2 March 2016 – Wednesdays with Bruce F. Barber

A Beach Run


Bruce F. Barber

Bruce Barber


“How about a beach run?” she asked. Although not always possible, we tried to get out at least every two weeks but now, we ‘d been so busy with the magazine, we hadn’t been out for a month.

“Which way,” I asked. “North or south?”      I

“South,” came Freda’s reply, “More shells down that way.”

“Make it Saturday and I’ll see who else wants to go.”

“Okay, but what should we prepare?” she asked, knowing it would be a seafood salad. Because my picnic favorites include tuna, salmon, crab and shrimp, I replied, “Jale-tuña, what else?” (Jale-Tuña is a word I concocted from “Jalapeño” and “Tuna.“) In this particular matter, Freda and I were of one accord: A picnic is no excuse for eating poorly.

Departing home at 7:00 a.m., we met our friends at a prearranged spot. There were 11 of us, in five Sandrails, with three dogs. Our destination? A place Freda and I had learned about two years earlier but hadn’t told the others about.

We discovered this amazing place through a chance encounter with a man stalled on the road to Puertecitos. It was one of those beautiful summer days when it was fine to be out but trouble for anyone with a breakdown.      The man was taking a load of building materials to a beachside campo where he and his wife were building a cottage. His engine had overheated and he’d stopped to allow it to cool. F

Freda and I were returning from Gonzaga Bay when, with plenty of water on hand, we stopped, talked, and took the time to insure the stranger arrived safely at his destination. Grateful, he offered beer and showed us his place which was adjacent to a hidden campo in a low-lying riverbed.

What makes this place so surprising are the trees—the most beautiful Tamarack we’ve ever seen. It is, I believe, a man-made arena with trees planted to provide a completely shaded two-acre campsite with car and trailer parking between each row of trees.

The unceasing action of the Cortez has mounded sand so high in front of the place it is impossible to see from the shore. Similarly, the view from the west is blocked by 20-feet high, river-carved dunes.

Our host called himself “Baja Max.” The place he and his wife were building is more like the Winchester Mystery House than a beachside cottage. Although Freda and I have camped there on several occasions since that day of discovery, we have never again seen Max. It is as though our meeting, which occurred on a 120-degree day, was a figment of our imagination!

Five sandrails, 11 souls, and three dogs. We made a sharp turn to the left, headed down a sandy hill and out across the beach. Running in convoy is fun but, owing to each driver’s need to keep his and her eye on the road ahead, our “Navigators” have the responsibility for the car behind. And, since each of us has the added responsibility of finding what there is to enjoy in the desert, both pilot and copilot must have their heads on swivels.

Our first stop was near San Felipe’s “Punta Faro” (Lighthouse Point) where a mile-long, 100 feet thick sedimentary deposit stands atop a surprising layer of lava. As one attempts to put that into perspective, it is impossible to overlook Mounts Machorro and Kila standing guard from San Felipe’s northern shore. They’re both volcanic, both pre-batholithic (suggesting an age of at least 115,000,000 years), and both surrounded by lava. In my opinion, they are the remnants of an ancient volcano that poured its fury on the land and, in a final submissive act, blew itself apart.

A mile farther south, Punta Radar is a local promontory composed of a mixture of lava and shell-impregnated sandstone. The adjacent Sierra Punta Estrella is equally interesting with a visible section of country rock (original land surface).

To the east, between Puntas Radar and Diggs, stand some 50 magnificent Cardón. To the west, in the lee of the Sierra, the Cactus Garden…where 1,000 of these incomparable giants stand tall and proud. Surprisingly, their nursery is hidden a half-mile farther north in the density of two-feet-tall shrubs. In fact, a quick count revealed there were twice as many youngsters in the nursery as adults in The Garden.

Except during low tide, there is no beach-level passage between Puntas Radar and Diggs, but there is a trail up and over the dune and here the hidden youngster in each of us is on display.

*****The trail is likened to a race course with sharp left and right turns and as many ups and downs.

*****It is a place for caution lest you damage your vehicle’s suspension.

*****It is a place for patience lest you lose your desire to traverse it.

*****It is a place for fun where practiced application of throttle and brake yields a smile to the face that says anyone can if they try.

1/4-mile north of Diggs there is a place to return to the beach to traverse a curiously interesting cove and there, on this day, we discovered 20 whale vertebra and a variety of other bones. It is the story of life in the wild and it is discoveries like this that make our outings so interesting.

Most of us have gardens and patios with souvenirs including old rope, seashells, bones, miners’ tools, ore specimens, other rocks, and cacti. I sometimes wonder whether we’re in a race to determine who can dress (or litter) his and her house the fastest.

After Punta Diggs, the shore traces semi-circles as it dances between the outlets for Rios Huatamote, Don Poncho and Parral. But, because crossing the estero (swamp) south of Laguna Percebú can be a problem, a tide calendar is a must. The alternative is to go via the highway.

While there are many beautiful homes north of the estero, it is as though Campo Santa Maria signals the start of a grand beachside display. Whereas the entire region south of Punta Faro is primitive, there are an estimated 1,000 homes lining the beach between it and Puertecitos.

Driving the southern beach provides an opportunity to view them all. While some are shanties, some attractive shells built around trailers, others are cottages and a surprising number are what I call mansions.

As the morning pressed on, I remembered that Freda and I, busy with travel preparations, had failed to take breakfast. Now, having stopped for photography, whale bones, seashells and coffee, we decided it was time for brunch. So, taking the lead, I headed for the highway.

I wanted to surprise our friends with the blind approach from the west. “See you guys in the trees,” I shouted as I added throttle and headed for the hills. They followed thinking I’d lost my mind. In fact, one of them even hollered, “What trees?”

Fifteen minutes later I slowed, signaled a turn to the left and pointed my sandrail into a sandy, tree-lined riverbed. There’s a roadway there, of sorts, but you have to have an eye for it. For all I know, it may be my own tracks from the previous two years.

Following overhead, a raven might have seen five colored sandrails twisting and turning their way along until… they came to a stand of trees: Hundreds of ’em… 30, 40, even 50 feet tall.

We drove to the east end of the campground where, after paying the Daily Use Fee, we came upon unoccupied tables, parked, and assembled our nest. While some prepared lunch, others wandered in amazement. Not only was it beautiful, it was quiet and cool, with a pleasant breeze wafting in from the sea.

“I’ll bet I’ve passed this place a hundred times… ‘ was the statement of the hour.

“Join the club,” Freda replied as she described our meeting with Max.

Campo Nuevo Mazatlán is one of those places Nature has chosen to hide. Although easy to find once you know how, it is a place you don’t tell others about for fear of it being ruined. It is also a place where you can enjoy the warmth of friendship in beautiful surroundings.

“Come and get it,” someone called. “We’ve got barbecued beef and pork, grilled turkey sandwiches with jalapeño, onion, lettuce and tomato; a green chile casserole; smoked salmon salad; crudites in blue cheese; garlic-stuffed olives, melons, mangoes and papayas; coffee, coke, beer, red wine; and a partridge in a pear tree.”

    We were five rails, 11 friendly souls, and three dogs on a beach run… to Shangri La.


4 Responses to “2 March 2016 – Wednesdays with Bruce F. Barber”
  1. John Peterson

    Thanks for this Bruce – I got to travel your route from Northern California. It was a nice ride.
    I promise not to spread the word beyond the few Baja-ites I trust but will need to see it in April when we re-join the Bliss Parade.

    John Peterson

  2. Connie turner

    Hola Bruce, always enjoy your writing. We have been to this special many times during our time living in Percebu. Like you, we have met Mad Max and were fortunate enough to get a guided tour thru his crazy castle, including the small trailer in the very center of his maze of rooms. We enjoyed conversation about his plans for opening a retirement community for the aged. It was an unexpected experience to actually find someone on site to talk with….let alone Mad Max. It turned out to be a once in a lifetime event…because, like you, we never saw him there again.

  3. Wornout

    Great story Bruce. I have been there a couple of times and it is a great spot….Thanks for sharing….

  4. Carolyn Richardson

    Truly wonderful story Bruce! I’d love to enjoy a duplicate of your beach and forest outing–I’m only missing the Sandrail part! One day soon I hope. Thanks for sharing your adventure with us.

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