Everyday can be an adventure in Baja, even after living here over a decade. Destination hot springs is for the adventurous, willing to take a few dirt roads into paradise. My friend wheels her Jeep around rocks, spins the tires in the dust and jounces across rocky streams. She laughs at me hanging onto the sissy bar. We are on an adventure just an hour from home. There is nothing like slipping into silky warm water on a cool fall day. We have a lunch and suits, and who needs anything else?
Baja has a volcanic history. The peninsula first cracked off from mainland Mexico as part of the disruption on the San Andreas Fault some 15 million years ago. Like a giant back bone, the remains of volcanoes run down the center of the peninsula. Deep within Earth's mantle the rocks are hot and when water seeps up through them, voila, glorious geothermally heated hot springs.
It is not a big leap to think that the first people found their way here thousands of year ago. The Kumiai have lived and passed through this area for over 2000 years. Before the road cut through the California live oak trees, they had found plentiful food and acorns which was their staple food source. Along the banks of the streams they collected reeds for basket making. This art form has been passed down for hundreds of generations and the Kumiai baskets are sought by savvy collectors. The San Carlos canyon is a watershed and was a natural route through the mountains to the Pacific from Sierra Juarez. The thermal waters were enjoyed as much or more then as they are today.
We arrive in the narrow canyon where fall colors touch the poplar trees and lush green grass lines the clear stream. I catch sight of a snowy egret fishing along the banks, a bright chartreuse foot is held statue-like waiting patiently to spike a morsel with its sharp beak. Beckoning us onward are the stunning pools built around natural granite boulders. Visually it is already worth every dusty mile it took to get here.
We pay the 60 pesos and groan as the young man assumed we got the Senior rate. When did that happen we wonder? One day I was a senorita, the next a senora. Ah well, no matter what age the body, it loves to soak. With the sunlight dancing across the surface, we slip into the warm liquid velvet. We have a whole afternoon of swimming and enjoying the stillness of the mountains.
This peace lasted for several hours until a young Mexican family arrived and turned up the distinctive sounds of Nortenia music. Two more gringas arrived from la Bufadora area. Here is a travel advisory for Americans who like their solitude when bathing: Come early in the spring, fall or winter, avoiding weekends and holidays. All other times the pools will be filled with happy squealing children and music that can be heard for miles. It is, after all, Mexico, and we are but visitors.
The sun is setting early behind a ridge of mountains, casting long shadows across the surface of the turquoise waters. I was thinking we had made a mistake by not throwing in some camping equipment or a few more pesos to rent a cabin overnight. I imagined myself in the morning bathing in the thermal waters with a steaming cup of coffee in hand, and watching the sun come up. Instead, we packed up and began the half hour drive retracing the 10 miles of rough road back to Ensenada feeling bathed in the magic of Baja.
Directions: Your destination is Rancho San Carlos Aguas Termales south east of Ensenada. Turn left at Baja Country Club - a concrete wall will be on your right. Another left on a dirt road going beneath two electric towers. Signs will be seen along the way.
View the Rancho San Carlos website. The website has not been updated and these photos here more closely represent the rancho's current look. A small grocery store and eatery are under construction and will open summer of 2013.