pixel

Baja Fever
By Greg Niemann

Into the San Felipe Desert

By Greg Niemann

San Felipe Buggy

Way up the canyon Bruce waved his arm that all was clear. I turned to the next dune buggy in line and gave it the go-ahead signal. It slowly climbed up over the rocks, negotiated the tight canyon curve and plopped back onto the sandy arroyo to rejoin the others.

It was the tightest part of this off-road adventure and we wanted to negotiate the narrow space one at a time as incredibly fast on-coming traffic had already come roaring down the canyon. While my group of 10 San Felipe-based dune buggies was out pre-running new desert tours, those heading in our direction were out pre-running the Tecate/SCORE San Felipe 250 off-road race, a shorter version of the Baja 1000.

Our objective was to learn a new tour route to take prospective dune buggy enthusiasts. It differed quite markedly from the objective of those coming directly at us – they wanted to see how fast they could drive over the same terrain. Fortunately only a short section of our opposite routes were the same, and most of that was a broad, sandy arroyo some 20 or so miles into the desert southwest of San Felipe.

It was back in March 1999 and it was the San Felipe 250 that lured me to town to help on a pit crew. While the racers were out pre-running, I looked up fellow writer Bruce Barber who covered San Felipe and the northern Sea of Cortez area for the old Baja Times.

My timing was perfect as Bruce, then President of the San Felipe Association of Retired Persons (SFARP), was leading a team of buggies out in the desert the next day and invited me along. Bruce, then 69-years old, had produced a very fine San Felipe Magazine and since my visit, has penned the book "...of Sea and Sand" (2003).

San Felipe Cardon

Bruce is a leader and knows and loves the San Felipe Desert like no other. "I think he knows every single cactus by name," admired Irene Smith, owner of Baja Creations, a boutique and craft shop in town.

I had respected his desert knowledge from those earlier columns of a decade previous and this day I was in for a first-hand lesson. As he led the procession of buggies out of town he regaled me with facts. He reminded me of the way James Michener began one of his epic novels. He started his one-on-one class on the area’s history by pointing to the barren and colorful hills and saying, "It started with the ice age." No lie!

He pointed to various colorations in the strata of the hillsides, naming the types of rock. He explained the forces of the area’s infrequent water, how it gouged the depth of the gullies and created temporary reservoirs. "I call that depression Cardon Lake," he said, gesturing to delineate the depression, making it obvious even to the uneducated that water had at one time been backed up there.

As he and his buggy cut new trails up the arroyo, his whole presence was one of enthusiasm. "Oh I love it out here; it’s so beautiful. It's incredibly interesting, and so vastly different each day," he exclaimed exuberantly.

We stopped for lunch, everyone setting up handy little collapsible tables and chairs. The group relaxed and enjoyed sharing and swapping tall tales and stories along with specialties from various kitchens. Bruce’s wife Freda was unable to attend this ride (that's how I gained a seat), but her short-lived chocolate chip cookies quickly gained a new fan.

San Felipe Cardon

Later, while drivers, spouses, the handful of accompanying kids and dogs explored the nearby terrain, a few lead drivers pored over maps and discussed routes. It was obvious they deferred to Bruce’s expertise, but he always made it a democratic decision.

While the others wrapped up lunch, I accompanied Bruce and another buggy driven by Lou Wells to explore a nearby arroyo. They wanted to see if it would link up with a road heading north. It didn't and we returned to report to the others. Bruce laid out the facts and let democracy take over. We were running late and rain was threatening. We could either head back the same way or continue around to the north by first going south.

As five of the buggies were based south of town at Laguna Percebu, those five drivers opted to return. Bruce lives in town and the other four lived north at El Dorado Ranch. They opted to continue. It was a good decision for all.

The other drivers had plenty of experience too. After all, they were the leaders for the organized off-road dune buggy trips then offered in the San Felipe area. They lead enthusiasts who arrive in San Felipe to the Giant Cactus Garden, or Shell Beach, or Indian Caves and Fossil Fields. They also visit any of several waterfalls in what from a distance appear to be dry canyons.

San Felipe Buggy

One of the drivers, Don Dunn, had become quite an expert in buggy design. He experimented building a different style buggy, a larger one for more passengers and payload. He also wanted larger front wheels. His unorthodox design that evolved has become known as a "Barney Car," in reference to the similar looking vehicle driven by the cartoon character Barney Rubble of the Flintstone fame. No one laughs at this car anymore, not after its performance in the desert. Bruce said, "They’re great. We were out on the beach the other day and those Barney Cars ran circles around me."

Bundled up for warmth in the cold windy air accompanying the ominous and threatening clouds, five of us continued on up the canyon. Our eyes stained to see oncoming traffic and a couple of times we moved off the rocky and sandy track to allow a racer to roar past.

It got colder as the wind picked up and finally large drops of precipitation started pounding our open cars, drenching my jacket and setting my teeth to chattering. Hard to believe it could be that cold in a place where summer temperatures rise above 100 degrees almost daily. Clumps of hail even fell before the storm passed on, pelting our exposed bodies with machine-gun staccato.

San Felipe Buggy

While uncomfortable, the infrequent rain brought a new dimension to the desert, heightening the senses. The pungent, sweet smell of damp sagebrush, ocotillo, mesquite and cactus mingled with the fresh wet sand creating an invigorating and bracing fragrance.

The road’s previous billowing dust had also dissipated with the rain, rendering a dark, not-quite-muddy, wet and fast dirt road, like that of a hosed down baseball stadium infield.

During the day I'd seen a red hawk, several quail and roadrunners, vultures feasting on a dead cow, three wild horses, numerous cattle, jackrabbits, skinks and lizards. I saw forests of giant Cardon cactus, several the size of the 42-footer that was dug out of the area in 1992 and shipped to Seville for the World's Fair.

I also saw a gritty group of people who appreciate the desert for what it is. Unlike the race cars, the vehicles of these dune buggy enthusiasts take their riders to a place, not through it. Even though it was a nasty day in the desert, I loved it!

(Likeable "Baja Lou" Wells unfortunately passed away in November, 2012)


About Greg

Greg Niemann, a long-time Baja writer, is the author of Baja Fever, Baja Legends, Palm Springs Legends, Las Vegas Legends, and Big Brown: The Untold Story of UPS. Visit Greg's website.

4.7 93 Reviews
  • user logo
    Benjamin Driebe
    From logo

    Absolutely fantastic, I already forgot her name because I have a terrible memory but the woman that helped me on the phone was wonderful,...

  • user logo
    richard carr
    From logo

    fast replies and great price!

  • user logo
    Juan Zuniga
    From logo

    I just would like to know if you guys are going to update the fastpass direction any soon, during the month of January the lane changed to...

  • user logo
    Richard Schweiger
    From logo

    Very professional, very helpful, great policy, I couldn't be happier with Baja Mexican Insurance, the friendly smiles and ease of it all in...

  • user logo
    Ryan Frisby
    From logo

    We use them every time we travel to Mexico. Luckily we have not needed their services yet but getting insurance through them is quick and...

  • user logo
    Jan Muhammad
    From logo

    I need a tourist visa for maxico I'm from pakistan help me sir

  • user logo
    Tracy Moore
    From logo

    Very easy, quick, and professional

  • user logo
    robert kepper
    From logo

    They are very good . There website doesn't show you need a title to bring a vehicle across the border.I was stopped and told I had to...

  • user logo
    Edilver Martinez
    From logo

    Our go to Baja car insurance, everytime we take a visit down south . Usually it's for a day trip either for a quick getaway with the family...

  • user logo
    Daniel Markofsky
    From logo

    Third time working with Baja Bound and they made it easy! Thanks!

  • user logo
    Steve Bender
    From logo

    Have never needed to use the insurance fortunately but the website always works great. Can buy a policy in about a minute.

  • user logo
    Jose Paez
    From logo

    Had a great experience getting insurance at Baja Bound, before I always stoped at the border to purchase my insurance, not anymore. By the...

  • user logo
    JUSTINE SERRANO
    From logo

    I purchased insurance through them & CHUBB for our trip to San Felipe. Unfortunately, we had to cancel due to our vehicle having an oil...

  • user logo
    Christian Minor
    From logo

    Team were on point, provided inside information, prices were great and they had my proposal already in the system when I called back....

  • user logo
    Joey Digiovanni
    From logo

    Easy to work with 😉. Always courteous and helpful

  • user logo
    George
    From logo

    Excellent customer service

  • user logo
    Kellye Pummill
    From logo

    Fast and easy!

  • user logo
    Jennifer Toups
    From logo

    Baja Bound is and has been my go to Mexico insurance company. The website is extremely easy to use, keeps all your info for a quick...

  • user logo
    Cesar Lopez
    From logo

    Very convenient, great price !!

  • user logo
    Louis Schneidman
    From logo

    I had an awesome experience with Baja Bound. Family owned and highly personal, top notch customer service. I have total peace of mind...

  • user logo
    Phil Noble
    From logo

    If you’re looking for Mexican Insurance that you can trust and feel good about while traveling in Mexico, you’ve found the right place....

  • user logo
    Jeff Bunker
    From logo

    Great coverage options . Price buy and print policy , very quick and easy , highly recommend them when driving in Mexico

  • user logo
    Burrell DeVine
    From logo

    Easy to navigate and very competitively priced! I had to call in and add an additional day, they couldn't have been any more pleasant to...

  • user logo
    Nereyda Torres
    From logo

    Me gusta la asuguranza porque la puedes comprar por un dia y te asegura en Mexico por el tiempo que vas ya sea hasta por mes (Translated...

  • user logo
    james whitmer
    From logo

    Best insurance I've had so far

  • user logo
    Rail1riders
    From logo

    Quick, easy, well designed website and not just for Baja. Good rates for temporal residente gringos. We’re not living in Jalisco. Printed...

  • user logo
    Matt B
    From logo

    I always use Baja Bound to source my insurance while traveling to Mexico. Fortunately, I have not had to file any claims. I do appreciate...

  • user logo
    Refugio I. Rochin
    From logo

    Excellent online and by direct phone. Spanish and English with proven response to questions. Website is very informative about driving in...

  • user logo
    Kelly Carney
    From logo

    Yara is very helpful and explains everything. Love working with companies like this.

  • user logo
    Slumdog Gump
    From logo

    Changed some money. Good rate and friendly people.

  • user logo
    Jeff G
    From logo

    Went down to TJ June 11 2020 No problems going into TJ but the way back was a ordeal 6 hours in line to get back into the USA but no...

  • user logo
    don letson
    From logo

    Great renewal process, if only south Dakota would do the same for car registration.

  • user logo
    len buckholtz
    From logo

    SIMPLE, STRAIGHTFORWARD. OLD GUYS LIKE THAT. WILL DEFINITELY USE IN 6 MONTHS IF STILL RUNNING AROUND THE WILDS OF BAJA.

  • user logo
    Susana Judd
    From logo

    Easy, quick and fair prices. Easy to deal with if needed.

  • user logo
    Seismic Waterfinder
    From logo

    Very excellent service, needed insurance for Mexico, price was fair. The custumer service rep was Yara

  • user logo
    Nicolas Dervé
    From logo

    Very good ans very fast. We hope all will ben good if we need it.

  • user logo
    Blake Glassco
    From logo

    I will never drive south of the border without Baja Bound in my center console. I was in an accident a couple hours south of Ensenada and...

  • user logo
    JohnPaul Gemelli
    From logo

    Baja Bound could not have made it an easier ... also, I made a mistake and called them having to leave a message ... but, they called back...

  • user logo
    Jeff Brandt
    From logo

    so far so good, however I have read good things about them

  • user logo
    Sengoz N
    From logo

    SERIOUS.

  • user logo
    Kenneth Trass
    From logo

    Getting a policy was simple, Provided more than provider for price comparison.

  • user logo
    Esther Valencia
    From logo

    Super easy to purchase just the coverage you need when crossing the border in your own car. I especially appreciate the fact that I was...

  • user logo
    Larry Cottingham
    From logo

    Great service, very helpful people there.

  • user logo
    Luis Cortes
    From logo

    Easiest way to purchase insurance when traveling to Mexico. I have used their service for the last 7 years and it only gets easier and...

  • user logo
    j dougher ty
    From logo

    EZ Peasy insurance purchase. Great service every time I've used them. Had to cancel one time when my travel plans went away - no problem....

  • user logo
    Paul Niehouse
    From logo

    Extremely easy to acquire a policy. Many options available. Reasonable rates.

  • user logo
    Colin
    From logo

    Super-easy and instant. Very happy with initial purchase.

  • user logo
    Howard M Elster
    From logo

    2nd year with Chubb. No problems

  • user logo
    Cyndee Congrove
    From logo

    Great customer service, quick, friendly staff helpfully answered all questions, very patient with my learning curve on a new product. Would...

  • user logo
    Art Eugenio
    From logo

    I've had Baja Bound insurance for more that ten years now with thousands of miles logged in Baja. Fortunately, I've only had one fender...

  • user logo
    Gabe Matthews
    From logo

    Where do i start..... you dont know you have good insurance until you have to actually use it. I have had Baja Bound INS for over 5 years...

  • user logo
    keith berkley
    From logo

    Been going to baja for 45 years. This is best insurance company i have come accross.

  • user logo
    Ryan Perkio
    From logo

    I have been using BajaBound Insurance for 15 years - multiple trips per year. Their website is easy, their coverage is great, and the...

  • user logo
    RaMon McBride
    From logo

    I have not had any claims thus far so rating is based on ease of purchase.

  • user logo
    Larry French
    From logo

    By far the best service for Mex insurance in Baja. They are personally there for you if you have problems south of the border.

  • user logo
    Tudor Thomas
    From logo

    Baja Bound makes buying insurance for going south of the border as easy as it gets. The website is the easiest I have used and the staff...