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In Baja, California, it's possible to spot whales breaching and even pet the whale calves. There are also several places to view an enormous whale skeleton.
In Baja, California, it's possible to spot whales breaching and even pet the whale calves. There are also several places to view an enormous whale skeleton.

Baja, California: Whales, wine and history

RVers may enter the Baja California through the border crossings at Tijuana, Tecate, and Lukeville, Ariz. The first two towns offer the most direct routes which are Highways 1 and 3 down the length of the Baja. Entry and exit requires a passport for each person traveling. A migration form costing $25-$30 was purchased at the immigration office in Tecate as we entered.

After passing through immigration at Tecate take Highway 3 south through the rather dusty border town. Note that there are ALTO signs (stop signs) at nearly every corner and vehicles from the United States are expected to stop completely. Always obey the speed limit and ALTO signs and all other traffic signs.

Highway 3 is a well traveled Vino Trailway that intersects Highway 1 just north of Ensenada, the fifth largest city in Mexico. Several vineyards striving to rival those in the great Napa Valley of California are seen along Highway 3. Ensenada has good streets and highways with much traffic.

The first RV park where we stayed was a few miles south of Ensenada with sites overlooking the ocean, but with no hookups, at a cost of $10 per day. Day trips included one to the Ensenada oceanfront and Oldtown. We also saw la Bufadora, the Blowhole, which is located west past our campground on BCN 23. Several other RV parks are spaced along this partially paved road as well.

Heading south on Highway 1 past the town of Rosalito, Highway 1 meanders through the center of the peninsula with a few branch roads going east and west. Of particular note is the road to the Baja de Los Angeles on the Sea of Cortez. This had been our stated destination, but our group decided to drive more than 600 miles south to the Mulege region, which allowed us to take day trips from Guerrero Negro, St. Ignacio, San Quentin and Santa Rosalia.

Most memorable of these day trips was the whale watching trip from our campground at Laguna south of Guerrero Negro. Second was the walking tour of Santa Ignacio. Several others enjoyed a tour of the salt processing plant at Guerrero Negro.

hands while caressing and touching a grey whale
hands while caressing and touching a grey whale

Whale watching

In a small pango boat piloted by an experienced guide, seven guests paying $40 each motored through the bay until we spotted several mother and calf pairs playing in the bay. Our guide recognized some friendly whales and steered the boat slowly through the waves and near to a whale cow and calf. We stopped completely and the mother and calf came over to greet us. The curious calf raised its head completely above the side of the boat as if asking each of us to pet and scratch its rubbery surface.

Seemingly satisfied with the attention it settled back into the water. Close by another mother and calf played with the occupants of a companion boat for more than 15 minutes. The whale pair were not disturbed when our boat joined the petting party. Petting the whale was the trip highlight for me and made the entire trip worthwhile.

Stained glass windows, Santa Rosalia, Baja California
Stained glass windows, Santa Rosalia, Baja California

Santa Ignacio Oasis

In the very midst of a desert is the Santa Ignacio Oasis. As we descended from the surrounding desert and entered the town the entire small valley appeared to be filled with greenery from grass to stately trees. It was amazing to realize that the water flows from springs or underground rivers in ample quantity to supply the town and surrounding valley with irrigation water. A walking tour leads to an old mission church, built hundreds of years ago, which is next to the town square. This small village offers several cafés and two RV parks.

Further south along Highway 1 is the mining town of Santa Rosalia. We stayed in an RV park on the Sea of Cortez and took a day trip into the town. There an especially unique feature is a Catholic church which was designed by A.G. Eiffel, the architect for the Panama Canal and the Statue of Liberty. This church was constructed of metal in France and won the first prize at the Paris World Exposition in 1889. Later it was dismantled, transported to Santa Rosalia and reassembled for use as a church, which continues to serve people today.

While relaxing in the town park, I chatted with three lovely, young ladies. They are members of a six lady crew of a sailboat which they had sailed south from Ensenada around the Baja past Cabo San Lucas and up the Sea of Cortez to Santa Rosalia. Their immediate destination was Puerto Penasco. They were having a wonderful sailing adventure. All the ladies are college students or have recently begun their working careers.

Pelicans at Cabo San Lucas in Baja California Sur in Mexico
Pelicans at Cabo San Lucas in Baja California Sur in Mexico

My final stop was on the beach near Mulege, another quaint village on the Sea of Cortez. Other members of our group traveled further south. Our guide had been RVing in the Baja several years earlier on a 70-day trip and was a fine, patient leader of our group of eight. There are many RV parks and boondocking sites along Route 1 down the Baja. Our guide was familiar with most of them and our group had an excellent trip south along the Baja as we traveled from 50 to 150 miles per day.

Most villages along Route 1 have one or more RV parks with prices that range from $10 to $15 per night depending on the type of hook up. There is an abundance of American and Canadian snowbirds who stay in Mexico for up to the maximum time of six months per year in these RV parks. Snowbirds are often the established residents of these RV resorts and return annually, many for the past two decades or more.

The snowbirds may have a kayak, sailboat or motorboat for use on the Sea of Cortez or on one or more of the bays featured on the sea or on the Pacific.

While the southbound trip took about 12 days to travel 600 miles, I drove northward alone and that trip took less than two days which included a 100-mile detour as I mistakenly chose the southbound Route 3 rather than northbound Route 3 at Ensenada. This was a costly, time-consuming mistake on my part.

Traffic Sign in Spanish
Police in Mexico often scrutinize American RVers, so be sure to stop at all ALTO signs.

ALTO means stop

Prior to entering Mexico, our caravan had been warned repeatedly to obey the traffic signs. Do not exceed the speed limit regardless of the numbers and types of Mexican drivers who pass by. Always stop at the ALTO signs. For more than 1,500 miles, I drove carefully in both my Saturn Vue and Thor ACE motorhome, always obeying the laws. While returning to the border town Tecate I was extra careful to stop at each ALTO sign because midafternoon traffic that Friday was dense and heavy.

There are ALTO signs at practically every street corner, even on the main Highway 3 through the entire town. There are few signs that accurately direct the way to the border crossing and they are not clearly marked. At last I had found the correct street and was very close to the border crossing. Suddenly a motorcycle with flashing lights pulled alongside and the officer waved me to pull over. I did so.

The officer politely asked why I had not stopped at the last three alto signs. I assured him that I had done so. He insisted that I had not. We engaged in polite conversation and a discussion of “he said, I said.” I asked about the fine and was told it would be $120, but first I must drive back downtown and go before a judge. I quickly asked if the judge would accept a credit card and he said no credit cards.

I then told the officer that because my credit card had not been accepted in Mexico I had spent all of my cash on fuel to get back to the United States. He said in that case I would have to wait until I could secure money from the U.S. via a bank wire. I asked for other possible solutions, but he had none. I continued to insist politely, but adamantly, that I stopped at every stop sign. I reiterated that I had driven more than 1,500 miles in Mexico during the past month without incident until he stopped me within half a mile of the U.S. border.

I vowed to argue in my defense with the judge. I did not offered to pay the officer any amount of money or bribe in any form. In addition, I described my good driving record for nearly 65 years of experience.

All of this occurred during a period of 30 minutes or so almost within sight of the border crossing. After asking once again if I had any cash money and hearing my negative reply the police officer declared, “If you don’t have any money, I am going to let you go.”

Although I was greatly relieved to be allowed to return to the United States, I blatantly asked, “Why are you letting me go?” He mumbled, “ I don’t want to cause any trouble.” He then strolled to his motorcycle, made a U-turn and returned into the city. I proceeded the half mile to the border and within minutes had gratefully and happily returned to the United States.

About Dr. Bob Gorden

Dr. Bob Gorden is an RVer, hiker and writer. He has a PhD in microbial ecology from the University of Georgia in Athens. He is a retired research scientist from the University of Illinois Natural History Survey. He has owned and operated more than 55 RVs of various types, and has visited every state, except Hawaii, in his RV. He also traveled by RV in New Zealand, Canada and Mexico. He currently owns and travels in a 1978 GMC 26-foot Class A and 2013 Thor ACE 30.1 Class A motorhome. He has a compelling desire to be “On the Road Again!”

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