Girasoles and the Road to Mulege
There was one ominous waypoint on the map during Logan and Virginia’s recent Baja Missions Section ride. It marked the road to Mulegé, a dirt track crossing the divide from coast to coast. Not knowing exactly what to expect, they cranked up this rugged road and discovered a few surprises in a remote swath of canyonland. Read about this leg of their journey and find an expansive photo gallery here…
When you peruse all the marked waypoints on the Baja Divide map, there’s one in the southern half of the route that’s particularly foreboding: the road to Mulegé. Even the written Baja Divide guide PDF states that this road is “the most challenging ride on the Baja Divide.” Considering that 99% of the mapped waypoints reference resupply, this one seemed pretty intimidating. As we approached it during our first day and a half on the Missions Section, we wondered what exactly awaited us.
Looking at the road in question on RideWithGPS, it doesn’t appear to be overly difficult. It’s roughly 105 kilometers (65 miles) with a 65-kilometer sustained 700-meter (2,300-foot) climb. That’s hardly steep—about seven meters per kilometer. However, it’s a damaged and “rough, sandy road” according to the POI text. And it’s always tough to gauge how many small and steep ups and downs to expect on roads like these, particularly in the desert where dirt tracks tend to wander in and out of chunky arroyos.
Approaching the road to Mulegé, we rolled into the tiny fishing village of Datil just before lunchtime. It was getting quite hot at sea level, and the tailwind we were promised in the PDF was all but nonexistent. The still air radiated against the silt mud roads, and the smell of the sea was all around us as we parked our bikes next to the one small store in town. Its sparse shelves displayed the typical menagerie of chips and snacks, so we asked a few locals if they knew where we could find a comedor for a meal. It was the last chance to fuel up before the daunting passage across the divide—or so we thought—and we wanted some proper nutrition.
One friendly gentleman smiled and said something like, “encuentra el penguin,” and pointed down the beach. So, off we went to find the penguin. We pushed our bikes past a few wooden buildings and open-air shacks and asked someone else if they knew where the penguin was, thinking that it was a taqueria or something to that effect. They pointed to a modest, centrally located house with a covered patio out front. We shuffled over, leaned our bikes against a weathered pole, and asked a young chap if he knew where we could find the penguin. He smiled and ran inside.
A short while later, a sturdy, gray-haired gentleman emerged, and we tried to explain that someone told us we could get a meal at the penguin. He grinned and told us to have a seat. A minute later, his partner came out to greet us and asked us if we’d like some fish tacos, coffee, and tortillas. The man dug a fresh piece of halibut out of a cooler, and 20 minutes later we ate the best fish tacos that we’d have on our entire trip in Baja. After telling him about our ride and how much we appreciated them being there to provide a meal, he told us that he was, in fact, El Penguino. It was a nickname he got stuck with at a young age because he walked like a penguin. The family seemed overjoyed to have us, and after we finished a heaping plate of halibut tacos, we paid them for the meal, said our goodbyes, and pedaled out of town.
After an hour of riding, we began climbing away from the coast and toward the road to Mulegé. It was getting late as our lingering lunch lasted some two and a half hours. The road got rougher and the saguaro got bigger as we made our way up the white rock road that climbed through Arroyo San Raymundo. There was a blue line through the canyon on our map, but there was no water to be found. We carried four or five liters each and filled up in Datil, but we were expecting to be parched by the time we reached the divide on that ominous dirt road. Some reports claimed there was surface water in the mountains, but we weren’t really sure, and there were no resupply points until the town of Mulegé on the other coast.
Following a significant climb before the climb, we finally intersected the road in question. I coasted past it down to a bridge to look for water. Nothing. So, we started up the road that had been on our minds for the last 36 hours. It was rougher and rockier than the previous road, but not too bad. I noticed a sign that read: “RANCHO LOS GIRASOLES” with a few other words randomly scribed on a small piece of plywood: water, fresh goat cheese, shacks, wifi, 15km, and the wonderful phrase, “Bikers Welcome.” Our spirits lifted as we knew there was at least somewhere we could refill our bottles along the way.
We contemplated cranking onward to reach Girasoles that night. Maybe they would have beer for sale or a place to camp? It was getting dark, however, so we instead found a campsite on some grazing land and set up our tent. We were a little more liberal with our water supply that evening since we’d learned there was an oasis on this otherwise deserted road. We made a fitting meal of nopales, rice, and cheese on tortillas, with Oreos for dessert.
We started turning the pedals early the next morning in an attempt to beat the heat. The road to Mulegé is definitely rough. It rolls in and out of the arroyo and is decidedly rocky. We let some air out of our tires, stood on the pedals, and kept climbing. It was around 10 or 11 a.m. when we saw the next sign. This one was slightly more decorative and read “Rancho Los Girasoles,” “welcome bikers,” and “shacks.” A flock of scruffy white poodles and a friendly black puppy came out and herded us through the gate.
Proprietors Maria Luisa and Jesus greeted us and ushered us into a covered patio with a modest store stocked with bottled juices, endurolyte water, bars, and a few other snacks. We bought some peanut brittle and toilet paper and asked if they served food. Maria told us that she could make a breakfast of eggs, tortillas, and beans. Jesus asked if we wanted a beer and proceeded to take us on a tour of their place. The ranch had a sizeable garden with corn, beans, and a few other plants. There was a covey of desert quail feeding next to a trough out front. Another white poodle was relaxing on an old chair in the yard. Their covered patio was lined by potted cactus and agave. Jesus told us that it hadn’t rained at the ranch in two years, perhaps an atypical vestige of climate change.
After a wonderful breakfast, we rolled out—two and a half hours later, to be exact. That timing was starting to seem like a trend. Fueled and hydrated, we carried on the climb with the road to Mulegé throwing a few punches along the way. Steep climbs, rocky bits through the wash, and a few surprising river crossings made for slow going. But, since water wasn’t an issue, we took our time, admiring the beautiful canyonlands and the area’s collection of cacti and interesting palmeries along the way. It was late in the afternoon when we made it up toward the actual Baja Divide. We were somewhere around 550 meters (1,800 feet) above sea level and decided to find a place to camp. We made our way down a wash, found a good spot near a pool of water, made dinner, sat for a while basking in the cool night air under the starry sky, and went to sleep.
The next morning, we took our time packing up and continued through the mountainous divide, blown away by the dramatic landscape that separated the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific. As it turned out, the road to Mulegé ended up being a highlight of our ride. In addition to the spectacular flora and landscapes, our 48 hours there were a testament to how places like Rancho Girasoles (and the mythical Penguin) can make bikepacking routes special and worthwhile, a reminder that this little niche activity can have an impact in places like the road to Mulegé, where the Baja Divide route might make a meaningful difference to people like Maria and Jesus, allowing them to welcome bikers, provide something special that they can look forward to, and maybe even have a financial benefit in their lives. And, of course, this is what makes these trips all the more magical for us, connecting with local people and gaining a deeper understanding of the places we pedal through.
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