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Heading North to Coco’s Corner

written by Birgit, pictures mostly by Sam

sunny 33 °C
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Admittedly it was hard to leave Playa Cocos and we officially waved and said good bye to this magical place. Bahia Conception had been our first stop on the Baja and it was fabulous that we had the opportunity to return to it.
Santa Rosalía (this is where our ferry had landed from the mainland) made a nice stop for lunch. And we were amazed by the change in scenery once the road headed inland form Santa Rosalía into the mountains. Suddenly the ground seemed reddish and contrasted nicely with the green cacti.

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We had initially planned to go all the way to Guerrero Negro, but once we turned off the highway in San Ignacio, we realized that it was a really nice place. Lots of palm trees along a river, a mission church of which our guide book says that it is the nicest example of historic architecture on the Baja and a central plaza featuring enormous old trees. So what was intended to be a short stop, turned out to be a nice place for biking, an excellent place for getting ice cream and in fact a very nice mission church.

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So we figured that we might as well just stay overnight in San Ignacio. Our guidebook was very positive about Rice n’ Beans and so was the internet, so that’s where we went. As in most of the official Baja campgrounds with the exception of Cabo, we were the only guests. Still, the pool was ready for us and even more importantly: the restaurant / bar supplied us with fries for Max and cold beer for Sam and me. And a bit later we were treated to margeritas ‘mexican style’ which seems to imply just more tequila than usual. This compensated for the fact that the campground itself was nice, but not quite as scenic as the last one – which admittedly is hard to beat. After all Playa Los Cocos had managed to move into the number one spot of nice campsites even surpassing the marvellous Valley of the Gods.

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As the campground featured a wifi connection, this was to be the place where we wanted to publish the most recent blog posts. So Sam spent much of the evening with editing pictures. Unfortunately, the next morning, somehow the wifi or the laptop or the combination of both kept him busy for quite some time, just to realize that it will not work. So we gave up and headed north.
Up to now the roads on Baja had been quite ok. A pot hole here and there, but nothing severe. And the roads were sometimes very windy, but still wide enough to pass cars or trucks without being too afraid. As of Santa Rosalía that changed: the roads did become significantly narrower and the density of pot holes increased significantly. Driving was not nearly as much fun as it had been. The landscapes were great, but the amount of concentration dedicated to driving did not allow the driver to divert his attention for too long from the road.
Our first stop for the day was at one of those mega cactus. They are all over the place, but mostly just very hard to get close to. But this one was easy to get to!

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Lunch break was in Guerrero Negro, a town which is usually known best for whale watching. We were not in the right season to do that – the last whales were passing back in April. So we limited ourselves to a tour of the town and the surrounding salt pans, had lunch in a park and headed on to Baja California Norte.

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It seems like the roads in BCN even got worse than what we’d seen in the last couple of hours in BCS. This is a bit surprising – after all there’s only one paved highway along that stretch of the Baja. That means that all supplies that are not brought in via a ferry or airplane need to pass that road. Still, the great landscape compensated for everything!

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But after all, we should not complain about the MEX 1. We had taken the conscious decision to make Coco’s Corner our next stop. The place and the guy is legend. I had read an article about the Baja a couple of years ago (this is when actually the Baja started being a place on my ‘where to go list’) and it featured a bar in the middle of nowhere along an unpaved stretch of road – that’s Coco’s Corner. In addition, our beloved freecampsites.net had an entry about his place dating from Jan ’16 saying that you’d better hurry to see his place before the paving of the road will change everything.
So we figured we might as well go there. It sounded like being ‘just’ 21 km off the main highway. Given that we’ve done our share of dirt driving in places like Namibia or Chile, we also wanted to do at least a bit of gravel / dirt / sand driving here in Mexico – that’s what the Baja is famous for after all. It turned out that the road was NOT good. At least not in the kind of van we’re travelling.

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Still, in a bit over an hour we made it to Coco’s Corner and already got a glimpse of his collection of paraphernalia. And he was home, happy to meet us. So we sat down with him, had something to drink and immediately got to see and sign his famous guest book.

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There’s not really anything to do at Coco’s Corner, so we spent our time just chatting along with him, having a look at the bees he’s feeding water, his kitten and eventually having dinner.

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And a bit later, due to the absolutely remote location really far from any town or larger settlement, we once again enjoyed a clear starry sky with its share of shooting stars.

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And like it happened so many times before, our travel plans changed as we talked with people. When telling Coco that our plan was to go back to MEX 1 and to travel up the west coast of the Baja up to San Diego, he suggested we rather go north along the east coast. We’d be having less of a bad gravel, as the newly built highway starts 16km north. Plus, as the MEX 5 is still not finished all the way, he promised to have little traffic. We liked the idea, took some last pictures and headed off.

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So we headed north along the coast and were amazed by the contrasts of seeing the path of the old road vs. the new highway. And when stopping for lunch, we were simply amazed by the enormous size of the bug which was flying around.

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Posted by dreiumdiewelt 21:24 Archived in Mexico Tagged landscape cactus north highway coco gravel cocoscorner sanignacio margerita Comments (1)

Famous Highway Number 1

From San Simeon to Monterrey

sunny 20 °C
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A bit north of San Simeon started the famous part of Highway 1 – built in the 1930’s as part of the ambitious new deal projects despite the steep rock faces. We were impressed with the road right from the start – what a view down to the ocean!
Unfortunately, the view did not last for long, as we found ourselves in the middle of a thick marine layer obstructing the sight down to the ocean and even around the next curves.

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Anyhow we did not go too far. Given the ‘campground full’ signs at all official campgrounds, we fell back to our usual alternative and went for dispersed camping. So we turned off the highway along the Nacimiento Ferguson Road and went in steep curves upwards hoping to get above the clouds. On our way up we passed some redwoods along the way and eventually were in bright sunshine. We found our spot soon and enjoyed a lovely view down onto the clouds.

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The only downside to the nice location were the flies. What a nuisance! With flies all around us, I even took up the discussion with Sam if we really want to go to Central Australia in a couple of months… But on the contrary, the birds were really nice!

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In the morning the marine layer cleared and we were rewarded with a nice view to the Pacific Ocean. Around lunchtime, it was time to go and explore at least a bit. So while I got the van ready, Max and Sam already headed off to bike / run down the road. They made 3.4 miles by the time I reached them and picked them up at the next turnout.

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We did not have to go far for a nice place to visit, as Limekiln State Park was just down the road. After a nice stroll through an impressive forest of coastal redwoods, we checked out the limekilns first, before heading to the 100’ waterfall. After lunch, we enjoyed some more time at the beach.

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On our way back to camp, we once again saw whales, this time even jumping completely out of the water, resulting in big splashes. Really cool, the whales are fascinating!
The weather was great and the marine layer had cleared completely. Therefore, this time we were not forced to go so far up along the road and we stopped a bit lower. We found a nice big turnout along the road with a great view.

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The next morning we headed north along the coast and enjoyed great vistas along the way. But the nicest view of all was in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. The waterfall falling onto a secluded and inaccessible beach is probably the signature view of Big Sur.

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Next on our list was the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. Not surprisingly, the campground was full, but we were admitted for day use. So we used the opportunity to do a hike along the river and got food at the lodge. By coincidence more than anything we got to watch part of the soccer Euro 2016 finals to the end of regular play time when it was still 0:0. We did not want to wait for the game to finish, so we did not see the celebrations of the Portuguese once they won, we only read about it in the evening.

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Our next destination was Carmel – by – Sea. We did not really know what to expect, but were pleasantly surprised by a very nice town. The downtown area was clearly groomed towards the needs of tourists and it was clearly high end tourism. Prices were not low – neither for ice cream or pastries, nor for realty – we did not find a single place advertised that was less than 1.5 million, but there were several above 10 million – which then gets you a nice property and house on at the coast. It felt like a nice place to visit, but not like a place to live.

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When doing the 17-mile drive, we were really impressed. Less so by Pebbles Beach Golf Course (even though we’re absolutely aware that it must be the non-plus-ultra for golfers to play there), but much more so for the mansions and properties we saw along the way. Some of the place we saw, were by far nicer and more impressive than the mansions around Hollywood – and they definitively had a marvellous view!

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We stopped a couple of times along the way and were lucky to see some deer on the golf courses.

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Bird and Seal Rock promised some wildlife viewing and in fact we were able to complete our collection of marine mammals: after sea lions and sea elephants, it was about time to also see some seals and there were lots of them.
By the time we left the 17-mile drive and drove through Monterrey, we were all already rather tired and keen to get to our campground. Given how full everything had been in the last couple of days, I had made reservations in the afternoon and after four unsuccessful calls, the Monterrey / Salinas KOA reserved their last slot for us. We were not too thrilled by the location directly next to the highway, but at least we had nice neighbours. Their four-year-old son had a pedal bike looking like a Yamaha endure and Max raced with him around our van. The whole family had spent their weekend watching the superbike world championship run at the Monterrey racecourse. This would have been fun to see as well, but we did not know about it and even if we would have known about it, there’s simply so much to do and too little time to do it all!
The next day we took advantage of California’s fruit and vegetable production: in the self-proclaimed ‘World’s Artichoke Center’ we bought a full case of fresh fruit. A bit later we stopped at a beach. The location was great, but eventually we realized that quite a couple of visitors prefer it for getting their suntan complete also in those parts that usually don’t get as much sun. We rather just had lunch and eventually headed on towards Los Altos.

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Posted by dreiumdiewelt 21:32 Archived in USA Tagged coast beach whales golf highway road redwoods produce limekiln pebbels Comments (2)

Heading East along US Route 2

Glasgow, Granville, Bena, Iron River (MI)

sunny 23 °C
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The next morning, we left our campground in Glacier National Park and we headed towards Browning through a nice and hilly landscape. There we turned left onto US Route 2 which we wanted to follow east all the way to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
Admittedly, the drive through the great plains was not too exciting, but still very pleasant. Even though the road was only a two-lane highway, we were not inconvenienced by that in any way. After all, there was hardly any traffic on the road. It caused a rush of excitement when there was another car or truck in front of us. Unfortunately, the excitement happened not very often and once we had passed, there was nothing happening anymore for a long time.
And our van had a great day: it completed its 100,000th mile of driving through beautiful landscapes.

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We passed through endless stretches of agricultural land with lot sizes, but also tractors and equipment in enormous sizes that we had never seen back home in Germany.

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Most of the time the railroad tracks ran alongside the road. And the trains seemed to be endlessly long - mostly with over 100 wagons and a total of five locomotives at the front and rear of the train. You need to look closely, but the black line in the picture is one of these long trains:

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We also passed through a string of small towns. They were not too exciting, but at least gave us a bit to see that was more interesting than just fairly flat farmland. And all of the towns provided us with stop opportunities for getting gas or taking a break next to a park with playground.
That evening we stopped for the night in Glasgow. And lucky us that we turned north into one of the signposted RV parks and not into the one south of the road – otherwise we would have ended up right next to the train tracks once again (and we were able to still hear it and imagined vividly how it would be being right next to them!). And otherwise we might have missed the beautiful Centennial Park where we had lots of fun playing a round of frisbee golf and where Sam ran two miles before heading off in the next morning.
It did not take long to reach North Dakota, which marked the last of our ten changes in time zone on the North American continent. The area around Williston was truly amazing: a modern kind of gold rush with oil pumps, storage and refining all over the place in what seemed to have been quiet fields until not too long ago.

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While fascinating, we were not tempted to stop and rather continued onwards to the tiny towns of Ray for lunch and Granville for staying overnight. Both featured large parks with big playgrounds and were conveniently located not too far from the highway, but just far enough for not having the noise. But of course, there were the railroad tracks! Fortunately enough, this part of the railroad system seemed to get much less traffic vs. Glasgow, so we were not bothered too much.

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On our next day of driving we got an early start and coincidentally passed through the town of Rugby, which marks the geographical center of North America. And once more we realized that despite five months of traveling the continent, we did only get to see a small portion of the enormous continent. With the mainland of Mexico, northern Canada and Alaska and the whole East and South of the USA, there’s so much more to see on future adventures.

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Still, at that stage we were not looking for big adventures, but tried to cover as many miles as possible. After a quick lunch break in one of Grand Forks’ huge parks, we reached Minnesota and realized that contrary to all states we had passed since leaving Canada, we finally had T Mobile service again. We used that luxury right away to do some research on the internet and to do some WhatsApp calls with folks at home.

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Unfortunately, the nicely located National Forest campground we chose for the night, was closed already. So we just took the first RV park we found along the road. It was not too far from the lake and provided a nice place to visit in the late afternoon sun.

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We were aware that this would mark our last night camping and sleeping in the van. So we consciously lit a campfire and stayed out longer than usual, our way of saying good bye to camping. After almost five months of sleeping in our van with only four nights sleeping elsewhere, we can truly say that our Westy was ‘home’. And it had served us so well and never let us down.
On our last leg of the journey east, we passed close by the Mississippi headwaters. It takes quite some imagination that the little creek we passed over would end up being the fourth longest river in the world.
Like all other days, we passed a dead skunk along the road and were still just as much amazed in regards to how badly it stinks for miles.
What was supposed to be the final spurt to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, did not really work out as such: already the previous afternoon the well-kept four lane divided highway had turned into a two lane highway. And as the road got more and more bumpy, the speed limits continued to decrease from the 70 we started at to eventually just 55 when we passed along Lake Superior – the largest freshwater body in the world – into Wisconsin and later into Michigan.
And finally we passed the town sign of Iron River, Michigan. Carol (my host mother Janis’ sister) already waited for us at our agreed meeting point and greeted us with still warm home-made chocolate chip cookies – what a nice surprise! She led us the way to their cabin on Hagerman Lake where Pete (her husband) waited already to show us around.
So after 1330 miles since leaving St. Mary in Glacier National Park of which we drove probably more than 1280 on US highway number 2, we made it back to the Great Lakes and almost closed the loop back to our starting place in Chicago.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 19:15 Archived in USA Tagged lakes great highway drive route railroad oil frisbee plains farmland Comments (0)

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