By David Kier
When one speaks about the fascinating peninsula of Baja California, images of cactus covered deserts, rugged off-road racing, the best sportfishing, surfing, or beach play, is typically what comes to mind. There is another face of Baja that is a far different place. One that has high mountain peaks that are covered with snow in the winter. The California Condor, once the master of these mountains has been brought back from near extinction and re-released into the wild here.
In 1967, the future site for Mexico’s largest observatory was chosen high on the ridge of the San Pedro Mártir, just a few miles from Baja’s largest mountain, El Picacho del Diablo (10,154’). Today, a paved road begins near sea level on Highway 1 and climbs over 9,000 feet. In 1970, the road to the mountaintop site had been made and the first telescope went into operation, others would follow. In 1979, Mexico’s largest telescope was installed with its 84-inch mirror. In 2017, three telescopes that make up the TAOS II Project (searching for small objects beyond the orbit of Neptune) were installed.
The Sierra San Pedro Mártir mountain range was named for the 1794 Spanish mission founded there. Originally established at 6,785’, within three months the Dominican padres moved the mission 7 miles south and nearly 2,000’ lower in elevation because of the frosts encountered so high up. Over the next seventeen years, the mission added buildings, irrigation canals, raised corn and cattle, but the population remained less than 100 Native converts for most of its years of operation. The mission was finally closed during a harsh winter storm in 1811. Mexico’s independence was achieved in 1821 and that all but ended the Spanish mission program.
In the 1880s, Mexico welcomed pioneering families to help develop the sparsely populated peninsula. The Johnsons, originally from Denmark and the Melings from Norway, arrived and began ranching and mining the region around Colonet and San Telmo. Prospecting for gold and other minerals was high on the agenda for survival in the years of draught for these families. Gold was discovered at Arroyo Socorro and in 1894, Harry Johnson constructed a ditch 18 miles long to bring water to Socorro allowing year round mining. In the following year, so much gold was removed, the cost of the enormous feat of hydro-engineering was recovered. Socorro was a busy mine town for several years. In the valley below Socorro was Rancho San José where members of the Johnson family spent time between their San Antonio de Mar ranch near Colonet, and Socorro. Harry Johnson bought Rancho San José in 1910 and in the following year, the revolt led by Pancho Villa burned down the ranch. Once the small revolution was over, the ranch was rebuilt, and Johnson sold the Socorro mine. In 1924, the ranch became known as the Meling Ranch when Harry Johnson’s daughter Aida (who married Salve Meling in 1913) bought the ranch from her mother.
Beginning in 1929, Charles Edward Utt transplanted a native Baja California species of Rainbow Trout from San Antonio Canyon to the other running streams of the Sierra San Pedro Mártir. The fascinating story can be read
Following World War II, Baja California received a new influx of visitors traveling by the new four-wheeldrive sensation, the ‘jeep,’ and even more travelers came flying their private airplanes as dirt runways popped up everywhere in Baja. The roads were so bad that flying was the only option for most. The Meling Ranch continues to welcome fly-in guests at its 3,000-foot runway. However, with paved highways now replacing dirt roads and drug trafficking causing the closure of most dirt runways, the land-based traveler has become the primary client for guest ranches and resorts in Baja.
Paving the road to the San Pedro Mártir National Park and the observatories was completed around 2007. With recent astronomical construction in 2017, the road has been well maintained. However, it has several steep grades and is narrow as it climbs from nearly sea-level to over 9,280 feet (2,828 meters) in 62 miles (100 kilometers). Large motorhomes or travel trailers are not advised for that reason.
A visit to the pine forests of Baja California is a wonderful experience. Seeing condors circling overhead is quite a sight, as well. Should you be able to drive the final 3 kilometers beyond the gate, to the observatory, you could be rewarded with one of Baja’s most fantastic views. The fee to enjoy the park is very reasonable at 64 pesos (under 4 dollars) per person. Many camping sites are located just beyond the entrance station. There are cabins available as well, but bring a tent or camper should they be unavailable.
There are day-use trails and side roads inside the park, but camping is restricted to the sites near the entrance station. Expect far cooler temperatures at the 8,000-foot level and brief summer rains and lightning strikes can be a daily event. Read more in Graham Mackintosh’s excellent book, Nearer My Dog To Thee.
Camping, rooms, and meals are also available at Rancho Meling and Rancho El Coyote. The road between Rancho El Coyote and Mike’s Sky Rancho has not been maintained and was badly washed out from last winter’s heavy rains. It may only be passable to motorcycles or ‘rock-crawler’ style 4x4s.
The following conditions were noted in October 2017:
ROAD LOG: Distance in miles (and kilometers)
0.0 Highway 1 at Km. 140.5, elevation 130'. The well-signed junction is 87 miles south of Ensenada.
4.2 (Km. 7) Narrow bridge
5.6 (Km. 9.5) San Telmo (now a ghost town) was an important visita old Mission Santo Domingo and a farming supply center until recent years when many have moved down to Highway 1 for more opportunity.
11.3 (Km. 18+) Hacienda Sinaloa a town of farm workers with one small store.
17.0 (Km. 27.5) Road right goes to the old Valladares gold mines (18 miles) and El Potrero (27 miles).
17.6 (Km. 28.5) Signed road left to Ranchos (Las Choyas, Cortez, El Papalote). Road begins a steep climb.
22.0 (Km.35+) 1,000' elevation.
24.0 (Km. 38.5) 2,000' elevation.
30.3 (Km. 49) Road north to El Coyote guest ranch, 4.9 miles (rooms, camping, meals).
30.6 (Km. 49.5) Road to right to Meling Ranch, a guest ranch with a long history. Rooms, meals, camping, airstrip.
34.0 (Km. 55) 3,000' elevation.
39.0 (Km. 63) 4,000' elevation.
39.3 (Km. 63.5+) Road south to El Potrero.
40.6 (Km. 66) Socorro mine site. Not much left from the 1894-1910 when the Johnson family worked the placer goldfield.
41.6 (Km. 67+) Road left, signed to La Joya. Badly eroded from last winter's rains, this ranch and the former Dark Skies Inn (Rancho La Concepción) was once reached this way, but today may be impassable.
43.4 (Km. 70) 5,000' elevation.
45.0 (Km. 72.5) 6,000' elevation.
45.2 (Km. 73) Fire break road to the right (yellow gate).
45.8 (Km. 73.5+) Road right 0.3 mi. to the former Los Manzanos RV Park/Campground. Abandoned.
46.3 (Km.74.5+) La Cienega de Soto, rental cabin.
48.1 (Km. 77.5) Former park entrance payment gate, ex-ranger station (6,800').
48.6 (Km. 78+) 7,000' elevation.
51.0 (Km. 82+) 8,000' elevation.
51.7 (Km. 83.5) Park Entrance Payment Ranger Station 'La Corona'. Elevation: 8,259'.
52.0 (Km. 84) Campo Cacomixtle, El Condor, Cimarron, and more, on both sides of the highway.
53.5 (Km. 86.5) Capilla San Pedro. A small chapel on a hilltop.
56.3 (Km. 91) Road south for La Tasajera (10 km.). Locked gate at Mile 1.9.
56.8 (Km. 91.5) Museum (closed).
57.8 (Km. 93+) The Aguaje del Burro road to the right goes 2.0 miles to a covered spring. This was an old cattle camp.
58.2 (Km. 93.5+) Mirador El Altar road right (elev. 8,000'). It is 0.3 mi. to the El Mirador trail. A right fork just off the highway goes 2.2 miles to a pretty area.
58.9 (Km. 94.5+) Pass a military camp and a side road left to the Venado Blanco trail.
60.3 (Km. 97.5) Parking area (left) and gate restricting access to the observatories. 8,705'. A phone box on the left to request passage. It is 3 kilometers and over 500' higher to the end of the road at Mexico's largest telescope.
61.2 (Km. 99) 9,000' elevation.
62.1 (Km. 100+) Elev. 9,280'. The highest point reached by automobile in Baja California. The national observatory.
David Kier is a veteran Baja traveler, author of 'Baja California - Land Of Missions' and co-author of 'The Old Missions of Baja and Alta California 1697-1834'. Visit the Old Missions website.
My wife and I were in Baja the 1st week of October. Insurance through Baja Bound was quick and easy. Thank you
Easy to obtain, good quality, auto insurance for Mexico.
I have used Baja Bound for years. Very easy and affordable.
Great company. unlike their competitors, Baja Bound answers the phone and you're talking to a real person. Highly reccomend!
We've used Baja Bound Mexican Insurance for years, its quick, easy, and affordable. Whether you drive across the US/Mexico border once or...
Great service and prices!
Great service, quick response time.
Easy insurance for peace of mind
This is an update to my previous review. Baja Bound, unbidden on my part, reached out to me to assist. They coordinated a contact with...
Quick easy to navigate website
Good seevice have use baja bound for many years good price....
We were trying to get an insurance for our RV in Mexico, we come from Europe and we drive with Belgium license plates. I tried a lot of...
Easy to get and the price is right
Professional and affordable.
Thank God I had a safe trip but it did have me at peace knowing I was fully covered. The staff were friendly and very helpful.
Best Mexican insurance
Quick, easy, well designed website and not just for Baja. Good rates for temporal residente gringos. We’re now living in Jalisco. Printed...
Honestly their app is so fantastic and saves all my info I can literally buy the same insurance for my Baja trips in less than 45 seconds...
Been with Baja Bound for a while now. Never had the need to file a claim, until recently while in Baja. Someone crashed into our vehicle....
Incredibly fast and painless. Paid about $180 for a month of coverage. It was easier than going on line.
Great, easy to use service. I haven't had to file a claim (and hope I never have to) but the online portal is very easy to use, and it's...
I have been a customer for years and when I really needed them they stepped up in every way. I had a freak accident to my car and they...
Easy, fast, and affordable.
Reasonable prices and we thought best chance to actually get results if we needed them.
Great company and they use CHUBB which is a top notch insurance company.We got our policy online 30min before crossing the border and were...
Great company, great prices, and even better customer service. We've lived in Baja for 7 years and have used them for the past 6years....
So convenient and easy to navigate thru the online process. I'll never use any other Mexican insurance service!
Easy to work with 😉. Always courteous and helpful. Have used them for all trips to Mexico. Easy website to navigate
Shauna at Baja Bound was AWESOME!! We had specific questions about how to quote the policy based on our vehicle type and she was super...
Easy and affordable.
I reapplied for my Baja Bound Mexican car Insurance yesterday and I spoke to Ms. Shauna. This lady processed my application quickly and...
Absolutely fantastic, I already forgot her name because I have a terrible memory but the woman that helped me on the phone was wonderful,...
fast replies and great price!
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...
Very professional, very helpful, great policy, I couldn't be happier with Baja Mexican Insurance, the friendly smiles and ease of it all in...
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...
I need a tourist visa for maxico I'm from pakistan help me sir
Very easy, quick, and professional
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...
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...
Third time working with Baja Bound and they made it easy! Thanks!
Have never needed to use the insurance fortunately but the website always works great. Can buy a policy in about a minute.
Had a great experience getting insurance at Baja Bound, before I always stoped at the border to purchase my insurance, not anymore. By the...
I purchased insurance through them & CHUBB for our trip to San Felipe. Unfortunately, we had to cancel due to our vehicle having an oil...
Team were on point, provided inside information, prices were great and they had my proposal already in the system when I called back....
Excellent customer service
Fast and easy!
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...
Very convenient, great price !!
I had an awesome experience with Baja Bound. Family owned and highly personal, top notch customer service. I have total peace of mind...
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....
Great coverage options . Price buy and print policy , very quick and easy , highly recommend them when driving in Mexico
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...
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...
Best insurance I've had so far
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...
Excellent online and by direct phone. Spanish and English with proven response to questions. Website is very informative about driving in...
Yara is very helpful and explains everything. Love working with companies like this.
Changed some money. Good rate and friendly people.
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...
Great renewal process, if only south Dakota would do the same for car registration.
SIMPLE, STRAIGHTFORWARD. OLD GUYS LIKE THAT. WILL DEFINITELY USE IN 6 MONTHS IF STILL RUNNING AROUND THE WILDS OF BAJA.
Easy, quick and fair prices. Easy to deal with if needed.
Very excellent service, needed insurance for Mexico, price was fair. The custumer service rep was Yara
Very good ans very fast. We hope all will ben good if we need it.
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...
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...
so far so good, however I have read good things about them
Getting a policy was simple, Provided more than provider for price comparison.
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...
Great service, very helpful people there.
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...
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....
Extremely easy to acquire a policy. Many options available. Reasonable rates.
Super-easy and instant. Very happy with initial purchase.
2nd year with Chubb. No problems
Great customer service, quick, friendly staff helpfully answered all questions, very patient with my learning curve on a new product. Would...
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...
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...
Been going to baja for 45 years. This is best insurance company i have come accross.
I have been using BajaBound Insurance for 15 years - multiple trips per year. Their website is easy, their coverage is great, and the...
I have not had any claims thus far so rating is based on ease of purchase.
By far the best service for Mex insurance in Baja. They are personally there for you if you have problems south of the border.
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...