San Pedro Martir May 1-8, 2010
RECENT BAJA TRIP
Parque Nacional Sierra de San Pedro Martir
What used to be sixty miles of sometimes rough, dusty, washboardy dirt road to reach the Parque Nacional de San Pedro Mártir and Mexico’s National Observatory at the end of the road is now a pleasant drive… or at least it was until the new paved road was severely damaged by torrential rains that hit the area in January 2010.
It is still passable with care if you keep your speed down, especially on blind curves, watch out for diversions, boulders and rock falls, and stay away from the edge of the tarmac.
And as you begin your final ascent up the steep face of the mountains keep an eye open for California condors. This is probably the best place in the world to see North America’s largest flying birds. Last June, my wife and I spotted five of them perched on a little ridge forty or fifty yards away!
The stats for North America’s largest flying bird are well known and impressive—wingspan over 9 feet, weighing up to 25 pounds, capable of soaring at over 50 mph and roaming over 150 miles a day. But knowing all that hardly prepares you for the spectacle of seeing and hearing these giant carrion feeders close up. On my latest trip I saw another six condors. My normally bold little corgi companion was certainly impressed as they sounded like gliders whoosing overhead. She hid under the pickup while I did my best to capture the show with my camera.
About fifty miles from Highway 1, you come to the gate at the park entrance. A series of signs invite you to stop, sign in and pay your entrance fee, which is currently 50 pesos a day—about $4.25US. Children under 6, seniors over 60, and disabled persons are exempt. An annual “passport” is available for all the parks in Mexico, including the islands of the Sea of Cortez for about $30 US, but may not be available there at the park.
The camping zone is close to the entrance—there are turnoffs both north and south of the road. Most campsites are within a mile of the road, and are well equipped with bench seats and tables, trash bins, barbecues, and pit toilets. Fires are allowed in the camping areas and are very welcome as nights can be below freezing, even in the summer. Bringing firewood into the park is not permitted or necessary. With so few visitors, there is generally an abundance of wood for burning.
I enjoyed a terrific week camped there at 8500 feet. The park ranger, Alfredo, informed me that three or four inches of snow had fallen two days before I arrived… and much of it was still on the ground.
The first night was brutally cold. As soon as the sun dipped below the horizon a bowl of water turned to ice. Although I had a roaring evening campfire, I felt like I was sleeping in a freezer that night.
It warmed up after that - clear blue skies, day temperatures in the 60s and 70s... and temps not dropping below the mid-30s at night.
Every peak and ridge offered wonderful views of Picacho Diablo, Baja's high point at over 10,000 feet. Pili the corgi loved it... after a long hot hike up and down ridges through the pine forest and chasing coyotes she liked to spread herself out on the snow to chill while master enjoyed a cold one.
The Sierra de San Pedro Mártir is a great place to bring a well-behaved dog. The open, park-like, old growth pine forest is relatively easy to traverse on foot. But be aware that coyote encounters are common, and mountain lions are seen occasionally. A few years ago, on a wild and windy day, my dog at the time suddenly came nose to nose with a very surprised bobcat. Fortunately, the bobcat recovered its senses first and disappeared behind a granite outcrop before the dog had a chance to react.
Several well-marked and well-maintained trails radiate around the camping areas and from the park roads, but the San Pedro Mártir invites exploration in every direction with many ridges and hills and viewpoints to enjoy. A GPS is recommended if you are planning long hikes. And I always carry tweezers and small scissors to remove pine sap from paws.
A few miles inside the park there is a rustic little roadside chapel on a rocky elevation dedicated to Saint Peter (Capilla de San Pedro). The venerated image within is adorned with the symbol of the key and the crowing cock. Unfortunately, and perhaps understandably, the shrine “on this rock” celebrates the wrong San Pedro.
The park and the mountain range are named after Peter of Verona, a 13th-century Italian Dominican monk, murdered by persecuted Cathar heretics. The Dominican mission established in these mountains in 1794 was the highest in all of the Californias and was named in his honor. Saint Peter Martyr, the first Dominican martyr, had the dubious distinction of being the patron saint of the Inquisition.
San Telmo Valley - Sierra de San Pedro Martir rising ahead
Rockfall near the entrance to the "Parque Nacional Sierra de San Pedro Martir"
Ranger Alfredo at the Park Gate
Baja's 10,000-foot highpoint - Picacho del Diablo
Pair of California condors gliding over the road
One of the six California condors seen
Condor gliding over the Meling Ranch
Pili the Pembroke Welsh Corgi enjoying the snow
Observatory above Vallecitos meadow
Room to run
Graham Mackintosh ready for a freezing night camped under the stars
Enjoying a blazing fire
Capilla San Pedro - Chapel of Saint Peter
The wrong San Pedro
Driving back down to Highway 1 - Don't drive too near the edge
Condors hoping for a little road kill