2023 Baja XL write up with lots of pics

Johnny Utah

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We left Denver at 230am Wednesday the 15th of Feb. It had started snowing earlier and there was about two inches of fresh snow on the ground. We had decided to throw all my stuff into my Dad's Tacoma, and then drive to Scenic AZ where we would meet Scott A with his Land Cruiser. It worked out well because my dad was going with us as a chase, and it didn't make sense for both of us to drive to AZ. We drove out on I-70 all the way to I-15 in Utah and dealt with snow off and on until we finally got a break, and it dried up around St. George UT. We saw lots of cars stuck on the side of the road that had lost traction on the snow-covered roads. Luckily, we made it through without any issues. The snowy weather slowed us down by maybe an hour or so. Scott A. was coming down from Salt Lake City about the same time and we met up on I-15 at Beaver UT. We caravanned the rest of the way to Scenic AZ and were able to chat using our GMRS radios that we had equipped both trucks with.
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We made it to Scott A's Grandpa's house in Scenic AZ about 3pm. The weather had cleared up nicely though it was still chilly. We cracked a beer to celebrate the beginning of our adventure and started pulling gear out of the Tacoma and rearranging it neatly inside the Land Cruiser. Scott and I would be riding together in the LC and my dad would be traveling solo, but would have the company of my dog, Maddie.
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Scott A had received a very nice Christmas gift that he was very proud of and proved to be useful for our trip. Thanks, Paul @BritKLR , for making such great American products!
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Johnny Utah

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We set up our tent and camped out on Grandpa George's property to make sure everything was right. It was quite cold that night, maybe 25 degrees F, but we slept okay. We got up at 530am, packed up and hit the road. We made one pit stop for gas and coffee, and made our way towards Las Vegas. We hit some traffic in Vegas but decided to get off the highway and head out into the desert towards the Mojave National Preserve. It was a great excuse to get off the highway and we could cut through Joshua Tree National Park and make a quick stop at one of Scott A's and mine old stompin' grounds, Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, 29 Palms. Scott A had been stationed there for most of his enlistment, and I had done my share of training there over the years also. We decided to stop for a quick pic.

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Johnny Utah

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The rest of the drive from 29 palms to DeAnza Springs (the starting line) was uneventful. We arrived at DeAnza RV park and resort around 4pm where we were greeted by our friend and fellow Marine, Evan "Top" Jones. Evan was driving his trusty grocery getter, a Mercedes M320 that he had done some work on to get it ready for the rally. Evan is the reason Scott A, and I were able to attend the rally!
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We found the check-in station and got our rally stickers and some swag. We mounted up our number sticker to the LC and set up our tent and made our way to the resort clubhouse for some burgers and beers. We met several other people that night and enjoyed building comradery with a few guys that we would be spending the next ten days with.
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The next morning was the official start of the rally. We got up early, did some packing and some maintenance checks, and we were on our way! First stop...Mexicali Border Crossing!
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Johnny Utah

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Initially we really had no idea how to get to the border crossing, luckily one of our teammates, Mark knew the way. We got most of our team together on the same GMRS channel and set off following Mark in his gigantic 4th gen 4Runner running tons and 40s!
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We ended up with nine vehicles in convoy heading to the border. I didn't know it at the time, but eight of the nine rigs would stay together for the entire rally and would finish together.
 
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Johnny Utah

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The Mexicali border crossing was easy. We were able to get all nine rigs through (six of which were pulled over for inspection) to the Baja side in only a few minutes. We all found parking in a nice lot and walked over to a building to get our FMM tourist visa. We paid about $30 usd and got a stamp on our passports.
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After that it was off to the first stage of the rally. We would be traveling roughly 250 miles that day in order to reach the camp. Each stage of the rally consisted of a gps coordinates of where we were to meet at the end of the day. This day, the first day, consisted of traversing a large swath of desert on the north end of the peninsula called the Diablo Dry Lakebed. We had been keeping close watch on any information concerning the dry lakebed because two years ago, many vehicles got stuck in the "dry" lakebed when they found it was really a giant mud pit. We wanted to avoid this type of incident at all costs. We had preplanned a route that would take us out to a hot springs and then skirt the mountains to the west of the lakebed. This ended up being a good route even though it was a little scary at times due to the proximity we found ourselves to the lakebed.

We aired-down for the first time and headed south.
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Johnny Utah

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Our plan to make it to the hot springs was foiled when we got almost all of the way there. We were met by some of the other rally participants that informed us that the hot springs was not accessible without reservations...dang...Baja got us. We quickly turned around and headed out the way we came, no worries, we were still on track, but we had no idea how long it would take to get to camp. We pulled out our maps and gps and looked for the best route towards San Felipe because the camp was not too far from there. We picked our way through some slow trails and some fast ones, in order to stay away from the lakebed.
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We made a pit stop along the way, did a quick trailside repair on Evan's Merc and then managed to get off course. This was not a big deal but since Scott and I were leading, we had to pick our way through some scrub brush and rocks to get back on course. This ended up being a mistake because we suffered a sidewall puncture in our front driver's side tire. Dang...Baja got us again.
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We put a couple of plugs in the sidewall but we only really slowed the leak down. We would need a tire shop to fix it in the morning. We eventually found our way onto a nice track that put us out on the BC5 highway to San Felipe. It was getting dark, so we decided to air up the tires, get on the highway and make it to San Felipe so we could get some food. This plan worked out great because we found an amazing taco stand with amazing tacos! And the next morning we found a shop to "repair" our tire.
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Johnny Utah

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After we had the sidewall repaired at a local shop in San Felipe, we decided it would be better to use that tire as a spare and so we swapped the tire out and ran a Goodyear Duratrac for the rest of the trip. Thanks @KC Masterpiece! the tire worked awesome!!!
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This was the stage 1 camp in the morning. Beautiful.
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We met up with the rest of the team at a nice little hotel on the beach where they were eating breakfast. From there, it was onto our next destination...Valle de los Gigantes.
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After a spending some time with the giant cactus (which we would later realize was kind of a waste of time) we hit the pavement to make some time towards our next destination...Bahia de los Angeles.
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Johnny Utah

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We had a late start because of the tire repair and the stop to see the giant cactus, so we decided to make our way south using the highways. We got down to Bahia de los Angeles right around dinner time. We set up camp and started a fire. Our new friends Carlos, Reuben, and Garson decided to make a ton of carne asada tacos! They were excellent!
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The next morning, we made some breakfast and coffee and hit the trail. This was a LONG day off road as we needed to get to Bahia de Concepcion. After bouncing around off road for what seemed like all day, around 2pm we made the call to head for the highway. We stopped for some roadside fish tacos and gas and then found our way onto BC1 south heading towards San Ignacio. I'm so glad we decided to make a stop in San Ignacio because it became a highlight of the trip for me and for a lot of the guys in our group.
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I didn't get too many pictures that day but we didn't even get to Mulege before dark. We fueled up in Mulege and continued on the BC1 south to Bahia de Concepcion. We arrived in camp late and just went to bed. We were greeted the next morning by an amazing sunrise on the Sea of Cortez.
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Johnny Utah

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Continuing on, we departed Bahia de Concepcion and headed back inland a bit. We spent most of the day off road. We stopped for lunch in Cuidad Insurgentes. Then back to more off road where we stopped at Mision San Louis Gonzaga.
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Again, we continued on our journey. I don't think we made it to camp a single day before dark. We accepted the fact that in order to get a convoy of eight vehicles to move fast and efficient wasn't exactly in the cards... but that was okay, and we made it work. Getting in late to camp at Las Cruces near La Paz, we heated up some dinner and enjoyed some tequila by the fire.
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That night we just threw our sleeping bags down on the beach sand and woke up to a beautiful view the next morning.
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Johnny Utah

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From La Paz we headed south towards San Jose Del Cabo. I had been to Cabo before and was out voted when we were trying to decide whether or not to go. Some of the guys in our group had never been and wanted to say they had driven all the way to the bottom of the peninsula. So we headed into Cabo and although we had some beautiful scenery, it was mostly just a mess of traffic. Fortunately, along the way we met up with fellow Land Cruiser owner named Michael Emery of Slow Baja and we enjoyed some conversation about our love of Land Cruisers.
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Once we made it through Cabo, we headed north along the pacific coast making our way towards Todos Santos. I had booked a small casita in Cerritos, just a few minutes south of Todos Santos. The grounds were kept perfect and our stay was quite pleasant. This marked the halfway point of our trip, but also it was a scheduled two day break from the rally.
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We took advantage of the time off to swim at the beach and get a loose U-joint replaced on the front drive shaft. We thought about replacing the u-joint ourselves, but common sense won out and we found a little shop to do it for us. Grand total...400 pesos, or about $20 usd. It was worth it.
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Johnny Utah

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We came across a nice silt bed somewhere north of Todos Santos on our way to the beach. Scott A and I were lead vehicle and I was driving. When we noticed that the dust plume was starting to engulf the LC, Scott A yelled "Punch It!" We got through the silt bed but could tell whoever went through before us had dragged the bottom of their car to get through. Once on the other side, we came to find this Baja Beetle with a bent steering arm and tie rod. A few of the guys that were following us did get bogged in silt and had to help recover one another while Scott and I accessed the damage on the Beetle.

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Luckily we had our trusty ATC tool bag and we went to work on the Beetle.
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We all made it out of the silt bed without any damage, so we all pitched in to get the bug going again.
 
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Johnny Utah

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Once we got the Beetle up and running again we found out my dad's tacoma had a gash in the sidewall. He said he hit something coming out of the silt bed but couldn't tell what it was because of all the dust. We put a couple tire plugs in the sidewall, but ultimately ended up putting on his spare tire. Baja...got us again.

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Once we were all up and running again we thought it would be fun if we all got stuck on the beach! Just kidding, but almost the entire convoy ended up getting stuck on this beach. My dad and Ryan in their Tacomas were the last ones, so they avoided it. Scott and I didnt get stuck in his 80 and ended up pulling a couple of the vehicles out with my kenetic rope.
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Off the beach and onto some firmer ground.
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Johnny Utah

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The Beetle needed a new brake line, so we stopped in Ciudad Constitución on our way to San Juanico. The AutoZone there had the exact brake line that he needed and a new headlight too! I guess we should not have been surprised, I mean Baja Beetles are synonymous with Baja!

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This was Maddie's favorite beach! San Juanico.
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Breakfast at Scorpion Bay
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After breakfast we got back on the trail. We came across some wild burrows. And it wasn't too much longer before we ran into Chris and Dom.
Dom had punctured his front tire on a rock at some point, put in a tube and then managed to pinch the tube. When we came upon them, they had been trying to get the tube to hold air for over an hour. We gave them a cold beer and helped put another patch on the tube. We didn't know it at the time, but we were going to see these guys again.
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Evan managed to find a nice little mud hole to play in. We would later discover the consequences of this decision.
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Johnny Utah

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We made it to our camp in Guerro Negro well after dark...as usual. We woke up the next morning knowing that our next leg was a long section of off-road trails. We were warned that if we had any doubts about the capabilities of our vehicles, we should skip it and just take the highway. Well, that only made us want to take the off-road section more! Bring it on! Also, for those paying attention, we did see Dom and Chris role into camp at Guerrero Negro late the night before.
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On our way north towards Catavina, we did get to drive along some of the most beautiful coastline.
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And then we came across Chris and Dom again! The tube that Dom had been nursing along had given up again. He was patching a repaired tube for the second or third time. When we got to them, they were just about ready to get back on the trail. We gave them a cold beer and a pat on the back and headed off towards Catavina.
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Johnny Utah

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So after we made sure Chris and Dom were good to go, we headed out again. It was getting late by now and because we had played on the beach and stopped for pictures, and stopped to help Dom with his bike, we decided to take a "short cut" up to the highway and try to make it to Catavina faster.
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Well, do you remember that mud hole Evan found earlier??? Turns out that the mud, some water, probably some sand and sea water made its way into the alternator of his Merc. The alternator failed in the middle of the trial. Luckily Evan knew this is a weak point on the merc and he actually had a spare alternator! We pulled the old alternator and installed the new one in about 45 minutes. By this time it was starting to get dark and it seemed like there was some weather coming.
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The trail started to get harder and harder, and it was getting darker and darker. And then its starting raining.
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Johnny Utah

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Well this "short cut" kept getting longer and longer. Honestly, looking back, I think this trail was probably a class 3 type trail. High clearance four wheel drive vehicle required, and low range certainly helped. But when you have a convoy of vehicles and one of them isn't exactly what you would call high clearance, then it starts to feel more difficult. Especially when you are in unfamiliar territory, it's getting dark, and now it's raining. We were creeping along at a snails pace as the rains intensified. And all this time all we could think about was that we had another dry lake bed to cross before we got to the highway.
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Luckily the dry lakebed had not absorbed any of the rain and we were able to drive across it without any issues. It still felt pretty intense and could have easily become a more dangerous situation. We were able to get off that trail right around 8pm and just as we got to the highway there was a little restaurant with the lights still on and a wonderful sign in the window saying "Abierto". We sent Garson over to investigate and see if he could order some food while the rest of us aired up our tires preparing for highway speeds to camp. Garson came out with good news and we went inside and ate burritos and drank cokes, and there was even a fire in the fireplace! It was like a prayer had been answered!

We hit the highway and headed for Catavina, which was about an hour away. We pulled into camp and found a big spot for all eight of us fit. Right after we got the tent set up and were about to turn in, we saw a bike pulling into camp. It was Chris, and he was alone. Crap.

Chris informed us that after we left them earlier that day that Dom had gotten another flat tire. This time it was not repairable, and he was stranded. Chris had left Dom with food, water, and shelter and decided to go for help. He had ridden a tough section of trail for the last several hours, alone, in the dark, in the rain. He was cold, tired, and a little delirious. Scott and I made him a mountain house meal and some hot water to drink. We decided we couldn't do anything that night, so we'd go rescue Dom first thing in the morning. Chris got out of his wet ridding gear and crashed in our tent.
 
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Johnny Utah

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The next morning, we got up and had some coffee while we discussed our plan to help Dom. We told the rest of our team that we were going to go help Dom. They knew what that entailed and offered to help, but it just didn't make sense to send any more vehicles. We told them to keep on track and we would catch up later...much later.
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Another rider, named Alison, had to quit early due to a stator failure on her bike. It was being transported back to San Diego for her in a van and she was riding along with a couple in their Tacoma. Chris went off that morning and found her and convinced her to let him take her 21" front tube from her bike so we could go get Dom and use is for his bike. It wasnt long before Chris was back with the tube from Alison's bike. We pulled the front wheel assembly off of Chris's KTM just in case and loaded up in Scott's Land Cruiser and my dad's Tacoma.
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We got back on the trail again, but this time we were backtracking. We had gps coordinates for Dom's location and Chris knew the way he had come the night before. It was going take a few hours in the trucks to go the distance back to where Dom was, but we didn't have a choice. Dom was stranded without that tube. We reached Dom about 2pm, he was still there waiting. We put Chris's wheel on Dom's bike in a matter of minutes and Dom was off.
 
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Johnny Utah

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The trip out to deliver the tube to Dom did not disappoint. This was the trail we should have taken the day before when we ended up driving through the rain in the dark. We had missed it earlier but this time we got to see it in the daylight, which ended up being a huge highlight for me. I had no idea that a cactus forest even existed, but to see it was absolutely amazing!

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Arriving at Dom's location and getting him back on the road was smooth and without drama. We caravanned all the way back to Catavina via Guerrero Negro on the highway. We got back to Catavina and Chris's bike about 5pm. We had traveled almost 100 miles in the opposite direction of the finish line, and now that Dom and Chris were safe and back together, we had to make up some time. We got fuel and some tacos and headed north hoping to catch the rest of the guys before the finishing ceremonies.

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Our attempt was futile, we drove through the night, while sucking down red bulls, but we missed the closing ceremonies. We arrived at our hotel in Ensenada around 1230am on February 27. The festivities had taken place a few hours earlier. As we took the final exit off of the highway in Ensenada, we were passed by Chris and Dom on their bikes. They had been minutes behind us the entire evening. They had a schedule to keep and so they continued on towards San Diego, home for both men.

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The next morning was bittersweet. Not much but a quick goodbye to Evan, who had grabbed our finish line certificates for us, and a hotel check out. We decided to spend the morning in Ensenada to get some breakfast and grab a few souvenirs for our families.

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We stopped for gas one last time in Valle de Guadelupe, Baja California's wine valley on our way the Tecate border crossing. There was some traffic but we crossed without any problems after waiting in line for an hour and a half.

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Johnny Utah

Rising Sun Member
Joined
Mar 6, 2015
Messages
1,135
Location
Arvada
The Baja XL was an amazing experience. I met some great people and saw some of the most amazing places and scenery. There are things that I would have done differently, but overall, it was a great way to see so much of what Baja has to offer.
Scott's Land Cruiser did an amazing job during our trip. It did everything we asked of it without a single complaint. I hope to take my Land Cruiser on a similar journey one day to see those places that made such an impression on me, and share them with my family.

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