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Baja documentary

"The Devil's Road" Main Expedition, Days 58, 59 & 60 (Return Home)

Return Home

It took us two and a half days to get from the border to our home in Santa Cruz. A stop in Ojai at my dad's house for the night was the perfect halfway point. We battled more gusty, strong, and always changing winds the entire way home. Our last day in the saddle was a total of 315 miles and that brought an end to an amazing two-month filming expedition through the heart of the Baja Peninsula.

"The Devil's Road" Main Expedition, Day 57

April 24 (Tijuana to San Diego)

I was filled with an honest mix of emotions when I woke this morning. JT was still sleeping and I slipped out of the hotel room to get a cup of coffee and reflect on my participation these last two months and in this project. On one hand, I was eager to get home and get back into my regular routine and be with Heidi. Yet, the other hand was wanting to hold onto more exploration, more time with JT, and more of what Baja encompasses. I have a love affair with this place that I cannot put into words. I have become accustomed to those around me speaking Spanish and me not knowing what they are saying. I have grown more comfortable sleeping on the ground in my sleeping bag and cooking over a fire of cactus wood, and I have secretly wished to keep going and seeking new Baja experiences.

One last shooting goal in Tijuana was all that was left. As we drove through the outskirts and downtown Tijuana, JT kept pulling over and running off to get a shot of this or that. His eye is keen with what he needs or what just happens to jump out at him. Several hours later, we were heading for the long lines at the border.

As it is always the case, we got in the wrong line. All other lines were moving faster than ours and we kept joking about jumping into another line and then having it be the slowest. As it turns out, motorcycles don't have to stay in line. They are allowed to split lanes and wedge in front of any car just before the border agent. So, we followed another motorcycles and skipped about two dozen cars and dove into a line with a slow and apparently very thorough agent.

Satisfied with our filming, the expedition, and how we met our goals, we set off to DMC Performance to fix JT's bike. It required a new chain and new rear sprocket to get her ready for the return trip home. We spent the night in Ramona at the home of JT's college friend Adam and his girlfriend Melisa's house. We were glad to be back in the States and very much enjoyed the company of old friends.

"The Devil's Road" Main Expedition, Day 56

April 23 (To Ensenada)

Wind! It seems that nearly the entire trip north we have been met with a headwind, wind from the side, and then gusty winds that tend to push our bikes around. We rode 136 miles today and landed at a hotel in Ensenada. JT's bike has been experiencing some issues with the chain and rear sprocket. The chain keeps loosening and would skip as he accelerated. We have had to tighten the chain several times, but can't figure out why it loosens after a day's drive. We will try to get it to a repair shop in San Diego tomorrow.

Bike problems outside Catavina

Bike problems outside Catavina

"The Devil's Road" Main Expedition, Day 55

April 22 ( Sierra San Pedro Martir)

Two coyote pups ran through our camp this morning! I was sitting next to the fire waiting for the water to boil for my coffee. I didn't even have time to get the camera before the pups disappeared into the rocks. JT was still asleep and again I felt that we missed an opportunity to get some wildlife on camera.

We met a group of women at the ranger station while on the way down to the lookout. They had just been there and took pictures of four condors. Our excitement rose as we made the 10-kilometer drive and secretly hoped they would still be there.

We were once again met with empty skies and no condors in sight. We were left holding the cameras, scanning the horizon, and sweating profusely under the Baja sun.

The road system through the park is very limited and most of the park can only be accessed by foot. Both JT and I were not up for a long hike carrying the camera equipment with "hopes" of seeing a condor, so we settled for a leisurely drive.

The Sierra San Pedro Martir is an amazing place and is home to a wide variety of plant and animal life. The breeze softly blows through the trees and immediately reminds me of the Sierra Nevada.

JT and I had a long talk while sitting around a roaring campfire later. Our attention was on how we can tell the story of the California condor without any footage of a wild bird. JT has been called "the magic man" by several of his clients for his ability to pull off a difficult job. He assured me that he has a few ideas and suggested that I not worry.

"The Devil's Road" Main Expedition, Day 54

April 21 (El Rosario to Sierra San Pedro Martir)

As we wind down our shooting schedule and travel northward, we have realized that there is not a whole lot of excitement, change, or new material for the film. We have been on this road before and our vision now is to have another opportunity to film the condors in the Sierra San Pedro Martir. With so few animals in the wild and such a vast mountain range, we would be lucky to get footage of the largest flying bird in North America.

We arrived at the "lower lookout" point at about 2:30 in the afternoon. The pullout was empty and we sat perched on the outcropping of rocks for over an hour and all we saw were turkey vultures and ravens. It was hot and the breeze blowing up the canyon was even hotter. We were able to find many footprints of condors in the dirt around the garbage can in the pullout. Apparently they tend to congregate there because of the garbage. With our heads hung low we headed up the mountain to the park and our camp for the night.

At the park entrance we were able to meet and talk in more detail with Manuel (Park Ranger) and Felipe (Biologist and Park Ranger) about the condor program and how best to film them. Our plan was set and we felt we had a good chance to film the condor in the wild the following day.

"The Devil's Road" Main Expedition, Day 53

April 20th ( to El Rosario)

It was a short drive to El Rosario where we ate a fantastic late breakfast at Mama Espinoza's. We secured a room for the night and went to work with the usual hotel chores (laundry, showers, charging electronics, and jumping onto the Internet, if available, to send data).

Punta Baja is a short 16-mile drive from town so we thought we would head out there and see what we could find. On the way, I stopped abruptly to watch a meter-long gopher snake cross the road. JT didn't see me in time and crashed. Thankfully, there was no damage to the bikes or to JT. He just tumbled over the handlebars and onto the soft dirt of the roadway.

While we were righting his bike, we were also attempting to wave the traffic away from the snake in the road. All said and done, JT did get some footage of the snake, but not until after it was run over once, then twice. In total, four cars ran over the snake and no one really seemed to care.

"The Devil's Road" Main Expedition, Day 52

April 19th (Guerrero Negro to a desert camp)

I had heard, some time ago, about an attempt to breed and set free the Baja Pronghorn Antelope. These majestic animals once roamed the peninsula in great numbers. By 1905, Nelson and Goldman were only able to find a few hoof prints, but no animals. We arrived at the facility unannounced and asked to film the animals. We were met with opposition, and insistence that protocols and permits were necessary and we were not allowed to film the animals. Disappointed, we took a few still photos and drove back out to the highway.

We were about 40 km from Punta Prieta when we passed a driver in a car heading south that frantically waved his arm and flashed his lights at us. We slowed as we rounded the curve and came face to face with a pickup truck in the ditch next to the road. Several passersby were helping the driver of the truck. His name was Neville and it appeared he had suffered a shoulder injury. I went into fireman mode while JT did his best to film the scene.

The police showed up shortly and went about trying to get all the information they needed for their reports and told me the ambulance was coming from Guerrero Negro and may take an hour. JT and I did our best to help Neville with gathering his stuff, making a list of valuable items, and securing his personal affects. He was very lucky that he was driving a newer Ford truck with airbags and was wearing his seatbelt. He said he swerved to avoid a pothole in the road!

With daylight slipping by, we found the perfect camp and quickly set about to stage our next shoot. Nelson documented how they would set up or take down their camp at night by setting fire to several dead yucca or agave plants. This would give them up to an hour worth of light. We recreated that very same situation with several dead agave plants. JT was pleased with the outcome. I, of course, was pleased to light something on fire!

"The Devil's Road" Main Expedition, Day 51

April 18th (Guerrero Negro)

We took off with the desire to recreate another photo of Goldman's. This picture is of a man wearing a sombrero picking up salt from a salt flat near Vizcaino and in the background are two horses. We rode out to the salt ponds off Laguna Ojo de Liebre. The motorcycles did the job as stand-ins for the horses and we walked away with a great sequence of shots.

We were going to camp by the bay, but the wind was blowing at about 25 knots, kicking up sand, and the fog was rolling in. A $30 hotel room in Guerrero Negro was just what we needed to charge devices, shower, and get a good night’s sleep.

"The Devil's Road" Main Expedition, Day 50

April 17th (Agua Verde to Conception Bay)

Getting out of the beach and up the hill to the main road was a challenge for me. It is very steep, full of big ruts and large rocks, and quite narrow. I bottomed out a few times on the rear shock as the bike bucked. I barely had control of the bike, but was determined not to crash. I made it and jumped off to film JT as he tackled the monster. One thing is crystal clear for me at this point in our expedition: JT is a much better rider than me. He took that hill like it was a walk in the park. Life is great when your children outperform you...I have done my job as a parent!

Our destination was Playa Santispac, a beautiful beach with jade-color water. When we arrived it was nearly full of holiday vacationers so we decided to go back a few miles to Playa Cocos, a small beach with palapas—and we needed the shade to beat the heat while we settled in. A nice swim did the trick of bringing our core temperatures down to normal. Another great night on the water of the Sea of Cortez!

Bay of Conception (Bahia Concepcion)

Bay of Conception (Bahia Concepcion)

"The Devil's Road" Main Expedition, Day 49

April 16th (Easter Sunday - Ciudad Insurgentes to Agua Verde)

JT and I had thoroughly looked over the map and the roads ahead and came to the conclusion that there were a few places that we had never visited and in between there were no pressing wants or needs to shoot. So, we decided to make a run to Agua Verde. A good friend of mine (and retired firefighter) Jack Baker has been talking about Agua Verde for years.

The road in is mostly gravel and is some of the most impressive engineering I have seen in a long time. The road is narrow, windy, with extreme drop offs, and very picturesque. We commented to each other on the way in about how many vehicles were leaving the area.

We were blessed with nearly empty beaches as we pulled up to the town's main beach. As JT was getting the camera ready, I noticed four young girls playing in the water with what I assumed was their grandmother. One of the young girls had a small sea bird in her hands. The bird had a sharp beak and orange eyes and looked like a small loon. JT was able to get some great shots.

We spent over an hour sharing beers and stories with a wonderful couple from Washington State. Jeff and Kathy had been sailing since leaving Seattle last August. Most of their time has been on mainland Mexico and they were now working their way north along the east coast of Baja. We had a great visit and look forward to hearing about the rest of their journey.

Looking north from the main beach we could see a beach that seemed to sit on a peninsula that formed a small bay. A road was cut into the hillside for access so JT and I decided to investigate as a possible sleeping location. We found it with no trouble and it appeared to be perfect. It had been recently occupied (as evidence of all the trash left behind), with good cliff side locations for JT to set up a time-lapse shoot and plenty of firewood. The only drawbacks were the flies and the smoke from local residents burning trash.

The night was nearly perfect and we slept well until the sun hit us and the flies welcomed the new day.