Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Candles as far as the eye can see!

Studying our Baja route via Google maps, I knew we’d be driving through the very large Valle de los Cirios (Valley of the Candles) nature preserve.  At a gigantic 9,737 square miles, it’s Mexico’s largest land-based protected area, and is simply incomprehensible how vast it really is until you begin to traverse it in-person. 


Once you finally reach this park’s southern border (and think you’re now back to civilization),  you quickly begin crossing another large park, the Vizcaíno Biosphere Reserve (Reserva de la Biosfera de El Vizcaíno), which protects numerous islands, lagoons and marine life in addition to volcanoes, sand dunes, and desert lands.  Together, the 2 parks consume a whopping 1/3 of the entire 1,000-mile Baja peninsula!

Our 490-mile route from Ensenada to San Ignacio took us 2 full days of driving to cross these parks driving along the very, VERY narrow (but paved) Baja Highway 1.  While one can easily drive 500 miles a day in the U.S., on the Baja during the shorter days of winter,  250 miles a day is about the best one can do driving an RV!


Starting our drive on Day 1 from our camp overlooking the Pacific ocean, I got to lead the way back around Ensenada bay to Baja Highway 1.  It was cloudy most of the day, so not great for picture-taking, but that was o.k. as there was not much very picture-worthy on this drive! (thankfully, Ursula was still taking pictures, otherwise I’d have no pics to share from this day’s drive!).


We managed to find parking spots for our rigs and filled our wallets with pesos at a local Bancomer bank ATM, Then it was on to the Pemex station to fill our Winnie tanks with diesel. 

Hans and Ursula have a 2009 View which requires ULSD (ultra-low sulfur diesel).  According to a few web sources (but, maddeningly, never disclosed on the official Pemex website itself), all of the Pemex stations in the state Baja California (Baja Norte) import their gas and diesel from US refineries.  So, if true, all the diesel down to the little town of Jesus Maria (just north of the Baja California Sur state line) should be ULSD.  We would soon find out!

From Ensenada to El Rosario (just north of where Los Cirios begins), the land is fairly flat, with large farmlands interspersed with some impoverished dusty little towns trying to survive. 


Along this stretch of Baja 1, the big fancy Costco and Wal-Marts of Ensenada are replaced by far more humble produce stands.


The little town of El Rosario is the last Pemex for 225 miles, so we topped off our tanks and then stopped so I could “exercise” the Tracker for it’s mid-day fluid circulation.  Millie is always quick to jump in the driver’s seat of the View when I leave it, so Hans thought this exciting daily WinnieViews ritual should be documented with a photo!


Finally, we were on our way into the Valle de los Cirios.  Not only would we not have a Pemex station for the next 225 miles, we’d have no cell phone (or internet) coverage either.  This is a stretch of narrow, shoulder-less highway where one, indeed, is grateful to have a travel buddy leading the way!


As we came closer to Cataviña, one of the few remaining villages in the park, large boulder fields began to appear.


Some teenagers have found these boulders the perfect place to spray paint their graffiti.  Park volunteers have painted over most of these with plain white paint—while erasing the graffiti, it unfortunately still leaves a visible reminder of the original damage done.  Thankfully, only just the immediate  roadside boulders have suffered this fate, so there are still plenty of other boulder further from the road to provide unspoiled vistas to enjoy.


As night was falling, we rolled into Cataviña to find the one RV park in town was now out of business and fenced shut.  Not to worry, there was another park just 2 miles south of town at Rancho Santa Inés.

This park, too, looked abandoned at first.  But we soon met an American ex-pat who rode up on his ATV and told us to park anywhere and a caretaker would be around in the morning to collect his 100 pesos (US$6.85).

This spot was a bit colder than Ensenada (as we had climbed up to 2000 feet elevation), but the moonless desert night sky was absolutely incredible for star-gazing.  This remote section of Baja has no problems at all with light pollution.  Another lovely boondocking spot!

The next morning we awoke to see palm trees all around us. 


Our ex-pat friend returned for a morning chat with Hans (this time on his little Honda dirt bike with the fattest tires I’d ever seen)!  He used to fly down to the airstrip here in the 1970’s and when the lady that owned the ranch decided to sell parts of it, he bought a parcel and built a retirement casa for him and his wife.   Since there’s no phone or internet here, he has a satellite dish and a large ham radio to stay in touch with the rest of the world.  A bit strange, but very interesting fellow!


Our second day’s drive took us through the most scenic valleys of cirio trees. (mixed in with plenty of Saguaro, Organ Pipe, and Joshua Tree cacti as well).


The cirio is a most unusual plant which exists nowhere else in the world except this area of Baja (and a bit of Sonora on the other side of the Sea of Cortez).  Thus, a worthy reason for the Mexican government to grant protective status to this species and this section of Baja.

Surprisingly, it’s not  a cactus, but a tree.  A relative of the ocotillo, a cirio can grow much larger—up to 60 feet in some cases!  It has a rather bushy trunk and the tips of it’s branches have orange-ish flower blooms that make the trees look a bit like giant candelabras.  Cirio is the Spanish word for “candle” so, that seems a more-fitting name for this tree than the English name it was given (Boojum).


If you’ve fallen in love with Saguaro National Park or Organ Pipe National Monument in southern Arizona, you will be astounded at how much bigger and more varied the Valle de Los Cirios is.  It really is worth the effort to come and see it!

We decided to stop at the junction of Baja 1 and the road that goes out to Bahia de los Angeles.  There’s an old abandoned Pemex there that had plenty of parking space for our rigs. 


Even though this is one of the longest stretches without a gas station in all of Mexico, leave it to the always-enterprising Mexican people to come up with a solution!


As we continued through the southern end of the park, the valleys of cacti and cirios were replaced with large, broad vistas.  Did I say this park was huge?  This also gives you an idea of how “wide” our Skinny Winnies felt on this narrow highway.  So glad to not have a motorhome any larger or wider!


Finally, we spotted an enormous Mexican flag in the distance.  We were now leaving Baja California (Norte) and crossing into the state of Baja California Sur!


After a quick drive thru the very industrial (and uninspiring) town of Guerrero Negro, we decided to continue on to San Ignacio, which tour books promised would be “an oasis in the desert.”  First we had to actually cross that desert to get to it, the Vizcaíno Biosphere Reserve!


With about an hour of daylight to spare, we finally made it to our night stop, the Rice & Beans RV park in San Ignacio.  The park boasted full hookups, WiFi, and a pool – a true luxury in these parts! But the owner also wanted a princely sum of US$35/night for it!  What??!!! Fortunately, Ursula read in her tour book that this was a Passport America park.  So when we checked-in, I mentioned being a PA member,  and he kindly gave us both the 50% discount (a much fairer price for the accommodations in our view).


In the terrace below our sites, were 2 “overlander” vehicles that had been shipped here from Europe.  Hans and Ursula instantly recognized the Swiss flags on their rigs and went down to speak “Swiss German” to them.


The large Man truck has traveled all over the world.  I loved the 2 piece door where the top flips up to provide a nice shade and rain cover, but look how many steps to get up to the door—this is one tall overlander!


The smaller overlander was actually on a German Sprinter 4-wheel-drive chassis.  Pretty cool to finally see a 4WD Sprinter in-person!  It even had the extended engine air intake tube along the driver’s side windshield for fording raging rivers and mud puddles of central America!


But as it was only a 4-wheeler (and not able to carry as much weight as our dual rear wheel Winnies), the RV portion was much smaller and more Spartan— only a few small windows, and no air conditioning or propane on board.  In place of a propane tank, they stored extra cans of diesel behind the driver’s door (as diesel is used for heating and cooking).


After miles and miles or desert, the view of  palm trees out my rear window, was indeed a welcome change and a hint of even better things to come!



  1. Those "set up" places to buy gasoline or diesel or whatever, were ALL that was available in the days that I first started driving in Mexico. It was not unusual to drive 225 miles between stations - so one learned to look for "no fumar" signs (no smoking) as that indicated in tiendas that they sold fuel......many a time I was SO glad to see "no fumar". Ha. There used to be, and still might be one between Patzcuaro, Michoacan and Ixtapa. Haven't been on that road in ten years, so its probably no longer the case. I've got the photo though to prove it! Enjoying your adventures, as always.

    1. You need to write a book, Barbara! I can only imagine what an adventure it must have been to travel through Mexico as a solo female years ago! Well, yes, now that you mention those mountainous jungle-type areas of the mainland, I suppose there are some larger areas there without the luxury of a Pemex. I just got so used to seeing them on every corner on the mainland (and having a cell signal everywhere I went), that I didn't really consider how remote most of Baja would be without either convenience. But, so far, our Winnies have made it just fine.

  2. Looks like a great drive! Not so sure about that portable gas station:)

    1. Yeah, buying gas there must only be as a last resort!

  3. You've done it again! Your post is nothing but temptation for me. Keep it up!

    1. Tempted already? I haven't even gotten to the kayaking and snorkeling with sea lions yet :-)

      But, here's a cool blog I came across when researching Los Cirios by a guy who camps in a Casita/Skamp and kayaks. I'm sure his stories will put you right over the edge and I'll be running into you down here within another week or two!


  4. Mexico is now calling me ... Thanks!

    1. While most of the people might be poor, it's a vibrant, rich, and fascinating place down here. Give it a try!

  5. Hi Lynne! I have a friend and her poodles that are in the same area that you are right now. Am sharing your post with her and who knows you all might run across each other. She is headed to the tip of South America in her 4WD diesel Ford with a cab over camper. Safe travels and you can find Vikki on passagebound.me

    1. Wow, what a great blog! I just added it to my sidebar to follow her adventures. I'm down in La Paz now for a few weeks-- still trying to catch the blog back up to real-time!

  6. Beautiful photos, Lynne. I would probably worry about running out of Diesel....

    1. Thankfully, our Winnies can go over 300 miles without worry so I still had 1/2 a tank left when reaching Jesus Maria for a fill-up!

  7. I am loving this trip down the Baja. Thanks for posting. Looking forward to the next installment.

  8. So fun following your awesome adventures- fantastic blog- love it!

    1. Thanks Tessa! Hope you and the family are doing well this year!


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