Roadtrip to the Baja 500

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BogdanYZ

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Hey everyone,
Some friends and I are planning a trip to Baja to watch the 50th anniversary of the Baja 500. I wanted to see if anyone here would be interested in joining or meeting up down in Baja?

We'll be leaving Thursday May 31st from San Francisco.
Baja 500 is from June 1-3
Race day is June 2nd

We'll be camping in Baja the whole week after and coming back June 9th.

Also any tips or places to stay/see are much appreciated :)
 
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HIALT2D

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Check out the thread "10 Day Baja Trip" in the Overland Trip Planning section. I might be able to provide some additional info. if you could answer a couple of questions. Have you been to San Felipe before? If so, have you been down for a race? What kind of activities are you looking to do? What type of vehicle are you taking?
 

BogdanYZ

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Glad to hear it! We've camped in baja before and have some places in mind to camp near Ensenada.

@HIALT2D I saw the 10-day Baja Trip thread and it looks amazing! I haven't been to San Felipe or down for the race. Is it very different/crowded for the race? Should we reserve ahead of time or just search once we get there?

We're looking to mostly camp and surf, do wine tasting near Ensenada, some mild off-roading. I've been down to Ensenada but I've never gone east or south of that. I'm taking a stock 3rd gen 4Runner with air compressor and Treds.
 

HIALT2D

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When I was younger, more nimble and healed much quicker, I used to use my son's surf kayak to ride the waves when the wind was up. Other than wind waves, there's not much on this side. We have always wanted to do the wine tasting thing down there, but haven't made it over the hill yet.

I can't help with the Pacific side as we haven't been in quite a few years. The Sea of Cortez side, I can help with............

It can be a bit crowded and a bit crazy in San Felipe around race weekend. However, it's nothing like spring break, which just happened. You REALLY have to watch your stuff as unfortunately things that aren't bolted down or locked up can grow legs during these events. If you want to stay in town, and/or stay in a hotel, you might already be too late. If you want to camp, there are plenty of places, many of them on the beach. The camp owners will generally charge more during this time, but it's certainly not outrages and you can usually haggle the price a bit. If it was me, I would stay south of town a bit, away from the crowds and away from the noise/drunks/thieves/Etc.

I'll see if I can dig up some GPS coordinates for you and I'll get back to you tomorrow with some ideas and additional info.
 
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BogdanYZ

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This is amazing!! Thank you for the detailed itinerary @HIALT2D it's a huge help!! I think we'll start mapping out our itinerary this week and see how many of these places we can get to. In your experience is it crowded after the race is over or do people head out after? Do you recommend camping at dispersed sites or is that not safe?
 

HIALT2D

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I would think the majority of the crowds are going to be on the Pacific side, just because there's always more people in and around Ensenada, and because it's the race start/finish area. We've always stayed on the Sea of Cortez side, which isn't too bad. It seems like quite a few folks go home right after the race and I would think that's true for both sides, especially since kids should still be in school. Other than crossing the border back into the US at the San Ysidro crossing on a Sunday (sometimes takes up to 3 hours or more), its a doable "weekend trip" for anyone living in the southern California area. I think the farther away people come from, the more likely they are to stay for a few days and make it worth the drive.

I don't know how long you're planning to stay in Baja, but I would consider crossing the border back into the US during the week. I would also consider one of the other crossings, as the San Ysidro crossing is by far the busiest. You would be surprised at just how many people living in Mexico cross the border into the US in the morning, and especially on Monday morning, to go to work. This makes coming back during the "morning commute" times a bit crowded as well. One last thing about crossing the borders you should be aware of is that not all crossings are open 24 hours. We use the Mexicali East crossing which is only open from 6:00 am to 10:00 pm. If I had to cross at San Ysidro, I would try to do it late at night or super early in the morning. That being said, I generally don't recommend driving in Baja at night if you can avoid it.

As far as camping and safety goes, it's been quite a few years since we've camped on the Pacific side. When we did, we never had any problems, but things are a bit different now compared to 15 years ago. Honestly, I would probably tend to stay in an actual campground, around other people, if I was going to be staying on the Pacific side anywhere from Ensenada to the border.

As far as dispersed camping goes, something you might consider is finding a place along the race route, out away from the crowds. There are literally hundreds of miles of wide open desert for you to explore. In my opinion, one of the coolest things to do is to go out along the race route and find yourself a small hilltop to set up camp and watch the race from, especially if you can find one where the race course goes right along the base of the hill. It gets you up out of the dust a bit and it's pretty awesome to watch them coming from a distance and pass right by you. Make sure to bring a good pair of binoculars if you have them. If you're lucky, you might find one of the many hilltops where somebody has already leveled/cleared a spot and built a fire ring.

As far as dispersed camping on the beach along the Sea of Cortez side, the spot at the north end of the town of San Felipe posted by Jroettele in the thread "10 day trip to Baja" is a good one. After that, you have to get south of town a bit to find a spot where it will be just you. There are a number of "campos" running along the beach from San Felipe to Puerticitos, so you have to try to find a spot somewhere in between them if you want to camp alone. The best thing to do, if you have the time to do a little exploring, is just start driving down some of the dirt roads leading to the beach from Mex. Hwy. 5 until you find an acceptable spot. Other than possibly getting stuck, I think the worst that might happen is the property owner will show up and tell you to leave. However, a much more likely scenario is no one will show up or the property owner will want to charge you to camp on their land. If there aren't signs saying to stay out, fences, gates, Etc., I personally would have no problem giving it a try. If it were me, I would start looking around in the area between Punta Estrella and Rancho Percebu, as this is far enough away from town to avoid the crowds, but close enough to make the trek into town for supplies and such.

As far as safety, I think no matter where you go in Baja, just remember that even though you drove there, you are still in a "foreign country" and you are now playing by their rules. A little respect for them and their culture along with a little common sense goes a long way towards you having a safe trip. There are going to be military check points, some stationary and some mobile. Occasionally the Federal Police set up check points. They might make you get out of your car and they might do a cursory search of your vehicle. They might ask for your driver's license or other documentation like a Tourist Permit. They are going to have rifles hanging off their shoulders and some won't look old enough to be allowed to carry a rifle. All are reminders that you are in a foreign country. Be polite, do what they say, and as long as you are following their rules, you won't have any trouble.

Not to load you up with too much to do, but another side trip you might consider is going to Mike's Sky Ranch (31.1096, -115.6358), about a 2 hour drive from Ensenada. It's a pretty cool place up in the mountains (around 3,800' elevation) with pine trees and even a trout stream. Not usually things you would associate with Baja.
mike1.jpg mikes1.jpg
It's a popular spot for dirtbike riders and day trippers. Mex. Hwy. 3 runs roughly east/west between Mex. Hwy. 1 on the Pacific side and Mex. Hwy. 5 on the Sea of Cortez side. This is the road you would take if you were going to San Felipe from Ensenada and it's a little over 100 miles long. Coming from Ensenada it's about 85 miles to the turn off to Mike's.
mikeskyranch_sign2.jpg
From there it's about 20 miles of fairly well maintained dirt road to the Ranch. They have quite a few rooms, a swimming pool and a restaurant. Because it's popular with the dirtbike crowd, be prepared to be startled as they come flying around you or towards you on a blind curve.

You might have some issues getting to Mike's on race day and it might be a bit crowded as well. Before and after race day you should be good.

We're going down to our place for a few days sometime in May. If I have time, I'll do a little looking around for a good place for you to camp on the beach. I'll also grab the GPS coordinates for the fossil beds across from Rancho Percebu.
 
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BogdanYZ

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Thanks @HIALT2D ! This information helps a ton compared to the other stuff I've read on various websites. I appreciate it!

I think right now it's looking like:
  • We'll go a little south of Ensenada to watch the race (day 1)
  • Then surf the pacific side for a couple of days (day 2-3)
  • Take a tour of the wine region (we did this last time we went down and highly recommend it!) (day 3)
  • Drive over to Mike's Sky Ranch to spend a night (day 4)
  • Spend a couple of days around San Felipe (day 5-6)
  • Head back to the Bay Area (day 7-8)

Do you think that's a good schedule or too much? I'd like to go to Matomi but not sure if it's pushing our time too much?
 

HIALT2D

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The trip sounds great!!! Wish I was going with you.... However, my wife would tell you that's probably not a good question to ask me, as (according to her) I tend to pack WAY too much into our trips. Matomi is an all day event and a bit of driving no matter which direction you come from. By the time you get to San Felipe you might just want to stay out of the car for a while and relax before the drive home.

Have a great/safe trip.
 

HIALT2D

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We just got back from 8 great days in Baja. We got lucky and caught part of the Mexican 1000 as they were going through San Felipe on Monday morning.

We had something happen that has never happened to us in well over a 100 trips south of the border. Going into Baja, we got the green light and passed through the inspection area, but got stopped by a Mexican Immigration Official in a shirt and tie who politely questioned us about our destination, purpose, length of stay and asked to see our passports and tourist permits. My guess is it's in response to our President's latest actions. It wasn't a problem, as we had everything, but I would caution against crossing without having it.

I also found my GPS coordinates to one of the fossil beds near our place. We hadn't been in a few years, so we rode the mountain bikes out to have a look around.
IMG_2302.JPG
The road was in good condition, although most of it is in an arroyo with some patches of soft sand. That being said, you could probably make it with a 2WD and your tires aired down a bit. There were some "Mexican Waypoint Markers" to guide us up the arroyo.
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This is one of the largest beds we have ever been to and it's not difficult at all to collect a variety of fossils.
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If you decide to go, the turn-off from Mex. Hwy 5 is at roughly KM42 (30.62713, -114.70267), about 25-30 minutes south of town. Then it's about 2 miles of easy dirt road to the base of the hills where the fossil beds begin (30.60987, -114.73792). It's a pretty big area and the main canyon goes back quite a ways beyond what you can drive. Hiking up the canyon a ways will put you in an area that hasn't been "picked over" and you should find some better quality fossils.