Bahía de los Angeles to Bahía San Rafael
Craving some off-pavement adventure again, I took a 12-mile "shortcut" that bypasses a corner of the paved road from Highway 1 to Bahía de los Angeles (from
After reaching the paved Bahía de los Angeles road again, I soon took another detour, this time north over Agua Amarga (a large dry lake bed)
As it turned out, I didn't get far. I was happily bouncing along on a dirt track beyond Agua Amarga, when all of a sudden I felt a loss of engine power. Glancing, down I saw all my dashboard gauges going haywire. And, I smelled smoke. Eek! I immediately pulled over, stopped the engine, and gave my van a thorough looking over. I couldn't find anything amiss, so I gingerly started the engine and started driving again. One minute later, it happened again. This time, the engine completely died. There was more smoke now — pouring out from under the hood! I slammed brakes and switched the ignition off. I grabbed my fire extinguisher, popped the hood, and ran outside. There were flames coming out of the engine! I realized I'd never used a fire extinguisher before, but — a few squirts and ... the fire was out! Phew!
OK, but what happened!? I quickly removed the battery. I found that three grounding straps had melted. But the real problem was still a major short somewhere in my electrical system. At this point, it was getting dark, so I camped right there on the road. Luckily all the van’s camping appliances still work with the engine battery disconnected. In the morning I did some sleuthing on the short with my multimeter. A big red cable from the engine battery heading towards the back of the van was getting pinched by the heavy house battery, which had somehow bounced up and out of its holding pan.
With the culprit found and fixed, I was on my way again. I don't know what I would do if that extinguisher hadn't worked! Next time I'm buying two!!
Heading south from Bahía de los Angeles, I passed Las Flores — a ruin left over from past days of mining gold and silver. I read that the stone building with bars on the doors was once used as a jail, as well as a place for keeping precious metal ore safe.
The road continuing on to Bahía San Rafael had deteriorated significantly since my last few visits. I remembered it as a graded road, but it was now a torn up single-track with plenty of bumps and washouts. I wonder how much degradation was caused by sending the Baja 200 race through there.
Evening was approaching as I reached Bahía San Rafael. On a whim, I decided to try camping somewhere new. I picked the first beach I saw (marked Boca Grande on my map), and headed down. As I approached the shore, I followed some tire tracks that headed over a dry lakebed to what appeared to be a rocky beach. Seconds before I would reach the beach, I saw the following:
I should have been looking farther ahead and noticed these old deep tire tracks and piles of rocks earlier. But it was too late. The van started slowing down, and then stopped — wheels spinning. It turned out I somehow wasn’t even in four wheel drive! But it was too late – even with 4x4 engaged, I was stuck – with the rear axle sunk down into the mud. Oops!
OK, don't panic! Though I was a long walk from help, I wasn't in any danger. I had shelter and plenty of water & food. If at all possible, I was going to figure out how to extricate myself without going for help. So, I pulled out all my tools and started devising a plan. And that was when I noticed the van was sinking! The rear end of the van wasn't really doing anything with the axle already resting in the mud, but the front wheels were now noticeably drifting down into the muck, too. The front differential was now only an inch off the ground. Time to get moving!
It was a long night – full of jacking and lugging boulders. These big rocks I found on the beach were made to serve as jack supports, and also stuffed under my wheels. Finally, I was exhausted — so I slept, trying not to dream about sinking into mud.
In the early morning, before the heat of the day arrived, I managed to get myself unstuck. I raised the rear of the van by sharing the weight load between my hi-lift jack on alternating wheels, and the van's bottle jack under the rear trailer hitch. It was a race — jacking vs. sinking — but finally I got to the point where the rear axle was just barely above the mud level. I removed the hi-lift, started the engine, and assertively backed out of the mess, allowing the bottle jack to fall down as the rear wheels traveled backwards over their holes before falling down onto solid ground again. Momentum kept me going out of that wet muck, and I was free!
I've since read that Boca Grande is a popular spot for getting stuck in the mud, and that at the highest tide seawater comes through that rocky beach wall and floods the playa! If I'd only known...! Here's a photo of the rocky beach next to Boca Grande. It’s not very exciting, but I was grateful to have such a great supply of rocks!
Some beach finds — outgrown crab shells, sun-bleached sea urchins, and a variety of bones. I managed to surprise this coyote who I assume was sleeping in the bushes only a few yards away.