TBT - "The Trouble With The Baja Trail"

In the late '60s my wife and I were getting restless and bored with living the 'normal life'. We thought maybe a "change in latitudes - change in attitudes" would suite us better then continuing the pursuit of the 'American Dream'. Looking into what kind of adventure would suit us, there was two places that looked good for 'pioneering tourism' - Baja California and the Bay Islands, Honduras.

But like all pioneers we had to be prepared to rough it - and for Baja California it looked like hauling a travel trailer down the 900 mile peninsula would be a good idea, sort of like taking a covered wagon on the Oregon Trail. There is only one real river in that desert (3 miles in length) - located about half way down the peninsula at Mulege - a small fishing village on the Sea of Cortez. That would be the destination.

At that time information on Baja and the road to Mulege was very difficult to find - so I sent a letter to the map experts at the Automobile Club of Southern California asking if it was possible to haul a 25' travel trailer down the Baja road, using a four wheel drive pickup truck. A couple weeks later I came home from work and the wife said the AAA club had phoned us and said that it was a challenging road for anyone - but with perseverance and patience we could make it through to Mulege.

Fortunately I did meet someone at the Tijuana border that had been a short distance down the Baja road and he warned me that after Ensenada (50 miles south) the road is really just a very seldom used rutted old track south to Mulege - without any bridges or culverts - or gas stations or repair shops! So I went to a welding shop in Tijuana and had them weld big truck leaf springs supported by steel blocks on the rear frame of our trailer house to act as skids. This worked perfectly and protected the rear of the trailer when going through the many dry stream gulches. Sometimes the creek bed would be so steep that the trailer wheels would come off the ground - the trailer being suspended and dragged between the hitch and the skids!

When the pave road gave out after Ensenada we still had 550 miles to go - and averaged 5 miles per hour over the next two weeks. The only time we could drive faster then 5mph was when we would encounter a dry lake bed. Getting the truck up to 20-30 mph felt like we were flying! Then the crust on the dry lake bed would give way and bring us to a sudden stop. This would require unhitching, digging and winching to get back up on the crust - until the next collapse.

But the real challenge was the canyon. About half way to Mulege we stopped to camp in the high central desert with another traveler we met - a college professor studying desert plants and heading south too. He left early the next morning in his 4X4 truck and we trudged on at the same old slow grind for about 4 hours until we came to the edge of a steep drop of about 200 + feet into a canyon. No way around - our gravel track was now a series of sharp switchbacks down our side and up the other side. The automobile club failed to mention this obstacle. But - I figured this was doable - if not a tad dangerous too. The trick was to stay on the road and not go off into the abyss, while maneuvering around the curves of the switchbacks.

Fortunately I had also installed electric trailer brakes when getting outfitted for this adventure. This made it possible to independently lock the trailer brakes when driving forward in granny gear (very low gear on a standard tranny) with the truck wheels turned in the direction I wanted the truck to 'hop' (the front end would bounce off the ground) while the trailer just pivoted on its axel. Sort of like driving a bulldozer. In this manner I could maneuver a tight turn with very little forward motion. Too much forward motion would have put me over the edge and into the canyon, so I had some very brave soul stand in front of the jumping truck on every curve to tell me how much room I had before stopping and then backing and bucking the truck again to twist into the turn on the switchback.

Late that afternoon we were camped on the opposite side of the canyon when the professor came rolling back up to us from the south. He gave us an incredulous look, and then said that he had to back up on those switchbacks with his pickup to get through the canyon - so how the hell did I get through with a truck and a trailer in tow?! He seemed doubtful even after the explanation. Probably thought we found another route across - or we called in some alien spacecraft for assistance.

All the way down the Baja, and in the village of Mulege, most of the people had never seen a travel trailer before and would break out in arguments about it being a truck or a house. Nothing like introducing something new into people's lives. But the real kicker here is after we had settled a year later on Utila, in the Bay Islands. My wife came to me and said that she had to confess something that had been bothering her for a long time. Of course I was having all kinds of wild thoughts involving infidelity and other sorts of betrayal. So after calming down and promising not to kill her over this 'confession', she said: "You remember that phone call I got form the AAA club about being able to take a trailer house down the Baja if we were patient and persistent?"

"Yes?"

"I lied. They said it was impossible to take a trailer house down the Baja."

You never know what you can do until you try.