day 2 we arrived in Milpillas. This was Main Street which was a running creek-bed. We had an impromptu drag race with these four young girls, who were cruising around on a fancy quad.


“No passengers.”  “No one under 16 may operate this vehicle.” “Always wear a helmet.” Yeah, right!  You might add, “Always let the youngest one be the designated driver!’ We marveled at all the new, expensive machinery and fancy clothes in this otherwise run down little burg.

“No passengers.” “No one under 16 may operate this vehicle.” “Always wear a helmet.” Yeah, right! You might add, “Always let the youngest one be the designated driver!’ We marveled at all the new, expensive machinery and fancy clothes in this otherwise run down little burg.


Some of the older folks still had more traditional forms of transportation.

Some of the older folks still had more traditional forms of transportation.


Leaving Milpillas, the road got rougher and less travelled. It should have been our first clue that maybe we were going the wrong way.

Leaving Milpillas, the road got rougher and less travelled. It should have been our first clue that maybe we were going the wrong way.


But we followed it for over an hour until it turned into a horse path shortly after this. Time to turn around and backtrack. Thank you, Mr. Garmin.

But we followed it for over an hour until it turned into a horse path shortly after this. Time to turn around and backtrack. Thank you, Mr. Garmin.

The next day was spent again crossing amazing switchback laden passes with spectacular views and dizzying drop-offs into the canyons below. The roads didn’t require four wheel drive but they were rough enough for only about ten to fifteen mph – all day! We dropped into Chinipas around noon and followed a local pickup as he picked his way through the wide river to access the town. Yes, following the locals is the only way to go! Mr. Garmin didn’t even show the river. Once in town we had a nice encounter with a young high school boy who proudly practiced the English he had been learning in school by explaining our next leg towards Témoris and the famed Chihuahua-Pacifico Railroad. He directed us out of town and on to the next pass, this one more exciting than the last and with the added bonus of passing by the huge Palmero Mineral open pit mine half way up. We have no idea what they are mining but there sure is a lot of it!

Two hours later we were through Témoris and now following the rail lines of one of the world’s greatest engineering feats. The Chihuahua-Pacifico Railroad was completed in 1961 and features 39 bridges and 86 tunnels. One section drops 7,000 feet in 122 miles and there are several curved bridges which reverse the direction of travel and one that creates a complete 360 loop on itself as it allows the train to climb and descend these wild canyons.

We turned southeast away from the train at Bahuichivo and had a yummy chicken dinner at a little restaurant that doubled as someone’s house. We munched our bird while the friends he was pecking around with that morning, eyed us from the front yard.

After a nice HIDDEN camp spot under a full moon, we began our fourth day of awesome dirt roads, endless switchbacks and breathtaking views toward the town of Urique which lies deep in the actual Barranca Del Cobre Parque Natural. We were getting close now to country I had hoped to see back in 2004. Almost at the bottom of the most spectacular set of switchbacks yet encountered, we picked up Alfredo. Alfredo was walking a bull down the steep road with his son, when our arrival spooked the animal and it got away. We stopped so the son could catch the critter and struck up a conversation with the old man. His legs were killing him and he asked for a ride. He was 62 and looked 75. He had lived all his life in Urique. He showed us where he’d gone to school, and explained how he once crushed his leg and required eight surgeries. Now he “exercises every day and is never sick.” We dropped him off in front of a restaurant he recommended and, after declining to join us, hobbled off towards his casa somewhere in the village.

We had another great meal, one of what was becoming our daily routine; wake up in Charlotte about 6:30; lie around talking until 7:15 when the sun comes up warming things; get up, make coffee and do a bunch of stretches and exercises before firing up Charlotte; climb behind the wheel and drive. Sometime during the day we pull over to cook or we find a good restaurant and have a big pig-out, our one meal of the day. Then drive a bunch more until it is time to look for a camp spot before dark. By 6:30 it is dark, and we are munching a light snack in Charlotte if it is cold or there are bugs, or out under the stars watching the full moon rise if it’s nice out. We’re in bed by 7pm reading or playing cards. It’s a rough life but someone’s gotta do it.

During our meal in Urique we struck up a conversation with two local guys. Neche was a Tarahumara Indian and Jose was Mexican. When we left, Kat was touched when Jose looked her straight in the eye, shook her hand and sincerely said, “You will always have a friend in Urique.” Such a scary place, this Mexico!

Fast forward to the middle of Day 3. A lot happened before we had the camera out again. Like loosing Red Chair to our previous evening’s thieves and finding the correct road thanks to our hitchhiker, Fren. What? You are only looking at the photos and reading the captions? Hah, caught you! Better read the text to get the whole story!   After leaving Milpillas and Chinacas for the second time, we drove several hours over a huge pass until we caught our first glimpse of Chinipas, far below on the Rio Oteros. This was a big deal since up to this point we weren’t really sure if we were going the right way.

Fast forward to the middle of Day 3. A lot happened before we had the camera out again. Like loosing Red Chair to our previous evening’s thieves and finding the correct road thanks to our hitchhiker, Fren. What? You are only looking at the photos and reading the captions? Hah, caught you! Better read the text to get the whole story! After leaving Milpillas and Chinacas for the second time, we drove several hours over a huge pass until we caught our first glimpse of Chinipas, far below on the Rio Oteros. This was a big deal since up to this point we weren’t really sure if we were going the right way.


There was no bridge across the Oteros River to reach Chinipas, but fortunately we saw a local Chevy picking his way across. We figured he must know where the deep spots are so we quickly followed.

There was no bridge across the Oteros River to reach Chinipas, but fortunately we saw a local Chevy picking his way across. We figured he must know where the deep spots are so we quickly followed.


After getting directions from the English practicing school boy in Chinipas, we continued east up these amazing switchbacks. The road was good again because of the mine half way up.

After getting directions from the English practicing school boy in Chinipas, we continued east up these amazing switchbacks. The road was good again because of the mine half way up.


The Palmero Mineral mine wasn’t some little hole in the ground. It was a BIG hole in the ground; an operation that rivaled strip mining anywhere in the world. We never did find out what they were hauling out of there or where it went. The road we’d come up had no haul trucks on it and was too windy for them anyway. Further eastward we found the road once again rougher and narrower so it all remains a mystery. We figure they’ve got a hidden four-lane freeway through the mountains to the coast!

The Palmero Mineral mine wasn’t some little hole in the ground. It was a BIG hole in the ground; an operation that rivaled strip mining anywhere in the world. We never did find out what they were hauling out of there or where it went. The road we’d come up had no haul trucks on it and was too windy for them anyway. Further eastward we found the road once again rougher and narrower so it all remains a mystery. We figure they’ve got a hidden four-lane freeway through the mountains to the coast!


Now it’s the morning of the fourth day of traveling eastward toward the Lost Mission. Every steep pass revealed views more breathtaking than the last. Every time we spotted a town far below it was a small triumph, an assurance that we were still on the right track. No road signs out here, just broken Spanish directions and hand signals from the locals. This was our first sighting of the town of Urique and the Urique River.

Now it’s the morning of the fourth day of traveling eastward toward the Lost Mission. Every steep pass revealed views more breathtaking than the last. Every time we spotted a town far below it was a small triumph, an assurance that we were still on the right track. No road signs out here, just broken Spanish directions and hand signals from the locals. This was our first sighting of the town of Urique and the Urique River.


Getting closer to Urique. Who built this road anyway? It is phenomenal how they found a way down this cliff-side, let alone cut a road to boot.

Getting closer to Urique. Who built this road anyway? It is phenomenal how they found a way down this cliff-side, let alone cut a road to boot.


This is Antonio whom we picked up on the way to Urique. Gotta read the text for the details!

This is Antonio whom we picked up on the way to Urique. Gotta read the text for the details!


Um. Mystery Meat Machacha tacos at the restaurant Antonio took us to. They were great.

Um. Mystery Meat Machacha tacos at the restaurant Antonio took us to. They were great.


Restaurant chatter. This was Jose and Neche, two Urique locals we chatted with during lunch. When we left, Jose sincerely told Kat she’d always have a friend in Urique.

Restaurant chatter. This was Jose and Neche, two Urique locals we chatted with during lunch. When we left, Jose sincerely told Kat she’d always have a friend in Urique.

We drove down river a bit and crossed a BRIDGE! Damn, that wasn’t there in 2004 or we would have completed this trip then. The Urique River had been the one too swollen to cross, halting our progress. Beyond the bridge we again started climbing, yes, the steepest, tightest switchbacks yet. By late afternoon we were at probably the most remote area of our journey, at about 7,000 feet and not even sure we were on the right track to Batopilas. We hadn’t seen another vehicle all afternoon but that wasn’t unusual. Over the last four days since leaving Alamos, we had seen less than a dozen vehicles on the actual “roads” we were traveling. There were vehicles in the towns but they didn’t travel far. We camped that night in an open field up on a ridge above the road where we couldn’t be seen. We actually figured it was more likely we’d be visited by a native Tarahumara Indian than anyone driving these roads. We’d seen lots of these locals shyly peering from their low doorways or walking the roads following their cows or goats. The men seemed to blend into the surrounding terrain but the women are memorable in their brightly colored skirts and long braided hair.

By 10am, the fifth morning since leaving the pavement back along the coast, we dropped into the river bottom a few km from Batopillas. We had just completed the last of what seemed like 10,000 switchbacks and peered over maybe 1,000,000 feet of sheer drop-offs. We’d accomplished what I hadn’t been able to do in 2004. We had even done it backwards and totally alone. I think the roads are a bit better now and signs indicate they will continue to improve, a bummer for us off-road thrill seekers. This is a bucket list trip you guys – you know who you are – better get down here and do it!

The river was running about a foot deep so Charlotte got a much needed undercarriage washing in the clear water. She looked so good we decided we needed an undercarriage washing as well! Out came our onboard shower setup, heated by Charlotte’s engine. We enjoyed the hottest shower since leaving home, standing along the river bank to the curiosity of the Mexican onlookers. Crazy Gringos.

Feeling renewed, we drove the few miles into the old mining town of Batopillas. This place has seen better days but still features some great old, turn of the (last) century buildings built when it was a booming silver mining town in the 1890s. Some things never change though. When I drove through here in 2004, the river had just receded after flooding the town due to a big rain storm. This time it was obvious the same thing had just happened within the last month. Everywhere were buried trucks and piled up sand and debris. We saw numerous, less than five year old pickups filled with sand and water. I saw the same thing in 2004. You’d think they’d learn to park on higher ground when it rains. It’s funny how expensive things like pickups are abused and beat to crap from day one like they are easily obtainable and affordable. Maybe they are? What kind of businesses ARE they in around here???

Our first priority was finding some gasoline. Charlotte’s tank holds 18 gallons and we carry another 15 in cans. Normally that should cover at least 425 miles. However, all the slow going and steep grades did not agree with her digestive system. She had drunk to the tune of roughly 8mpg (!) over the last four days. Despite only going 10 to 15 mph, we were in 1st or 2nd gear the whole time and still turning 2500 to 3500 rpm, so the distance covered verses engine work ratio didn’t add up to an eco friendly number. I knew we couldn’t make it the 90 miles to Creel on the juice we had left, and of course, Batopillas still doesn’t have a nice Pemex station, despite all those new trucks around. We resorted to asking around and were directed to the local entrepreneur selling gas out of his house in five gallon jugs. We bought ten questionable (and rather strange smelling) gallons and he calmly siphoned them by mouth into our tank.

Next we wandered around the town for a bit, but finding no good restaurants or very friendly people (just like 2004) we got outta there and went down-river the 8km to the infamous Lost Mission at Satevo. Along the way we pulled over and Kat cooked up a really yummy chicken in tomatillo sauce concoction that was way better than any restaurant in these parts. The mission itself is in much better condition than it was in 2004. The large crack that was slowly breaking the main dome in half has been repaired and the whole exterior has a new surface. Still, the locals weren’t friendly and the place was locked up (just like 2004). It still felt kinda creepy so we took the picture and got outta there too. Seems like a great place to spend four days getting to right? Like many parts of this trip will be, it’s about the journey, not the destination.

Where’s Charlotte? Look closely. Remember the game Where’s Waldo? This is Big Country

Where’s Charlotte? Look closely. Remember the game Where’s Waldo? This is Big Country


Not a bad view from your living room. The mountains were doted everywhere with these red roofed homes belonging to the native Tarahumara Indians who have inhabited the Copper Canyon area for centuries.

Not a bad view from your living room. The mountains were doted everywhere with these red roofed homes belonging to the native Tarahumara Indians who have inhabited the Copper Canyon area for centuries.


Every night during our week in the Barranca Del Cobre we had an incre’dible full moon. Our fourth night before Batopillas was no exception.

Every night during our week in the Barranca Del Cobre we had an incre’dible full moon. Our fourth night before Batopillas was no exception.


Soaring with the spirits of great runners.  The Copper Canyon area (Barranca del Cobre) is home to the Tarahumara people who are known for their ability to run long distances on steep, rocky terrain in light, handmade sandals. This amazing running prowess was illuminated in the book, "Born to Run" by Christopher McDougall, and helped promote the concept of barefoot running and minimal shoes.  Although I was not on some gnarly goat trail, and I forgot to wear my running sandals , I was nonetheless awed and humbled to be flying along here on the wings of such amazing athletes.

Soaring with the spirits of great runners.
The Copper Canyon area (Barranca del Cobre) is home to the Tarahumara people who are known for their ability to run long distances on steep, rocky terrain in light, handmade sandals. This amazing running prowess was illuminated in the book, “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall, and helped promote the concept of barefoot running and minimal shoes. Although I was not on some gnarly goat trail, and I forgot to wear my running sandals , I was nonetheless awed and humbled to be flying along here on the wings of such amazing athletes.


Down, down our final switchback pass to Batopillas. We’ve almost made it after five days of continuous awesome dirt roads.

Down, down our final switchback pass to Batopillas. We’ve almost made it after five days of continuous awesome dirt roads.


Slight overhang on that cliff there. How DID they cut these roads?

Slight overhang on that cliff there. How DID they cut these roads?


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Crossing the Rio Batopillas, Charlotte got a much needed bath.

Crossing the Rio Batopillas, Charlotte got a much needed bath.


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So we decided we otta clean up a bit too. Our hot water shower, heated by Charlotte’s engine, is awesome when we can find unlimited clean water to run through it.

So we decided we otta clean up a bit too. Our hot water shower, heated by Charlotte’s engine, is awesome when we can find unlimited clean water to run through it.


This colorful Tarahumara gal and her little one were hanging out along the river near where we entertained everyone with our shower.

This colorful Tarahumara gal and her little one were hanging out along the river near where we entertained everyone with our shower.


Entering the quaint old silver mining town of Batobillas.

Entering the quaint old silver mining town of Batobillas.


Human gas pump in downtown Batopillas.

Human gas pump in downtown Batopillas.


Ornate iron bandstand in the Plaza de Armas, downtown Batopillas.

Ornate iron bandstand in the Plaza de Armas, downtown Batopillas.


A Tarahumara grandma and her granddaughter in Batopillas. The little girl is clutching a pink toy we had just given her.

A Tarahumara grandma and her granddaughter in Batopillas. The little girl is clutching a pink toy we had just given her.


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Open air repair shop. No need for a tool box or work bench. As mentioned in the text, there were lots of flooded trucks in Batopillas. Here a Ford’s transmission is drained of water and a once fancy Chevy interior is left out to dry.

Open air repair shop. No need for a tool box or work bench. As mentioned in the text, there were lots of flooded trucks in Batopillas. Here a Ford’s transmission is drained of water and a once fancy Chevy interior is left out to dry.


Waiting for something to happen in Batopillas.

Waiting for something to happen in Batopillas.


Across the river from the main town of Batopillas lie the ruins of Hacienda de San Miguel. It was once the main homestead and offices of American, Alexander Shepherd, the driving force behind the 1890s silver mining operation and the building of the town. Today it is a reminder of the grandeur of the past; a stark contrast to the run down town one sees today.

Across the river from the main town of Batopillas lie the ruins of Hacienda de San Miguel. It was once the main homestead and offices of American, Alexander Shepherd, the driving force behind the 1890s silver mining operation and the building of the town. Today it is a reminder of the grandeur of the past; a stark contrast to the run down town one sees today.


Our goal finally reached! The Lost Mission at Satevo looks quite out of place compared to the surrounding structures in these canyons.

Our goal finally reached! The Lost Mission at Satevo looks quite out of place compared to the surrounding structures in these canyons.


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Some trees just really wanna live!

Some trees just really wanna live!

We backtracked through Batopillas and hit the 90 miles towards Creel. But the fun wasn’t over. In 2004 this run had been a dirt road along the river and a big batch of switchbacks leading up to the rim and out to civilization. The road had been rough but nothing like what we’d just come through. This time, shortly out of town we hit… pavement! It was nice new pavement with gutters, sliced mountain sides, a white line, the whole bit. It lasted long enough that we started taking bets on how far it would go. Then the slides started. Did I mention there were signs it had rained recently? Words can’t describe what we saw. Check out the pictures. What was once another beautiful canyon with a small road, has been decimated with a tremendous gash that runs its length with huge land-fills and slices through mountainsides. But the worst part appears to be a total lack of stabilization engineering. Just months after being cut, these mountainsides are crashing down onto the fancy new ribbon of tar, making this journey much more frightening than any cliff-side we had recently negotiated. We stupidly stopped and took pictures, wondering when the next rock would come crashing down to squash the three of us. Once it got dark it got even better. The finished road ended and the construction site began. There was nowhere to pull over and camp, as men and machines were running at full tilt, trying to finish the mess they’d started while mother nature was coming along right behind them and undoing it all. We were stuck right in the middle. For a while it felt like I was driving through a huge gravel pit on the edge of a cliff, dodging Euclids and Catapillars; earth shaking creatures of the night with blinding eyes, trying to devour the damned tourists in the hippy bus.

Finally this man-made hell spit us out on top of the rim and deposited us back on the old paved road I recalled from 2004. It was still 70km to Creel. We found a spot in the trees to hide and welcomed the peace and quiet of the night. The next morning, heading towards Creel, I shifted into fourth gear for the first time in five days and reflected that for three of them, I hadn’t gotten out of 2nd! We rolled into Creel around 10am and gave Charlotte a breakfast of proper Pemex Premium. Next we cruised Main for our own breakfast. Creel is a rather large, rather dirty, little railroad town whose main claim to fame is being a jumping off point for tourists on tours bound for Copper Canyon. We dodged the usual crap fair goods for sale on the sidewalks and had a decent brekky in a place with menus in English – always a bad sign that you’ve strayed too far toward the beaten path.

So beat it we did, down the pavement and back towards the coast. We made a quick detour to Basaseachi Falls, the third highest waterfall in North America. In 2004 it appeared to be the swiftest waterfall in N. America, but this time it couldn’t have won a pissing contest at a Fifty Year high school reunion.
Mexico Highway 16 though, I’ll put up against any windy road in the world for the having the most turns and shortest straights for over 250km. It is relentless. In a fun car it would be amazing. Someone needs to put on a rally here. Charlotte was rarely out of 2nd or 3rd gear all day but she seemed to be savoring her Premium. Her gas gauge was barely moving. We camped another uneventful night hidden up a logging road and arrived in Ciudad Obregon around noon the next day. A Wall Mart and a Home Depot were the first signs to greet us. Back in the real world, uggh. On to Mazatlan…

The rest of the day was a steady slog south-ward, down the same toll road we had bailed off of six days before. The biggest event of the afternoon was watching Charlotte’s odometer and gas gauge compete with each other. Her mileage on that Creel gas was amazing. She went from her worst tank ever to her best tank ever, back to back! The worst was 82 miles on 10 gallons. The best ended up being 338mi on 18 gallons. A normal tank is 250-260 miles tops. Hummm, don’t know if she likes or hates this new lifestyle but she has been a Swiss Watch since receiving her new alternator. I’m down with the good vibes.

By the time we passed through Los Mochis, the town just inland from Topolobampo were we got off the ferry, it was dark again. The traffic was hell with trucks and buses weaving all over and cops flying by with lights ablaze (I think they just do it for fun or to let you know they’re around). Every type and condition of car, from speeding new Cameros to smoking Bugs and beat pickups, were clamoring for limited road space. It was the kind of driving conditions that warrant the don’t-drive-at-night rule. But there was nowhere to pull off. Shops, shacks, sheds, trucks, dogs, donkeys, trucks, cars, trucks, barricades, flashing lights, loud music, trucks. I drove on, and on. Suddenly we spied a MOTEL sign on the opposite side of the divided highway. Yes! There would be no camping tonight. There couldn’t be. After three more km up the road there was a hole in the divider. U-turn. We headed for one of the most bizarre motel setups we’ve ever seen. We pulled in through a big arch and followed a tight driveway to a gate with a sliding slot-like box protruding out of the wall next to it. Suddenly a woman’s voice screamed at us from a loudspeaker hidden in the overhead rafters. Not understanding Screaming Spanish, I yelled back that we wanted a room and did anyone in the wall speak English? Eventually a fat guy with a dangling cigarette and a dirty, wife-beater T-shirt (tank top) appeared with a clipboard and asked us how many hours we wanted. “Oh, a No-Tell Motel,” Kat chirped. We told him “Toda la noche” and he relieved us of 270 pesos (about $23) for presumably the whole night. “Key?” “No,no, just go park in the garage next to 106.” As I drove under the now open gate I noticed the sign read 270p = 6 horas. Hummmm. Could be a short night. It got better. We drove down a narrow lane with garage doors and little windows lining both sides. We stopped at 106 as an automatic garage door opener exposed what lay inside. Charlotte was too tall to fit under the roof, so we parked alongside and entered the dark cavern. There was an unlocked door at the back of the garage that opened into a surprisingly clean and cheery room, complete with Greco-Roman ceiling soffits. We moved in, marveling at the lazy-Susan-like canister build into the outside wall, presumably for when the wife-beater comes ‘round at 2am and announces “times up or pay up.” Despite the plastic sheets and tepid shower water, we slept. No one spun the Susan-thingy. In the morning we worked on this blog before the phone rang and a nice calm voice told us it was time to leave. The gate was open for us and we puttered out of the compound and once again joined the hellish traffic towards Mazatlan, still 390 miles south.

The traffic eventually let up until there was practically no one on the four lane road. However, the expensive toll booths never did, and by late afternoon, as we approached the tourist Mecca of Mazatlan, we were flat out of pesos.

We had planned our arrival in Mazatlan to coincide with the vacation plans of my old travel buddy, Ian from B.C. Canada. He and his family were staying at a fancy resort for two weeks along the beach just north of downtown. Seemed like a good address to head to. Mr. Garmin, now completely in his element, lead us straight there. We bribed our way in to the gated compound with promises of renting the most expensive suite and staying a month. Once past the guards, we rolled past groomed grounds and spewing fountains as gardeners grimaced and pasty skinned, plump patrons shrunk back in fear. Charlotte, with her dead cow head leading the way, roared up and around the pristine concierge’s roundabout in a cloud of self induced dust and screeched to a halt. We had arrived at our next adventure.

Ya think?

Ya think?


Forget the dangerous curve, watch the landslide!

Forget the dangerous curve, watch the landslide!


Forget about rocks falling, how about the whole mountain !?!

Forget about rocks falling, how about the whole mountain !?!

The Ferry Crossing – Red Tape 101

Victory over bureaucracy!  It took nearly three hours, but we finally had everything we needed to board the ferry.

Victory over bureaucracy! It took nearly three hours, but we finally had everything we needed to board the ferry.

Saturday January 11, 2014; La Paz, Baja California
We awoke with excitement bright and early in our room at the Hotel Marina. Today we were catching the ferry to cross the Sea of Cortes to Mainland Mexico. Today we were leaving familiar territory behind and venturing into the unknown.

When we were in La Paz prior to going to Los Barriles, we had driven out to the ferry terminal to scope out the whole process. It all looked pretty straight forward. The woman at the ticket counter told us that the ferry to Topolobampo left Monday through Saturday at 2:30 and that we should arrive three hours ahead.

We enjoyed a leisurely morning with breakfast and final showers, packed up and eagerly headed out to the docks. We pulled in promptly at 11:30, strolled up to the ticket counter to buy our tickets only to discover that the Saturday ferry did not leave at 2:30; it left at 11:00…at night. Thus began our introduction to Mexican bureaucracy.

We stepped away from the counter to discuss our options. 1. We could wait until Monday so we could do the crossing during the day (we were told it was a fun party and we weren’t excited about a red-eye trip); 2. We could go to the beach to hang out for the day then take the 11:00; or 3. We could go back to our hotel and have cervezas by the pool where we would also have internet. Poolside at the hotel won, but first we figured we might as well buy our tickets for tonight’s ferry since we were already here.

Charlotte had to get weighed and measured for ticket classification.  For some reason theses nice guys at the scales decided to flatter her and wrote “coche” (car) on the little piece of paper instead of a the big “autobus” that she really is, saving us a bunch of pesos.

Charlotte had to get weighed and measured for ticket classification. For some reason theses nice guys at the scales decided to flatter her and wrote “coche” (car) on the little piece of paper instead of a the big “autobus” that she really is, saving us a bunch of pesos.

Back at the ticket counter, the nice young lady did not speak any English, but we gleaned that she could not sell us tickets (one for each of us and one for Charlotte) until we had Charlotte weighed and measured. It turns out that the price for a vehicle depends on the size and weight. In this case, would she be considered a minibus which was 6,000 pesos ($480) or a passenger car which was only about 2,000 pesos, and we needed some slip of paper to tell the ticket lady which. Sadly, we were pretty sure at over 6,000lbs she would be a minibus. Okay, where do we do that?

For some unknown reason the scale place was ensconced behind a gated area, and we had to pass through the customs check to get there. Unfortunately, in order to get through customs, we were informed by a federal official with an automatic rifle, that we needed a permit before we could go through customs.

“A permit?”
“ What kind of permit?”
“A temporary permit”.
“You mean our car registration?”
“No, the temporary permit!”
“Okay, where do we get that?”
“At the bank, back by the ticket counter.”

Really? Okay, back over to the terminal building. Fortunately, we found the bank easily and the woman at the counter spoke perfect English and was very helpful. In 2011, Mexico began requiring vehicles entering the country to obtain a “Carne de Passage,” a bond of sorts, which is returned upon exiting the country. Many countries require these to make sure automobiles are not brought in illegally for either sale or use, and we have heard that some countries demand a deposit of up to ten times the value of the car. Mexico was asking for $200 which wasn’t awful, but then our helpful cashier said that she needed not only our visas (which fortunately we had gotten at the Tecate border), but also copies of our visas which we did not have. Prior to leaving the US we had made about 80 copies of each of our travel documents for future border crossings, so we were prepared to give her copies of Ned’s passport and Charlotte’s registration, but not the visas.

“So do you have a copy machine?”
“No, you have to go over to the administration office around the corner….”

Waiting 4 hours in line at the ferry terminal to the sensory accompaniment of motor fumes and diesel rumblings.

Waiting 4 hours in line at the ferry terminal to the sensory accompaniment of motor fumes and diesel rumblings.

Getting the copies was no big deal, just another 20 minutes, then back to our friend at the bank with (we hoped) everything we needed. She took it all and 15 minutes later we emerged victoriously with our “temporary visa.” Now could we please get Charlotte weighed so we could get tickets?

We proudly presented our temporary visa to the gun toting federal agent at the customs gate who started out being very stern, but turned out to have gone to school in Sacramento, California. We had him laughing with us shortly as he inspected the car and asked the appropriate questions. We were almost all set to go when he said one of us had to push this button which was supposed to randomly select if we could go on or if we had to go through “revision,” which is a REALLY thorough inspection of everything in the car. Ned is an absolute master at packing a lot of stuff in small spaces so the prospect of going through “revision” was a little unsettling. They both pointed to me, and I had to push the stupid thing. And, yes, I drew a “revision.” By now we were buds with the federale dude, and he told us he had to go through the motions because they had cameras watching him. It was not bad at all. 10 minutes later we were at the scales, finally…where we got asked for another fee…

There were about six guys milling around the scale booth, none of which spoke any English. We told them we needed our piece of paper classifying Charlotte so we could buy her a ticket. We joked with them, saying “Es un coche, sí? No es un minibus!” (It’s car, right? Not a minibus!”). He laughed back and then told us we had to pay him 53 pesos.

“Porqué?” “Why”
“Para continuar” “To go on”
“Pero qué es?” “But What is it”
“Es por la puerta” It’s a port fee.
“Pero no vamos en la ferry hasta mas tarde, no ahora!” “But we’re not going on the ferry until later, not right now!”

With a promise to pay later we left with our little scrap of paper which read “coche.” Olé!
Now, how do we get out of this restricted area so we could go buy our tickets and sit by pool?

We were directed to an exit off to the side of the huge loading yard which came complete with a military checkpoint. Military checkpoints are scattered throughout Mexico and normally, these are no big deal as long as you are polite, friendly, remove your sunglasses and are not carrying guns or drugs. The 12 year olds carrying AK47’s who man these stations are just kids after all. But this time was not normal. Our “greeter” was probably about 18 and told me I had to get out and walk to the other end. Getting out of the car so they can inspect it is normal. Being separated from Ned is not. My heart sped up just a bit, but I dutifully walked the 100ft or so as told. I did not, however, stay put. When Ned drove forward to be inspected, I walked up and explained in Spanish to another teenager with an automatic rifle that we were not getting off of the ferry; we had not even gotten on the ferry; we were not getting on the ferry until 11:00 that night, and we were only getting weighed so we could buy our tickets for the 11:00 ferry. With a confused expression on his face, he took pity and waved us through.

By the time we got back to the ticket booth it was 2:00. (I guess that’s why they tell you to get there three hours early.) The girl at the counter took our money, our passports and our little piece of paper and disappeared. We waited…and waited. In the meantime semi trucks already being loaded onto our ferry were clattering by not 15 ft away. The ground shook with their passing, and the ear splitting, brain rattling noise echoed between two concrete buildings adding to the whole chaotic experience. Ned finally used his 6ft of height to lean through the window to see what was going on. Apparently the copier had malfunctioned and the poor girl was staring at it, head in hands, with a look of total exasperation. Minutes dragged by. The now completely flustered ticket girl made several frantic phone calls and then continued to pointlessly poke at the machine. One of the proddings must have finally worked as the beaming girl appeared at the window waving our tickets.

The beers weren’t getting any colder at the pool, so at 3:00, our hard-won tickets in hand, we got in Charlotte for the drive back to the hotel. We noticed, however, that not only were the semis being loaded, but lots of cars and smaller trucks were lining up. Were they waiting for our 11:00 ferry? We asked an official looking woman who emphatically told us that we had to line up now. Evidently the boat often fills early leaving some on the dock without a spot. “Even if we have our tickets?” we asked. “Yes! You should get in line now!” Having jumped through bureaucratic hoops to get out of the secure loading area, we now had to get back in. Fortunately our friend at customs was still on duty, and we got through without a hitch; Ned pushed the button this time and drew the lucky green light.

Although waiting around in line at the ferry terminal to the sensory accompaniment of motor fumes and diesel rumblings, doesn’t quite compare to a poolside respite, having your house with you at all times does have its advantages. We had our own cold beer. We opened a couple, made friends with the guy in front of us and gave him one. We eventually lay on the bed, settling in to read and nap away the next eight hours.

I made friends with two delightful Mexican kids who had lived in Canada for six years and spoke perfect English.  Roxanne, 12 yrs old and Obed, 10, were traveling with their parents to a small pueblo on the mainland to live with relatives.  Roxanne loves to read, has aspirations to become a writer and dreams of traveling.

I made friends with two delightful Mexican kids who had lived in Canada for six years and spoke perfect English. Roxanne, 12 yrs old and Obed, 10, were traveling with their parents to a small pueblo on the mainland to live with relatives. Roxanne loves to read, has aspirations to become a writer and dreams of traveling.

At 7:30 someone knocked on our window and told us it was time to go load up. Yippee! We were getting on the ferry early! Then it all went hay-wire. I was told to get out, that only one person could drive the car onto the boat. Fortunately I had my daypack prepared for the overnight trip since we would not have access to Charlotte once we boarded. I grabbed it as I was unceremoniously deposited onto the pavement while Ned drove off with the house. Now what was I supposed to do? I asked around and was told to stay in the passenger waiting area until we could board at 9:30. No comforts of home now. The next two hours stretched monotonously in front of me. Ned was probably already on the ferry, sitting in some comfortable lounge!

It wasn’t really that bad. I made friends with two delightful Mexican kids who had lived in Canada for six years and spoke perfect English. Roxanne, 12 yrs old and Obed, 10, were traveling with their parents to a small pueblo on the mainland to live with relatives. Roxanne loves to read, has aspirations to become a writer and dreams of traveling. I gave her my contact information hoping she will have enough access to internet to follow our blog and keep in touch. I wish for her all that she dreams of.

At 9:30 I boarded with no problem and ran right into Ned. Contrary to my annoyed musings, he had to wait sitting in the driver’s seat in a holding area for the two hours and had only just come aboard himself. Being our typical cheap selves, we had opted to not get a cabin for the overnight ride. Certainly we could tough it out for one night. We ate an unmemorable meal in the cafeteria and then sat in the lounge where vintage MTV music videos were being shown on big screen TV’s. They were actually rather entertaining despite the brain pounding volume, and we were quite enjoying ourselves until the bartender decided that his patrons, who were mostly truck drivers, would rather watch boxing. Now we were treated to the unmelodious screaming of bloodthirsty fans at maximum volume and took our cue to go find somewhere to pass the rest of the night.

I got up from my (three airplane-type seats across) bed to watch a beautiful dawn break as we pulled in to Topolobampo.

I got up from my (three airplane-type seats across) bed to watch a beautiful dawn break as we pulled in to Topolobampo.

After scouring every public corner of the ship and despite the crowded quarters (there were people sleeping all over the floors) we were both able to score three airplane-style seats across in a sitting area where they were showing the movie, Lord of the Rings, at only half volume. We drifted in and out of sleep in various positions and degrees of discomfort to the hideous repetition of “Preeeeecious!”

With my head resting on the lumpy backpack and a chair edge digging into my ribs, I reflected on the day. It was funny, but not that bad, and all of the people we dealt with were very friendly. This was just a ferry. Putting Charlotte in a shipping container to another continent was really going to put us through our bureaucratic paces. But that’s what this trip is all about; going places we’ve never gone and doing things we’ve never done…red tape and all.

A Big Circle and a Long Tail…

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Greetings from La Paz…again!

Having discovered that the shipment (to the hotel in La Paz) of our stock alternator was delayed by 5 days, Ned and I decided to drive south to the quaint little town of Los Barriles on the Sea of Cortez. Our friends, Spence and Carlee Rauber live down there in the winter, so it was a good chance to spend some time with them. We had a wonderful couple of days eating lots of good food, walking on the beach, and enjoying their wonderful company.

We left Los Barriles on the morning of Monday the 6th, but rather than drive the highway north, we enjoyed 78 miles of incredibly scenic dirt roads, heading south, then west toward Todos Santos, and finally ending up making a great circle back to La Paz.

Amazingly, our package was waiting for us in the hotel lobby when we arrived later that evening. We were not thrilled to be in La Paz (which is a big, noisy city) for another night, and our goal was to replace the alternator first thing in the morning, stock up on fuel, food and water and then head out camping in the wilderness for the next three nights. Not feeling the need to get a hotel room, we pulled the first of what will probably be many stealth overnight stays. Charlotte tip-toed into the side parking lot of a nice hotel and we crawled into bed in the back and spent an undisturbed (and free!) night.

Bright and early the next morning, we tip-toed out of the hotel parking lot and headed for the Walmart parking lot where Ned performed the alternator retrofit. Now totally sick of being urban parking lot rats, we ran our errands and took off for the wild country.

We headed north along a dirt road which literally hugs the Sea of Cortez coast for 30 miles and spent a heavenly night and half of the next day camping, walking and swimming on a completely deserted beach. Around 2pm the next day, we pried ourselves off of the beach and headed inland, driving through some more spectacular country. We spent the second night camping in a lovely canyon, drove a bit further the next day to a little village called Las Animas, then turned around and headed back the same way. The third night (last night) we camped at yet another deserted beach and then grimaced as we had to drive back into La Paz. All told, our out-and-back “tail” was 168 miles of remote dirt roads and Charlotte ran beautifully.

As I am writing this, we are nicely ensconced in a non-pretentious hotel with all the necessities: A MUCH needed hot shower, a clean bed, and wifi! Tomorrow at 2:00 we ship out on the ferry; we are ready to take on the Mainland!

On our big circle…from the Sea of Cortez to the Pacific Ocean (pictured out on the horizon) and back!

On our big circle…from the Sea of Cortez to the Pacific Ocean (pictured out on the horizon) and back!

One way to survive the harsh Baja desert.

One way to survive the harsh Baja desert.

A bathroom break in a sandy wash that turned into a mini-siesta.

A bathroom break in a sandy wash that turned into a mini-siesta.

An interesting passerby!

An interesting passerby!

Alternator fixed and on our way to our first beach camp. Beautiful pink and green rocks and a spooky overhanging cliff…

Alternator fixed and on our way to our first beach camp.
Beautiful pink and green rocks and a spooky overhanging cliff…

The “watermelon” cliffs went for miles and miles.

The “watermelon” cliffs went for miles and miles.

Lucky me…I get to go for a run…

Lucky me…I get to go for a run…

While Ned makes me breakfast!

While Ned makes me breakfast!

Yumm!  Nothing like bacon and cheesey eggs on the beach.

Yumm! Nothing like bacon and cheesey eggs on the beach.

Where did you get that red jacket!? We saw many of these beautiful birds with white chests, so this red one was a great surprise.

Where did you get that red jacket!?
We saw many of these beautiful birds with white chests, so this red one was a great surprise.

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Can you hear me now?

Can you hear me now?

How about now?

How about now?

Ok, got it!

Ok, got it!

Awwww….

Awwww….

The Pelican Quartet

The Pelican Quartet

And a solo

And a solo

Morning at the canyon camp…Ned gets his workout tightening the alternator belt, while our new mascot looks on…

Morning at the canyon camp…Ned gets his workout tightening the alternator belt, while our new mascot looks on…

  …and I get my workout jumping rope!

…and I get my workout jumping rope!

Inland we found more pink and green cliffs and  small “ranchos” nestled inside these palm oasis.

Inland we found more pink and green cliffs and small “ranchos” nestled inside these palm oasis.

Giving out “dulces” to some very excited school children.  Interestingly, we also had pens with us, and the kids were even more excited about those than the sweets.

Giving out “dulces” to some very excited school children. Interestingly, we also had pens with us, and the kids were even more excited about those than the sweets.

A typical home in one of the ranchos

A typical home in one of the ranchos

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A really long commute.

A really long commute.

Heading back south toward La Paz again to finish our out-and-back “tail.” Tomorrow we leave the familiarity of Baja behind and board the ferry to mainland Mexico.  We are looking forward to the adventure of the unknown…

Heading back south toward La Paz again to finish our out-and-back “tail.”
Tomorrow we leave the familiarity of Baja behind and board the ferry to mainland Mexico. We are looking forward to the adventure of the unknown…

Oops! These two pictures got left out!

Ralph was one of the wonderful recipients of our Christmas deliveries.  There wasn’t a dry eye among us as we listened to his story and how much this visit meant to him.  It was great having the Hoyle and Balda kids along to help.

Ralph was one of the wonderful recipients of our Christmas deliveries. There wasn’t a dry eye among us as we listened to his story and how much this visit meant to him. It was great having the Hoyle and Balda kids along to help.

Who needs a mall? A clever roving “shopkeeper” arrived as we enjoyed the beach at Bahia Concepcion and began to pull colorful Mexican goods out of his van.  The girls were hooked like fish on a line within minutes.

Who needs a mall? A clever roving “shopkeeper” arrived as we enjoyed the beach at Bahia Concepcion and began to pull colorful Mexican goods out of his van. The girls were hooked like fish on a line within minutes.

Happy New Year from La Paz!

Charlotte and the GoWesty Gang heading out from Agua Verde, where we camped on the gorgeous (and totally deserted)  beach for 4 nights. We have traveled with Lucas many times in Baja and Charlotte always stands out as the only one not sporting a Westfalia pop-up top. Happy New Year everyone!  After 12 days on the road and almost 2,000 miles we finally have (somewhat) reliable wifi and are able to get a blog done.  It’s been an amazing trip already and we haven’t even left Baja.   At 6am, December 21st, right on schedule, Ned and I looked at each other in the pre-dawn dark of the bus, gulped a couple of times and said goodbye to all the comforts of home.  The future was now an immense unknown.  I felt this crazy fluctuation of feelings bouncing around somewhere between the anticipation of elated excitement and the apprehension of sheer terror.  But how incredibly fortunate we were; the road ahead was not so much a black hole as a blank canvas. Our first stop was Placerville, California where we joined the Flat-Fender Jeep Club for our annual Christmas tradition of delivering food and good cheer to some wonderful, elderly people who needed it very much.  Then, for the next 3 days we drove south through California enjoying wonderful visits and tearful send-off’s with friends and family. At 11pm on December 23, we met up with Lucas Valdes, the owner of GoWesty (all things Westfalia Camper Van) and his gang of 9 people and 4 Westfalia Syncro Vans.  Of course, we barely made it to the campground just outside of the Tecate border crossing into Baja, but we will let the pictures tell the story from here…

Charlotte and the GoWesty Gang heading out from Agua Verde, where we camped on the gorgeous (and totally deserted) beach for 4 nights. We have traveled with Lucas many times in Baja and Charlotte always stands out as the only one not sporting a Westfalia pop-up top.
Happy New Year everyone! After 12 days on the road and almost 2,000 miles we finally have (somewhat) reliable wifi and are able to get a blog done. It’s been an amazing trip already and we haven’t even left Baja.
At 6am, December 21st, right on schedule, Ned and I looked at each other in the pre-dawn dark of the bus, gulped a couple of times and said goodbye to all the comforts of home. The future was now an immense unknown. I felt this crazy fluctuation of feelings bouncing around somewhere between the anticipation of elated excitement and the apprehension of sheer terror. But how incredibly fortunate we were; the road ahead was not so much a black hole as a blank canvas.
Our first stop was Placerville, California where we joined the Flat-Fender Jeep Club for our annual Christmas tradition of delivering food and good cheer to some wonderful, elderly people who needed it very much. Then, for the next 3 days we drove south through California enjoying wonderful visits and tearful send-off’s with friends and family.
At 11pm on December 23, we met up with Lucas Valdes, the owner of GoWesty (all things Westfalia Camper Van) and his gang of 9 people and 4 Westfalia Syncro Vans. Of course, we barely made it to the campground just outside of the Tecate border crossing into Baja, but we will let the pictures tell the story from here…

Around Long Beach on our night time drive to the border, we noticed our voltage was dropping and realized our alternator wasn’t charging. This was the forth time we’ve lost an alternator which is part of the Premier Power Welder system we have installed on Charlotte. The company has been great in supplying warrantee replacements, but Ace Alternator, who builds the custom, high output alternators for them, doesn’t seem to be able to build one that will last. Very frustrating. We managed to make it to the campground at the Tecate border crossing on battery power alone. The next morning I installed our only spare at the campground. I also made the decision to give up on running the welder and ordered a stock Bosch alternator and new brackets to be shipped to us in La Paz.

Around Long Beach on our night time drive to the border, we noticed our voltage was dropping and realized our alternator wasn’t charging. This was the forth time we’ve lost an alternator which is part of the Premier Power Welder system we have installed on Charlotte. The company has been great in supplying warrantee replacements, but Ace Alternator, who builds the custom, high output alternators for them, doesn’t seem to be able to build one that will last. Very frustrating. We managed to make it to the campground at the Tecate border crossing on battery power alone.
The next morning I installed our only spare at the campground. I also made the decision to give up on running the welder and ordered a stock Bosch alternator and new brackets to be shipped to us in La Paz.

Having made it across the border on our spare alternator, we spent Christmas camping near Laguna Hanson (which looks a lot like Tahoe and nearly as cold!) in northern Baja.

Having made it across the border on our spare alternator, we spent Christmas camping near Laguna Hanson (which looks a lot like Tahoe and nearly as cold!) in northern Baja.

Crossing the Diablo Dry Lake, a staple section of both the NORRA Mexican 1000 and the SCORE Baja 1000.  Dry lake beds are beautiful, vast, open and silent (when you’re not racing through!).

Crossing the Diablo Dry Lake, a staple section of both the NORRA Mexican 1000 and the SCORE Baja 1000. Dry lake beds are beautiful, vast, open and silent (when you’re not racing through!).

Kat speaking: “Baja, a beer and a good looking man…does it get any better?”

Kat speaking: “Baja, a beer and a good looking man…does it get any better?”

The whole gang on the way to Gonzaga Bay and yummy fish tacos at Alfonisa’s.

The whole gang on the way to Gonzaga Bay and yummy fish tacos at Alfonisa’s.

On December 27, we stopped for the night at Serenida, a lovely old resort in Mulege.  We drank lots of great margaritas, ate lots of good food and took much needed showers.

On December 27, we stopped for the night at Serenida, a lovely old resort in Mulege. We drank lots of great margaritas, ate lots of good food and took much needed showers.

What else do you do on a beautiful beach in Bahia Concepcion?

What else do you do on a beautiful beach in Bahia Concepcion?

Ok, that’s better!

Ok, that’s better!

On the dirt road leading to Agua Verde, a tiny, remote fishing village south of Mulege.

On the dirt road leading to Agua Verde, a tiny, remote fishing village south of Mulege.

The dirt road to Agua Verde is one of our favorites.  It is steep, winding, and incredibly picturesque.  It was nearing twilight as we descended, but still beautiful.

The dirt road to Agua Verde is one of our favorites. It is steep, winding, and incredibly picturesque. It was nearing twilight as we descended, but still beautiful.

One of the many deserted beaches near the village.

One of the many deserted beaches near the village.

At the village of Agua Verde we asked around and were able to score a beautiful Yellow Tail which fed 9 people for two nights.  Yumm!

At the village of Agua Verde we asked around and were able to score a beautiful Yellow Tail which fed 9 people for two nights. Yumm!

Greg made amazing ceviche on the first night on the beach near the village…not bad for camping food!

Greg made amazing ceviche on the first night on the beach near the village…not bad for camping food!

Words just can’t express…

Words just can’t express…

Shell shots anyone?

Shell shots anyone?

A second wave of butterflies hit me as we parted ways with our GoWesty pals.  They headed back north…home…we headed ever southward, on our own.

A second wave of butterflies hit me as we parted ways with our GoWesty pals. They headed back north…home…we headed ever southward, on our own.

Mexican McGuiver. Besides these Ace Alternators just quitting, they also vibrate like hell at around 3000 rpm where Charlotte likes to run. This vibration has caused our mounting brackets to crack and break multiple times. (and is probably leading to the alternator’s failure) This is my last “fix” using Vice Gripes and tie wire (thank you Allen Hewett) to hold it all together. Its lasted 250 miles! The booger weld was done with a borrowed buzz box in Mulege, 400 miles ago. It’s pretty bad when one carries a welder but has to borrow one to weld on his own, broken, welding equipment.

Mexican McGuiver. Besides these Ace Alternators just quitting, they also vibrate like hell at around 3000 rpm where Charlotte likes to run. This vibration has caused our mounting brackets to crack and break multiple times. (and is probably leading to the alternator’s failure) This is my last “fix” using Vice Gripes and tie wire (thank you Allen Hewett) to hold it all together. Its lasted 250 miles! The booger weld was done with a borrowed buzz box in Mulege, 400 miles ago. It’s pretty bad when one carries a welder but has to borrow one to weld on his own, broken, welding equipment.

Huh?  Did you ever expect us to stay at a place like this?  Yes, it’s a little over the top, but not a bad view from our room as I prepared this blog!  This is the Grand Plaza Hotel in La Paz where we had GoWesty ship our parts to retrofit a stock alternator to Charlotte.  The only place we could think of to have the parts sent, was to this hotel, which is the La Paz headquarters for the NORRA race where we have stayed several times while racing.  We got a room here to make it convenient to receive our package.  Unfortunately, the parts, scheduled to arrive yesterday the 2nd, will now not be here until Monday the 6th (maybe).  Bummer, what do we do for the next 4 days in beautiful, sunny southern Baja?  We were originally going to make the repairs then go explore some gorgeous remote canyons north of La Paz that we raced through in 2012.  There we would have camped a couple of nights and tested the new alternator setup before heading to the mainland on the ferry.  Now we need to decide if we are going to risk the canyons with our jerry-rigged, iffy alternator…the adventure continues…

Huh? Did you ever expect us to stay at a place like this? Yes, it’s a little over the top, but not a bad view from our room as I prepared this blog! This is the Grand Plaza Hotel in La Paz where we had GoWesty ship our parts to retrofit a stock alternator to Charlotte. The only place we could think of to have the parts sent, was to this hotel, which is the La Paz headquarters for the NORRA race where we have stayed several times while racing. We got a room here to make it convenient to receive our package. Unfortunately, the parts, scheduled to arrive yesterday the 2nd, will now not be here until Monday the 6th (maybe). Bummer, what do we do for the next 4 days in beautiful, sunny southern Baja? We were originally going to make the repairs then go explore some gorgeous remote canyons north of La Paz that we raced through in 2012. There we would have camped a couple of nights and tested the new alternator setup before heading to the mainland on the ferry. Now we need to decide if we are going to risk the canyons with our jerry-rigged, iffy alternator…the adventure continues…