Mutz in Baja


Some Moto Mutz went to Baja the last two weeks of 2004. Here is what Paul S. had to say about the trip.

Editors note: Paul discreetly leaves names out when reporting potentially embarrassing stuff. Since a lot of that stuff is about me, I just left the report as is.

Deep sand, mud (in the desert!), crashes, running out of gas, broken foot pegs, leaking gas tanks, broken spokes, steep rocky climbs, washboard roads, all day rainstorms, curvy paved roads, push starting bikes, what a vacation!

Six of us left Minneapolis on December 18 in a luxurious motorhome pulling a stock (as in horse) trailer with our motorcycles. We were a pretty diverse group, a couple of guys in their 60’s, one 50, one mid-forties, one mid-thirties and a 17 year old. We brought along three Kawasaki KLR 650’s, two Yamaha XT 600’s and a Suzuki DR 350.

John, Photo by PJ, Marty(driving), Paul and Jake Photo by Charlie

We left Minneapolis about 7:00 AM Saturday and pulled into El Centro, California about 2:00 PM on Sunday. El Centro is about 10 miles North of the Mexican border town of Mexicali and is where we had made arrangements to park the motorhome and trailer while we were gone riding.

We unloaded our bikes from the trailer, geared up, loaded our luggage on the bikes, and headed for the border. We went through Immigration and they held onto our passports (or birth certificates) while we walked across the street to the bank to pay the fee. We tried to buy Mexican insurance for our bikes, but the only agency we could find open didn’t sell policies for motorcycles. By this time it was getting dark so we found a cheap hotel in Mexicali and settled down for the night. At this time of year it gets dark about 4:30 PM, so we had fairly short riding days. Monday morning we crossed back over the border to Calexico, California to buy Mexican insurance for the bikes.

We re-crossed the border and headed South on the straight, flat, boring paved road to San Felipe on the Sea of Cortez (Gulf of California), and continued down the paved road toward Puertocitos. The pavement deteriorated about 15 miles North of Puertocitos. Big chunks of asphalt were gone, lots of potholes. It was rougher than most of the dirt roads we’d see later. I bottomed my suspension more than once, even though I have replaced my stock fork and shock springs with heavier aftermarket springs.

Marty can fix anything. He particularly enjoys verbal assistance. Photo by John

The road actually improved in Puertocitos after it became a dirt road. It was still rough, with plenty of rocks. One of the KLR’s sheared off the footpeg bolts on this stretch, but luckily we were able to remove the sheared off bolts and simply replace them.

Typical scenic Baja road. Photo by PJ

We pulled into Punta Bufeo to spend the night. This is a pretty remote place. They start the generator about a half hour after dark and shut it off just after 8:00. Fairly basic rooms, but it has hot water. We were the only guests. For supper, we asked what she had: Fish tacos, so that’s what everyone had. They were pretty good, and breakfast was a combo Mexican plate.

The gas station at Bahia de Los Angeles. Photo by John


John poses in part of the cactus forest. Photo by John

We continued down the road until we got back to the pavement at Chappala and took the paved road to Bahia de los Angeles. Back on the dirt road again and we spent the night in a palapa on the beach at San Francisquito. The palapas didn’t have doors or windows, just tarPhoto by Paul to cover the openings. We slept on army cots with a thin mattress. It was $20 for a cot in a palapa, $5 to camp on the beach. They had an open air group bathroom and shower. Again, we were the only guests, it really is a pretty spot. It was kind of expensive for the lodging and the meal, but it is the only place in the area.

Jake washes off some of the dust in the Sea of Cortez. Photo by PJ

Marty, Jake and Photo by PJ slept on the beach. Because the sun is up, so is Marty. Photo by Charlie

The sunrise was so beautiful that the photographer didn't notice the wash on the line. Photo by Charlie

Our palapa at San Francisquito. Photo by Charlie

In the morning, we headed out early on the dirt road planning to have breakfast in El Arco. Along the way, one of the guys discovered that he left his Camelbak behind. He turned around to get it, and we planned to meet him in El Arco. We did manage to find gas in El Arco, but it’s a tiny pueblo and doesn’t have a restaurant. We ended up waiting over 2 hours for the guy who went back. He took a wrong turn, toured the mission and crashed on the way. We had originally planned to take old Highway 18 west out of El Arco to the paved road, but our map showed a shortcut almost due south. We were told it was a good road, so we took off. Big mistake, miles and miles of deep sand through the desert with big cactus all around. I wiped out twice in the deep sand trying to keep my speed up, I finally slowed down to first gear and just plowed my way through. After waiting for 15 minutes or so for another buddy behind me to show up, I turned around and went back to look for him. By the time I found him, he was standing up next to his downed bike. He had been trapped under it for about 20 minutes and had just struggled out from under it. I helped him pick up his bike and after a short rest, I headed back out through the deep sand for the third time!

Charlie gasses up in El Arco. Photo by John

By the time we caught up with the others in Vizcainio, the taco stand that they had eaten at had closed. We had originally planned to go up to San Fransico De La Sierra, it was supposed to be a fun road, but we had lost too much time and wanted to get to a bigger town with restaurants and phones, so we bypassed the sidetrip and stayed on the paved road to Santa Rosalia where we stayed the night. There were some fun curvy roads leading into Santa Rosalia. The hotel we stayed at didn’t have hot water, but I took a shower anyway. It sure feels good to wash all the dust off after a long day on dirt roads. Like they say about sled dogs, unless you’re the lead dog, the view never changes!

We headed south the next morning on the paved road until we turned west on dirt road loop out to the Mision Guadalupe, then south and back to Mulege. There isn’t a building at the Mision Guadalupe any more, just a nice grove of palm trees. This was the most fun road of the trip so far. Steep rocky ascents, lots of switchbacks, dry river crossings. Nice scenery besides the cactus and desert we’d seen just about everywhere else. It reminded us of the riding we’ve done in the Copper Canyon on the mainland in Mexico.

Jake looks like he's happy to be in Baja.  They let us park our bikes in the hotel courtyard. Photo by PJ

Mulege is a nice town. We stayed at the Hotel Hacienda and they let us pull our motorcycles right into the courtyard in front of our rooms. We ended up staying in Mulege for three days. The second day we rode out with Kurt Grife from California who had given us lots of good advice for our trip. He was staying at a friend’s house just south of town. We rode around the end of the Bahia Concepcion through some really fun curvy paved roads and then back on dirt roads south along the beach to the pueblo of San Nicolas. We thought this was a fitting destination for Christmas Eve. After this, most of the guys headed back to Mulege to watch the Vikings / Packers football game on the big screen TV in the bar owned by a couple from Wisconsin! Charlie and I figured we could watch a football game any Sunday in Minnesota, but this might be one of our last chances to ride motorcycles until spring, so we decided to ride the dirt road along the far side of the Bahia Concepcion. It was a fun road to ride, but mostly flat. After about 20 miles of the same thing, we turned around and rode back to Mulege.

Kurt led us to this scenic spot in San Sebastion. Photo by Charlie

In Baja it's either desert, beach or jungle. Photo by PJ

The Road to Somewhere. Photo by PJ

PJ, Paul, Jake, Charlie and Marty in San Nicolas. Photo by John

Our third day in Mulege, we rode the same dirt loop from Mulege to the Mision Guadalupe, but backwards from the first time. Again, a really fun ride, and the paved road into and out of Mulege is very entertaining, too. It was a nice way to spend Christmas day.

The next morning, four of us left Mulege and headed south to the dirt road to San Isidro. A couple of the guys wanted a break from riding dirt roads, they stayed in Mulege another day. One went spearfishing while snorkeling and the other went deep sea fishing. We took the road to San Isidro, turned to San Jose de Comondu and on to Mision San Francisco Javier. These were very rough roads. Lots of big rocks and miles and miles of washboard. On an otherwise perfectly good road, the washboard slows the bikes down to 45 or 50 mph, but the cars crawl along at 10 or 15 mph! Mision San Francisco Javier was a beautiful oasis with some water and lots of palm trees. We rode over to Loreto to spend the night.

PJ always found the scenic spots. Photo by PJ

John always caught the big fish. Photo by John

We found a little shade in Comundu. Photo by Charlie

Mision Javier Photo by Paul

We found a hotel room with four beds for only 280 pesos, that’s only about $6.30 each! And, it had hot water and was a decent place. Loreto was almost completely closed down on Sunday evening, we had to look around for an open restaurant.

One of the better unpaved roads in Baja. Photo by PJ

We left Loreto in the morning and headed back the way we came in. This is about the most southery point we reached in Baja, and it was time to start heading back north. We rode back on the bad road through Comondu and San Isidro. It was on this stretch that a big rock broke off my right footpeg. I had mounted an aftermarket centerstand on my bike and I think the rock hit the centerstand, and took out the footpeg mounting bolts. We tried stopping at a junkyard (Yonke) to get some replacement bolts, but there were no threads left to screw new bolts into. We tried jamming bigger bolts in there, but they wouldn’t hold. We couldn’t find anyone with a drill and tap, so I settled on having a guy in La Purisma weld my footpeg back on. I guess I won’t be removing my centerstand!

Hmmm.............Photo by PJ

If it isn't scenic, PJ will make it so. Photo by PJ

Luckily, we had planned a short day, and we rode up to San Juanico on Scorpion Bay on the Pacific Ocean. Again, we stayed in palapas on the beach. They had nice facilities. We hung out with the surfers. That night, one of the other KLR’s sprung a leak in the gas tank, by the welded bracket back by the seat. He tried to epoxy it over, but it continued to slowly leak the rest of the trip. Our other two buddies caught up to us here from Mulege. I aPhoto by Charlieidentally left my bungie cords laying on my luggage rack before we rode to the restaurant, and didn’t miss them until the next morning when I was packing to go. I was able to borrow a couple of bungies from my buddies, and tied my sleeping bag on with my clothesline rope.

Our palappa in San Juanico actually had screens and doors, not that we needed them. Photo by Charlie

Morning over Bahia San Juanico. Photo by Paul

We were a lively group at breakfast....well Jake was alert anyway. Photo by PJ

The next morning we headed out after breakfast for the salt flats close to the beach on the Pacific. Flat smooth roads across the salt flats interspersed with riding up and over some sand dunes. We did run into some deep sand, and after we got off the main road, we ran into some mud. Eventually, we got back to the main road, and went through miles and miles of washboard road. That really shakes the bikes up! I had brought along some aspirin, and by the end of the trip, the pills had almost turned to dust.

Jake waits impatiently while Charlie looks for shallow water. Photo by PJ

Looking for a track in the salt flats north of San Juanico. Photo by Charlie

Sandy road north of San Juanico. Photo by PJ

Did we mention that the road was rough? Photo by John

We had lunch in San Ignacio. That is a really pretty little town. We hit the paved highway again, and headed north. We spent the night in Vizcainio, and I was able to buy new bungie cords at the auto parts store in town.

Yet another tank patching session. Photo by PJ by PJ

Charlie thinks a little epoxy right there will do the trick, Jake is dubious. Photo by John

The next morning, my bike didn’t want to start. I tried jumping it, but that didn’t work either. Finally, we got it started by push I think my battery was slowly dying, probably from the washboard roads. Push starting became a regular habit every morning for the rest of the trip, thanks for the help, guys!

We planned to put in over 300 miles this day, mostly on the paved roads. After riding about 20 miles, it started to rain. We’re in the middle of the desert, and we got rained on all day. We had originally planned to take a side trip on dirt roads out of Rosarito over to the Mision San Borja and back up to Highway 12, but we decided against it after seeing the condition of the road shoulders and some of the parking lots. Lots and lots of mud.

So, we stayed on the pavement all day. It got pretty cold in the higher elevations near Chappala. We stopped in this lonely little taqueria along the highway for lunch. Those of us who ordered quesadillas had a nice meal, but the two who ordered burritos couldn’t eat them. They said the meat tasted bad. This was the only bad food we had on the whole trip.

We continued riding in the rain all the way to San Quintin where we stayed the night. The map showed a gas station in Catavina, but we didn’t see a station in town. We ended up riding 220 miles from Guerrero Negro to El Rosario without seeing a gas station. One guy did buy some gas from a guy with a pickup truck with a drum of gas in the back, and another found some gas at a llanteria (tire shop). Two guys ran out of gas. One was very lucky to get free gas from a very nice attorney from Tijuana who rode by on his Honda Shadow with a couple of gas cans tied to the back. The other made it to within about 10 miles of El Rosario before he ran out. We rode back to him after we gassed up and rescued him. It sure is nice to have that big 6 gallon tank on the KLR!

We did cross one “vado” or dip in the road that had running water about a foot deep in it.

How did that clothespin get there? Photo by PJ

After bump starting my bike again the next morning, we headed north on the pavement once again. We turned east at San Telmo de Abajo to head toward Mike’s Sky Ranch. Mike’s is a famous hangout for dirt bikers and people who run the Baja 1000 (the Baja Mil), so we wanted to see it. The road out of San Telmo was paved and very entertaining for about 15 miles. Lots of elevation changes and switchbacks. Lots of fun. Then he road turned to dirt and when we turned off for Mike’s it deteriorated quickly. This was easily the most difficult and challenging road of the trip. There was quite a bit of mud, some deep sand, and a very steep uphill with lots and lots of big rocks. It was quite a workout. At least one of the guys wiped out on that stretch.

We got to Mike’s around lunch time and hoped to have lunch there, but they only serve breakfast and supper, so after hanging around for awhile, we decided to head back out. My bike didn’t want to start, so I decided to let it roll down this steep hill and pop the clutch. I hit a huge washed out ravine that twisted my front wheel and I went down hard. I wasn’t hurt badly, and my bike didn’t get anything worse than some additional scratches, but it just scooped up the dirt! Dirt was packed into everything, the skidplate, and around the motor. The worst thing of course was the fact that I did it in front of an audience! Luckily there was enough hill left for me to bump start it, and we headed out. The road going north from Mike’s is a much better road, but it had a lot of deep mud.

The entrance to Mikes Sky Ranch. Photo by John

Inside Mikes Sky Ranch. The guys in the real dirt gear had XR's and WR's. Photo by John

We got back out to the pavement, stopped for lunch, and rode up to Ensenada for the night. We had to cross another wide river right in town about a foot deep. We had noticed that the entire desert had turned green overnight and even saw some yellow flowers. The traffic in Ensenada was really heavy. The paved road into Ensenada from the south is very nice, lots of curves, but also has heavy truck traffic.

Friday morning, our last day in Mexico. We headed out of Ensenada the way we came in, back to Ojos Negros. We planned to take the dirt road out of Ojos Negros through the Constitucion National Park and up to Rumorosa. But, we got on the wrong road and went due north up to El Hongo instead. We were at a pretty high elevation, riding in the clouds and mist. It was a wet, cold ride. I have been riding fairly conservatively since my bike wouldn’t start at Mike’s yesterday. I know that if I crash and kill the bike on the these dirt backroads, I won’t get it restarted! We finally made it to a nice warm restaurant in El Hongo for lunch. After lunch, I put on my electric vest, but I don’t quite dare to turn it on because of my battery. We rode through thick fog on the way to Rumorosa. We had to pay a toll in Rumorosa, but then the road starts descending. In about 10 miles, we lost almost 4000 feet of altitude and it became warm and sunny! What a road! Switchback after switchback, what fun!

We rode back into Mexicali and crossed the border through US Customs. My rear tire had torn my license plate right off on the rough roads bottoming out, so I’d been carrying it in my tankbag. At the border, as I pulled up to the officer, I reached in and handed him my plate. He laughed at that.

We stopped into a car wash in Calexico to try to wash some of the mud, dust, dirt and salt flats off of our bikes before we headed home to below zero temperatures. We loaded up the bikes, hopped in the RV, and drove straight through to Minneapolis. We left California on Friday afternoon and pulled into Minneapolis at 6:00 AM Sunday morning after driving through a snow and ice storm for the last few hundred miles.

I put about 2100 miles on my motorcycle, and we put about 4000 miles on the RV. My bike needs a little work, now. A new battery, rewire the rear turn signals, drill out the foot peg bolts for beefier ones, reattach the license plate. All in all, a great trip. Bottom line, all six of us made it back with all six motorcycles under (mostly) their own power.

Last revised: 4/12/05