21.1 mi / 11.2 mph / 620 ft. climbing
Home: Hotel Frances
We set a dawn alarm so we could see the golden sun lighting the face of Tres Virgenes, and then watch it run down its slopes to paint the valley in colors. The central tower was once again our vantage point, and we were happy that the land and sky rewarded our early rise.
We ate another excellent “home-cooked” meal for breakfast, though by this time some other guests had arrived. Kevin, a one-time Californian turned British Columbian turned Todos Santos Mexican, had made an epic overnight drive from Tijuana after helping his Mexican friend get a new car there (I had been wondering where people get cars from in Baja!) It was funny, when he first started speaking with us in English, his accent suggested he was from another Latin country, but then it quickly faded and became standard American English. Funny how your speaking environment/language can affect your accent in a sticky sort of way (I was reminded of my time riding in the southern US where I found it hard to not adopt a “southern” accent).
Since we were in this unique place, and had an “easy” day of riding ahead (due to chopping a big one-day ride in half), and because we hadn’t done any hiking in a long time, we headed down onto the desert floor for a hike toward the lava field. In retrospect, it was an ill-advised choice, because it was quite hot, and even if we had done the whole 5-mile loop, it probably wouldn’t have shown us much more desert life than we’ve seen during our roadside pee-breaks or wild camps (though with substantially less trash!) So we ended up calling it after a mile or so and headed back to pack up and get on the road.
The first ten miles of the ride was across a mostly-flat plain. It had a lot of 50-foot ups and downs, but zero change overall. So it was hard to believe the altitude profile, which showed us essentially dropping off an 800-foot cliff around the next turn. But, right on schedule, there it was. We dove down from the spine of the Baja peninsula through a deep carved valley that brought us to our first views of the deep blue Sea of Cortez. We had crossed from one side of (Baja) Mexico to the other!
The highway department of Baja California Sur has neglected to put a big bridge in at the base of the descent, so we actually had some more significant climbing to do back out of the concrete-paved wash, but soon we reached the point where the road turned south because riding into the sea was the only other alternative.
At that point, the road crumbled to complete shit. Santa Rosalia exists due to the (recently reactivated) Boleo Copper Mine, so I guess their vehicles might be what has pulverized the asphalt to the point where we had to walk the bikes through sections of it (and even then I was concerned that it was shaking the electronics in my handlebar bag to pieces). Then there were also sections where it seemed like there were wide, bumpy shoulders on either side, with a single, smooth-ish 12-foot-wide stripe down the middle, and no lane markings whatsoever. Very strange for a federal highway and the only road through the area…it felt more like being on the mining company’s access road!
Once in town, we navigated through some high-activity streets and then pushed the bikes up a gravel hill to Hotel Frances, a historic hotel that exemplifies the unique style of the town, with its Old West mining town-meets-French Cajun architecture. Pricey, at $50USD/night (and definitely the most expensive place we’ve stayed that only takes cash!), but with some extra amenities we don’t usually get.
Santa Rosalia is about the same size as Guerrero Negro by population (about 15,000 people, enough to put them in the top-10 of cities in the state of BCS), but somehow it felt far busier, with people all over the sidewalks, making it the most-active town we’ve been in since Ensenada.
Dinner lived up to the standard Baja “don’t judge a book by its cover” rule: we walked to a place sort of near the water, but when we arrived, saw a dusty rather run-down looking storefront surrounded by a dilapidated tire shop and maybe an auto mechanic. Probably blocked from the water by a pile of mine tailings too. Oh well, it had good ratings, so we go in and are about to sit down at one of the open tables, when the waiter beckons us around the corner. And then further, through a beautiful courtyard, and then further, to the actual main seating area, a semi-outdoor space directly above the blue endless water. Oh. Never would have guessed that from the front! In the US, the external and internal appearances of buildings seem to have a much-higher correlation than they do here, where you often feel like you’re discovering secret beauty intentionally hidden in an unappetizing setting.