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Sea of Cortez

(Bahia de Adair and Cauldron Beach)

March 29 - April 6, 1980


A Durango Herald guest editorial

April 28, 19801


Thirteen residents of Phoenix and Durango recently visited the northern shores of the Gulf of Mexico and adjoining wilderness areas2. Unlike trips commonly taken in Mexico, this one was not for deep-sea fishing -- traditional macho routine -- or for displaying oneself before the eyes of admiring natives. The girl at the cash register in Puerto Penasco’s mercado consistently ignored the visiting gringos until all local patrons had been served; and the llantera, working over an inner tube pinched by low pressure in a sand tire, took no notice of the shiny four-wheel-drive machines. Instead, he carefully dipped the tube in a discarded bath tub, found the offending series of tiny holes, and patched them as he sang snatches from Amapola and La Cucuracha. Nor were small boys at the border check-point impressed. Eager to earn a quarter or half dollar, they offered to lavar the windshield with sponge and squeegee brush, declaring that it was puerco, not limpio as its owner maintained.

One Phoenix resident said that he had some trouble justifying the trip in the presence of huge U.S. oil imports, but he settled his conscience by remembering his long walks to the Honeywell plant five days a week. Besides, much of the gas he used on the trip came from Mexico’s Pemex pumps (at 400 centavos per liter, 70 cents per gallon for premium, 281 centavos for regular, though the latter was too low in octane for American engines). No, the trip was not for fishing, or exhibitionism, or even consumerism.

On the 55 kilometer beach trip from the gringo camp spot to Santa Clara, an incautious Mexican driver got stuck in a beachside lagoon and was pulled out by a macho native, who first drove twice through the mess to show the power of his machine and then yanked the unwary driver’s vehicle from the clutches of the placid, dry-surfaced muck. A gringo driver who stuck his vehicle managed to do it in the privacy of a backwater area3 far from the dunes of the shoreline. He was rescued from ignominy by a more experienced companion driver, who counseled, "Drive these lagoons by sticking strictly to the hard-packed center of the tracks left by earlier drivers." On the other hand, a 60-mile trip through sandy, windblown wilderness offered no such tracks, or any tracks, on the bare dunes. There the drivers had to lower the pressure in their tires, engage four wheels for traction, and pray that clean gas, good water hoses, and fine-tuned ignition and whining gears would carry them through. Unwary explorers have sometimes died in that wilderness from heat, thirst, and insects. The 13 gringos carried 110 gallons of potable water, extra gasoline, a double allowance of food, tents, sunshades, a welding outfit, and various wrenches and spare parts.

Why, then, this laborious, dusty, and sweat-infested trip? For one thing, it was to challenge the desert just as four-wheelers in the mountains challenge the high places. But even more, it was to re-establish the human connection with earth rhythms, especially those not dominant in mountainous Arizona and Colorado. Take the camping on the beach -- seven nights of heavy blankets and sleeping bags under skies ribboned by stray cumulus, with one experienced guitarist singing country, frontier, and humorous songs around an evening campfire when the wind permitted; by day explorations for crabs, mussels, squid, and oysters along the rocky reefs at low tide; and extensive searches for shells -- sand dollars, murex, turrets, cones (Chicoreus damicornus, Oliva porphyria, etc.) piled several feet deep on shores long unexplored by predator man.

By day, too, intent observation of birds -- gulls, sand pipers, terns, black pelicans -- and porpoises on their daily tour near the beach. And on Good Friday, the grunions, slender silvery fish eight to ten inches in length, swam up to the water’s edge on the highest wave of the incoming tide, stood up on end, wriggled their tails into the sand, and deposited their spawn. Complementing all this was the inexorable daily tide, rising 14 feet over a quarter mile expanse of tide pools, and at night awaking sleepers with the ominous proximity of its roar, a reminder that the earth’s great rhythms are indestructible despite man’s efforts to remake the earth in the image of his sometimes abortive imagination.

March 29 - April 6, 1980
Maynard Fox4, 5

Copyright (c) 1980, The Durango Herald
Posted with permission


1While the guest editorial was published on April 28, the actual date of this chronicle is March 29 - April 6. Ref. Excursions: 03/29/1980. Article not yet posted

2Specifically, Bahia de Adair and Cauldron Beach (known also as Pothole Beach) via Puerto Peñasco and El Golfo de Santa Clara.

3In fact, this was a salt collection area where seawater is run in at extreme tides and allowed to evaporate over a period of years, slowly accumulating sea salts through repeated treatments. With a microscopically thin crystallized salt surface preventing the usual evaporation, the liquid muck below holds water for months, if not years. In this case the narrow road ran between a pair of such holding ponds, the salt-encrusted surface hiding quicksand-like perils just outside the hardened tracks.

4Maynard Fox is a retired English professor at Fort Lewis College, who is now involved in local energy conservation efforts.

5Mr. Fox passed away in 2002.  Ref. Devil's Gridiron: 01/20/2002 Obituary.



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