The skull of a medium-sized California Gray whale.
Then of course there were the skeletons of Gray whales, porpoises, and sea lions. The skulls of the older male sea lions have a pronounced saggital crest, and look like something that belongs in a certain genre of film.
One of the photos below shows part of the jaw of a Gray whale that we found at Malarrimo beach. It was placed as shown on the XT500 for transport back to our camp, which was something of an exercise. Several people have gotten stuck in the sands of that beach, which means something on the order of "Bad Arrival."
Bad Arrivals and No Returns
And a bad arrival it can be for anyone foolish enough to take a vehicle onto the soft parts. Many vehicles have gotten stuck so badly in the terrain around Malarrimo that they never made it home again. We found the rusted-out carcass of what appeared to have been a Land Rover whose driver had foolishly gone below the high-water mark. Others have bogged down in the mud under the sand in the arroyo that is the usual approach to the beach. We've even gotten motorcycles, with aggressive knobby tires, stuck in the goop that hides around the lagoons and beaches. The wise traveler (in a truck, anyway) carries a 4-foot-lift jack and boards and knows how to use locally scrounged materials. The horseflies seem to know when you are in distress, and they will make your life miserable during vehicle recovery operations.
Anyway, there would be just one chance to make it over the dune, and failing that, we would have to just abandon the truck. So I took a running head start and was making good progress when I hit a dip violently enough to jerk the engine forward on the motor mounts. This caused the clutch linkage to come apart and the radiator fan to slice the top radiator hose, covering the windshield in coolant. Since stopping on the dune would have been foolish, I pressed on over the top and came to rest on hard dirt. I had a spare lower radiator hose but not an upper, and no spare clutch linkage parts. It was time to improvise.
And you know what they say: Improvisation is a mother. But in time, with enough duct tape and hose clamps, the truck made it home. It had a history of breaking in Baja, which I am certain was the result of the misbehavior of the previous owner. This vehicle suffered two failures of rear wheel bearings down there, each of which would rate its own little story of disaster-plus-recovery. And anyway, part of the value of going into the wilder places is to test your mettle, to see what you are made of when faced with adversity.
For this pickup, the little swim
in the lagoon was just about the last straw. On the return trip a front
wheel bearing broke about four miles from its southern California home.
The inner race of the bearing had gotten so hot that it was practically
fused to the axle, and had to be ground off.
More Coyotes In spite of the strong winds, the tranquility of these places along the Vizcaíno desert shore helps you to forget all your usernames and passwords, as well as where you work, and so on. Sunsets along this coast provide opportunities for mindless idling, and are often accompanied by a little chorus of coyote songs in the distance. And sometimes they are not so distant.
Mornings often come in with a light fog and chill, and a moment to watch the scruffy coyotes patrolling the beach for carrion appetizers. Once I found a coyote pup, very much alive, hiding inside the sun-bleached skull of a gray whale. And at Malarrimo, even when we put all the wagons in a circle and lit a campfire, there were coyote prints all around and very close to where we slept. Obviously the critters had come to within just a few feet of us during the night.
Since we mostly wandered around the coastlines it was perhaps appropriate that some of our philosophies, if it could be said that we really had any, might have come from books about similar travels. Sure, there was some Hemingway, with gunplay and alcohol, until we grew out of it. But messing about in boats and broken-down vehicles, and rooting about the lagoons and offshore sand spits? Now, that was pure Steinbeck. If you concentrate you can recall the smells of sea grass and tide pools and formalin and marine biology.
In his only nonfiction book, The Log from the Sea of Cortez, Steinbeck wrote an introduction about a real-life character named Ed Ricketts, who became Doc in Steinbeck's fiction. The following excerpt can still be found under magnets on our refrigerators, as a reminder about what really mattered:
We must remember three things.
Number one and first in importance, we must have as much fun as we can with what we have.
Number two, we must eat as well as we can, because if we don't, we won't have the health and strength to have as much fun as we might.
Number three, and third and last in importance, we must keep the house reasonably in order, wash the dishes and such things. But we will not let the last interfere with the other two.
Sand dunes, Vizcaíno desert
|Go ahead. Tell some stories.|
Member, South American Explorers Club.