Up the Arroyo
Laurie, her husband Nate, and friends Joel and Takiya tootled up the curvy road in Nate's 1990s O.J. Simpson white Ford Bronco. The road, newly rebuilt, lead from the fishing town of Loreto on the Sea of Cortez side of Baja California to the Pacific Ocean side, about a 50-mile drive over the mountain range that extends on parallel all the way down the peninsula. It was the first week in July 2013, not burning hot, but uncomfortable enough for a pack of Coastal Californians. Cheap Mexican gasoline caused an unsettling rattle every time vehicle accelerated or climbed a hill, but this foursome had driven the road before in the same SUV and knew everything was running fine.
The road was in very nice shape. And why wouldn't it be? Well, the passage had been created who knows when to take visitors, and much, much earlier than that most likely homesteaders and missionaries, up to the old Mission San Xavier in the Sierra Giganta range. In late October 2012, approximately 20 years after its first paving, the same four travelers had driven its ~25-mile gulf (Sea of Cortez) side to reach this relatively unknown oasis over washed-out pavement teetering dangerously on the edges of deep ravines leading down the old road on both sides.
Hurricane Paul had come along just three days before their tenuous drive up the mountain that October, thus the washed-out old pavement. The storm was very fast moving, of short but intense duration, and actually centered off of the west coast rather than the east. However, Pacific storms often stall on the mountain ridge. This ridge of mountains, the Sierra (de la) Giganta, which is the Baja California Sur portion of the North American Coast Ranges, extends all the way from Alaska to the southern tip of Baja California Sur, Mexico. La Giganta is arguably among the most craggy and unapproachable-looking ranges of the family. Moderately high elevations of up to approximately 7,000 feet in places yet low and sprawling along other portions make for a beckoning roller coaster ride just peering up at them from town.
As the storms stall, the water gathers and spills directly over the top and into the dips of the range, producing lightning-fast alluvial fans of water down, down, down, across the desert onto the flats and out to the ocean; in other words, directly through the town, in this case, of Loreto. These sandy fans can be seen, with proper respect and awe, from the airplane as it approaches Loreto. The latest storm, Paul, sent about 80 homes to destruction along with trees, branches, cacti, rubbish, refrigerators, and you name it into the Sea of Cortez -- in other words, everything Nature felt was ready to leave the area, from the ridge on down.
|After the storm, the alluvial fan finds its narrows|
Understandably, then, there are a number of arroyos that are usually dry leading down from the mountains to the sea from northern to southern Baja. One that is near the small palapa vacation home of Nate and Laurie just south of downtown Loreto had three paved roads and one extensively bridged (federally constructed) highway: Mexico 1, same as Highway 1 in California, just the other direction. The other three mostly concrete roads allowing passage across that arroyo (or branch of the nearest alluvial fan) were and are not so carefully or "permanently" constructed. These three are still, in 2013, repaired only perfunctorily -- relatively smooth poured concrete, but not structurally sophisticated in any way. One is even just packed dirt. "Why bother?" the local and state governments must ask, if there is just going to be another incident in a few years.
Still, the "lazy Mexicans," as the locals are disrespectfully called by other cultures, were on top of the situation within figurative minutes of the passage destruction as well as the massive damage to the town's coastline and Malecon. Thus, within 8 months of the 2012 hurricane flood, the town looked almost perfect -- in fact, better than ever; and the mountainous, curvy road was, during this second trip up, completely repaired with stocky bridges, reinforcements, and new asphalt all the way to the ridge where the mission still stands. It most likely continues on down the other side to the Pacific, but this trip was not for the means of reaching the Pacific side, so as with many secrets in Mexico, that remains conjecture.
Today's trip, in the 100-degree dryish heat, was for the means of actually hiking up the dried-up arroyos themselves, or at least one that was said to have many ancient carved or painted images on its steep walls. Last trip, Nate the car owner, dictated by his...personality...wanted to get to the top of the ridge to the "goal" -- San Xavier -- and then and only then come back down slowly and leisurely, perhaps walking up a side road, taking some pictures or whatever. Joel, dictated by his own...personality...was absolutely exasperated by the excruciating visual pain of seeing all these wonderful places to hike and take photos and not getting to stop, because he was not the almighty driver of the car. Clearly, because of his and Takiya's vast experience in exploring the deserts of the West and Southwest United States, he felt deprived, void of his usual personal control, and missing the most mystical and important part of life in the desert: that which is not inside of a moving vehicle. Understandable. It should be noted that the last time was not slated to be a hiking trip and, thus, no one had on the proper footwear for hiking in stickers, soft sand and snake land anyway. But Joel did not forget this slight to his sensibilities, and so a definite plan to take in the arroyos, or riverbeds, along with a few small climbs, was made for one day in 2013, during a one-week vacation.
Needless to say, all four were on the same wavelength for the relatively short drive, solely to hike this time, to a familiar stopping place with signs in Spanish saying essentially, "BE CAREFUL."