Mexico, Part 4: Mike's Sky Rancho, Sea of Cortez, Coco's Corner

Mike's Sky Rancho

We left Ensenada reluctantly, saying our temporary goodbyes to Mauricio and Abby (and Vini the dog and the '61 Land Rover). Mauricio repeatedly told us that he didn't want us to leave because once we realized how excellent Baja really is, we'd never return to Ensenada. Don't worry Mauricio, we'll be back, we promise.

Our first destination outside Ensenada was Mike's Sky Rancho, a little backwoods ranch popular for dirt bike and off road trips. It's got a long history that we don't really know much about. The winter seems like the off season, as the pool was not full (or clean) and most of the rooms were unoccupied. One medium sized dirt bike tour was at the ranch when we arrived, but other than them, a few ladies running the kitchen, and the Mike tending the bar, we were alone in the woods. The ranch is 31 kilometers in on a decent road with a handful of small, washed out climbs that could be handled by a stock Ford Ranger, but perhaps not by a Subaru Legacy, if that makes sense. Honestly, a Legacy could probably get to the ranch, but might drag a skid plate here or there. We stayed one night, didn't love the price or the accomodations, and left the next morning.

A sweet Ensenada sunset saying goodbye to us.

A sweet Ensenada sunset saying goodbye to us.

The team, animals included, on the morning of departure.

The team, animals included, on the morning of departure.

We could hardly get out of our seats before being surrounded by the folks from the dirt bike tour checking out our pad.

We could hardly get out of our seats before being surrounded by the folks from the dirt bike tour checking out our pad.

Loulou exploring new heights while we peruse the map for our next destination.

Loulou exploring new heights while we peruse the map for our next destination.

4-wheeling with a cat!

4-wheeling with a cat!

We drove through mountains and over small desert passes until we reached the Sea of Cortez at San Felipe. San Felipe is the northern-most city on the Sea of Cortez on Mexico 5, and marks the point where the highway begins to follow the beaches. The town is small, but set up for tourists, complete with a crowded merchant block, and many small RV parks and hotels. We continued south and camped at a forgotten RV resort that never took off. The whole scene was quite dystopian, and even though the security guard was charging too much ($300M) for nothing (nearly no facilities), we spent a nice night and got to cook over a fire, which is always a plus.

The next day we made it to Puertecitos, a small community split nearly 50/50 between locals and expatriates. Puertecitos not only boasts excellent beachside camping, but also a tidal pool hot spring that is a perfect temperature right as the tide is coming in or out. At high tide the hot pools are blown out and filled by cold sea water, and at low tide the pools are hot enough to boil you alive, so the window of opportunity is fleeting and ever-changing.

There we met some other travelers, including one nice Californian who swapped a Chevy 350 small block into his Land Rover. It makes a GREAT sound, and the roar is totally unexpected when you see the rig. We spent New Year's Eve soaking and dining at the community potluck, and headed out the next day.

Desert mixed with beach in Baja California.

Desert mixed with beach in Baja California.

Our camp spot in the forgotten RV resort.

Our camp spot in the forgotten RV resort.

Super slow service at the poolside bar... let it suffice to say that the bartender didn't get a tip.

Super slow service at the poolside bar... let it suffice to say that the bartender didn't get a tip.

Camping and cooking at the forgotten RV resort.

Camping and cooking at the forgotten RV resort.

Free fuel, collected from the beach. The dish in the foreground is a pie plate heaped with coals, acting as a dutch oven to bake the corn bread within.

Free fuel, collected from the beach. The dish in the foreground is a pie plate heaped with coals, acting as a dutch oven to bake the corn bread within.

Our new friend francisco and his Land Rover with a 350! Sounds so good!

Our new friend francisco and his Land Rover with a 350! Sounds so good!

Seaside hot springs in Puetrecitos.

Seaside hot springs in Puetrecitos.

Testing the tidal hot spring water.

Testing the tidal hot spring water.

If you bring your own hose, a convenient water spigot becomes a shower!

If you bring your own hose, a convenient water spigot becomes a shower!

Puertecitos even had a library and a post office! And a yet-unnamed project building.

Puertecitos even had a library and a post office! And a yet-unnamed project building.

South of Puertecitos we followed a highway project back towards Mexico 1, and we had about five lanes of space to use. We dodged ruts and washboard as best we could, but it was tiring. We had heard of a fabled spot, run by a guy named Coco, Coco's Corner, and folks had said camping was free if you bought a beverage. How could we refuse?

We found Coco hollering "HELLO! HOLA! HELLO! HOLA!" over and over and over again. He's nearly 80 years old and a double below-the-knee-amputee, so when a car arrives he's a little slow to greet them, but calls out greetings in different languages in hopes that whomever entered his compound will stay and chat. He's fantastically giving, even though at first glance it looks like he doesn't have much. He lives in a well built, although mostly uninsulated plywood home. Most Americans would call it a shack, but its a step above that. Everything in his house is fit for him. The kitchen counters are too low for me but at the perfect height for his wheel chair. His workshop is the same, with workbenches built just for him. His compound is mostly powered by a few solar panels, but at night he fires up the generator so he can watch movies and turn on the flood lights of the lot. He offers help to EVERYONE, and even gave us a round of beers for free. If you're in the area, stop and see him. His generosity will warm your heart. He is a gift from God for the traveler. (And his 80th birthday is February 25th, so if you're in the area, give him a big birthday hug from the both of us!)

Using not only the whole road, but all the roads.

Using not only the whole road, but all the roads.

Signing Coco's guest book. HEY PACIFICO! SPONSOR THIS GUY!

Signing Coco's guest book. HEY PACIFICO! SPONSOR THIS GUY!

Had to draw Little Foot, for all the travelers of the future to see. (He makes you sign the book with your given birth name name and birthplace!)

Had to draw Little Foot, for all the travelers of the future to see. (He makes you sign the book with your given birth name name and birthplace!)

Cooking with Coco. He told me that I am NEVER allowed to open my own restraurant, as I'm much too slow for his liking.

Cooking with Coco. He told me that I am NEVER allowed to open my own restraurant, as I'm much too slow for his liking.

Glamour shot with Coco. He gets around in his chair, but he also walks on his knees pretty well, hence the hefty leather "boots".

Glamour shot with Coco. He gets around in his chair, but he also walks on his knees pretty well, hence the hefty leather "boots".

Do not feel bad for Coco. He's happier than you. Figure out what he has figured out and you will be happy forever.

Do not feel bad for Coco. He's happier than you. Figure out what he has figured out and you will be happy forever.

Little Foot posing.

Little Foot posing.

Heading on south! 244 kilometers to go until... somewhere?

Heading on south! 244 kilometers to go until... somewhere?

Mexico, Part 1: We made it and it's AWESOME.

Mexico Border to La Fonda

In a previous post I mentioned that state borders in the US felt like simultaneous start and finish lines. The Mexican border was an enormous departure from this motif - we were wide eyed and wired on the caffeine of a foreign land as we drove the last few miles down the I-5 towards the Mexican border. We were doing it! We were at last and at least making it to one foreign country. We were winning. We won! It was great!

The Mexican border was no problem, even though we got called into secondary for an x-ray search of Little Foot. He's too tall and too unusual not to search. Chels grabbed LouLou in her critter carrier and we piled out as Little Foot was scanned by a massive, moving arch. The scan was quick, and we were on our way. The Mexican border guards were professional but also super congenial. After we passed our x-ray inspection, they stopped lanes of traffic so we could scurry across the freeway to the mass transit immigration office. It saved us a lot of time having to track down another immigration office, and we had our passports and our prepaid tourist cards stamped for the duration of our trip.

PRO TIP: Prepay your tourist card at www.inm.gob.mx for three reasons: its cheaper online, its easier online, and its one less stop on your border crossing. If you purchase it in person after you cross the border, you'll have to obtain the form and fill it out at the immigration office, then go to a bank to pay the fee (small, but annoying to make another stop), and then return to the immigration office with a bank receipt, at which point your tourist card and your passport can be stamped for entry. The only reason not to do this would be if you are traveling by land, exclusively staying in the state of Baja California, and staying for less than 7 days. In that case, the form is free and the imigartion office is a one-stop-shop.

We left the border in the dust and rocketed towards a campsite we had lined up for our first evening. We had decided to keep our dreams simple and find a campsite outside Tijuana, in the hopes that even if the border crossing was long and arduous, or if we got lost or held up somewhere with paperwork, we could still make it to a safe destination. We made it to the K58 campground in the sleepy town of La Fonda with daylight to spare. We parked Little Foot, and headed out to explore the town.

Streets lined with beautiful vegetation.

Streets lined with beautiful vegetation.

We found Poco Cielo, a small restraurant and hotel, right next to our campground. Very cool.

We found Poco Cielo, a small restraurant and hotel, right next to our campground. Very cool.

The view from our site at K58. It s a cool surf spot, apparently. The other two parties camped there for the night were a converted school bus and homegrown diesel Sprinter conversion. Our kind of people!

The view from our site at K58. It s a cool surf spot, apparently. The other two parties camped there for the night were a converted school bus and homegrown diesel Sprinter conversion. Our kind of people!

Loulou and Chels enjoying our first Mexican sunset! The pacific just won't quit when it comes to sunsets.

Loulou and Chels enjoying our first Mexican sunset! The pacific just won't quit when it comes to sunsets.

Our first morning! Just as beautiful.

Our first morning! Just as beautiful.

Our first breakfast at a little place in La Mision, Baja California. We had no language skills, but we managed to order  very  well.

Our first breakfast at a little place in La Mision, Baja California. We had no language skills, but we managed to order very well.

Rancho San Carlos

After our first night on the beach, we headed inland through Ensenada to find somewhere to camp. Chels did some great offline research and pointed us towards a little hot springs. We had no idea what to expect, but some nice Jehovah's Witnesses chatted with us about our travels at a gas station and told us that if we didn't expect much, we would love it. OK! We can do that!

The road in was 10 kilometers of mild dirt road with some shallow water crossings, one or two deeper water crossings, and a lot of harsh granite. Little Foot was up to his axles at some points, but it was no big deal as I had just repaired and replaced three axle boots. Hopefully he's water tight!

The hot springs were fantastic, and nearly entirely deserted. Right when we thought we would be the only folks there for the night, two parties rolled in. One was a gentleman in a two wheel drive Astro van who needed my assistance the next morning due to a tire puncture/leak. The other party was two vehicles, a 1961 Land Rover 2A truck piloted by our new friends Mauricio and Abby, and a Mitsubishi Delica van, all kitted out for travel, driven by our new friends (and unwilling mentors?) Pablo and Anna. Mauricio and Abby are locals of Ensenada, the nearest city to Rancho San Carlos, and Pablo and Anna are their long time friends, and even longer time travelers, having been on the road for over 16 years!

You can find and follow Mauricio and Abby here:
@Ensedada - Instagram

You can find and follow Pablo and Anna here:
Viajeros4x4x4.com
@Viajeros4x4x4 - Instagram

The other water crossings were deeper! I swear!

The other water crossings were deeper! I swear!

The nearly deserted Rancho San Carlos. Come at the wrong time, though, and all the pools will be packed, we were told. 

The nearly deserted Rancho San Carlos. Come at the wrong time, though, and all the pools will be packed, we were told. 

Mauricio's FANTASTIC Land Rover. What a beauty. Birds of feather flock together.

Mauricio's FANTASTIC Land Rover. What a beauty. Birds of feather flock together.

Little Foot had friends. The property was inhabited with geese, cats, dogs, pigs, swans, etc.

Little Foot had friends. The property was inhabited with geese, cats, dogs, pigs, swans, etc.

Testing the new tire inflator as LouLou supervizes.

Testing the new tire inflator as LouLou supervizes.

Enjoying the hot springs pools.

Enjoying the hot springs pools.

Enjoying (maybe?) a mud bath followed by a rinse folowed by more hot springs pools.

Enjoying (maybe?) a mud bath followed by a rinse folowed by more hot springs pools.

A Few Nights in Ensenada

Mauricio and Abby extended an invitation for us to park at their property by the ocean for a few days. A few days turned into a week or so as we waited for Christmas, which we planned to spend in the Valle de Guadalupe. While staying at Mauricio's property we had the chance to learn many, MANY things from Pablo and Anna, the full time adventurers. At their suggestion we added another set of locks to Little Foot, ditched some gear we didn't need, and generally improved our rig.

With Mauricio's assistance we visited Hugo the helpful mechanic and borrowed some tools to readjust Little Foot's breaks. I needed to pull every wheel off our rig to access the break adjustment caps, and to retighten them I needed a bigger torque wrench than the one I packed. In addition to providing tools, Hugo also double checked my adjustments, so as to insure that the job was done right the first time.

All in all, it was a huge blessing to meet these wonderful people. 

Enjoying the beach house's fantastic patio.

Enjoying the beach house's fantastic patio.

A Pacific ocean sunset.

A Pacific ocean sunset.

Wrenching on little Foot with the help of Hugo's tools and expertise.

Wrenching on little Foot with the help of Hugo's tools and expertise.

Hugo didn't charge us, but we did take an oppertunity to buy him ice cream.

Hugo didn't charge us, but we did take an oppertunity to buy him ice cream.

Lou made fast friends with Vini.

Lou made fast friends with Vini.

Pablo helping me rivet our license plate onto its mount.

Pablo helping me rivet our license plate onto its mount.

Tacos at El Flamazo!

Tacos at El Flamazo!

Tacos at Asadero La Chispa!

Tacos at Asadero La Chispa!

Oregon Part 1: Eastern Border to Portland

Wilder, ID, is very nearly on the state border, so it didn't take long to make it to the border. We had time-budgeted nearly a week to get from Idaho to Portland, but I must have done some math wrong, because we ended up making it to just outside Portland in three days.

Our path took us along side the historic Oregon Trail. At one point, we passed a good looking historical point, with what seemed to be a small hiking trail leading up to a small hill. We couldn't miss a quick morning walk, so we doubled back on a dirt road to make it to the trailhead.. It felt good to get Little Foot's tires dirty, if only for a minute. After the dirt road delivered us to the historical site, we climbed the hill and realized we had been driving remarkably close to the actual Oregon Trail! It is really cool to think we were navigating in terrain very similar to some of the original American pioneers.

Our campsite that night was a little pull-off on a BLM road near Dayville, OR. Very beautiful land, and it seemed to be past the prime of hunting season, so there was little traffic.

Like a starting line, but slower and lonelier.

Like a starting line, but slower and lonelier.

Driving real close (or maybe very nearly on?) the Oregon Trail.

Driving real close (or maybe very nearly on?) the Oregon Trail.

On a BLM road near Dayville, OR.

On a BLM road near Dayville, OR.

Collecting firewood at camp, the Cubic Mini Woodstove burns mini wood!

Collecting firewood at camp, the Cubic Mini Woodstove burns mini wood!

We're starting to realize that every blog post may very well have some aspect of Pinzgauer maintenance or repair. If you have an older vehicle, or really any vehicle, realize that maintenance and repair needs to happen. Don't neglect a potential problem. Not a huge problem this time, just a loose wiper motor mount. We got the wrenches out to tighten some nuts and bolts, because a few minutes of maintenance might be the difference between a working wiper motor and a serious headache of sourcing a 30 year old, foreign military surplus part.

Fixing.

Fixing.

Our drive the next day started with a beautiful blue sky and Chelsea behind the wheel. We had found a "short cut" across the state by using a dirt road that started just a few miles past our campsite. Chelsea started driving, thinking that she needed some practice, and just kept on going! It ended up being a great drive, and it sure was nice to ride in the passenger seat.

We didn't get any photos of the drive but it was beautiful! Because Chelsea was driving, I was on photo duty, and only took videos instead of photo. Unfortunately its hard to embed those in our blog without some serious editing, so maybe they will show up in a movie later. Whoops! We did get a photo of me making lunch at the high pass on the drive, so you can get an idea of the road.

Parked briefly next to a tree covered in shoes! It had a sign on it that said, "Just a bunch of old soles hanging around."

Parked briefly next to a tree covered in shoes! It had a sign on it that said, "Just a bunch of old soles hanging around."

Behind the wheel for one of the first times!

Behind the wheel for one of the first times!

Loulou likes to join us in the sun in a camp chair that she's claimed as her own. (On that note…we need to purchase a third camp chair…)

Loulou likes to join us in the sun in a camp chair that she's claimed as her own. (On that note…we need to purchase a third camp chair…)

We spent a night camped in the National Forest near Bagby Hot springs, choosing to stop driving before twilight instead of pushing on into the darkness.  The campsite was secluded and beautiful, and even featured a dirt road detour with almost no other traffic but us. The next morning we got up and drove, making it to the hot springs parking lot before 10AM. We bought our passes ($5 each…and a first for us for hot springs in a national forest) and headed up the trail, but only after fielding a handful of questions from the nice parking lot attendant.

Again, beautiful and deserted.

Again, beautiful and deserted.

Little Foot diving through the morning fog towards Bagby hot springs.

Little Foot diving through the morning fog towards Bagby hot springs.

Parking pass and wrist band in hand. $5 each, parking included.

Parking pass and wrist band in hand. $5 each, parking included.

Loulou coming out of her cocoon of quiet after we parked for the afternoon.

Loulou coming out of her cocoon of quiet after we parked for the afternoon.

Bagby hot springs is a 1.5 mile walk up a well built, and relatively flat trail. Honestly, until the end, it is very nearly ADA accessible. I think that the vast majority of people could make it up the trail, so if you're on the fence, just go. The stroll alone is worth it, with the trail meandering through old growth cedar forests and beside a picturesque river, complete with plunging waterfalls and beautiful bridges.

The spring water is channeled through some pipes and open wooden aqueducts, and fed into a man-made pool. There is a communal soaking room with a handful of large pools for groups, a series of five private soaking rooms containing hollowed out tree trunks, like stationary, half finished canoes. The trunks vary in size, but we found one that would comfortably fit the two of us.

We gave it a scrub, and opened the taps for the glorious hot spring water to collect. It took a while, to be honest, to fill the tub, so we ended up carrying 5 gallon buckets of water from another nearby overflowing tub, to speed the process.

The walls of the bath houses are partially covered with graffiti, most of it records of other bathers and of a PG nature, with a little of it being crude and immature. The graffiti, the worn soaked wood structure, the steam, and the natural pacific northwest rain forest setting all combine to create a strange, nearly dystopian setting. There's definitely a forgotten-land vibe going on. 

Chelsea, looking at me after I said something stupid.

Chelsea, looking at me after I said something stupid.

The majority of the path was flatter than this, and a large portion was paved. 

The majority of the path was flatter than this, and a large portion was paved. 

Bathhouses steaming in the rainforest.

Bathhouses steaming in the rainforest.

Me inspecting one of the hollowed out tree bathtubs. We scrubbed the tub before and after our soak, so as to bathe cleanly and leave a tub ready for the next folks.

Me inspecting one of the hollowed out tree bathtubs. We scrubbed the tub before and after our soak, so as to bathe cleanly and leave a tub ready for the next folks.

Idaho and Hotspringing.

We left Salmon, Idaho for Wilder, Idaho on the evening of Sunday, October 23rd. Winter was starting to sneak up on us and we knew it was time to hit the road to start heading south. After organizing the last of our belongings into storage (and taking one more spin on the motorbikes), we planned our departure.

BRAAAAAAAAAAAAP!!!!!! Someday we'll take these bikes on a long trip. Not this year, though.

BRAAAAAAAAAAAAP!!!!!! Someday we'll take these bikes on a long trip. Not this year, though.

We knew we didn't want to drive at night, but we also knew we wanted to get our trip started, so we headed down Hwy 93 to one of our favorite hot springs to kick off what would become a week of hot spring hopping.

[Just as a quick side note, its really easy to plan and build and never leave. If you find yourself hoping to go for a large, long, or undetermined trip, the first step can be the hardest step to take. This is the second trip where we have left nearly at sundown, and only made it 15 or so miles. You don't have to go far that first day, but going is important, because the trip can only start to gain momentum after it has begun.]

Gold Bug Hot Springs

The trailhead to Gold Bug Hot Springs is found down a dirt road about 30 miles south of Salmon on Hwy 93. Follow the rules, and obey whatever signs are posted at the trailhead, as the springs require passage through private land, and it would be a pity if the privilege of soaking was taken away from the public.

The trail is about 2 miles long, with some steep going at the end, but only enough to get your heart going right before a soak. There are a handful of pools, some deeper and cooler than others. There is camping on the trail if you are so inclined, and two restrooms, one at the trail head and one about halfway.

[Note: Photos of the hot springs are from a previous trip in the Spring. Seeing as this trip we hiked up in the dark, no photos were had, only glorious star-lit soaks.]

This is the hottest pool to my belief. Its very shallow but you can lay down, and it also happens to be the first pool you'll pass on the trail. This photo is from an earlier trip.

This is the hottest pool to my belief. Its very shallow but you can lay down, and it also happens to be the first pool you'll pass on the trail. This photo is from an earlier trip.

Hot spring waterfalls! This one is in the largest pool, which can sit a few parties. This photo is from an earlier trip.

Hot spring waterfalls! This one is in the largest pool, which can sit a few parties. This photo is from an earlier trip.

We found our friends Kadin and Katie at the parking lot the next morning, and made a nice hot breakfast. They were coming, we were going, perfectly timed. This photo was from our most recent trip.

We found our friends Kadin and Katie at the parking lot the next morning, and made a nice hot breakfast. They were coming, we were going, perfectly timed. This photo was from our most recent trip.

Elkhorn Hot Springs

In Stanley, Idaho, about a mile west of the little town's center, there is an unassuming parking pull-off on a gentle corner of the highway. Just beneath the road is a cast iron cauldron being fed with hot springs water that falls down a long PVC pipe. That's all you need to know. It's magical. Go find it.

The cauldron has a beautiful wooden lip to assist entering.

The cauldron has a beautiful wooden lip to assist entering.

Being boiled and steamed like a human sized crawdad! I think there is a small rivulet of hot-springs water that flows under the cauldron and keeps the water warm even when the black pipe isn't feeding the tub.

Being boiled and steamed like a human sized crawdad! I think there is a small rivulet of hot-springs water that flows under the cauldron and keeps the water warm even when the black pipe isn't feeding the tub.

There are a few pools beneath the cauldron as well for a more natural soak.

There are a few pools beneath the cauldron as well for a more natural soak.

Sacajawea Hot Springs

A nice man gave us a hot tip on some springs and a good free camp spot when we were fueling up in Stanley. He pointed us towards Sacajawea hot springs in the Sawtooth National Forest, and he wasn't wrong. Long story short: make your way toward Grandjean, ID by following the South Fork of the Payette river up a dirt road for about 5 miles and you'll see a steaming mass of water flowing from the hillside.

The springs are HOT and need river water to cool them to a usable temperature. There were maybe half a dozen pre-made pools, but we needed to do some work to change the flow of river water into the pools. Be prepared to move some rocks around.

Moving rocks!

Moving rocks!

Strolling to find a pool at the right temperature.

Strolling to find a pool at the right temperature.

Warm enough to turn toes pink! 

Warm enough to turn toes pink! 

Can you spot the Pinzgauer?

Can you spot the Pinzgauer?

Kirkman Hot Springs

Kirkman hot springs is highly visible off the Highway near Lowman, ID. There is an auto bridge over the river that leads to a campground and a day use parking area, both of which want your money. There are a few pools right by the parking area, an interpretive trail describing some of the science of the springs, and a lower area with a few deeper pools and some water falls. Real nice! 

It seems like the day use fee is for parking, so I assume you could park on the highway in the sizable pull-off by the bridge and just walk across. I don't think that you should do this, as the fees pay for upkeep of our nation's gems. Paying a few dollars keeps the pit toilets open and pumped out, the pavement drivable for those of you in highway going cars, and the stairways in safe shape.

And hey, Kirkman hot springs users, QUIT YOUR LITTERING! The parking lot had an inexcusable amount of debris left around, and we picked up cans, bottles, plastic trash, and broken glass down by the pools. Be nice!

Soak soak soak, with waterfalls in the background. These pools are pebble bottomed.

Soak soak soak, with waterfalls in the background. These pools are pebble bottomed.

Wilder, Idaho

We made it out of the hot springs mecca and to Wilder ID, just in time to do some needed maintenance on Little Foot's beating heart. We'll do a full blog entry on maintenance schedules later on, as its becoming a bigger part of our life on the road that we initially thought.

Adjusting the valves for the first time.

Adjusting the valves for the first time.

A sunrise with a hop field in the background. In the off seasons it looks like the farmers are growing telephone poles.

A sunrise with a hop field in the background. In the off seasons it looks like the farmers are growing telephone poles.