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"The Devil's Road" Main Expedition, Day 28

Loreto to San Isidro

Abel was the most gracious host and honored us by agreeing to sit down for an interview. He has a very interesting life and was willing to share it with us. If anyone is thinking of spending some time in Loreto and needs a comfortable, safe, and inviting place to stay, I suggest Hostel Casas Loreto.

Our next stop was the towns of San Isidro and La Purisima in the middle of the peninsula. Both are touted to be beautiful and interesting oasis towns. The dirt road to San Isidro leaves Mexico Highway 1 at 59 kilometers north of Loreto. At first it is an easy and well-graded gravel road. Several miles later it gets worse. And several miles after that, it gets even worse (if a road could get that bad). We were maybe ten miles into the trek and had been following several motorcycle tracks nearly the entire way. As we came over a rise, staring down a boulder strewn "road" as it crossed the wash of an arroyo, we came to two motorcyclists slowly working their way out of the rocky wash.

Both guys were riding large BMW bikes and the front rider was clearly struggling. As I approached them, I asked if he needed a hand. His face was set in complete focus and had pain written all over it. Apparently, while attempting to navigate the rough roads ahead, he crashed his bike. With several broken ribs, this guy was slowly and painfully getting his bike out of this area and back on tarmac. He was tough and JT and I took a moment to reflect on our situation and the road ahead.

That 60-kilometer road was very difficult in spots, smooth in others, and everything else in between. The KLR 650s did a great job and we crested the lip of the canyon overlooking the Rio La Purisima. Water was flowing, palm trees were swaying, and crops were green and thriving. Another oasis town surrounded by dry desert and high canyon walls. Beautiful.

Typically when we arrive in a new place and will be staying for a while to film, we’ll ride through and get a good feel for what is there and what we might want to capture. We were an hour or so away from "the magic hour" so we set to find a good camp spot. We found a perfect site on a bluff overlooking the river on the other side of town.

JT set off with the camera to film and I was left behind to set up camp. Soon I realized that our ideal camp spot was not so ideal. We were harassed by just about every bug that flies. Swarms of bugs. So many you could barely see. Our only saving grace, we thought, was that nightfall was upon us and maybe they would dissipate.

The bugs stopped harassing us once the sun went down, but the minute the headlamp or flashlight was turned on, we were swarmed again. Thousands of bugs showed up almost instantly. It drove us crazy!

"The Devil's Road" Main Expedition, Day 25

Mulege to Loreto

JT and I found a nice little beach next to a small community of gringo homes just 8 or so miles south of town to spend the night. As usual, last night was a bit chilly and as soon as the sun came up we were warm and ready to get moving. I had some time to blog, drink coffee, and relax as JT came to life in his sleeping bag. I love the Sea of Cortez and the Bay of Conception. Peaceful and embracing.

With the last of the filming needed for Mulege, we drove into town to secure the last glimpse of this spectacular and inviting pueblo. JT struck off by himself, so as to be unencumbered by my "tagging along.” This was an agreement we came to a while ago and it works well...I think!

While in the plaza and catching up on my blogging, I kept noticing and saying hi to an American couple that was walking about. They looked lost and after the 6th or so lap, I asked if they needed any help. They were looking for their lost friend and hadn’t seen her since last night at midnight. They were worried and were heading to the police department.

I finished my work and JT arrived when I noticed the "lost friend" walking down the street, fitting the couple’s description. As it turns out, she was never "lost" and her friends just mistook her actions (getting up early to go for a walk and to get breakfast). We all had a chuckle.

After driving around trying to find the road to the prison museum, we passed the fire station. The firefighter outside the station was wearing a T-shirt that read "Branciforte Fire District" so I slammed on the brakes to stop and talk with him. I gave him one of my patches and told him that his shirt came from my hometown. His English was not good, my Spanish is terrible, and I don't know if he understood me. Regardless, it reminds me how small the world can be!

The Mulege Prison was completed in 1909 and was in operation until 1974. Interestingly, it was the only prison in Baja that was built with no bars. The prisoners were free to go to work every day, but had to return at 6pm. If a prisoner did not return, the others would go and find him.

Our original plan was to head over to San Isidro and not come into Loreto. Nelson and Goldman skipped Loreto completely so as to spend time on the Pacific side of Baja. We wanted to visit the Mission San Javier that resides west of Loreto and in the Sierra La Giganta in a beautiful oasis valley.

The Hostel Casas Loreto opened up their doors to us and we decided to stay two nights. Parking was not an issue as Abel (our host) told us to park the bikes inside...next to our room. 

Bikes inside Casas Loreto hostel. Thank you, Abel!

Bikes inside Casas Loreto hostel. Thank you, Abel!

Guest Blog: "The Devil's Road" Main Expedition, Day 8 - Part 1

Guest Blog by Wayne Bruce

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!  We caught two of the rare Nelson trout, not found any place else on the planet, at the same location (now the infamous Mike’s Sky Ranch) where the Nelson-Goldman Expedition camped in 1905.  Todd caught the first small trout (about 5 inches) but didn’t get a good photo of it because it wriggled out of his hands when removing the hook. Eric then caught the second Nelson trout and was able to get a good photo of its unique markings.

AN EXCITING, SUCCESSFUL DAY! Four of us, myself, Eric, Scott, and Lauri, along with a lot of food and gear, drove from our lodging at El Dorado Ranch to Mike’s Sky Ranch in Eric’s Honda SUV. Lauri filmed Todd and JT on their motorcycles by standing up through the car’s sunroof.  The sign to Mike’s Sky Ranch was an official green highway sign.  It took us over an hour to drive the 22-miles on a fairly good dirt road.  Only once was it too steep and rough for the Honda, when Eric locked it into 4WD and the transmission slipped, forcing us to stop. Fortunately, there was a bypass cut around the steepness and we were able to continue.

We arrived at Mike’s at about 1 pm. The ranch has about 30 rooms, a mess hall, a lounge, a bar, and a swimming pool full of cloudy water.  Mostly concrete construction, sparse but clean rooms, and a diesel-like smell that might have been remnants from some new paint.  Costs were higher here than surrounding areas, but we understand the difficulty of getting supplies to this remote area and the cost of maintaining the resort facilities.  Other than one couple, we had the entire place to ourselves. The resort is absolutely plastered with stickers, business cards, and T-shirts from other off-road bikers and racing groups that have visited over the nearly 50 years the resort has been here. 

We’re pleased with a day of successful filming, and are looking forward to the road ahead.

Guest Blog, "The Devil's Road" Main Expedition, March 7th, 2017 (DAY 7)

Chief Pilot Scott A. Bruce

For months I was wondering what I had gotten myself into. Lauri and I were planning to fly my single-engine plane over 2,000 miles across the country in late winter; attempt to cross the border into Mexico without getting my plane confiscated and the two of us thrown into Mexican prison; rendezvous with my brother and father who were driving down from the Bay Area; hope that Todd and JT survive their first three steep-learning-curve days of motorcycling through Baja; and have all of us meet at the San Felipe International Airport around noon on March 6th.  All in the hopes of good weather on March 7th as the only day that is set aside for aerial filming.

What could possibly go wrong?

This is lunacy. The number of mishaps could be astronomical. The probability that we could pull this off was extremely low. Literally, there was about ten times in the months of preparation where I was ready to pull the plug on our part of the Devil’s Road Expedition -- because I couldn’t get the annual inspection complete, I couldn’t get the aircraft ready, I couldn’t find back-up Visual Flight Rules charts for Baja, the aircraft Altitude Indicator failed keeping me from being able to fly on instruments, I had to do fiberglass repairs on the wheel pants and the luggage doors. . . the list goes on. But we kept at it, getting as prepared as we possibly could, all the while hedging my bet with JT and Todd on how many things could go wrong that would prevent us from making the planned rendezvous.

Armed with a bag of tools, a roll of duct tape, a couple of heavily leveraged credit cards, and $500 in fives and twenties, we took off out of Maryland on March 2nd.  A cold front had come through the Mid-Atlantic the day before we left Southern Maryland, giving us a one-day window on the day we were scheduled to depart.  It is important to note that, while I am an all-weather pilot, the Cherokee Six is NOT an all-weather airplane – it doesn’t fly in icing, which can be prevalent throughout the US this time of year. (Important note: pilots are obsessed with weather – for a reason). Fortunately, the weather all across the southern part of the United States was dominated by a high-pressure system that gave us great flying weather all the way to El Centro, California, where Lauri and I were planning to meet up with my brother, Eric, and my father, Wayne.

The Cherokee Six purred like a kitten. The weather held out. We met Eric and Wayne in El Centro on the 5th. Unbelievable. Now for the big obstacle: the border crossing.

After some issues with customs and the Border Patrol’s electronic system for filing flight plans and crossing the border, we launched solely on the word of Officer Castro in the Calexico Airport. Although it is obvious from the air where the border between Calexico and Mexicali is, there is a striped line on my GPS at the border, but at the exact moment I crossed into Mexican Airspace absolutely nothing happened. I did NOT get intercepted by Mexican military fighter jets.  I contacted Mexicali Approach and we continued our way to San Felipe International Airport without incident.

After Lauri and I cleared customs, we were getting the plane tied down and our bags organized for the few days’ stay. The sound of two motorcycles approaching down the long road to the airport was unmistakable -- JT and Todd had made it! Not 30 minutes later, Eric and Wayne rolled up in Eric’s SUV, having crossed the border in Mexicali and driven 2 hours down to San Felipe.  

Simply put,“Astounding!” We pulled it off. We all made it. In the immortal words of the World Famous Sicilian kidnapper, Fezzini, “Inconceivable!”

Now, all we needed was a good weather day for filming on the 7th and the miracle would be complete.

Meanwhile, Todd has an “owie” on his hand where Nathan spit slag onto Todd’s hand while Todd was holding the motorcycle headlight protective screen with his bare hands that Nathan was tack-welding. I tried to explain to Todd about clamps, lock pliers, and leather gloves, but I think it fell on deaf ears. Despite his whining, he seems to be surviving the healing process so far.

The morning of the 7th brought clear weather and calm air. A minor miracle. We got two-and-a-half hours of perfectly clear weather and unbelievably stable air for aerial filming. This was JT’s first time filming from the air, but he got the most perfect day imaginable. We took the back door off of the plane, strapped JT in, put Eric in the front right seat with his own set of cameras, and launched first thing in the morning.

Cockpit of the Cherokee Six (Scott Bruce, left, and Eric Bruce, right)

Cockpit of the Cherokee Six (Scott Bruce, left, and Eric Bruce, right)

We shot video of Todd riding his motorcycle out onto a dusty dirt road, climbed to over 11,000 feet to film the Sierra San Pedro Martir Mountain Range, filmed the salt flats of the northern Sea of Cortez, flew down the beach along the Pacific Ocean at 50 feet of elevation, and returned to San Felipe just as the wind and thermals were picking up for the day--all without either JT or his camera getting sucked out of the plane. I did NOT want to have to explain that one to his mother.

A marvel of planning and luck came together to deliver almost two hours of spectacular digital video and countless still photos. The weather gods had shined their light and good fortune upon us! We will have to let the final documentary speak for itself on that fact.

Aerial view of Sierra de San Pedro Martir Mountains, Sea of Cortez in background.

Aerial view of Sierra de San Pedro Martir Mountains, Sea of Cortez in background.

Tomorrow, we attempt to complete our other major goal for the trip: head up into the mountains to seek out the little known and ever-elusive Nelson’s trout. Let the fishing gods be with us for the next two days. Fingers crossed.

Scott A. Bruce
Commander and Chief Pilot
The Devil’s Road Aviation Detachment

"The Devil's Road" Main Expedition, Day 5

Laguna Hanson to El Alamo

The wind started howling sometime during the night and didn't let up even after we'd gotten out of the mountains. In the morning, bitter cold wind cast ripples across Laguna Hanson and the overcast sky caused the water, shore, and rock formations to all blend together in a washed out grayscale. We briefly considered boiling lake water to make it drinkable, but abandoned that idea after considering it's murkiness and the thousands of cow pies scattered around the shore. Wind ruled out any on-camera interviews we had planned. Bushwacking cross-country through sage brush on the 650s brought us full circle around the lake and we forded multiple creeks, sloshed through mud puddles, and fought stretches of sandy road to make it back down into the valley. 

"The Devil's Road" Director JT Bruce

"The Devil's Road" Director JT Bruce

Back on pavement, the ride to El Alamo was quick. Nine miles on dirt road finished the side trip and brought us to a nearly empty village that sat just down the hill from the hulking ruins of a hugely productive gold mine, now abandoned. Looking for a way around fenced off dirt roads, we motored up a hill to find some viewpoints and poke around abandoned mine shafts before heading back to town, jumping a fence, and hiking up to the main structure of El Alamo. This thing was massive, and held the rusted, broken machinery of a stamp mill, used to crush gold ore for extraction. The most well-preserved aspect were the piston housings, blocks of iron marked with giant capital letters "UNION METAL WORKS - SAN FRANCISCO, CAL."  As the sun was setting, we rode another 20 miles south and pulled off Mex 3 to make camp. Maybe the wind will leave us alone tonight.