14 October 2018

Crazy Beautiful Baja California - with a Small Plane

There are certain places in the world filled with magic. 

Baja California is one of them. 
Not Cabo. Not Ensenada. Somewhere in between. 

Baja California is not in California.
It's in Mexico.

(Of course, that doesn't bother us.
We're from New Mexico, which is not in Mexico. )

Baja is crazy beautiful.
 It's a dry, dramatic, desert peninsula.

Stretching a thousand miles long, more or less.
South of the US state of California, with an amazing coastline and craggy mountains.

Hundreds of ridiculously scenic beaches. 

With no one around. 

The water is the perfect temperature.

And wildlife: 
Birds. Reptiles. 

Fish. Dolphins. Whales. 

Even the cactus plants are dramatic. 

Ok - it's not that easy to get to. 

You can drive to the northern part. Or take a commercial flight to the south.
But it takes some effort to get to places in the middle.

However, with a small plane, flying over the Sea of Cortez, you can leave Albuquerque in the morning, and be there in the afternoon.

  And it's worth it.

I had a small plane for many years.
A 1958 Cessna 175.

Bought it used in West Africa in 1982, where I learned to fly.
In the jungles of Liberia.

(That's another story.)

But back to Baja:

One time, Stan and I flew down to a tiny airstrip at Punta San Francisquito. 

There's not much there.


But there's a place that sells fish tacos and cold beer.
That's enough.

It was Christmas. 

 For Christmas, they made pumpkin tamales.

We'd brought our tent and a couple of sleeping bags.
Set up camp on the beach, about 100 yards from the airplane.

This was the view from our tent: 

When we arrived, I landed on the old paved runway, but it was very rough.
(Even for someone who learned to fly in Liberia-)

After landing, (to cheers from a few locals in an old pickup truck-) the fellow there said to try the sand runway next time.

It was smoother. Most people used it.

So, after Christmas, we continued flying down the peninsula.
Stopped in other places with airstrips along the way.
Did a little exploring.

Landing strip in Mulege. (It's parallel to the beach.)

But when we returned to Punta San Francisquito, I aimed for the sand runway.

Yep -  that's the runway to the left.

However, unbeknownst to us, while we were away, it had rained. Hard.
The sand runway was now VERY soft.
On the landing rollout, I could feel the wheels sinking dangerously deep into the sand.

I told Stan to get out - GET OUT! and PUSH! - PUSH!
He shook his head - no way!

But - I insisted, (and I was the pilot) so he did.

He opened the door of a moving aircraft (ok, we were on the ground, but still moving fast) and jumped out. He put his weight against the strut, trying to prevent us from sinking and diving propeller-first into the soft ground. Without his weight, the plane was lighter, too, and - we made it.

The sand sprayed up and covered both sides of the plane - and most of Stan. 

We really looked like we'd been out in the wilds.

Welcome to Baja.

When the kids were little, we'd pack them into the back of the plane and head for Baja.
The beach was calm and shallow, perfect for small children.

Pelicans flew by lazily.

Fishermen offered us part of their catch. 

The beaches are full of shells, not people.
Hills for hiking and exploring.

The towns are simple affairs. 
Slow living. 

Like New Mexico, it's far enough away from the capital city to be pretty much ignored.

Things happen slowly here.

One of the places we stay in has a small fruit garden.

Which attracts all the local fauna. 
Birds, butterflies, critters, even snakes. 

You can sit here for hours - and we do - just - observing.

Maybe - add a little guitar playing.

Then - take a walk along the beach.
No crowds.

Someday, they'll finish paving the road. Maybe they have already.
It may become popular. Another Cabo San Lucas. Who knows?

I'm just glad I had the opportunity to experience it - for many years - like this.


  1. Hi Trish,

    I just read, with great enjoyment, your Baja post. The photos put me back in the (then) sleepy fishing village of San Felipe in 1976, when my boyfriend and I spent spring break camped on the beach outside of town in a parachute silk serving as a poor student's tent.

    We would walk out into the clear, turquoise water for a quarter mile and it was below our knees, and warm! In the evenings we'd drive into town, eat fish tacos from a street vendor, then go into the bar and drink cerveza or tequila (a thrill for me, since they didn't care I was under 21) until the inevitable brawl started and the police kicked everyone out for 30 minutes or so.

    We'd drive back to the beach late, and once found our "tent" blown halfway down the beach in a sandstorm, in the dark. We had sand in places where I didn't know I had places!

    It was a crazy, wonderful week of sparkling water, warm sun, night skies bursting with stars, and enough humorous village characters to populate a Steinbeck novel.

    Thanks for the walk down that memory lane!

    Hasta luego,

    1. How cool is that? And I remember a few of those sandstorms - uncomfortable when you're living in a tent!