Off The Beaten Track

March 13 – 28, 2022.

We love to get off the beaten path. And despite the over development of a lot of Baja and the growing popularity of the peninsula with travelers, if you’re willing to drive down a few dirt roads there are plenty of places to get away from it all.

* All pics are click to enlarge. Once you have them enlarged you can view them in a slide show. Also, you can hover over the pics to see captions.
** And as always, there are an awful lot of pictures. If you are reading this in an email, it is probably pretty long. The photos are more artfully presented on the blog. Click here to see the post on the website.

Santuario de Los Cactus

After our afternoon in El Triunfo, we decided to visit the Santuario de Los Cactus just down the road in El Rosario. Camping is allowed in the parking lot of this preserve. What I didn’t know was that despite being just “down the road” that road was long, bumpy, and unpaved. When we arrived it was late afternoon. Our host Lupe was quite a character. He spoke perfect English after living in the US for many years and hated “Spanglish.” He showed us how he climbs trees and the furniture he made out of dead cactus. We spent the night in the parking lot, walked to the town the next morning for a lovely breakfast, and then strolled along the walking paths of the sanctuary on our return. Besides the desert plants, we saw a lizard and quite a few birds including a California Gnatcatcher, an Oranged-crowned Warbler, a Scott’s Oriole, a Grey Flycatcher, a Robin, a Gila Woodpecker, a Ladder-backed Woodpecker, and the absolute prize of the day, an endemic species that is only found in southern Baja, a Xantus’s Hummingbird.

Camping spot at the Cactus Sanctuary. 200 pesos.

Mangrove Bend Wild Camp

I wanted to do something different. I started looking at camping sites on iOverlander and spotted a review of a site north of the town of Adolfo López Mateos on the western coast. It wasn’t positive. The reviewer was disappointed that there wasn’t a view of the ocean, just mangroves. “I don’t really know why anyone would want to camp here unless you really like mangroves…” the reviewer complained. I love mangroves! Especially if you can kayak through them. There were no directions to this location – just GPS coordinates in the middle of a maze of dirt roads. I used the satellite mode on Google Maps to plot out a path. We drove down a nice paved road from highway 1 toward Adolfo López Mateos then shortly before town turned off onto an unpaved road that took us to where I thought we should turn to reach our destination. Watching the map, which luckily matched the actual terrain pretty accurately, I navigated directly to our new camping spot. Situated on a hill there were several places to launch the kayak onto a mangrove trail. And we had the place all to ourselves.

We blew up our kayak, Pirogue Bleue, that afternoon and put her in the next morning at low tide. We didn’t see lots of birds on our paddle but I did get a good shot of a California Scrub-Jay – a new one for us!

Launch at high tide.
Paddling past our campsite. Can you see Ballena Blanca on the hill?

Bahía Concepción

We had previously visited Bahía Concepción 4 years ago on our first trip to Baja. We stayed in one of the popular pay campgrounds along the water. But this time I wanted to check out one of the free camping areas along the southern part of the bay and kayak. Since we weren’t far away in Loreto we decided to blow Pirogue Bleue up the night before we left, and stuffed her in the van that next morning so we could launch her right away. With the kayak filling up the entirety of the interior of the Ballena Blanca we had an awkward stop at a military checkpoint when one of the military personnel wanted to inspect the inside of the van. Luckily he just peeked over Pirogue Bleue and didn’t ask me to unload her.

Getting to our camping spot was a little dicey. The entrance from the highway to the dirt road leading to the spot I had picked out was steep and rutted. I straddled the ruts in the van going downhill. Fortunately, it flattened and leveled out quickly. When the road started looking dicey again we decided to stop before we made it to the site I’d picked out. No problem, we found the perfect spot anyways. The water was like glass and we launched Pirogue Bleue right away. The distant mountains reflected on the surface of the water which was so clear we could see the bottom of the bay.

After two nights of not seeing another soul, we finally left, driving north the length of the bay. Looking out my window as we wound up into the hills I could see all those paid campsites we decided to skip. Every single one of them was packed.

Camped at the base of Bahia Concepción.
Camped at the base of Bahia Concepción.

Valle de Los Cirios

This was a Greg pick. We had briefly visited here 4 years ago. Greg wanted to return to explore here again. Since our campsite was not far off the highway, we had no problem navigating the dirt road to get to it. But the stretch of highway before our camping spot was a very long drive of nothing – no houses, gas stations, stores, or cell service. We filled our tank up at the last station going north and enjoyed the miles and miles of stunning desert.

Our spot in the Valle de Cirios.
Our spot in the Valle de Cirios. On our second evening, we weren’t completely alone. Another rig asked if they could share our site. Of course, we said “yes.”

Campo La Salina & Reserva de la Biosfera Alto Golfo de California y Delta del Río Colorado

At the very top of the sea of Cortez is a Biosphere Reserve. I’ve often looked at the map and have wondered how to experience this wild place. The answer is Campo La Salina. Down another dirt road off Highway 3 in Sonora, Mexico is a little camp with rooms for rent and space to park your rig. Down the road from the camp is the most amazing beach where you can camp if you have a rig that can drive through sand. The host of the camp was super extra nice. He spoke to me in slow Spanish and I understood most of what he said. The entry fee was 150 pesos ($7.50) and we stayed two nights.

The camp is adjacent to Tohono O’odham land. This Native American Tribe straddles the border of the US and Mexico. I learned a little about this when I was writing my blog about the border wall last year. The tribe has a gate on the border that they use to travel freely back and forth across their lands in each country. The salt field that we camped next to was a sacred Tohono O’odham site. A sign let us know not to walk across it.

We used El Burro to drive closer to the beach. We parked next to a salt mine and walked the rest of the way. I had read that this beach was great for birding. We weren’t disappointed. The birds, beach, sand dunes, the water – it was all stunningly beautiful.

I’m sure this spot can get busy and the rooms can get booked up but for the two nights we were there we were the only ones around besides our hosts.

Sun sets over our camping spot by the salt flats.
The sun sets over our camping spot by the salt flats.

It is quite possible that I will be sharing this post on Wild Bird Wednesday. Check out this blog hop to see what birds people have seen recently all over the world.

16 thoughts on “Off The Beaten Track

  1. As always a delightful read and your pictures are fantastic. Most of the creatures appear to be posing for you. I’m sure that you took many shots to get the ones you wanted. I appreciate your posts and am thankful for your sharing. Keep enjoying yourselves!

    1. Sometimes I had to be patient. I was ready to give up on the Xantus’s Hummingbird but Greg made me sit down and wait a while. The bird came back and sat in a tree and posed for me!

      You and Pat keep enjoying yourselves too! I always love hearing from you.

    1. Yes! It’s something people don’t really think about. It was very interesting to run across where the Tohono O’odham live in Mexico.

  2. Wow, Duwan! You two left Baja and Mexico with a bang. These are incredible places to camp. And so many birds and other wildlife. Good eye and good choices to stay. The owl photo is incredible. I’ve never been able to see – let alone – photograph a cute owl like that! Owls are my favorite non-tropical bird species. 🙂

    1. We hardly ever see owls. Greg spotted this one because he was searching for other birds on the Cliffside by looking for the spots with bird poop. That owl was really hidden in that crevice. I had to lay down on the sand to get a pic of him. It was very exciting! I think Campo Salina was one of my favorite spots in this Mexico trip.

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