Part III: Mulegé – San José del Cabo
The final chapter of our six-week Baja Divide ride. Warm, stable weather and ever-interesting riding and landscapes made our final days on the Baja Divide some of the best on the route. Some earlier riders had commented to me that the Baja ‘just gets better and better’. I guess that’s one of the many beauties of the Baja Divide route: there’s always a surprise around the corner. Canyon country typifies the southern section of the Baja leading into La Paz; an ancient land wrought from the west coast of Mexico and lifted high as two continental plates drifted apart.
I have also written up some comments on some of the gear we used on the Baja Divide as well as full gear lists for both of us. Read about that here.
The most desirable route onwards from Mulegé is to cross the mouth of the deep Bahia de Concepcion and head southwards; at first along the inside of the bay, before crossing over to the Cortez side. Local fisherman can take you across; providing the wind is fair and they’re not too busy fishing. We turned up at their mooring site about 8.30am and soon had a ride arranged with Pedro who took us across the bay for 800 pesos, but first he had to drive into town to buy some gasoline.
We waited in the morning sun, chatting to another fisherman all the while under the wary eye of the pelicanos.
We buzzed across the bay’s silken surface with scarcely a breeze blowing and the air warm.
Then it was just us and out bikes on a deserted beach. In turn we followed arroyos and a rocky coastal track southwards. The beach littered with plenty of curiosities.
We crossed the bight of land to the Sea of Cortez and found camp on the edge of small sea cliffs; sleeping in the open with a canopy of stars above.
The morning warmed fast and a gentle tailwind pushed us along a sublime coast.
Before finally turning inland and climbing away from the sea.
The route crosses Mex 1 conveniently close to a restaurant. With such luxuries rare during a day’s ride on the Baja, our modus operandi has been to always eat a hot meal when the opportunity appears, so brunch it was.
A long afternoon as we rode deep into the peninsula mountains once again.
In the morning we descended from the mesa top towards San Isidro, but barely touched the floor of the valley before climbing steeply back out again.
For much of the Baja Divide, outside of actual villages, the route is dotted with tiny ranchitos – the simplest of settlements, often without power or running water that are home to the ranchers and vaqueros (cowboys) who tend to the goats and cows whose tinkling bells are often the only sound we hear for hours.
An uplifted and incised landscape. The oasis village of San José de Comondu lies hidden below. I suspect the Baja was once a much wetter place: how else could these deep canyons have formed?
A sleepy village lies in the floor of the canyon. We resupplied from limited options in the shop and sat in the sun, the peace only once disrupted by this laden vehicle’s loud hailer announcing its presence.
Interior of the Misión San José de Comondú. Religion is brought to the fore in Mexico, and particularly so in Baja, where there are less distractions from it in an arid landscape of scrub and cactus. Shrines lie along the road edges and every township has a prominent church or misión.
San Javier, reached the following day, is dominated by the Misión San Francisco Javier de Viggé-Biaundó. Founded in 1697, it is considered the ‘mother’ of all Baja misións.
Reportedly the first ever telephone in San Javier (1970), seen on the wall at a small guesthouse.
We stop to chat with ranchers when we see them – it feels good to try and connect with the local population and it’s a good chance to practice our Spanish.
Outside of the mountains the road cuts a line through the coastal plain as we approach Ciudad Constitucion.
The cemetery spills into the desert on the outskirts of Ciudad Constitucion.
The spartan Misión de San Luis Gonzaga de Chiriyaquí.
We are constantly struck by the juxtaposition of these great stone edifices versus the sparsely populated villages that surround them.
A more diminutive structure in one village, replete with inlaid wheel hubs.
Away from light pollution the desert nights are crisp, clear and star studded.
Elephant tree and butte during blue hour.
Dinner staples. The southern canyons of the Baja carry surface water from springs. Much of it sits in slow-moving pools but it’s usually clear and tastes ok. We carried a Steripen for UV treatment of water and were glad to have it.
Dawn in the desert. On warm nights we didn’t bother with our fly and just bivvied in the open. Interested to read more about the gear we carried on the Baja? Here’s a post all about it.
Headed east once again – towards the Sea of Cortez for the final time.
Two days of spectacular riding led us through canyons and small villages from Ciudad Constitucion to the coast once again. After a long and rocky descent down the eastern wall of the Sierra de Giganta we detoured to San Evaristo and were pleasantly surprised to find a small restaurant.
Resupply in the tiny San Evaristo store – enough to keep us going to La Paz a day and a half away.
Early morning overlooking the bay at San Evaristo.
Beyond San Evaristo the road snakes through multicoloured layers of rock – some of the most astounding geology along the whole route. If you’re into geology and attempting to interpret the formation of the landscape that surrounds you, the Baja is a real treat.
Dropping towards sea level again and the final haul along the coast into La Paz.
The Pension California, La Paz, came recommended in the Baja trail notes and we spent three nights there, taking a day off to clean and service the bikes and decide our next move. The Baja is really tough on gear and our drivetrains were totally thrashed by the time we hit La Paz. We’d had new cassettes put on in Steamboat, Colorado and then new chains in San Diego, but after the rigours of Baja’s sandy, muddy and gritty roads it was time to change them out completely. Amazingly I’m still on the same chainrings (Shimano SLX) that I started out from Deadhorse, Alaska with.
The night before Hana and I arrived in La Paz we discussed whether we still had the motivation to ride the southern loop of the Baja Divide route or not; feeling as if we’d both ‘had our fill’ as far as touring the Baja off road goes. We were both starting to think about the next chapter. But curiosity prevailed and we concluded we’d both feel even more satisfied if we ticked the southern loop too. Besides – it would make up for dirt sections we’d skipped way back in the north due to mud.
We camped the first night out of La Paz (after a late start) on a rocky ridge overlooking Los Divisaderos and witnessed one of the best sunsets of the trip. The afternoon’s riding had been awesome once we’d turned off the highway onto a fun, rolling road through granite country and we knew we’d made the right decision to continue.
Solitude in the desert a comforting home once again.
The next day the route really turns on a treat: climbing away from a sun baked valley over steep hills and weaving out to a remote section of coast.
Los Bariles burst the bubble a little with its tourist prices and with that we saw another side to the Baja. We were on the capes now – hot property and home to most of the tourist traffic that the Baja receives.
The beautiful bay at Los Frailes was our next stop for the night. It’s home to a large fishing camp and various ‘snowbirds’ parked up with their mobile homes. We took a spot in the scrub for our humble tent fly and wandered to the beautiful granite spur at the east end of the bay for sunrise.
We were impressed with a customised Mercedes Benz truck that had been parked up by its German owners on the beach for two months. They’d been to 131 countries over a decade in the same machine.
The ride from Los Frailes over the ranges to San Jose del Cabo was one of the best day’s riding on the Baja route. The road continually twists, turns, dives and climbs as it cuts its across steep mountains. It’s challenging, but for riders who have come from the north it’s a challenge you’re ripe for. It’s good that it was a great ride that day, because on the long downhill run towards civilisation my rear axle snapped. I’d been having freewheel problems with my Stans Neo Hub for a few days: odd clicks and a sometimes dead pedal stroke as the pawls failed to engage. Signs it was on its way out for sure. Inspection at camp the first night out of La Paz had revealed slight cracks at the backside of the pockets that the pawls sit in.
Continued riding had caused (I think) metal and maybe one of the pawls to break away and this eroded the inside of the hub enough to cause excess play, which in turn caused excess load on the axle.
To cut a long story short, we made it out to the highway at San Jose del Cabo ok, and were very lucky to have arranged to stay at a friend-of-a-friend’s house that night. Rodrigo looked after us really well for a few days. Stan’s were very good to deal with, offering to send me not only a whole new wheel (to save me rebuild costs) but also upgrading my rim to a wider and stronger model at the same time.
With a delivery time of a week (at least) anticipated, we decided to end our Baja journey there at the end of the cape (our remaining three days would have been the return route to La Paz) and start making our way to Mazatlan on Mexico’s west coast where we’d arranged to have the wheel sent to. By bus, taxi and ferry we travelled over 500 kilometres directly east to Mazatlan to begin the next chapter.