The main objective of the trip was the Matomi waterfall and pools, and it was there that we headed on Sunday morning. The road started smooth and fast. There were 6 vehicles (I was a passenger), all 4wd. The road splits off the highway heading SW, a wide, graded dirt path, and we all hit the 40-MPH mark and stayed there for quite a while. Six spirals of dust, thrown from twenty-four churning wheels, rose into the blue San Felipe sky. Miles to the west the San Pedro Martir, Baja's northern backbone, was absolutely covered with snow and ice from the mountaintops to their midpoints along the wide horizon. The Verbena and Baja lilies carpeted the sides of the roadway and spread across the desert floor as far as we could see.
After forty or so miles the road narrowed and we dropped to lower terrain. River rocks and boulders littered the narrow path. Going was slow and we inched over the heavy run-offs crossing our route. The sun was full; the air was thin and cool. The earth, shaded in many pockets by the scrub, was dark, damp to the touch. There were tracks from much desert wildlife. We stopped alongside a deserted, dilapidated desert ranch, buildings collapsing onto each other. The road grew worse as we continued south. We dropped, lower, into the canyon that led to Matomi. - five miles to go. We had ascended, over the course of the trip, from sea level to 3500 feet. It was about 1:30 in the afternoon. We climbed the broad valley, nearing Matomi, with towering red and golden-earthed mountains on both sides, lined with layers of sedimentary rock. How far back in time could we trace these layers? What ancient peoples had gathered at the tinajas here?
We arrived at Matomi, pleased to have reached our objective after so many rough-hewn hours in the bolder-strewn desert. We shut off engines and let dust settle and then climbed down, past a small unattended rancho, to the free-flowing stream, palms spotting the creekbed in the distance. Matomi; a picture of isolation; a single, lonely rancho at the end of a box canyon in Baja's central desert; water flowing, spilling down the rocky stream-bed, over granite boulders the size of houses and falling, finally, to a deep pond where it settled briefly, before flowing further and spreading into the desert below, into lower parts of the canyon.
We collected, like tiny moss-growths, on the sides of the boulders overlooking the waterfall and pond. David's children, Sarah and Chris, ever-exuberant, coaxed David into the green pool. Suddenly there's a murmur and Wild Bill and Ellen appear out of nowhere. Then, Rodrigo, the cattle-tender who occupies the ranch is there. We visit and begin to worry about time - its 3:30 and we have at least 3 hours of hard, hard driving to return to the highway, along another, even worse route where we will intersect the San Felipe-Puertecitos road around K-55. Many of us are marking waypoints on our GPSs.
The trip back is a rough one - through the White Rock Narrows Neal Johns had warned us about, granite slabs stabbing hundreds of feet into the evening sky. It struck me what a wonderful day this was. Why? I asked myself. I realized that I had never traveled like this before. We are 6 vehicles, each itself a sturdy, capable, Baja-proven vehicle. Each is driven by a likewise Baja-proven driver, equally capable. Equipment for each vehicle on this trip was individually selected with care and experience - tools, jacks, extra spares, hoses & belts, tire pumps. Each of us is completely self-sustained. Together we form a mighty force. I am filled with awe and respect. I am more than proud to be amongst these strong people. It occurs to me that we might be one form of modern-day equivalent of the Indians who were here before us. We, too, have withstood the desert over time.
None to soon we burst with a force from the desert scrub, back onto the highway, at sea level, exactly where David's GPS waypoint indicated we would be. We sped north, hungry and tired. We rallied later that evening around El Camote's campfire, fed by cactus and mesquite we had harvested from the desert during the final hours of our trip. Cervesas were opened. A bottle of Cuervo Gold appeared. Zach opened one of his now-renowned "Ballena" mega-beers. We relaxed, warmed by the fire and the company of our fellow-warriors, each a desert rock or rose, alike, sharing, now, at this moment, another great experience. We joke, swap stories and talk so late into the night that some of us will regret it tomorrow.
We departed slowly and individually over the next day or two, each returning to our responsibilities. I left El Camote and Mexray mid-morning on Tuesday. The Eagles CD picked up where it had stopped when I turned off the engine 5 days before. I pulled onto the road north to Mexicali: "...peaceful, easy feeling" slapped my speaker felt, followed by "The Girl from Yesterday". I kept punching Replay half the way to the border. I spent the two hours between San Felipe and Mexicali reflecting back over the too-short days of this trip, more than happy to have spent this time with what were becoming close friends. It seems we grow so much closer amongst friends when we share risks and passions with each other. These carry us beyond the bounds of average friendships.
As I passed slowly through the border at Mexicali, nearing the head of the line and alongside the yellow concrete barricades, an old woman, dressed in filthy rags, extended a paper cup and a box of "chicles" toward me. Her eyes were cast down; so were mine as I pushed a bill into the cup. She insisted I take, in return, a small packet of plastic-wrapped red-coated gum. Somewhere, here, our eyes met. Hers were tired and worn down, but strong; she was a survivor, over perhaps 70 years, of a hard life. I could see that strength, could almost touch it, almost add it to mine and share some of mine with her. She smiled as I received her gum and we thanked each other. It seems I was destined to share my trip with strong people, some in unexpected forms. The old woman's gaze affected me so that I only wanted to turn around and stay longer where my heart was, where it belonged. Maybe I could hook up with Zach, somewhere south of San Felipe. But I had my responsibilities waiting at home and work and held the straight line, dead-ahead and on the proper course.
When I settled in that night, on my "little Baja" acreage on a hill in the Santa Clara River Valley, I walked, alone for a minute, and just stood gazing upward into the heavens. The same stars were there that we had been peering into from El Camote's ranch in a desert to the south. I had a strong sensation that some of those stars had left the sky and fallen to earth. Somehow I knew they had. I could sense that they were scattered there, along the byways and highways, the villages and towns and cities of California. They were shining there, from Stockton all the way south to San Diego, and many points in between.