To Land’s End

We make one more ride down Revolucion de 1910 in La Paz, stopping at the neveria for horchata, the panaderia for sweet treats and the grocery for avacados. Bellies and bags full, we climb up and away from town.

The pavement takes us to La Ventana. It turns out kite boarding is a thing here. It’s almost like the balloon festival, but with kites captained by Canadians. The tide is low and we ride the beach, dodging strings and beginners.

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Weather is blowing in and we find a quiet, empty space to sleep in the dunes.

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Past San Juan de Los Planes the pavement runs out. We share the dirt road with four kids in a side by side, cruising up and down, up and down.

Soon, we go up. The grades in Mexico have been steep and this road is no different. I look down at the paved road, cars and resort below us and breathe a little easier. It’s just us and the cows again.

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The road descends through a wash alive with butterflies and then climbs a bit more to the cliffs along the coast. I sit back and hold on. The downhills are just as challenging as the uphills.

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At the end, an empty beach with our name on it.

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As the sun is setting, Javier and Gonzalo ride by. We met them on the road out of La Paz. They are from Mexico City and have a week or so to ride from there to Cabo Pulmo. They join us at our camp spot and we learn more about Mexico.

The road takes us along the coast. We dip in and out of tourist towns long enough to fill up on food and water. We sleep on quiet beaches. We see birds flock after bait balls in the sea, and watch manta rays wing by in the water. Whale tales splash on the horizon. The desert is even green here.

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We walk along the coast near Cabo Pulmo and see this. I don’t understand what’s happening. Maybe a geologist or oceanographer can help me out? It’s like mother nature dumped a load of perfectly round sea stones and left them.

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We follow the road to San Jose, and the doorstep of an old friend.

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South west south

We met Karl in Whitehorse in June. He and Holly are cycling to Panama. In Guerrero Negro we cross paths. Similar riding speeds and destinations have us riding together down Mex 1 for awhile. We split up from time to time, but like magnets are drawn back together again.

Santa Rosalia is an old French mining town with good ceviche and fish tacos. From there, we aim for Bahia de Conception and pass a day at Playa Escondida swimming in the sea and eating tamales.

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A bit further south and we finally part ways with Karl and Holly. We go west to ride dirt roads through the mountains and they continue south.

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Instead of cows, we share the mountains with goats. Goats climb rocks. Goats run down the road. Goats eat cactai. Steep grades take us up and down to San Isidro. There’s an oasis here, and flowing water.

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The road goes up and over again to Comandu. A local dirt bike guide told us the road was rugged, as did the internet. We didn’t listen. A rugged double track degrades to cow trail. It’s a scenic bypass of sorts.

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Camped among the cactai, we make a plan for Christmas.

El Boleo Mining Company

“Disminuya Su Velocidad.” The sign reads as we descend a steep hill toward the Sea of Cortez. And then I see it. A horizon line on the already steep road. Where does it go? The earth drops away from our bikes as we roll over an even steeper section. Gravity is in full control. We will be in Santa Rosalía soon.

We pass the dump and ride through an industrial section. It’s an active copper mine outside of town. Further down the road the town begins to take shape. Grocery stores and concrete housing all painted in bright colors. Abandoned industrial buildings. An old wharf built many moons ago.

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Photo by Elizabeth Ellis

We ride down a street surrounded on both sides by wooden houses in various states of repair. Large porches with high ceilings. Clapboard siding. Each a different color. Old locomotives and mining equipment staged in the middle of the road to show off the history of the town.

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Photo by Elizabeth Ellis

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Photo by Elizabeth Ellis

The mining museum is at the end of the road in one of the more unique wooden structures. Again, surrounded by a beautiful porch with cast iron railings. Copper was discovered in 1868 and a French mining company was soon to set up operations.

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Photo by Elizabeth Ellis

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Photo by Elizabeth Ellis

The ore itself was of such a fine grade that ovens were used to heat the material up and concentrate it even more. A multi step process created copper ingots 99% pure. Marked with the company name “Boleo” these ingots were loaded on sailing vessels and shipped abroad. Slag (3-5% copper) created during the refining process was loaded on ships and dumped at sea.

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Photo by Elizabeth Ellis

The town had electricity and telephones. All the latest technology. Gustav Eiffel even designed the church in town. A pre-fabricated metal structure replaced stone as a building material.

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Photo by Elizabeth Ellis

In 1954, the French company handed assets over to the Mexican government as it was no longer profitable. The Mexican government continued operations until the mid 80s. At that time, the copper ore was of to low a grade to refine in ovens. The old factories in town were shut down. 

The majority of this information we gleaned from a gentleman at the abandoned mining facilities. We did this in broken Spanish with two other cyclists we had been riding with. The facts may not be perfect but I feel they are pretty close.

Renewed interest in the copper deposits has encouraged the developement of a new project outside of town that is capable of handling lower grade ore. Many new jobs are expected as a result.

P.S. We passed the world’s largest salt making facility in Guerrero Negro. They offer tours. I was unable to take one. Next time.

A Point Above

I wake up early in the morning and peer up at the sky. Venus is coming around into view. Soon a sliver of moon and the first rays of morning appear. Venus rolls higher into the sky. My eyes wander to the Big Dipper and the North Star low on the horizon. Both are emblematic of home. Both are on the state flag.

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At home the North Star is always there. So high in the sky I have to crane my neck to see it. So high in the sky that it’s useless as a navigation device. Instead pilots turn to grid navigation as I recently learned while rafting the Grand Canyon with friends. 

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Photo by Jerami Marsh (Floating the Grand Canyon at Night)

As I look at the North Star now, so low in the sky, I fear we are about to lose it. I don’t know when it will happen. Sometime in the next few months. As we ride south, it will slide North and disappear from view. The North Star, a friend since childhood, will no longer be with us.

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El Desierto y El Mar

On one side, shimmering blue water. On the other, prickly brown desert. The water supports an enormous variety of life: pelicans, seagulls, herons, tidepool creatures and fish galore that I can’t identify. At sunrise, everything is awake, making noise. In the desert, only a brave few seem to make their home: owls, ants, coyotes, foxes. Only one or two birds chirp when the sun comes up. The land is quiet. The contrast is stark. The land is dry. The sea is wet.

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I grew up in Massachusetts. We went for walks in the woods and splashed in babbling brooks. At home in south central Alaska, spruce and birch cover the landscape. There’s so much water that we have sump pumps to keep our basement dry. I never worry about water  there.

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Here the lack of water keeps me alert and awake. I’m always calculating how much I can drink, how far to the next town. How much do I really need. I long to chug a giant, cold liter of water, and then maybe one more for good measure. I wish I was a camel and could save some for later.

Mex 5 takes us south along the Sea of Cortez: San Felipe, Puertecitos, Bahia de Gonzagas, Alfonsinas, Laguna Chapela. Along the way, the pavement runs out. We stop for cold Cokes at Coco’s Corner. He gives us cookies and good ideas.

Across the cracked, dry Laguna Chapela and we’re deposited onto Mex 1.

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South of Punta Prieta we hang a right towards the Pacific. A farmer tells us the road’s only a little sandy. He thinks we can make it through. Alright then, so do we. Onward.

Just before sunset, the ocean comes in to view. We camp above it, in the desert.

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Santa Rosalillita has water and food. We help some surfers from BC get their truck out of the sand. They tell us there’s a good two track going south along the coast. We get a personal puppy escort out of town and are on the way.

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Nope, I would never chase a bicycle or eat a cat. I'm a good pup.

Morning riding allows time for afternoon beach walks. We poke around tide pools. Tyndall finds an octopus and we see a crab molt.

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The slower we go the more we see.

Mexico Sunset

We spend more time in Yuma than we intend to. A box of bike parts ordered from a local shop is being taken everywhere in town except where it needs to go by a rogue delivery driver.

Yuma is a challenge to navigate by bike. We ride irrigation canals and back roads trying to avoid traffic. We see fields of lettuce and groves of citrus trees. We eat fresh dates. Buses of migrant workers pick produce.

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The box of parts arrives at the shop and Sam swaps tires out in record time. He sets us up with a place to stay nearby for one more night. In the morning, we’re Baja bound.

A visa, a passport stamp and we’re across the border.

The language and culture changes, but the landscape doesn’t. Small town America is struggling. In Mexico, it’s alive and well. Where shops and restaurants were boarded up in the US, here they are open for business. The desert in northern Baja looks much like the desert in southern Arizona.

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Roadside produce provides us with extra liquids.

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We tuck ourselves into a spot in some foothills to sleep and watch the sunset.

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