Leidys and I left the confines of the Inland Empire at 7 a.m. for the wild, open spaces of Baja California. Two and a half hours later, we had arrived at the Denny's Restaurant at Hwy 8 in El Centro for our last warm meal for the next couple of days. By 10:30, we arrived at the meeting place in Calexico where Huitzi and his Father Agustin were both waiting. We drove next door to the ARCO station, and each bought $40 worth of gasoline for our SWB 4.0l Rubicons. While checking the oil level of my 4.0l engine, the oil fill cap became stuck and later broke off! After walking next door to the Pep Boys (again, a great meeting place), I had a new oil cap in hand, and Huitzi had helped remove the old cap with a set of channel pliers.
On The Road to Baja-
As Huitzi and I pulled onto Hwy 111 towards the US/Mexico border, a phone call came in from Joe and his son Greg from south Mexicali. They were on-target for meeting us at the Pemex Station in El Progreso along Hwy 2. After filling our gerry cans, we drove down the road to Asadero Morlan #2 for some AWESOME TACOS! From there, we traveled another 10 miles to the massive Laguna Salada. There, we drove south to the Cohabuzo Junction where we set up camp for the night.
LOST IN BAJA-
The next morning, we packed our gear and traveled in the wrong direction - all of the way to Ejido Saldaņa - near Hwy 5! Losing 3 hours of travel time (and driving 30 miles in the wrong direction) did not help our gasoline supplies, but with the help of a local farmer named Rodolfo, we returned to our camp spot, and later to the turnoff to our camp spot. We quickly reached the long, sandy arroyo that led to the entrance to the 70 year old Pole Line Road.
COBBLESTONE ROADS IN BAJA?
Gerhard and Gulick's Lower California Guidebook (1958) describes a, "Little used road that was built during World War II to follow an abandoned telephone line" that sparked my interest in 2000 after receiving a copy of November-December 2000 newsletter from Discover Baja Travel Club. Author Neal Johns described his groups arduous passage along this route after many past attempts to punch through to the end of this road: http://forums.bajanomad.com/viewthread.php?tid=54381
Our group of three well-built Jeeps made fast work of climbing the slippery, off-camber entrance with our locked differentials and Mud-Terrain tires, and traveling overland along some of Baja's most prestine land. Because of our difficulty in navigation, we had to travel directly to Mile #94 where we set up camp for the night. This area of the Pole Line Road is dotted with cobblestone sections that amazed this group of first-time Pole Line Road travelers.
BAJA CANYONS, RAIN, AND SLICK TRAILS.
Camp was set up at 4 p.m. along a canyon wall that was elevated from any possible flash flooding which may have taken place during our night of sleep. As it turned out, rain did fall on our second night on the trail. While Leidys, myself, Huitzi and his Father Agustin did not get wet, Joe and his son Greg chose to sleep under the stars, and at about midnight, were abruptly awakened by steady rainfall that soaked their camping gear, and themselves. After another light rain before sunrise, our group rose to the natural serenity that is so ubiquitous with backcountry Baja. The air temperatures went from near 50 degrees back to 70 degrees, and the air was still, without any breeze. The trails were now coated with a dampness that kept dust to tolerable levels, and our group continued on through Caņon Enmedio.
The trails were slick with moisture for the first half hour of our journey, but as the sun rose into the canyons, these rocks dried and thankfully, the faint tire tracks from Neal Johns' most recent trek were visible along this route during the early Spring 2011. The road is now remnants of its former self as time and flash flooding have wiped sections away clean. Now, large rocks must be negotiated by well-prepared 4WD vehicles that have plenty of clearance.
BASKETBALL HILL AND REACHING HWY 5
Just a short 2.4 miles were traveled from our camp spot to the notorious Basketball Hill. There, rocks the size of basketballs and larger must be negotiated in order to ascend the steep canyon. Narrow sections with high, loose banks require tires with high voids and lots of tread - something my worn set of TrXus MTs no longer have. Although my set of worn TrXus MTs allowed my TJ-based Rubicon to slip and slide, the worst sections of this trail - which all appear on the last leg of this trail were all negotiated with the use of my locking differentials, and we safely made it to Hwy 5 after an exhausting search for trail inside of the massive (0.6 mi. wide) Arroyo Grande. Rocks, vegetation, and animal bones work together to hide the route to La Ventana.
SAN FELIPE, LAGUNA DIABLO AND FINDING WATERFALLS
After saying goodbye to our new friends, Leidys and I checked in to the reasonable ($32/night) El Diamante Motel located near Pete's Camp along Hwy 5 (North of San Felipe). Sadly, San Felipe was languishing with very few American tourists. Many Motels there were suffering from the downturn in travelers from Canada and the United States, although the town had seen many upgrades and beautiful new additions. After eating breakfast at the Green House located between the OXXO and Vista del Mar, Leidys and I drove to the El Capitan Motel where our friends Benny and Avi were waiting for our arrival. Benny and Avi were driving an unlifted Toyota Land Cruiser with stock height BFG All-Terrain KO tires. With running boards intact, Avi and Benny decided not to travel the Pole Line Road. Instead, they visited Mike's Sky Rancho, and although the tires provided less than desireable traction on the rain-soaked trail, their Land Cruiser was able to stay on the road without too many slideouts due to the All-Terrain tire treads.
After gassing up our vehicles at the new Pemex near Pete's Camp, we drove to the road that travels west (near the Mini Storage facility), and took the sandy Zoo Road to the impressive waterfalls at the base of the Picacho del Diablo (Devil's Peak). The Devil's Peak stands at an elevation of 10,152 ft. and is the tallest peak on the Baja peninsula (source: http://www.peakbagger.com/peak.aspx?pid=1537
). After crossing the muddy, but solid Laguna Diablo, our vehicles ascended an aluvial fan which leads inward to the Caņada del Diablo. Like a wide mouth at the base of this steep mountain chain, vehicles with the ability to travel along sandy sections of road can navigate this slope with little trouble. Wild Burros and Cattle can be seen along this route - scared of the noise caused by vehicular traffic, but sometimes stare in curiosity as you pass.
With only 4 hours of remaining sunlight, Benny, Avi, Leidys and I made a quick hike up to the first set of waterfalls, took photographs, and quickly returned to our vehicles in order that we could exit the muddy dry lakebed before dusk. Our vehicles kicked up small amounts of mud on our way to Mexico Hwy 3, and by 5 p.m., we had aired up our tires and I corrected a small problem with a rear shock absorber. Leidys and I continued on to Ensenada that evening - briefly stopping in Valle de la Trinidad at the impressive "Mi Pueblito" Restaurant for dinner (near the new Pemex Station), while Benny and Avi returned for their last night in San Felipe.