Sunday, March 2, 2008

Boondocking San Felipe

We are parked at an abandoned facility of some sort, right on the gulf and just a few miles south of the village of San Felipe proper (map). When we asked a local we ran into here what the place used to be, he thought it had been the municipal port access, abandoned as the sea began to reclaim part of the shore line.

It certainly has the look and hallmarks of a public works project, with copious street lighting, intricate concrete streets that once were lined with a pattern of brick pavers, large modern manholes, their covers now gone, and three megawatts worth of high voltage transformers. The whole place could not have been more than a dozen or so years old, yet it appears to have been abandoned for years, with any and all salvageable materials long since stolen, including the pavers, the manhole lids, and most of the copper and aluminum from the transformers.

Following the concrete street to its end reveals large chunks have given way and fallen into the sea, due to storms and perhaps the huge tidal swings in this part of the gulf, lending credence to the story we heard. The shifting sand and dunes have obscured large swaths of what's left. We pulled in through one of the two enormous gated arches that once guarded the entrance -- one of the gates has been removed -- and tucked in behind one of the gatehouse buildings, shielding us mostly from view of the road. A handful of locals were using the road for beach access when we arrived.

From our perch here on a hill, we have a wonderful view of the gulf and bay, as well as the city lights in the distance.

Across the bay we can see the distinctive flash of the lighthouse. About an hour after dark, 6:30 or so, a truckload of men in camo fatigues carrying rifles knocked on the door. We did not have either the presence of mind or the powers of observation to figure out if they were Policia or Ejercito (army), but clearly one of their duties was to patrol this area after dark. They spoke no English, and our Spanish is very broken although we can sometimes make one sentence between us. Somehow we all figured out that they wanted to know when we arrived and how long we would be here, and we communicated that we would only be here for the night, which they said would be fine. They seemed concerned that their presence here might disturb us, but we were happy to have them drop by.

We had an uneventful border crossing this morning, after stopping at a cambio stateside to avoid having to perhaps jockey Odyssey around Mexicali looking for pesos. I did not get the best rate, but I probably only gave up a couple of bucks or so on changing $500. I needed that much cash because our first stop in Mexico was a Pemex station on the south side of town, where we took on 500 liters (132 gallons) of diesel for 2,865 pesos ($273), which works out to be $2.07 per gallon, a far cry from the ~$3.70 or so in California.

The drive along the Colorado river valley was beautiful, and the road was in generally good condition, with speeds from 60 to 80 kph (~37-50 mph). After leaving Mexicali, it took us about two hours to reach San Felipe, and we arrived in the vicinity of El Dorado Ranch by around 2pm. My thought had been to stop at one of the several campgrounds in that area, about ten miles north of San Felipe proper. Louise holds a deed of license to some property at El Dorado that we've never seen, and one of our plans on this trip is to do so.

Ironically, El Dorado used to have the nicest campground in all of San Felipe, but they closed it last year to make room for more beach-front condos -- the RV park, being one of the first items built, along with the pool and the bar/restaurant, occupied prime land which has become too valuable for that purpose. (It still shows on Google's satellite view, here.) We knew that before heading down here, and were resigned to staying at one of the neighboring properties. What we had not realized and did not count on was that many, many other campgrounds have suffered the same fate -- bought out by developers, many of whom have done little more than bulldoze the land, as the bottom is now falling out of the market here.

Neither of the two places still open in that area appealed to us from the road, and we elected not to drive the half mile or so down the dirt roads to check them out further. One of the places, Pete's Camp, we already knew would require us to take two spaces at $15 each to fit us in, and that's for dry camping. We opted instead to press on to town, where our guide book (by Mike and Terry Church, the definitive guide to Mexican camping) indicated several options.

That same guide informed us that our best best, due to our length, would be Baja Mar south of the malecón. We arrived there to find the place out of business, closed, and in complete tatters. Campo San Felipe, a few doors down, was open and operating, but a cramped fit (as described in the guide) for Odyssey's 39' length, and with tiny spaces crammed so close together that it was completely unappealing. At least it would be walking distance to much of the town, and they had a space that could accommodate us, with what appeared to be 15-amp power, for $25 a night. We opted to continue looking, but keep this in reserve as the backup plan for tonight.

We passed the marina, where a faded sign suggested a campground. This Google aerial view shows it, but it was gone when we passed. There's nothing there now, but this site shows a plan for more gringo houses there -- "South Beach Residential."

We ended up driving a full dozen miles south of town, only to discover that virtually every former campo is now a beachfront housing development in progress. We finally found one that was still a campground -- Rancho Punta Estrella, but there was so much soft sand on the entrance road that we dare not try to make it inside. Too bad, as the colossal place was, literally, empty.

Reluctantly and somewhat defeated, we headed back to town and our backup plan at Campo San Felipe. Along the way we encountered this place, which had caught our eye on the way south. By this time it was past four, with only an hour or so of daylight left, and we were tired of hunting. So far, it has turned out to be a good stop, affording us a chance to regroup before heading in to town tomorrow to check out the other three or four places that the Church's felt would be tight for rigs over 35'. We often find we have few problems with such places, because Odyssey has a better turning radius than many 35 footers. It would be nice to spend at least a couple nights right in town, with the ability to walk to dinner and stroll the malecón.

Now that we've scoped out the road for ten miles in either direction, and followed that up with a couple hours' further research on the 'net, we'll start tomorrow fresh and better informed. Perhaps by Monday we will get back up to El Dorado to finally get a chance to look at this piece of property we allegedly lease.


  1. Welcome to Mexico! If you can get to Kiki's (I'm not sure how crowded he is) or his brother Ruben's (next door) you can definitely have full hookups and pick your kilo of live shrimp from the fishermen as they come in from the shrimpboats offshore.

    How far south in Baja are your headed? How about the mainland? We're in QRoo (Caribbean coast) until April/Mayish and then heading back up to the US. Maybe we'll see you somewhere along the way.

  2. Sean & Louise, I used to camp at Punta Estrella with a bunch of insurance folks years ago. Back then San Felipe was a sleepy little town until spring break, which is coming up any day now if it hasn't already started. Then it's "Katy bar the Door" for the kids are in party mode. Back in the old days, Punta Estrella wasn't much but an open area to park with some palapas and bathrooms. Have fun and be safe. Keep on posting.

  3. I am so glad to have discovered your blog. We hope to be fulltiming with our family within the next couple of years.

    It is great to have your blog as a resource.

  4. Don't you hate it when the dishsoap escapes when driving 400 miles that day!!! (don't mind me... cabin fever in the snow storm here in Amarillo... Texas it is!).
    Thanks for changing your comment forms... now I can bug you!!!
    Soon... there will be no land of ours free!... Moab has changed a lot also, BLM charging $10 a night for zilch accomodations... But... incase you decided to pop in I still know a few freebies...
    Send us some sunshine... pleeeeease!
    Be well... Ara & Spirit

    PS: just noticed that my word verification was my doctor!!! (xcowmd)

  5. If you like San Felipe, you should check out Mulege a few hours further south. It’s a tiny little town at the mouth of a river in the middle of a date palm grove and it’s absolutely fantastically beautiful!
    My husband and I have dreamed of traveling someday like the two of you are – congrats on following your passion!
    Thanks for your comment on Clutter Control Freak!

  6. Too bad you didnt try entering Rancho Punta Estrella because the road looks soft but it is drivable. I took my R.V same size as yours up to the ramadas on the beach in Rancho Punta Estrella. Check out to see what you missed!!


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