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[Trip Report] SF to Baja and back. Unplanned layover in LA.
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erste
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PostPosted: Thu Feb 20, 2020 8:19 pm    Post subject: [Trip Report] SF to Baja and back. Unplanned layover in LA. Reply with quote

A year or two ago I came across Corwyn's Baja thread.

I wasn't able to make the trip unfortunately due to losing 3rd gear and the transaxle needing a rebuild a few weeks before departure.

This year though, I was determined to make it down there. Since that rebuild, reverse fell off, but it was back on the road just in time to meet up with my family in Wyoming and have an amazing road trip back with my brother. I'd been over to Joshua Tree, and up to NWMF and back, then took a last minute trip to Descend without any major issues, just some BS with the N75 valve causing it to go into limp mode on the Joshua Tree trip, and one of the adjusters in the drums failing and grinding like hell at the same time the muffler blew open after the WY trip, but this wasn't terrible because it all happened at the end of the trip, a mile from home.

I wanted to do the prudent thing and have the van inspected before Baja and also wanted to finally fix the leaking drive flange seals with speedi sleeves. Went for a shakedown after that work was done, a few hundred miles up the coast, and wouldn't you know - the drive flange seals still leak. And now there's an intermittent clunk from the right rear half shaft that goes away with a little bit of lateral adjustment.

Figuring the noise was intermittent, I didn't do anything about it in the week before leaving for Baja. Pretty stupid, but it seemed manageable.

Monday afternoon I was all packed up and hit the road. Getting out of the Bay can be extremely frustrating, and the start of this trip wasn't going as planned. The clunking was more and more frequent, and there was a bunch of traffic and it wasn't even rush hour yet.

Found an auto parts store down near San Jose and picked up some hose clamps and tried to center the half shaft in the boots. This helped. My thought was that it was knocking against the stub axle.

Made it down to Morgan Hill and pulled over to adjust it a little bit more. At this point I'm considering turning around and heading back home, but I figured worst case, I could have it checked out in LA the next morning (300 miles away Rolling Eyes).

On the freeway, it was pretty smooth. After the last adjustment it quieted down and was only knocking every once in a while, maybe every ten or fifteen minutes, and only for a few seconds at a time. So I kept going. I couldn't decide whether to turn the radio up or leave it off, and at that point was so attuned to the sound that I'm imagining it. It was getting tricky to tell when it was real or not, but most of the time it was real.

It's 10 or 11PM and I'm coming up to an exit where there's a gas station and some restaurants and at the last second I decide to exit. At this point I hadn't heard anything in probably half an hour, totally smooth cruising and feeling a lot more relaxed about the situation. Flicked off the cruise control and there's a rumble from the back end. Not good. I slow down, exit, pull into the parking lot and the clunk is constant. Try to center the half shaft even though it doesn't seem to have moved, fill up with fuel, go for a short test drive, and now there's a constant clunk in every gear.

Park it. Draw the curtains. Open a beer. Get ready for bed. Look for somewhere to tow it in the morning. I'm thinking worst case, it's the transaxle.

One thing I read on this forum that stuck with me is that when your vanagon breaks down, it's not that bad, because like a tortoise, your home is right there with you.
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First call in the morning was to Rancho Transaxles, thinking worst case, it would be best to take it to a shop near them. He recommended Mike's European. It was further than the 100 mile AAA tow, but not by much. Off we go, up and over the Grapevine. I didn't realize that the exit was the last one before that climb, and now that I think about it, the reason for pulling over was to try to map out a route around it.
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The shop can look at the van the next morning. There's this lake midway up the grapevine and Casey the flatbed driver says it's a nice place to camp in the summer. We slog through traffic for an hour or two and drop the van at the shop.

One of my friends lives in Torrance and offered me a place to sleep, so I got a lyft and headed to the rental car place. Tried to get a car but my license has expired (happy birthday to me). Two days prior. Soooooo, no rental car. Go grab a drink and a pizza at brewery near the shop and wait for my friend to pick me up.

The next day I waited in line at the DMV to renew my license which is actually really confusing right now because of the Real ID stuff, but after 4 hours I had a piece of paper and headed back to the rental car place hoping they'd honor it. They could only get a luxury car, so the next few days were spent driving around in a Volvo XC90 trying to figure out all of the features. Auto follow and auto cruise and auto stay in the lane are actually really useful features in LA traffic. Had to watch a youtube video to figure out how to turn the heat on, and it took me a full day to figure out how to connect the phone to stream spotify, but what a nice vehicle.

With nothing to do for a few days, I went to museums.

Long Beach Aquarium is really nice. Not as good as the one in Monterey Bay, but worth checking out, and they have otters too.
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LACMA is not really worth the price of admission right now. It's under construction and 80% closed, yet you pay full price, but the Fiji exhibition was awesome and almost made it worth the trip.
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On the way to LACMA I passed the Petersen Automotive Museum, not even a block away, and this saved the day. It's an interesting collection of vehicles. Not really my favorite, because it's very Hollywood (lots of stuff from the movies), and not much pre-war stuff, but absolutely worth the visit. Next time I'm taking the basement archive tour because that's where they keep the good ones.
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They had a bunch of James Hetfield's cars, which was interesting.
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Electric Vehicle exhibit is really very good.
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My favorite of the prop cars was this DeLorean, but the Blade Runner cars and the Syd Mead portion were awesome too. Interestingly, Deckard's blaster has the Steyr Daimler logo on it.
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Running out of things to do in LA, on Friday I went to the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles. It was very good. Had an interesting exhibit about LA history, and the dinosaur and large mammal sections were impressive. Got a call that the van was ready and headed back to the shop late friday afternoon.
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Transaxle was rebuilt by Mike at Rancho. 4th was grinding. Mainshaft was worn. Had a china mainshaft bearing etc., now replaced with german. 3rd and 4th gears went back to stock ratio and a high quality Gears 4th was installed. Weddle 3/4 slider wasn't installed as the previous rebuilder said. Mike figured out the drive flange seals were leaking internally due to corrosion on the case and stopped that leak. Passenger side CVs were replaced and both sides were packed with Bel Ray + Swepco grease.

Huge thanks to Mike at Rancho and Josh at Mike's European for making the time to get the van back on the road. I have some questions about the quality of the previous rebuild, considering parts weren't replaced as they were supposed to have been. I've also realized that for every good experience with a transmission rebuilder you have, there's probably someone with a negative experience. It's really hard to know what to think or whom to trust, but I feel good about this transaxle now.
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A few thousand miles later and everything is fine. No more issues and the Baja trip report can actually begin.
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Last edited by erste on Thu Feb 20, 2020 10:17 pm; edited 1 time in total
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dougnlina Premium Member
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PostPosted: Thu Feb 20, 2020 9:19 pm    Post subject: Re: [Trip Report] SF to Baja and back. Unplanned layover in LA. Reply with quote

Nice Write up, I tip my hat, you really know how to roll when you get the Vanagon Blues.
I'm inspired though, need to plan a trip Now!
Happy Trials Smile
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PostPosted: Fri Feb 21, 2020 4:57 am    Post subject: Re: [Trip Report] SF to Baja and back. Unplanned layover in LA. Reply with quote

So, who overhauled the transaxle last time with the junk
Parts?
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PostPosted: Fri Feb 21, 2020 7:47 am    Post subject: Re: [Trip Report] SF to Baja and back. Unplanned layover in LA. Reply with quote

Yeah! I really liked your last trip reports. You post great images and tell a good story.

nate
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PostPosted: Fri Feb 21, 2020 7:55 am    Post subject: Re: [Trip Report] SF to Baja and back. Unplanned layover in LA. Reply with quote

Way to make lemonade out of a bad situation. Thanks for posting.
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PostPosted: Fri Feb 21, 2020 8:36 am    Post subject: Re: [Trip Report] SF to Baja and back. Unplanned layover in LA. Reply with quote

CessnaJon wrote:
So, who overhauled the transaxle last time with the junk Parts?

This... Evil or Very Mad Evil or Very Mad Evil or Very Mad

- Dave
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erste
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PostPosted: Fri Feb 21, 2020 11:29 am    Post subject: Re: [Trip Report] SF to Baja and back. Unplanned layover in LA. Reply with quote

Back on the road, I headed south from LA toward San Diego and stopped for dinner when traffic got to be too much and then stopped at Trader Joe's to make a grocery run just north of San Diego.

I was planning on meeting the group at Potrero campground on Monday or Tuesday, but now it was Friday. I stopped at some campground south west of SD but don't remember which one. All booked up. Ranger said the next closest site was Potrero, so I headed there.

Got to Potrero campground just before 10PM and there was still a ranger working. Picked out a tent site for the evening and fell asleep pretty quick after that.

Next morning I headed toward Tecate for the border crossing.
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A few words about the border crossing at Tecate:
Park on the US side of the border and walk toward the MX passport control office, through a few gates, follow the people, and also the yellow line on the ground until you get to the white building on the right. Go up the steps and into the office.

I pre-paid online for the tourist pass, but my paperwork didn't print out correctly, so I had to pay again. Probably better to just pay at the office. I think it was 700 pesos or $35 USD. The friendly agent asked me where I was staying that night and after filling out the form and paying in pesos or USD, I got the travel permit loose with my passport and that was it.

When you walk back across the border, you need to go a block down and pass through the US barricade. None of this was very clear and I just crossed back the way I'd come, illegally through the MX gate, and nobody said a word (until I crossed again with the van).

You need Mexican insurance (bajabound.com) for the vehicle, which is only about $10/day.

One of the best moments of the entire trip was pushing through the gate and stepping into Mexico. It was a surreal feeling, walking into a vibrant, dense old world town - such a stark contrast from the US side which is basically just a few money changers, a gas station, and a parking lot. I've been to quite a few countries, but walking into Mexico for the first time is something I won't forget.

I was the only vehicle in line at the border crossing and got pulled to the side. Opened the back hatch for them and answered what would become the usual questions (where are you going? where are you coming from?).
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I would like to have spent more time in Tecate, but had a bit of driving to do so I headed toward Ensenada.
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In Ensenada there's a massive Mexican flag that was pretty impressive.
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The photo below is from later in the day but it kind of shows the chaos of the first three or four hours of the drive down. Two lane road, dirt roads / parking areas on the side, constant bustle of people and traffic. Craziest thing was some car speeding very fast past traffic on the right. Otherwise just a nice controlled chaos that I could get used to.
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First real taste of Baja was when the highway was under construction and all the traffic was diverted onto a rough gravel road for a few miles. Made me realize how impractical it would be to have any kind of lowered vehicle down there.
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Between the towns the landscape was really beautiful and the drive was much less stressful. It really wasn't until San Quentin that the towns kind of disappear and you've got the open road.
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The sun set pretty early and I'd chosen El Rosario as a target for the days drive. I'd heard it's not recommended to drive at night (cattle?) and was careful about it, but it didn't seem any more unsafe than driving at night anywhere else.
There's a stretch of MX1 that hugs the coast north of El Rosario and I thought that'd be a good spot to sleep.
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My phone didn't have service and whatever plan I have wouldn't allow me to set up roaming in Mexico, but the iOverland app worked and I pretty much relied on it to find places to stay. This first night I stayed at "cliffs by the beach" (N 30.27585 W 115.80136). There was a big sprinter RV parked at the top of the cliff, and a short road goes down to the beach. I decided to play it safe and stayed on the top of the cliff, but drove down to the beach the next day and it also would have been a nice place to camp. For free! Shocked Cool
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erste
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PostPosted: Fri Feb 21, 2020 12:31 pm    Post subject: Re: [Trip Report] SF to Baja and back. Unplanned layover in LA. Reply with quote

dougnlina wrote:
Nice Write up, I tip my hat, you really know how to roll when you get the Vanagon Blues.
I'm inspired though, need to plan a trip Now!
Happy Trials Smile

Thanks!

goldtooth wrote:
Yeah! I really liked your last trip reports. You post great images and tell a good story.

Appreciate that Nate. Looking forward to more of yours!

sanchius wrote:
Way to make lemonade out of a bad situation. Thanks for posting.

Yes. I'm just glad the turnaround was quick. I was running out of stuff to do in LA.

CessnaJon wrote:
So, who overhauled the transaxle last time with the junk
Parts?

dhaavers wrote:

This... Evil or Very Mad Evil or Very Mad Evil or Very Mad

It was rebuilt by one of the rebuilders in the Bay Area and I don't place any blame on him. Not necessarily junk parts, but I was surprised to hear that it didn't have the weddle 3/4 slider as we had discussed. China mainshaft bearing seems like a red flag when there's a better alternative (but is it really any better? I don't know because I'm not deep into rebuilding these transmissions). I'm just glad it's back together and hopefully it'll stay that way for a long while. I feel like Mike at Rancho did everything he could to keep it from coming back to him.



I keep forgetting to mention, but just want to say a huge THANK YOU to Dillon (dkoesyncro) for all of his phone-a-friend tech support during this trip. Many many thanks dude!
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PostPosted: Fri Feb 21, 2020 2:58 pm    Post subject: Re: [Trip Report] SF to Baja and back. Unplanned layover in LA. Reply with quote

Woke up to the sound of the ocean, opened the slider, and three baja dogs came to greet me. All the stray dogs I met on the trip were actually very friendly.
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The plan for the day was to make it down to Guerrero Negro and hopefully catch up with Corwyn and some of the group. About 400km away, or 250 miles. There's something nice about traveling in kilometers. Since there are more of them, they seem to just slide on by a little bit more easily than miles. If that makes any sense.

Got caught up behind this convoy of toyhaulers and RVs. So I pulled over to grab a coffee. Caught up with them again pretty quick outside of town and worked my way through the pack until there was a turnout and they could all pull over. I learned from them that the left turn signal is used as a sign that it's clear to pass. Probably elsewhere too, but I haven't come across it before. When I've used that in the past it seems to just confuse people and they think you're about to make a left turn and slow way down.
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As I was leaving this guy and his daughter pulled up in this jeep pickup convertible conversion which I would totally drive.
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Burning trash. Seemed like most small towns had the city dump just on the outskirts. What was kind of depressing though was to see plastic trash or bottles and cans out in the middle of nowhere on the side of the road.
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This one section reminded me of Joshua Tree:
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For the most part, the driving was easy, but it was quite windy, and when a semi is coming toward you, you really have to be ready because the gust can damn near push you off the road. There's no shoulder and the lanes are narrow. Not the place to break down...
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Everything is going pretty smooth except at one point the speedometer starts fluctuating. This means the cruise won't work anymore. There's a VSS that counts CV bolts and I'm pretty sure it's wiring related. Or else the CV bolts are falling out Shocked Laughing The issue came and went and came back a few days later.
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Yes, I'm the guy flashing my lights and honking like an idiot at other travelers because I'm so stoked to be in Baja having a great time.
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I was carrying 5 gallons of diesel and right before Guerrero Negro I filled up at a place kind of in the middle of nowhere, but just a few gallons. Pretty much immediately it won't fire on one crank anymore. It starts, but it takes some cranking. I head on down the road to the next station and add the good 5 gallons and some cetane boost. Talked to a local guy and asked if the diesel at this station was clean and he gestured 'not really' and suggested filling up instead in Guerrero Negro.

Aside from the usual parts and tools, I brought a spare fuel filter, the cetane boost, some diesel water remover, and the 5 gallons of good diesel. Next time I'd probably bring 10 gallons if I were heading further south. Not because I'm worried about running out of fuel, but just knowing that I have good fuel.

Made it to Guerrero Negro and actually managed to find the hotel where Corwyn and another vanagon owner (who's name I forgot) were staying. The rest of the group was all over the place in Baja and I think some of them were going to meet up again in Mulegť the next day. Those guys were going to take it easy at the hotel, but I was pretty eager to find another spot on the beach so I headed out.
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In planning for this trip, I really didn't do a whole lot. I had pretty much one goal - to see the whales. At the aquarium in LA I got to talking with one of the biologists and she mentioned the lagoons where they hang out and raise their babies. This reminded me of one campground I read about called Ojo de Liebre, just outside of Guerrero Negro.
You drive through a salt zone (farm?) to get there and it was very beautiful.
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Met a nice couple with a white Westy in the parking lot, and I'd see them again on the way home, just outside of Mexicali.

Supposedly you can drive further out from the campground and there's a few spots that overlook a cliff and you can see the whales spouting. I played it safe because the road was pretty muddy in spots and it looked like it might rain more in the night.
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This is a special place. Late at night it was so quiet that you could hear the whales spouting right off shore. That was really powerful.
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Last edited by erste on Fri Feb 21, 2020 3:31 pm; edited 1 time in total
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PostPosted: Fri Feb 21, 2020 3:11 pm    Post subject: Re: [Trip Report] SF to Baja and back. Unplanned layover in LA. Reply with quote

Fantastic. Looks like a great trip! I am still as in love with Baja as I was when we took our trip a few years back. Gotta get back down there.

You don't drive at night because the cows come up to the warm tarmac when the desert cools down. Also drunk drivers, although we almost had a head-on with one of those in broad daylight north of Guerrero Negro.

More!!
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PostPosted: Fri Feb 21, 2020 9:46 pm    Post subject: Re: [Trip Report] SF to Baja and back. Unplanned layover in LA. Reply with quote

joetiger wrote:
Looks like a great trip!

For sure!

:: Drum roll, please. ::

Winner of the most bad ass overland rig of the trip goes to....

The MAN 6x6 Bliss Mobil.
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Met another nice couple in this Westy.
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They run whale watching tours/boat trips out of the camp and I was lucky enough that the weather held off and they were taking boats out.
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What an amazing experience. I can't wait to do it again.
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From here I headed back north to cut across east to the sea of cortez. I was planning to go to Bahia de Los Angeles and my only regret of the trip is that I turned around after realizing that I'd have to back track in order to get north to San Felipe. In hindsight it would only have been an extra hours drive and well worth it from what I've seen.
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I'd heard on the first night from the guy in the Sprinter that MX5 was fully paved now. Corwyn had said that parts of that road were just softball sized rocks when he'd driven it at one point. It is now all paved aside from 5 or 6 short sections where they're doing bridge work and you cut over to a gravel road.

Beautiful drive. Extremely windy but thankfully it was a tail wind this time. And I couldn't pull over fast enough when I saw this rainbow.
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Grey whales and a rainbow in the same day? Not too bad.
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The sea of cortez in the distance and this rock formation in the bay perfectly in line with the road blew my mind. Just awesome.
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Campground for the night was in Gonzaga Bay and I got in early enough to relax with plenty of daylight left. This was a nice spot.
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Great place to find shells and watch sea birds.
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And what could make it better but to see another rainbow? What a day.
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PostPosted: Sat Feb 22, 2020 2:53 am    Post subject: Re: [Trip Report] SF to Baja and back. Unplanned layover in LA. Reply with quote

Great Adventure! Thanks for posting it.
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PostPosted: Sat Feb 22, 2020 4:53 am    Post subject: Re: [Trip Report] SF to Baja and back. Unplanned layover in LA. Reply with quote

You could probably see the third order rainbow in that pic where the second order is visible. Itís hard to get the exposure right where you can see all three clearly. The coloursreverse onesch order, too,by the magic OF optics.
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PostPosted: Sat Feb 22, 2020 4:53 am    Post subject: Re: [Trip Report] SF to Baja and back. Unplanned layover in LA. Reply with quote

You could probably see the third order rainbow in that pic where the second order is visible. Itís hard to get the exposure right where you can see all three clearly. The coloursreverse onesch order, too,by the magic OF optics.
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PostPosted: Tue Feb 25, 2020 5:45 pm    Post subject: Re: [Trip Report] SF to Baja and back. Unplanned layover in LA. Reply with quote

Abscate wrote:
You could probably see the third order rainbow in that pic where the second order is visible.

In the panoramic pic of the double, you might be right. Although it's very very faint or it's my imagination.

I bumped the saturation up on this one, but can't see the third order. I've seen quite a few doubles, but haven't seen a triple yet.
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I tried to pack the majority of the driving into the beginning of this short trip, hoping to relax on the last day or two until crossing back. This gave me time to take it easy and get to the campground in San Felipe in the early afternoon.
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Outside San Felipe the dunes are trying to reclaim the road. In some places the sand covered the entire lane.
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I said my only regret was not visiting Bahia de los Angeles, but that's not true. I also regret not eating more fish tacos. I stopped at the pier(?) in San Felipe and should have grabbed something to eat but headed to the campground instead.

This was the only point in the trip where I got a little bit lost. The map in iOverlander wouldn't load, so I just drove toward the blue dot on some side streets and found the campground much more easily than expected.
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^ Not the campground, just some old busses not too far away.

Campground is called Campo Turistico #1 (N 31.03897, W 114.82499)
Nice place as far as camping in/near San Felipe is concerned. Unfortunately the kitchen was closed. And just before sunset one of the regulars told me not to leave anything out. This place has a gate that closes at 6pm, but in Mexico the beach is public (30m up from high tide?) so anyone can walk up and down the beach at low tide, which I think is great. He said they'd need to be pretty thirsty to come all the way up to this campground, but still. I was out of firewood anyway and just read a book in the van after sunset.

The highlight was watching the pelicans diving for fish. I only have a crappy adapted telephoto lens and missed all the good shots, but it was a fun way to spend dusk.
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Felt bitter sweet here because I'd be driving back across the border the next day.
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PostPosted: Tue Feb 25, 2020 8:52 pm    Post subject: Re: [Trip Report] SF to Baja and back. Unplanned layover in LA. Reply with quote

wow, what an adventure. thanks for sharing... love the sand texture shot. wow.
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PostPosted: Wed Feb 26, 2020 4:22 am    Post subject: Re: [Trip Report] SF to Baja and back. Unplanned layover in LA. Reply with quote

You need to be in a dirtier place to see the third order, too. More dust and bigger nucleation.

Quote:
Yes. I'm just glad the turnaround was quick. I was running out of stuff to do in LA.


Iím a solid east coast guy but havenít found this too easy...

Very Happy
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PostPosted: Wed Feb 26, 2020 7:49 am    Post subject: Re: [Trip Report] SF to Baja and back. Unplanned layover in LA. Reply with quote

Looks like a great trip. I'm in the bay area too and am looking at a May trip down there. How far south did you get? I was thinking of Conception bay, but your spot at Gonzaga (?) looked great!
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PostPosted: Wed Feb 26, 2020 9:13 am    Post subject: Re: [Trip Report] SF to Baja and back. Unplanned layover in LA. Reply with quote

Terrific report, Erste! Now I want to go there...

My son went through the lower floors of the Petersen Museum when he was in LA for work and said it was fantastic. Very Happy
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PostPosted: Wed Feb 26, 2020 11:46 am    Post subject: Re: [Trip Report] SF to Baja and back. Unplanned layover in LA. Reply with quote

Turning on the left hand signal to indicate it's safe to pass is standard operating procedure in many countries. It's nuts because it's confusing (is he turning left or is he telling me it's ok?), but you just learn to deal with it.

You said you flashed your lights in excitement. We found that in Mexico flashing lights at oncoming traffic means there is a problem ahead so be ready to stop or swerve around an upcoming obstacle. Actually a very handy system that saved us a couple of times. You should do the same to alert oncoming drivers when you encounter a dangerous situation.

I also came to appreciate the Mexican habit of turning 2 lanes into 3. This doesn't work so well in Baja with the lack of shoulders, but is SOP on the mainland. The way it works is when someone gets on your tail, you slide over to the shoulder and he passes straddling the yellow line. On coming traffic sees what's happening and they drift over to their shoulder. Voila it's a three lane highway! Even with driving a vanagon there are so many POS rigs and overloaded trucks down there that you, too will be passing lots of vehicles and using this system. So if you see a car coming at you down the middle of the road, don't get upset, just give up half your lane and let 'em by.

The section of road you said looked like Joshua Tree is a great campsite. Just pull well off the road, there are lots of trails winding around the boulders, and set up camp. And don't miss the restaurant just south of Guerro Negro, on the right of the highway heading south.
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