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The Road to Guerrero Negro: "True Baja"

Driving south through the otherworldly central desert of Valle de los Cirios

By Maria Grusauskas

Valle de los Cirios

It’s about a 260-mile drive to Guerrero Negro from San Quintín, where we stayed the night at Hotel Jardines—a pretty awesome hotel secluded from town and surrounded by lush gardens

The road into “True Baja” is long, lonely and breathtakingly beautiful. The 1 winds through Valle de Los Cirios, a vast desert and natural protected area that stretches from both coasts, north from El Rosario and south all the way to Guerrero Negro. Nothing has prepared us for its strangeness.

This is a land of cacti, vultures, the occasional rabbit, and no services for miles and miles. Cirios cacti, as far as the eye can see, make us feel like we’re crossing the seafloor of a Dr. Seuss book. Their cone-shaped trunks are covered with leaves, making them appear shaggy, and many of them send out shoots of mustard-colored blossoms. The Valle’s namesake vegetation only grows between 29 and 30 degrees latitude.

shrine

An equal number of giant cardon cactuses maintain a sentry-like presence over the land. These fat-trunked cactuses grow all over Baja, but seem to be the largest and oldest in this protected area. They can grow up to 70 feet tall, and some are over 200 years old.

We stop many times to tool around on the sandy tracks that run off of the main highway into the terrain, visit a roadside shrine to the Virgen, where candles flicker in the middle of the day, and search for cave paintings left by an unknown culture some 1,000 years ago. Breaks in the overcast sky cast amazing light, god’s rays and all, over the terrain, and we drive even slower to take it all in.

As the sun sinks lower, it begins to dawn on us that we’re still pretty far from the end of this wilderness, and even farther from our destination, Guerrero Negro, which sits just over the line dividing Northern Baja from Southern Baja.

Many people have told us not to drive at night, especially on long stretches outside of cell range. Even with a satellite phone stuffed under one seat, it’s a bit unnerving to be out in the middle of nowhere with limited visibility. Just as blackness closes in on us, rain drops began to fall.

Valle de los Cirios cactus

"Well, I guess we’re driving at night," I tell Molly, and I’m happy that she’s here with me as we inch along, avoiding potholes large enough to swallow a water buffalo. We pass several signs for cows before slamming on the brakes for the first sandy-colored herd lazily trundling across the dark road.

About an hour outside of Guerrero Negro we drive into a hotel that we think might be a good stopping point, only to drive right out. Something about the place made our hair stand on end. We stop to pee on the side of the road, in the rain, and jump back in the car. Guerrero Negro or bust!

Tip: Leave early, not late. If GPS tells you five hours for this journey, add two hours for stopping time and slow driving. Don’t forget to gas up in El Rosario.

Room at Hotel Jardines, San Quintín: $45
Dinner at Hotel Jardines Restaurant, (Included four margaritas, fajitas and chile rellenos. Don’t judge us.) $30