You can plan, prepare and equip yourself and your rig for a 2,000-mile overland adventure and still find yourself completely stranded. That is exactly what happened to me during a recent adventure down the Baja Peninsula.
Overlanding in Baja California has been a dream of mine for as long as I can remember. Growing up in San Diego, we would go on family fishing trips to San Felipe and Guaymas. So, when Marco with OVRLNDX extended an invitation for me and Beth to join him in Baja for a week of beach hopping, the answer was an immediate, Heck Yeah!!
As our departure approached, there were several things that needed to happen before we left Texas; all the fluids in the jeep were changed, the transmission serviced and a leaky seal on my Currie HD60 rear axle was addressed. Next up was securing insurance for the Jeep and Boreas XT. There are several reputable companies that will fit your Mexican insurance needs. We chose Baja Bound for their one-stop shopping experience. Not only do they take the stress off you and give you piece of mind, but they make it affordable. For 8 days in Baja, we paid just under $400 for $100k worth of coverage for the Jeep and a trailer. Finally, my 2018 Jeep Wrangler JLU was ready for the rigors of Baja, and with the Boreas trailer loaded, passports in hand, we were excited for the adventure of a lifetime.
I departed Texas by myself and would pick Beth up at the San Diego International Airport later that week. As I left west Texas, the drive was met with brutal head winds, gusting up to 35 miles per hour, making the drive challenging and exhausting. My planned stop for the night was a little sliver of BLM Land east of Las Cruces, tucked away on the eastern slopes of the Organ Mountains. When I arrived at the Aguirre Springs campground, I was greeted by a locked gate and a sign explaining they were currently operating under their winter hours and closed at 6PM. It was 7:45PM. I have camped at Aguirre Springs many times and knew the gates locked promptly at 8pm. I was tired and frustrated as I implemented Plan B, a Loves Truck Stop on Interstate 10, west of Las Cruses, NM. Waking up Thursday morning, the goal was to make it to the California/Arizona Border and boondock near the American Canal. Ordinarily, this would have been an easy 7-hour drive. But the winds were still gusting and slowly chipping away at me with each passing mile. When I arrived at my campsite in California between the Alamo and All-American Canals, I was able to tuck the jeep and trailer into wash that was protected from the howling wind. A word of caution, always check the weather forecast when choosing a low-lying campsite so you don’t find yourself in a flash flood zone and in need of rescue.
The following morning, I was delighted to wake up to the sound of silence. The winds were done. The drive into San Diego looked promising. I quickly made breakfast and headed west towards San Diego on Interstate 8. As I passed Ocotillo, California, the skies ahead darkened and winds began to pick up, again. The forecast predicted that I had winter weather ahead, and as the Jeep ascended Interstate 8 into the Cyumaca Mountains, the snow begins to fall. The driving conditions continued to deteriorate until it reached the point where roads were covered in snow and ice and traffic came to a dead stop. After a 45-minute delay, traffic was slowly moving again, and I thankfully descended into San Diego for the night.
After picking up Beth at the airport the next day, we grabbed up some last-minute supplies before heading to Marco’s house where we double checked our gear and finished our preparations. We needed to be ready for a pre-dawn departure the following morning to meet-up with the rest of our group before crossing into Mexico. As we settled in for the night, our emotions were on overdrive, filled with excitement like a 5-year-old on Christmas morning, but also nervous about the adventure that was about to begin.
That following morning our first stop was a gravel parking lot, just off the 8, where we met up with Joost with Rhino Adventure Gear, and Natalie and her parents who would be joining us for a few nights along the way. Before crossing into Mexico, we had one last rig to add to our group. We met up with Chris in Calexico and headed straight to the international border where Calexico and Mexicali meet. It took about 30 minutes to make to the Mexican Border Control after we were briefly pulled aside for a secondary inspection. This is to be expected if you’re pulling a trailer and no cause for concern.
Once everyone was across the border, we regrouped, exchanged some dollars for pesos and headed south for night 1 of our Baja Adventure! When we arrived in San Filipe, we stopped for some street tacos and something new to me, barria. A popular Mexican dish that originated in the Jalisco state, barria is traditionally made with lamb meat, but it is common for people to use beef today, since it is more affordable and easier to find throughout Mexico. I found my beef barria to be a marriage of flavors originating from the dried chilis and other spices that are used to create this delicious stew like concoction. It was spectacular. As we finished lunch, we were all wanting to take it slow and visit a more, but we had groceries to buy and many more miles to go before reaching our destination for the night.
After stopping for fuel one last time, we traded the pavement for dirt. Aired down and filled with anticipation for what lies ahead, we drove east towards the Sea of Cortez. After several miles, we came to a locked gate where we met the caretaker for the private beach that was to be home for the night. We purchased some firewood and proceeded to one of the most amazing beaches I have ever been to. With the rough waters of the Sea of Cortez on one side and the stillness of a protected cove on the other, we circled the rigs, started the fire and settled in for the evening. And then the wind picked up. Our rigs offered little protection from the howling wind gusts in excess of 25 mph which created a horizontal sand blasting. Cooking proved to be a challenge. But the group was hungry, and a plan was made for flat-iron steak tacos. By the time we finished our food, a new hashtag was created, #80gritsteak.
When we woke up the next morning, the wind was gone, and we were excited for the next leg of our Baja adventure. With the promise of an even more spectacular beach, we quickly made breakfast and packed away camp so we could get an early start on the day. Before hitting the road, Joost was excited to show us what the Rhino Adventure Gear Gladiator was capable of as he zipped around the sand.
With the sandy shenanigans behind us, we headed further south on Highway 5. After a few hours of navigating the narrow Mexican highways, we finally arrived in the tiny coastal village of Bahia de Los Angeles. We topped off with fuel, making sure we had extra for the next leg of our journey, grabbed a quick lunch which again was amazing, and left this little bit of civilization behind. For the next 3 hours, we drove along the Baja Divide Trail, a dirt road of varying conditions including miles of washboards, ruts and deep sand. Dwarfed by the towering Mexican giant Cardon Cactus, this section of the trail was magnificent. With the average Cardon leveling out at about 30 feet tall, this slow growing cactus has been known to grow as tall as 60 feet. The cactus forest was thick and went on for miles.
Just as we were about to stop for the night, we encountered our first real mechanical issue of the trip. My jeep overheated about a quarter mile from where we were going to camp. After depressurizing the coolant reservoir and adding about a half a gallon of coolant, we managed to finish the day’s drive and set camp. Using my Innova ODB2 reader, in addition to the overheating issue, apparently, I was also experiencing a misfire in cylinder 5. Unknown to me at the time, this was going to become my new normal in the days ahead.
The beach we stopped at was virtually empty. There was a tiny fisherman shack several hundred yards down the beach from where we were set up, but other than that, there was not a person within miles of us. White sands, blue clear water and not a breath of wind. Sitting there admiring the view and not being able to imagine how anything could be more perfect, Marco announces we are having pizza for dinner and breaks out his camp pizza oven! Everyone pitched in to make this night in Baja one for the books. With our bellies full of incredible Marco pizza and Pacifico, we sat around the campfire, exchanging stories of past adventures and our dreams of adventures yet to come. Suddenly and without notice, two men emerged over darkened sand dunes carrying a white box. As fast as our posture changed, we relaxed as we realized these were the local fishermen bringing us their day’s catch. Fresh lobster, shark, shrimp and other species of fish filled the white cooler they carried. Our dinner menu for the next few nights had been sorted! In true OVRLNDX fashion, the fishermen were fed before they disappeared back over the dunes and into the night.
With the morning sun came the glass like appearance of the bay. Zero wind and a magical sunrise. As Marco, Chris and I launched drones and took pictures, Joost donned a wetsuit, pulled down his paddle board, quickly disappearing around the back of an island at the far end of the bay. The theme of the morning was to move slow and enjoy the present. As Joost returned from the Sea of Cortez, we once again packed up with a promise of better beaches in the days to come. As I reflect on our time at Bahia De Los Animas, only one word comes to mind: BEAUTIFUL.