BAJA: Road to Adventure

Jan. 19, 1976
Jan. 19, 1976

Table of Contents
Jan. 19, 1976

Philly Détente
College Basketball
Track & Field
Pull To Nome
19th Hole: The Readers Take Over

BAJA: Road to Adventure

By Robert F. Jones

The road has many names. Mapmakers call it Mexico 1 or the Transpeninsula Highway. To Mexican patriots it is La Carretera de Benito Juarez, while to the less patriotic it is simply Numero Uno. To the yanquis from Alta California who pour down its two-lane blacktop in pursuit of those wide-open spaces and smogless serenities now largely extinct on their own turf, it is the Frijole Freeway or, to the more lyrically minded, the Thousand Mile Dream. Whatever the monicker, it is, in all senses of the phrase, a Highroad to Adventure.

This is an article from the Jan. 19, 1976 issue Original Layout

Since its official dedication in December 1973, the 1,067.5-mile Baja Highway (as most motorists call it) has carried hordes of outdoor-adventurous norteamerkanos into the heart of a previously impenetrable wonderland—a sun-scorched, seagirt playground where almost anything recreational is possible. Baja California, the peninsular appendage that begins at the U.S.-Mexican border just below San Diego, is nearly 800 miles long, twice the length of Florida, which seemingly balances it on the hemispheric map, and fully 100 miles longer than that other romantic peninsula of literature and legend, Italy. Aside from its shape, it is totally unlike either of them. Flanked on the west by the chilly Pacific Ocean and on the east by the warm, fish-rich Sea of Cortez, Baja's 55,000 square miles contain a unique mix of mountains and beaches, plant and animal life, wind, sand and seascape that offers a lifetime of exploration and exhilaration to anyone bold enough to visit it. And with the help of the $120 million highway and appurtenant hotels and gas stations, one need not even be that bold.

Apart from the chance of picking up a touch of turista, the stereotyped "dangers" usually associated with Mexican travel are absent from Baja. There are no gold-hatted bandidos with pearl-handled six-guns lurking behind the mesquite, though there are plenty of American rip-off artists—usually hippie-type surfers traveling on a board, a bus and a sawbuck. That danger is confined, fortunately, to the northwestern coastal region, mainly between Tijuana and Ensenada; anyone who presses farther south is usually well-heeled and well-equipped. A greater danger is automotive breakdown, but the government-sponsored Green Angel patrols, which cruise the entire length of the highway at frequent intervals, are on hand with spare parts, fuel and mechanical skills to alleviate much of that peril. Hospitals or clinics can be found in the larger cities, and light planes are available almost everywhere to fly out accident victims in case of emergency. Danger is minimal, the chance for fun maximal.

A list of the basic recreational opportunities available in Baja includes surfing, sailing, water skiing in various forms, skin diving, fishing (everything from a dry fly for the unique Baja rainbow trout, Salmo nelsoni, through surf casting for corvina and rock bass to jigging for grouper, roosterfish and yellowtail or trolling for marlin and sail), hunting (for everything from white-winged doves and quail through desert bighorn sheep to fossils of giant dinosaurs, extinct sharks with petrified teeth the size of a man's hand and the odd mammoth or mastodon tusk), flying (from light planes to hang-gliders) and riding (horses, mules, burros, dirt bikes, dune buggies and that newfangled, aquatic bucking bronco, the Jet-Ski).

The botanist, the bird watcher and the bivalve freak can also have a field day in Baja. Of the 110 species of cacti found on the peninsula, fully 80 are endemic. In addition to the millions of ducks, geese, herons, plovers, gannets, terns and gulls that shroud the beaches and marshes of Baja, there are rare birds as well, such as the small red raptor known as Harris' hawk or the big black carrion eater, Audubon's caracara. Shellfish fans (both collectors and eaters thereof) need only touch a shovel to the shore along the Sea of Cortez to come up with a treasure trove—anything from a delicate pink murex to a bucket of juicy butter clams. Nor will the rock hound be disappointed; onyx, turquoise and garnets galore are available for the plucking in the sierra. If the rock hound is also a rock climber, he will be doubly delighted. The Sierra San Pedro Màrtir, in the northern reaches of the peninsula, offers the challenging 10,126-foot Picacho del Diablo—the Devil's Peak—while the Sierra Giganta to the south still counts some unsealed summits in its jumbled, arid, 200-mile reach. And though by now many a man has flown, driven, motorcycled, bicycled and sailed the length of Baja, no one has yet walked its serrated spine.

Along the way, and with a few side trips to the islands that dot the Sea of Cortez, a truly adventurous traveler will also see some remarkable wildlife. Not African in scale, since so dry and spare a land cannot support the huge herbivores and predators of that continent, it is interesting enough in its own right. Some 28 species of vertebrates exist only in Baja, among them a tubby two-foot-long chuckwalla lizard that stores the infrequent rainfall (two to 10 inches a year in the lower reaches) in sacs within its body and literally sloshes when it walks. On the island of Santa Catalina off the east coast lives a small, dun and deadly rattlesnake, Crotalus catalinensis, that has no rattle on its tail—the only crotalid thus undistinguished. Perhaps the most interesting mammal, if you exclude the Pacific gray whales whose turbulent sex life makes them such an attraction during the winter mating months at Scammon's Lagoon, is a gulf-side bat that eats seafood. Skimming low over the vermilion waters at dusk, it snags small sardinas with its claws—one of the few piscivorous bats known to science.

The surreal reality of Baja is reason enough to visit it. Until the completion of the highway, such a visit was restricted mainly to the airborne and the off-road wise. For more than four centuries, Baja had resisted the attempts of civilized man to penetrate it. Hernando Cortez first visited the peninsula in 1535; missionaries and fortune hunters soon followed. The missions failed, while the fortune hunters, having discovered oysters bearing black pearls in great abundance, lasted a bit longer. In the 1940s a mysterious disease wiped out the oyster beds, some say as the result of germ warfare by the Japanese, who had pearling interests on the far side of the Pacific. Agriculture is nearly impossible in Baja, since, unlike its sister California to the north, it has no snow-capped Sierra Nevada and no gushing Colorado River to drain for irrigation. What little agriculture exists does so courtesy of the "fossil water" pumped up from deep wells in the Vizcaino Desert and the Magdalena Plain—water locked into the porous substrata eons ago during a wetter era. Like oil or natural-gas deposits, it is a finite resource, and the Mexican government is using it wisely—i.e., slowly and surely—while it lasts.

The highway has opened up this once-impenetrable wasteland with remarkable ease. Today it is fully possible, if a bit worrying, to drive a low-slung American passenger car the length of the peninsula, from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas, in two days. During the early 1960s, when the pavement ended at Ensenada, just 100 miles below the border, even so canny an observer as the late Joseph Wood Krutch was able to title a lovingly rendered book about Baja The Forgotten Peninsula. No more. Last year, fully 7.5 million vehicles crossed the imaginary dotted line separating America's most populated state from one of North America's wildest. Most of them came in regular road cars. All of them came for fun. And in one way or another, the majority of them got it.

Still the best way to travel Baja, if one is really serious about taking its pleasures as they come, is by four-wheel-drive vehicle. A passenger car can make it all right, but it restricts one to the pavement. With four-wheel traction, the options are more than quadrupled. What's more, most 4WD trucks come tough enough to carry the other toys that make a Baja jaunt such a blast: a car-top aluminum boat, perhaps, with an outboard motor that can put an angler in reach of the 586 known species of fish inhabiting the Sea of Cortez (only 10% of which hang out in the really deep water); a surfboard to test the variable waves that occur in almost every cove (one beach below El Rosario boasts a 1½-mile ride under proper wind conditions); snorkeling gear; fishing tackle; tents and sleeping bags and charcoal broiler; a shovel that can not only dig you out of a sand dune but also turn up a dinner of clams any night on any beach; a motorcycle equipped with knobbies that can teach a man or boy the toughness of the desert and the proper respect for fang-tipped puckerbushes.

Self-sealing off-road tires are a good idea, the wider the better if one plans to do much driving in sand. If tire pressure is reduced to 12 or 15 pounds, a set of 12-inch tires can take even as heavy a vehicle as a Chevy Blazer through sand that would be difficult to walk through. One of those handy-dandy pumps that plug into the cigarette lighter eases the job of re-inflation once the soft stuff is past. A note of caution regarding the paved highway is in order: since its opening two years ago, the Baja Highway has reportedly killed hundreds of American motorists (and uncounted but doubtless many more Mexicans). It is not a freeway. Only two lanes wide, never more than 24 feet in total width, and shoulderless for much of its length, it should never be driven in excess of 55 mph, and more often than not no faster than 35. Blind curves, sheer cliffs with minimal guardrails in the mountainous sections, the vagaries of grazing cattle and horses, not to mention Mexican truck drivers who seem to feel their fate is in the hands of God or machismo—all these make for dangerous driving, especially at night when the trucks and the cattle are out in full force. In fact, it is best to establish a firm rule—reach your destination before dark, or else use your emergency food supplies to camp out at dusk. You can hardly go wrong camping anywhere in Baja if you have water, fuel and food. The countryside, anywhere, is splendid. (Subcautionary note: when picking up wood or cactus for an evening fire, watch out for scorpions. More people die in Mexico each year from scorpion sting—usually infants or the infirm—than from rattlesnake bite.)

All right, we're ready to roll. Most of Baja's recreational action, mainly of the weekend variety, takes place on the dunes and beaches of the 100-mile stretch from Tijuana, just below the border, to Ensenada. This region is much like the Southern California coast—cool, foggy mornings and pleasantly sunny afternoons; excellent surf but numbingly cold water. All save masochists should bundle up in wet suits. Tijuana (pop. 315,760), once the grungiest border town in the world, is a lot cleaner these days and still a delight, what with its two bullrings, its racetracks and its jai alai frontons. Alta California, with its topless and bottomless joints, its endless porn flicks and bookstores, has taken some of the sin out of T-town, or at least made it seem less eroto-exotic, but the Avenida de la Revolución remains one of the Western Hemisphere's more pleasantly libidinous main streets.

Ensenada (pop. 87,160), at the bottom of the weekender's Baja, is another type of town altogether. It is clean, bustling, possessed of numerous fine hotels and restaurants, plus blocks of stores selling the town's excellent leather goods and less-excellent tourist junk. Some visitors feel no need to go any farther, being content to surf-fish for perch and rock bass, to surf at San Miguel (just north of Ensenada) or to view La Bufadora (literally, The Buffalo Snort), a spectacular blowhole at the tip of Punta Banda just across the bay from the Estero Beach Resort Hotel. It is not unusual to see motorcycle gangs cruising the toll road between Tijuana and Ensenada, "Highway 240" in the local parlance since it costs $2.40 American to use the quicker, safer, four-lane toll road here that parallels Numero Uno. But these gangs are usually older folks from Gringoland, wearing such decals on their leathers as LONG BEACH ELKS or PEACEMAKERS.

A favorite stop for surfers, sunners and just plain weekend watchers of the scene is the Halfway House, at the midpoint between Tijuana and Ensenada. On any Sunday it is possible to see a couple of dozen surfers below the 100-foot cliffs that beetlebrow the beaches and an equal number of dirt-bike riders pounding over the desert and dunes. "Up in Southern California, you can't surf on most beaches after 11 p.m.," says one salt-haired surfer in his piping California-cool voice. "Shucks, you even gotta keep your dog on a leash. Here, anything goes." He turns to gaze at a young lady in a lounge chair who is in the process of getting an overall tan.

For those who prefer even more action in the sun, there are the hang-gliding dunes at Cantamar, just above the Halfway House. Here the batmen of Southern California gather each weekend to play "Icarus Descending." A battered white Volkswagen van wheels up to the Cantina de Cantamar, where flies buzz, beer bottles foam and meat cooks in a fire-blackened pot over a wood blaze. The van has snorkeling gear and a beer cooler on the inside, surfboards and a blue-and-yellow hang-glider on top. "If there's wind, we fly," says a kid nicknamed "Barf" as he unlashes the big kite. "If it's dead, we surf or get bombed or snorkel. Sometimes we do it all."

Up on the dunes, at least a dozen kites are flapping and flying in the steady, cool, westerly breeze. Dick Messina, partner in a San Diego outfit called California Gliders, is on hand to instruct neophytes at $20 a lesson. A bearded former Air Force navigator and psychiatric social worker, Messina came down to Cantamar one weekend, flew a hang-glider and dropped everything to open up his new business the next day.

To get down to earth, consider the crag in the Sierra San Pedro Màrtir, which is the quarry of 14-year-old Al Hurlock, a mineral seeker from El Cajon, Calif., who has been coming to Baja on rock-hounding expeditions for more than half his life. Al and his parents are regular visitors to Mike's Sky Rancho, a pleasant oasis tucked away at the 3,900-foot level of the sierra, a three-hour drive over well-marked dirt roads and just a short hop by light plane to the landing strip on a mesa above the ranch. "There's fire opal, topaz, garnet and even a wall of pure glass out there in the hills," says Al. "Sometimes I find these geodes—they're like volcanic eggs, crystal covered with iron." He points out a chokeberry plant in a cactus-filled arroyo. "Don't ever even taste one of those bulby little fruits on that thing. The glands in your throat will swell up, your blood pressure will soar and you'll be finished." An hour's poking among the garnet-freckled boulders of the arroyo produces a flour sack full of stones, nearly all of them red garnets, a few whole but mostly fractured. "Garnets sprinkled randomly over the bleak Baja terrain," singsongs Al. "As my math teacher would say."

Later in the day, he hikes up the Arroyo San Rafael for a spot of trout fishing. The arroyo runs steadily with water year round, fed by springs that produce 2,550 gallons a minute, even in the arid fires of July. Unfortunately, a recent rain—the tail end of a hurricane—has muddied the waters and the trout will not rise to Al's offerings, dry fly or streamer. "When it's clear, I've taken them out of here with my hands," he says. "They're not big trout—about eight or 10 inches—but they're tasty."

Other guests at the ranch that weekend include six off-road enthusiasts from Baton Rouge, La., who have come to Baja for the first time with two dune buggies and a brace of dirt bikes. "All this space, this emptiness, these hills and washes and flat places," exults Billy Carriere, a young Vietnam vet and Bultaco rider. "I could ride forever down here and never get bored." He stares off to the southeast where the last light of day is pinking the peak of the Picacho del Diablo. "Wouldn't mind taking a crack at that baby one day. Looks bigger than 10,000 feet in this light, don't it?" Backpackers and horsepackers who outfit themselves at Mike's and have tried the peak would certainly agree. They would agree, too, that the piñon and ponderosa country, to which the Sky Ranch provides access, is well worth the trekking, rich as it is with deer, mountain lion and birdlife.

The drive back out of the mountains at first light the next day is marked by scenes of empty splendor, filled for a moment by a covey of flushing slate-blue quail, then by a sprinting jackrabbit or a galloping roadrunner, once by a hunting hawk that drops a half-peeled, dead quail in front of the truck, spooked no doubt by its four-wheeled growl, then by an eagle perched on the asparaguslike top of a 10-foot century plant. A cliff drops into inky darkness, unlit as yet by the dawn, just the tops of bristling cardon cactus catching the first light.

The goal for this day is Guerrero Negro, a town of 1,410 population, primarily workers in the local salt factory that sits at the edge of Scammon's Lagoon and the Pacific, just below the 28th Parallel—the dividing line between Baja California State (the northern half of the peninsula) and Baja California Sur (the federal territory to the south). Here the true strangeness of Baja begins to manifest itself. In the eroded draws around El Rosario, paleontologists have found the bones of prehistoric creatures—50-foot hadrosaurs and tiny shrewlike early mammals—but the vegetation of today is equally weird. Giant cardons, bigger than the saguaros of Arizona, measuring up to 60 feet and weighing as much as 10 tons dry; grasping ocotillos; and the easily anthropomorphized cirio trees, called "boojums" by their discoverer, in honor of the "thing" in Lewis Carroll's The Hunting of the Snark. Guerrero Negro sits at the edge of Vizcaino Desert, a region that often goes rainless for two years at a time, but receives enough moisture from perpetual Pacific fogs and winds to support a forest of spiny plants. Along the way is the cutoff to the Bahía de Los Angeles, a paved road that leads 70-odd miles over the waning mountains to a charming fishing resort run by Antero and Cruz Diaz where there is excellent yellowtail fishing in the fall and action for light-tackle enthusiasts year round. When Joseph Wood Krutch was there nearly 20 years ago, Los Angeles Bay was a sort of "land that time forgot." He loved it for its remoteness; the pavement is changing that, and fast.

Guerrero Negro's main attraction is the annual arrival of the Pacific gray whales, usually in late December or early January. The whales, once on the verge of extinction because of overhunting, have been protected since 1937 and have made a spectacular comeback. Small boats cruising near them during their annual mating rituals or, more particularly, near a cow with a calf in tow, know just how spectacular: one flip of a fluke can capsize a boat. The safest whale watching is by airplane or from the beach. During the winter months the lagoon is also inhabited by thousands of ducks and geese, plus like numbers of shore-birds. On the far side of the lagoon's inlet is Malarrimo Beach, a 25-mile westward-jutting point of land that intercepts the south-flowing Pacific currents and, as a result, is a beachcomber's paradise. Junk from all over the world washes up here—wrecked sampans from the China Sea, floats from Japanese longliners, light bulbs from Okinawa, the odd mukluk from the Aleutians. Unfortunately, it is a 10-hour off-road ride to the beach and around the lagoon, and it should only be attempted in company with another 4WD vehicle to assist in getting through the sticky spots.

After overnighting at the moderately priced and beautifully appointed El Presidente hotel near Guerrero Negro, one of six government-built-and-run tourist paradores on the new highway, it is time to push east from the giant, blue steel eagle that marks the 28th Parallel and head across the Bearded Desert toward the Sea of Cortez, 127 miles distant. The desert is "bearded" with Spanish moss; its thick tangles and spiky fastnesses hold an abundance of bird and animal life. It is not unusual for a coyote to cross ahead of one's vehicle, stop and stare haughtily and then trot off, tail wagging, in pursuit of a jackrabbit or kangaroo rat. This is also the land of the elephant trees—grotesque, multi-armed desert specialists with whitish, flaky hides that grow most enthusiastically on the lava flows groping across the Vizcaino like crushed red tentacles. The desert grows oppressive....

Well worth a stop along the road to the gulfside is the oasis of San Ignacio, a welcome relief with its cool ponds and 80,000 Arabian date palms, fig and citrus trees. A nicely restored mission, Indian caves full of petroglyphs and hidden, sudden valleys surround the oasis (pop. 605). A road swinging back southwest, unpaved and treacherous in spots, offers another side adventure but this, too, is best explored with two vehicles.

The highway hits the gulf coast at Santa Rosalía (pop. 8,250), a smoky, clanking, copper-mining and smelting town formerly French owned and now distinguished mainly by a prefabricated iron church built by Alexandre Gustave Eiffel, of Parisian tower fame. Just outside of town, Mexican police often set up a roadblock to search for marijuana.

Down the road from Santa Rosalía is one of Baja's most delightful garden spots, the oasis of Mulegé (pronounced moo-la-HAY). Try to hit Mulegé on a Saturday, in time for the weekly pig roast at the Hotel Serenidad. A bit run-down because of indolent management, this is nonetheless a charming, tiled and cool old pile, abutting the banks of the Rio Santa Rosalía (Baja's only true river, though scarcely two miles long), in which giant black snook crash and snap at night from November to January. When the conquistadors arrived in Mulegé more than 400 years ago, they purportedly found a race of tall, white Indians living there on shellfish and fruit. If they existed, the Indians were soon extirpated, but their spiritual successors can be found today doing much the same thing on the 100-mile stretch from Mulegé south: U.S. campers enjoying clambakes and margaritas outside their trailers on the beaches surrounding Bahía Conceptión, an inlet that begins just below Mulegé.

One such visitor is Charley (Pop) Corn. Tall, tan and trim at 57, Charley spends eight months of the year on the beach at Mulegé, living in a 22-foot trailer with his English wife, Kay, a former concert pianist who has lately turned her talents to jewelry making. She uses the inexhaustible sea-shells that renew themselves every morning on the beach in front of the trailer. Charley Corn's next-door neighbor is an Indian shark fisherman named Pablo Fuerte Meza, from whom he is currently learning at least two words of Spanish a day, plus more than he might care to know about sharks (like how they smell, day and night, when the wind is wrong). Not that Charley cares; he could move down the beach if he wanted to, but he prefers the presence of people more than he minds the odors.

"The Mexicans call me 'Carlos Maíz,'" says Charley Corn as he fishes one morning for whatever the sea might provide. "They're wonderful, simple people, very sincere and very hard-working. Pablo gets about eight pesos, or 64¢ gringo, per pound for the dried, salted shark meat he catches and prepares. They call it muchaco, and it tastes just fine in soup. I'm putting aside $50 a month to send his kids to college. That fiberglass boat of his cost $800—a small fortune for a man who lives from sharks and the sea. Whoops, here's another hit!" He cranks in a thrashing sierra mackerel, silver and blue, to add to the catch. The first six fish of the morning are of different species—the sierra, then a bonito, a dolphin, a needlefish, a cabrilla (or rock bass) and a small tuna. Then more and more sierra. "The yellowtails ain't down yet," Charley Corn laments. "In a week or two they'll be here, and then's when the fun really begins."

But there is plenty of fun that night, even without them. Sitting in front of Charley's trailer, before a driftwood fire, eating Kay's shark-meat cocktails, sipping Bloody Marys made with tequila, watching a few shark heads roll listlessly, toothily in the phosphorescent wash of surf, feeling the muscles that were stretched in pulling fish all day slowly regain their shape, it is possible to reflect that this—yes—could very well be the life. Up on the bluffs overlooking Mulegé, the old mission stares down, as do the lean, tall windows of the territorial prison. Ah, some prison!

The prisoners are let out during the day to work in the town or the fields, and their wives and kids live in town. They go back to the prison at sundown, when the bell sounds. "I've seen worse lives led in what we call freedom up north," Charley says. Overhead, the stars seem to be shouting some high-pitched, indecipherable message, or maybe it's just the surf and the tequila....

From Mulegé south to below Loreto, a distance of nearly 100 miles, the highway flanks one of the loveliest stretches of Baja—quick little half-moon bays spiky with feeding fish; barren rock islets that change color with the waxing of the sun; a backdrop of tall, spare, spiny mountains—the Sierra Giganta, access to which is strictly by foot or mule-back. Thanks to the highway, the bays all sport their share of campers and trailers, but none could be considered even remotely crowded by U.S. standards.

From Puerto Escondido, where the skin diving and light-tackle fishing are superb, the road turns inland, climbing up into the Giganta through forests of cardon and rugged, green-stone cliffs, then topping out in the Magdalena Plain. This is the least interesting stretch of the trip—flat, dry, shading into arable land reminiscent of West Texas. Villa Insurgentes and Ciudad Constitution are raw, ugly working towns with none of the charms of the coast. Again the road descends, through ranching country where the peril from cattle and horses increases, to enter La Paz (pop. 51,610), the territorial capital that has a jet airport and a serious water-pollution problem.

The tropics begin below La Paz; the Tropic of Cancer runs just south of Buena Vista on the gulf side and below Todos Santos on the Pacific. The cape region is far lusher than the rest of Baja, ablaze after the not infrequent rains with bright flowers and studded with palm trees of many varieties. This is resort—as opposed to camper—country, and the tourists more often than not have flown down to the cape and are scarcely roughing it. Many of them are big-game anglers in pursuit of the region's ubiquitous marlin and sailfish. Felix and Kathryn McGinnis, for instance, of Newport Beach, Calif., fly here perhaps 10 times a year to seek out light-tackle targets. Kay McGinnis holds the women's records for six-pound-test line on striped marlin (188 pounds) and white marlin (67); the latter is not a Baja fish. She previously held the Pacific sailfish record in the six-pound category and is now busy trying to regain it. Recently, during a frustrating but highly exciting day, she and her husband hooked up at least eight good-sized bill-fish, one of them a striped marlin estimated to weigh 160 pounds that kept Kay busy for 20 minutes, but all of them ultimately broke off. "It's like fishing with a spider web," says Kay. "You can't put any real pressure on the fish. And the more line it takes off, the more likely even the slightest surge will pop the line. It's absolutely essential to boat the fish in a hurry, and that's largely a matter of the captain's skill in handling the boat properly." Two days later another angler, using 30-pound line, hooked exactly the sailfish that Kay wanted; he conquered it in 10 minutes and then cut the fish loose, hoping that Kay might get a crack at it before her stay was ended.

Another top sport of the cape region is white-wing dove shooting. "Only the Isle of Pines in Cuba had better wing shooting than this," says Bud Parr, the hotelier (Hotel Cabo San Lucas) and awing shot nonpareil. Dr. James Armshaw, a physician from Los Alamitos, Calif., and his wife, Phyllis, were recent guests of Parr's on a white-wing shoot. Arriving at an arroyo outside the town of San José del Cabo at first light, the Armshaws, Parr and two other guns shot their limit of 200 birds in less than an hour and a half. Armshaw's Weimaraners, Hanzl and Gretchen, retrieved until their jaws ached nearly as badly as their master's shotgun shoulder. That evening the shooting party dined on dove breasts and watched the sunset from the cool, flagstone terrace of the hotel. Down below, the sea crashed on the rocks. Parr talked of Los Frailes, the Friars, a pair of giant (222-and 239-foot) stacks that mark the very tip of Baja.

"That's where it all ends," he said. "That's where the Pacific and the Gulf get together. In the old days, the English pirates used to hang out down here waiting for the Manila galleons to come through on the way to Acapulco. Did you notice that wreck on the beach just beyond the cape? That's the Japanese longliner Inari Maru No. 10 that ran aground in September of 1966. Some local fishermen lured her ashore using a directional transmitter taken from the end of the ship's longline and placed in the hills above the rocks. The old traditions die hard."

Back in 1941, John Steinbeck and Marine Biologist Ed Ricketts (the prototype of Cannery Row's Doc) had just completed a six-week cruise of Baja waters in search of biological specimens and poetry. "In time of peace in the modern world," Steinbeck wrote in The Log from the Sea o/Cortez, "if one is thoughtful and careful, it is rather more difficult to be killed or maimed in the outland places of the globe than it is in the streets of our great cities, but the atavistic urge toward danger persists and its satisfaction is called adventure."

If that's the case, then viva atavism! And viva Baja!

ILLUSTRATIONFIVE PHOTOSSTEPHEN GREEN-ARMYTAGEBesides pelican watching, motorists taking Route 1 can ride a dune buggy at Mike's Sky Rancho, snorkel off Cabo San Lucas, Jet-Ski at Ensenada and hang-glide near Halfway House.PHOTOSTEPHEN GREEN-ARMYTAGEGiant cordons may weigh 10 tons.PHOTOSTEPHEN GREEN-ARMYTAGEEndemic Baja rainbow trout thrive in Sierra San Pedro Màrtir.PHOTOSTEPHEN GREEN-ARMYTAGECabanas are provided for campers on beach at Bahia Concepción.PHOTOSTEPHEN GREEN-ARMYTAGEScaly-barked elephant trees flourish on lava flows in Bearded Desert.PHOTOSTEPHEN GREEN-ARMYTAGECabo San Lucas' Bud Parr displays skull of desert bighorn he shot.PHOTOSTEPHEN GREEN-ARMYTAGEDorado teem in Sea of Cortez.PHOTOSTEPHEN GREEN-ARMYTAGEPatio of government hotel on Route 1.PHOTOSTEPHEN GREEN-ARMYTAGEGreat granite outcroppings known as the Friars loom at land's end.MAPSan Diego
Mike's Sky Rancho
Picacho Del Diablo
El Rosario
Guerrero Negro
San Ignacio
Santa Rosalía
Puerto Escondido
La Paz
San Lucas
Cabo San Lucas