pixel

Baja Travel Adventures
By David Kier

Sierra San Pedro Mártir

By David Kier

San Pedro Martir trees

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.

San Pedro Martir condor sign

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.

San Pedro Martir telescope

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 here.

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.

San Pedro Martir peak

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

San Pedro Martir winding road

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.

About David

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.

4.8 81 Reviews
  • 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
    Stefano Pensa
    From logo

    I talked with Yara and she was extremely helpful. She took the time to explain the different options available to me and I was able to get...

  • 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
    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
    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