The infamous Transpeninsular, Baja highway, Mex 1, has come a long way from its much heralded beginnings in 1973, a narrow thousand-mile long ribbon of asphalt with no shoulders, few pullouts, a handful of gasoline stations that could test even the most seasoned back country driver. Today, Mex 1 is still not the four-lane highway that many had envisioned it becoming, but it is a reasonably well maintained road that could only be classified as a secondary road in the U.S.
In 1969, four years before Mex 1 was finally completed, I made my first trip to Baja. I had chosen to fly down on one of Ed Tabor’s DC3’s that he used to ferry clients from Tijuana to his popular Flying Sportsmen’s Lodge in Loreto, but the plane’s engines were cranky and refused to start, not an uncommon occurrence in those days. So instead, I hopped on a commercial flight bound for La Paz with my young nine year old son in tow, for what was to be the launch of my lifelong Baja adventures. We spent our first night in La Perla, then a small hotel on the Malecón, and the following morning, I commandeered a taxi for a hot and wild six hour ride to Loreto.
Shortly, after our arrival a Jeep station wagon pulled up in front of Flying Sportsman's Lodge. There was so much dirt and grime on the windshield and windows that I could barely make out the occupants. Steam poured out from under the hood as two guys covered from head to toe with dust flung the doors opened.
“We did it!” they exclaimed. They had spent nine days inching their way down the Baja Peninsula on the narrow, brutal dirt roads that were notorious. Inside and out the Jeep was filled with dirt. Everything they owned was permeated with it. It took them a full day to just get their reels clean enough so they could go fishing.
Their experiences convinced me to wait until the paved Mex One was open in 1973 to begin exploring Baja by road.
During the seventies and most of the eighties, with my friends and family, I camped up and down the peninsula, enjoying the deserted beaches with a seemly unending supply of fish. Over three hundred plus trips later, I still never grow tired of driving the always challenging, sometimes grumpy Mex 1.
For twenty years, my wife and I had a home at East Cape and most of our trips down Mex 1 then were really more like “fly bys”. In a hurry to reach our Baja home, most of the time we would cross the border early, drive until dusk, stop at small hotels along the road that offered little in the way of creature comforts and charged exorbitant prices ($25 – $50) for rooms, and then leave at the crack of dawn, rarely taking time to explore the off-road attractions.
Now we travel in a completely self-contained, relatively compact, one-ton Roadtrek van for our Baja travels. Before we the first trip was completed it became apparent that the Baja visitors today can expect a much different kind of trip than was experienced by the visitors back in the old days. Today’s road warriors, planning to explore Baja by road, have a vast array of equipment to choose ranging from passenger cars to rigs the size of a Greyhound bus.
During the thirty-nine years since the completion of Mex 1, the government has doggedly continued to improve the highway in spite of the many disappointing setbacks along the way including devastating Chubascos (hurricanes), wash-outs and just plain old wear and tear on this highway shared by everything from mule-drawn carts to busses and semi-trucks pulling double length trailers.
Over the years the number of Pemex stations has grown from a scant handful that may or may not have fuel to more than can be counted with - many even having convenience stores attached offering real coffee (not the instant kind that was so common in the early days). Repairs, replacement parts and supplies can be purchased along the highway and in the larger cities like Cabo San Lucas, La Paz and Ensenada there is an impressive array of ‘Big Box Stores’ which include such biggies as Costco, Wal-Mart and even a Home Depot, to name a few. The larger towns also offer almost any fast food chain you can imagine.
The highway itself has been improved is many different ways; potholes are the exception rather than the rule, much of the highway has been lined with whitewashed culverts, and you can even find a reasonable number of turn-outs spaced along the highway. Last but not least, most of the portions of the highway that seemed to wash out every time it rained in the past, have had new bridges added to prevent the delays and detours you once encountered.
The Mexican Government continues to improve and pave many of the side roads which jut off of the main highway toward smaller coastal villages and fish camps, making it easier to access off-road beaches. While you can’t say that the washboard roads are a thing of the past, they are a vanishing breed.
Speaking of washboard roads, on a recent trip I decided to visit Bahía Asunción. After spending the night visiting with the local pangeros, early the next morning I decided to drive out via Los Roques via a dirt road heading up to the north. I was told that the distance was approximately twelve miles. While my GPS indicated I had traveled that 12-mile distance, there was no turnoff to be found. The road was a typical bolt-loosening, washboard surface; however, there were power poles lining the sides which convinced me I was on a road that was going somewhere that needed power. As I continued in the air-conditioned comfort of the van, listening to a Padre’s ballgame on XM radio, I couldn’t help but imagine what those two guys in the Jeep at Flying Sportsmen in 1969 would have thought if they could see me now. Continuing on along the road, I reached the thirty mile mark without seeing another car and suddenly realized that if I had a breakdown I would be in big trouble. I entertained thoughts of backtracking, a solution I did not find very appealing. I checked my GPS again and it indicated that eventually I would have to cross a road headed out to Turtle Bay. Sure enough, a few miles farther on a crossroad appeared; it was the road that would return me to the main road. Just as I turned toward Vizcaíno on Mex 1, two delivery vans sped by me toward Turtle Bay, confirming I had found the correct road.
To my delight, I discovered that a growing number of the RV parks have begun to provide Wireless Internet access, and more and more hotels have begun to offer some method of Internet access, as well. Oddly, the parks closer to the Border have been slower to offer this service, yet we have found the service offered throughout Baja Sur, including Guerrero Negro, Mulege, La Paz and East Cape. Almost every village in Baja now seems to have some form of Internet Café which will allow you to get online. When I visited the remote village of Bahía Asunción recently, I stopped at a small store, a one room affair which was attached to the living room, and inquired if I could use my laptop to go online. The proprietor said it wouldn’t be a problem but apologized that the only access that he had was dial-up.
All of the RV Parks that we have stayed in offer Wireless access charge from $15-$40 a night. Most of the parks offer access to hot, clean restrooms, as well as hookups. If I were still doing “Fly Bys”, even without the RV, I would be inclined to stay in an RV park and sleep in my van, or if in a passenger car bring air mattresses to sleep on.
For the “internet savvy”, Baja angler, having reliable Internet access is a huge advantage. Never before has it been so easy to acquire up-to-date weather c
Baja and Mex 1 have undergone many other changes. In the old days Military Checkpoints were rare. Today, you can expect to encounter at least a handful if you travel the entire highway. Fuel costs have increased. Yes, there is more development and certainly more people visiting or moving to Baja. While I am sure that there are some that would welcome the return of the “Good Old Days”, I’ll bet that the legendary Baja writers who blazed the paths back in the beginning would embrace the changes.onditions, sea temps, and fishing information. Google Earth can provide you with a ‘birds eye view’ of those remote areas that you have always wanted to fish. It is even possible to create overlays combining temp, weather and the chart of the area that you plan to fish.
Many of these changes will be the “WOW Factor” which will allow Baja with its hot, rocky cactus strewn peninsula to continue to capture new visitors, convincing each one that they have discovered their own not-so-secret paradise, inspiring and enticing them to return time after time during their lifetimes.
By Gary Graham