Baja California

First Mexican campsite is at Cava de la Pirata on the Pacific coast outside Camalu. There is a half built hotel with a restaurant and a few RV spots on the cliffs above the ocean. It is usually cooler on the Pacific side of Baja but there is some kind of cold front moving through and although sunny it is only about 70.

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Next day at Don Eddie’s outside San Quintin. It’s kind of a gringo resort but early in the season so not too many people around. I get a nice spot on the bay then head to the restaurant for dinner. It’s still not too warm, after sunset I have to throw on a hoodie.

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Cutting across Baja to the Gulf of California. The desert is amazing, all sorts of cactus and the biggest I have seen.

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I stop for the night half way across, it’s a little place off the highway with a restaurant and some RV spots. It’s full of these weird cactus trees, they look like something out of a Dr Seuss book. Much warmer here, up into the 80s at last.  After sunset the clouds clear up and I can see thousands of stars.

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Continuing along towards the Gulf of California, the desert and mountains are great.

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Pulling into Bahia de Los Angeles, it’s quite a sight when you come around the last turn through the mountains and see it all spread out in front of you.

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Got a great campsite right on the beach, with a palapa. It’s about 92 now but the water is great for swimming.

While I’m sitting in the palapa looking out at the view, I notice that my right rear tire looks a little low. A little investigation shows that yes I’m screwed.

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I have an air compressor and a plug kit so no need to drive into town and look for a llantera (tire shop (even the smallest of towns has one, in larger towns there is one on every other corner)). It’s really hard pulling the screw out with pliers then it hits me, it’s a screw. I grab a phillips and just unscrew it out of the tire. First time I have used a plug kit and it takes a lot of sweating and swearing to get the plug seated all the way in and then extract the tool, but after reinflating it seems to be holding air just fine.

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View from inside the tent. It is quite hot but with all of the windows open there is a nice breeze. After sunset it’s very comfortable.

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For a change of pace the next day I check in to the Villa Vitta hotel in town, a tourist place with a pool, restaurant, bar, and AC looking out on the water. The actual town is very small, a handful of restaurants, stores, and hotels along the main road. Walking along the road I stop in a little family restaurant for  some tacos and beer, very nice place. All of these restaurants have the whole family working there, little kids in the back doing their homework in between busing tables or running to the store. A six year old girl brings me my beer; she has to stand on tip toe to reach the bottle opener on the wall.

There is a small museum with exhibits on the local flora and fauna. They have an outdoor exhibit naming all of the local plants, it turns out that those weird cactus trees in the desert are Boojum Trees.

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Baja – Ensenada

As promised the Otay Mesa border crossing was very quick, I got a green light and cruised right through. Immediately past the border I pulled into the office area trying to find the immigration office to get my Mexican tourist card. All of the official border offices are under construction, I ask a couple of people where to go to get the tourist card and they just point me down the road. After driving a ways I still don’t see any sign of the immigration office. There’s no way to get back to the border as cars are lined up for a mile waiting to enter the US, so I figure I will get the tourist card in Ensenada instead. I don’t have to import my vehicle until I leave the Baja peninsula, which will be on a ferry from La Paz to Mazatlan sometime in the future.

I go pretty much straight south out of Tijuana, stopping at a Policia Federale checkpoint on the way out. The very last guy waves me over and asks me (in Spanish) why I don’t have a front license plate. I don’t have enough Spanish to explain that Florida only issues a rear plate, and he doesn’t speak any English so he just waves me through.

Tijuana Policia Federale checkpoint

It’s a nice drive to Ensenada, initially along the Pacific Coast then up through the hills.I’m keeping off the toll road and the speed limits are very slow. 80 kmh in the open, 60 on hills and curves, 40 through towns. Most people speed right past me but I try to keep to the speed limit as much as I can.

Checked in to the Hacienda Hotel for a couple of nights. It’s basic but clean with parking in an interior courtyard. Just one block off the main tourist street. $31US per night.

First order of business is the tourist card, I find the location of the Immigracion office near the port and am a little nervous to see that Google brings up a dozen or so posts by people who have been turned away with no tourist card by some sadistic government bureaucrat in the Immigracion office. Nothing to do but gather up my stuff and walk over there where I am pleasantly surprised to find a helpful young woman who speaks excellent English in the office. She tells me how to fill out the form, does some stuff with my passport, then sends me off to the Banjercito on the other side of the building. Another young woman takes my form and passport, asks for 390 pesos ($21) and gives me a receipt. Back to the Immigracion office with the form, passport, and receipt, then my passport is stamped in and I get my new tourist card with 180 days in Mexico.

Time to celebrate, stopped in the first taco stand by the port

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Did not do too much else the rest of the day, there were two very large cruise ships in port and the downtown was crammed with tourists looking for tacos and trinkets. Since I’m in Mexico now it’s probably a good time to brush up on my Spanish and look at the route and places to visit in Baja .I have a rough idea but haven’t looked at the detailed description of all the places along the route until now. It’s a long skinny peninsula so there is pretty much only one way to go, Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas.

Next day the bigger of the two cruise ships leaves and it’s suddenly much less crowded. Walked along the malecon by the port.

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Spent some time watching these sea lions. Most of them are just plopped down sleeping but the three on the end of the dock were barking and running round until they ran out of energy.

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There is fresh fish everywhere, they take it right off the boats, chop it up and throw it on the counter.

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Stopped in at the world’s smallest cupcake bakery, it was about 6′ by 6′ and the entire inventory was about 12 cupcakes. Chocolate Mocha, very tasty.

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Celebrated National Taco Day in the US with some more tacos.

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Southern California

I spent the weekend at Joshua Tree National Park. I am really getting my money’s worth out of this annual Park Pass. It’s a great park, in addition to the Joshua trees everywhere it is full of these weird rock formations. There are several campgrounds in the park, the largest is Jumbo Rocks. There are 140 or so campsites, but each one is nestled in among the jumbo rocks. I saw in the news that September is mating season for the giant hairy tarantulas here in Joshua Tree, but I can’t find any. There is, however,  a large rattlesnake basking in the sun the next campsite over. They didn’t spot it until after they had set up their tent about fifteen feet away. The Park Rangers were called, came out and said “Yep that’s a rattlesnake.” They declined to move it and suggested that the people move their tent elsewhere, and to be sure to take a flashlight when heading to the bathroom after dark. The two main ways people are bitten by rattlesnakes are 1) they just can’t resist poking it with a stick and it bites 2) they don’t see it, step on the snake, and it bites.

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My driver’s side headlamp had a crack along the bottom when I bought the Land Cruiser, it never fogged up and the crack seemed stable. It got hit pretty hard by a rock on the Dalton Highway, causing a large chip right in the center. I figured its days were numbered and ordered a new one for $200 shipped. Better to just replace it now than wait until it falls completely apart and I have to track one down in Costa Rica or somewhere. It’s not hard to replace, just remove the turn signal housing and the center grille then 3 bolts on the headlamp itself. Unplug the wires, switch the bulbs, and put everything back together. I finally feel like a real overland traveler working on my truck in a campsite.

2003 was one of the last years before Toyota switched by glass headlamps to plastic on the Land Cruisers. The upside of glass is that the 13 year old headlamp on the other side matches perfectly to the new one once it is cleaned up.

Old and busted vs new and shiny

There are no warning signs about scorpions, giant hairy tarantulas, mountain lions, or rattlesnakes. Just bees. I guess since there is no water anywhere around the bees will swarm on anything wet, including a wet sweaty person.

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There are some great sandy back roads that lead to some good trails.

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One trail leads to the Lost Horse gold mine, so named because it was discovered when a prospector was searching for his lost horse when he stumbled across gold. The actual mine is closed off but the old stamp mill is still there. There are old gold mines all over the park.

On Sunday I drive to Anaheim and grab a hotel near Knott’s Berry Farm, as I have to be at the airport Monday morning to pick up Lisa. Monday morning rush hour into the airport is crazy, but once we get clear of the airport it’s an easy drive to Newport Beach. I have four nights at the Marriott’s Newport Coast Villas, which turns out to be quite a fancy place.

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The grounds are huge, 40 buildings spread out along the hills over the Pacific Coast Highway. Tons of things to do: five pools, several hot tubs, fire pits (Monday night was s’mores night), putting green, tetherball, tennis, basketball, bags, giant chess, movie theater.

I picked up Kelsey and Robert at 11pm Monday night, then we all spent the rest of the week enjoying Newport Beach.

Watched the sun set from a restaurant on the waterfront. Newport Beach is very upscale, first vacation town I have been to that features a McLaren dealership. There was also a used car store with a Ford GT in the window.

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Another night we packed up a full barbecue in the villa’s laundry basket and went up to the south end of the grounds for the best sunset view. In between buildings they have gas grills and patio furniture, a great place to grill burgers and watch the sun set.

We did one hike up El Moro canyon and across the hills, about 5 miles. It was pretty hot and sweaty going up the canyon once you get away from the water. The sweeping coastal views from the top were well worth the hike, picture below is looking south to Laguna Beach.

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Then down to the ocean to cool off a little. The water is pretty cold, about 63, but it feels good to go in at least knee deep.

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On the drive back we stopped at Ruby’s Shake Shack, right on the PCH. A beautiful place to sip something cold and look out over the ocean. By all reports the shakes were delicious.

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On Friday we eked out the vacation as long as we could, hanging out at the pool after checkout until it was time to head to the airport. A quick stop at In n Out for lunch then dropped Lisa at the airport, Kelsey and Robert in Venice Beach then off to San Diego.

It was late by the time I arrived so I got a hotel for the night, then next morning drove downtown to see the sights. Walked along the harbor and visited the USS Midway aircraft carrier. It was built during WW II but not finished until 1945 just as the war ended. It saw combat in Vietnam and the Gulf War and was decommissioned in 1992.

It’s a great feeling to stand on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier, one more thing off the bucket list.

They had a couple of presentations on the flight deck about carrier takeoffs and landings. The sessions were given by a retired Navy pilot who has over 1,000 carrier takeoffs and landings with 300 combat missions over Vietnam. Very entertaining, lots of good stories and tons of detail on how a carrier operates.

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You can tour quite a bit belowdecks, it is indeed a floating city of 4,100 people. It’s a weird mix of technology from the 1940’s to the 1990’s.

Not much camping available near San Diego but I found a county park about 15 minutes away for the next couple of nights. The first morning I woke up and found a line of ants marching up the tent ladder, across the front of the tent, and down the other side. A few ants got lost and started coming inside but after a good five minutes of ant swatting everything was pretty well cleared off.

Sunday I visited the San Diego Zoo. First time I have spent $50 on the zoo but it was well worth it.

This year is their 100th anniversary and today is the exact day it opened 100 years ago. They have cake and cupcakes everywhere.

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It’s very well laid out, you walk through most of it on little paths through trees and bamboo with the enclosures worked in so you get the feeling of walking through the woods and seeing the animals in a more natural setting.

One of the big attractions are the giant pandas. I didn’t realize just how giant they are until seeing this one in person.

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Giant Panda video

Tons of koalas, which sleep 20 hours a day.

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After staying all day at the zoo it’s back to the ant hill campground. I parked a little further down, hoping to avoid the ant army but next morning I woke up to another line of ants coming up the ladder, around the front, back down the other side with a few stragglers sneaking inside the tent again.

Today is the big day, leaving the US and entering Mexico. I decide to go a few miles east to the new Otay Mesa border crossing; it’s supposed to be quicker and much easier to get around. Pulled off on the last US exit before the border, filled up on gas, changed some dollars for pesos, grabbed breakfast at McDonald’s then off to the border.

Arizona part II

I don’t have too long before I have to be in LA so I kind of breezed through southern New Mexico on the way west. Stayed one night at a KOA in Las Cruces then on to Arizona.

I have wanted to hike up Picacho Peak for some time, but every time we go past it I haven’t been able to talk anybody else into going.  Spent the night in the state park at the base of the peak then started off on the hike next morning while it was still somewhat cool.

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It’s only about 2 miles each way but the trail is very steep and rocky. In places there are cables anchored into the cliff to help you get up and back down

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or here to keep from falling off

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Once you get to the top the view is great. I sat up here for awhile enjoying the scenery, despite the I-10 interstate below it is very quiet. I only met two other people on the trail. With all of the rocks, cables, and general steepness it took me just as long to hike down as up, so by the time I arrived back at the trailhead it was up to 95.

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Drove up to Phoenix and treated myself to a night in the Marriott Canyon Villas, in a “studio villa.” Compact but very nice after all the camping. I have been pining for some real Chicago pizza and made a stop at the new Lou Malnati’s Phoenix location, got the Chicago Classic which really hit the spot.

Next day it was actually rainy all day, due to some tropical storm down south. Visited the Martin Auto Museum, a very cool place with beautifully preserved cars from the early 1900s up to today. This Shelby Cobra was part of Carroll Shelby’s private collection for awhile then sold to Mr. Martin.It’s an amazing car, they estimate its worth at around $2 million. They wouldn’t let me sit in it.

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Still raining so I watched Suicide Squad at the theater, pretty entertaining.

Stopped in to visit Gina Matt and Mia. Got a few barks from Mia before she recognized me then she was quite excited to see me again.

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Off towards LA, stayed at an RV park in Quartzsite AZ. In the morning I watched this huge scorpion creeping past the campsite. It’s the biggest one I’ve seen, about the size of my hand.

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