07-Oct-2000 -- While
visiting my parents in Baja California Norte, Mexico, my friend James and I
decided to visit a nearby confluence, 31N 116W. We took the well paved Federal Highway 1 south
from Ensenada for about 80 miles and turned onto the unnamed gravel road that leads 55 miles
inland to the Parque Nacional Sierra de San Pedro Martir, where the Mexican government
maintains its National Observatory at the summit of a 10,000 foot mountain.
After traveling about 20 miles inland, we crossed the 116th meridian, and found a dirt road
that we thought would lead due north, practically right to the confluence. One mile down the
road, we came to a gate with a "No Paso, Propriedad Privada" sign. Darn. We were still about
2.5 miles from the confluence.
So we backed up a quarter mile and struck up a conversation with a group of Mexican men
repairing a pickup truck. Using my best awful Spanish from a college class 15 years ago, I
asked the men who we should speak to for permission to pass. Senor Fernando's house, three
miles away. Then a string of rapid, undecipherable directions. This road, that road, past the
graveyard, stay to the left, etc.
We knew we would never get there, and sunset was now only two hours away. Then, just as we
began to leave, the men waved us down and told us there is a road behind some nearby trees that
goes around the "No Paso" sign. If we took that road, we could claim to have gone in by way of
a road that has no gate or sign. Muchas gracias, amigos!
So we took the dirt road another half mile north. As we drove along, it became less and less
traveled, until finally we had to stop at an old windmill. We were only two miles due south of the
confluence. How hard a hike could that be? (You already know the answer.)
We hiked up and down two huge cactus covered hills with 15 percent grades. The cactuses were
terrible. One kind has nasty, rigid thorns that penetrate deeply and draw blood if you brush
past them. Another kind has little thorn pods that actually jump off the plant at you if you
get too near. Then there were the inch tall buggers that can puncture the sole of your hiking
boots. By wending our way among the cactuses, we added another mile to the round trip hike.
After descending the backside of the last hill, we found ourselves in an austere but beautiful
valley lit by golden late afternoon sun. There was a field lying fallow in the bottom of the
valley, and in five minutes we found our confluence, at the far edge of the field. We only had
ten minutes until sunset, and a 45 minute hike back, so we quickly took pictures and left. I
wish we had had more time to savor the place. It was very quiet, still, and luminous. Lesson
learned. Next time, leave home earlier.