The Cortez Chronicles
 

 

In search of solitude in a raging world . . .

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Barra los Tanques

via Campo Ostricola

April 27 - May 1, 2004

 

Ripples - April, 2004

Until our last excursion1 we were not aware of two inlets along the coastline immediately south of Desemboque. Although we have visited both (from opposite sides) on various excursions in the past, we have always concluded that they were one and the same. All of our maps and any we have ever seen show only a single wash running into the sea in this area. Most show Rio Asunción roughly following the highway from Caborca to Desemboque; but one, a map of Sonora lost when our Jeep was stolen in early 2002, gave it a different name: Rio de la Concepción.

Having discovered there were two inlets during our failed March attempt to drive from Desemboque to the beach at Barra los Tanques, we remain determined to make a second try at finding the connecting road and at the same time answer the questions posed by our discovery.

And so it is that we arise at 5:00 am on this Tuesday morning, finish packing our vehicle, and leave the house at 7:00 am for another excursion to the Desemboque/los Tanques area. This is our last chance to un-clutter our minds and our hearts for a time, as my soul mate goes to a new assignment starting on Monday. At the border we acquire insurance, new visas and a vehicle permit in record time, then gas up at the Pemex station just south of the Caborca cutoff outside of Rocky Point, noting an exchange rate of about 10.50 Pesos per dollar Norteamericano.

It is our intention on this excursion to make our way to Desemboque via Puerto Peñasco and local improved2 roads, follow the route to Campo Ostricola that we found on our last excursion, and then take to the playa to camp on the isolated stretch of beach between Rio Asunción and Rio de la Concepción (Refer to Geographic Conclusions). During our stay we will find and traverse the remainder of the passage we learned about from a local pescador while camped on Barra los Tanques, north of Puerto Lobos, in the fall of 20023 -- a route around Rio de la Concepción and Rio Asunción to the beach at Barra los Tanques. Such a passage has the potential of putting Barra los Tanques hours closer to us, and would eliminate the need for a circuitous trip through Caborca, Puerto Lobos and the treacherous, rock-scattered southern end of the Los Tanques coastline.

We pick up the "Improved" road from Villa Guadalupe on the Puerto Peñasco-Caborca highway and head south to the Caborca-Desemboque highway:
 
miles partial
  0 Villa Guadalupe. Highway curves inland to the left. We leave pavement at east end of curve and head southwest, then south toward Álvaro Obregón. Road is rougher than a cob, due to washboard.
  5   5 Álvaro Obregón on right. Pavement in from left ends here; wide gravel boulevard headed west through town. Sign on center median says, "Santo Tomas - 9 km to beach." We continue south, keeping to the best road at several forks.
16 11 Desemboque highway, and pavement. We turn right, toward Desemboque.

After Álvaro Obregón the road becomes more primitive but more passable, with less washboard. The best-defined road turns southwest after San Jorge, but we follow a less traveled route that gently curves southeast for a few miles and eventually re-joins the main road, now east-bound, which re-appears from the right rear and then turns southeast again to meet the highway. The last few miles appear to be fully unimproved road, excellent for driving. Before reaching pavement the road fans out into a number of individual tracks, twisting and turning and crossing each other. As always, we take the best road. Continuing on the highway:
 
miles partial
18   2 Road on left. Blue sign says, "Los Tanques".
19   1 Road on left, the route we took on our last excursion.
20   1 Curve right, just outside Desemboque.

We turn at the blue Los Tanques sign. The road from here to Campo Ostricola skirts a series of farms and ranches, and then heads straight toward a mountain covered with several large sand pockets.

A Rich Land - Road From Desemboque to Campo Ostricola, April, 2004

 
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Soon we're passing a number of widely scattered large Cardón cacti interspersed with a wide variety of other rich foliage. Eventually the road passes through a small forest of the giant Cardóns intermixed with healthy Bearded Old Man cactus. As we go through it we spy a Blue Heron nest in one such Cardón, and further along we come across another containing four nests with the adult birds sitting on them. At least one of these even has young Herons in it awaiting a meal with open beaks pointed upward. Finally out of the Cardón forest, we pass the sand-pocketed mountain and eventually head back toward the playa, arriving at the Campo Ostricola intersection at about 3:00 pm. Upon rereading the sign we realize that it clearly answers our question as to which road leads around Rio de la Concepción. The bottom line states:
 

<== F.P.P.A.E. Los Tanques

We had planned on continuing down the road (right fork) to the beach, driving north a mile or less, setting up a base camp on this side of Concepción, and conducting our exploration a couple of days from now; but with the answer so evident before us we decide to check out the road to los Tanques first. We turn left and proceed.
 
miles partial
  0 Campo Ostricola - Intersection at signs. Left fork goes eastward along estuary.
  4   4 (estimate) Road forks. Right branch crosses ice plant flat toward beach. We continue along estuary on the main road.
  6   2 Road forks again; left branch continues along estuary. This time we take the right fork.

Less than a mile from Campo Ostricola we're forced to let down our tire pressure in order to continue. This necessitates a quick reconsideration of our decision, but in the end we decide to lower the pressure to 20 pounds, a conservatively higher pressure than we normally use, and go on.

The right branch of the latter fork initially looks like the best route across the estuary, with portions of the roadbed reinforced by granite cobblestone and the dumping of a few loads of river rock in waterways; however, a short distance onward the road ends before a deep muddy waterway some fifty feet in width with a current of water at least two feet deep. We return to the road fork. The left branch continues for some miles with no end in site to the shallow ice plant flats, which we now believe are the feature that gave Barra los Tanques its name.

How far the road goes and whether there is another route around Concepción is a question that will have to be explored later. Due to the hour, we reluctantly retrace our course to the 4-mile fork and follow the right branch across the ice plant flat. There are substantial signs of mud -- maybe slippery and wet on many occasions, but today it is mostly hard-packed. We walk these moist portions of the road to verify hardness, and arrive at the beach in approximately 2 miles.

Turning right on the playa we immediately mire into the unusually soft sand. Fortunately we're not stuck badly and are pointed downward toward the surf, so lowering our pressure two more pounds to 18-psi, unloading our four gasoline and water cans, and scooping sand from in front of our under-rear-end spare tire are all that is required to extricate ourselves on the first try and take us to more solid ground. Continuing our log from the Campo Ostricola intersection:

A Lonely Coast - April, 2004
miles partial
  9   3 Point overlooking mouth of Rio de la Concepción estuary.

One set of tracks accompanies us on the beach from south of our entrance point, but high tide has washed over them in spots since they were made, so we know they're over a week old because it is now half-moon and tonight's tide will come nowhere near them.

We drive to the point looking for the best campsite, turn around and retrace our steps for about half a mile, picking something on a high sandy flat that is still part of the active beach. Once we stop it doesn't take us long to accomplish the essentials of setting up camp; it is completed before dark.

My soul mate breaks out the chicken sandwiches that were prepared before we left home. Before we finish them she spies the first meteor of the evening, to the southwest. It is short-lived, but a welcome sign.

We sit in the moonlight watching the evening tide overtake the lower, nearly flat portion of the beach. The tides will increase for the next eight days until full moon. With our planned exploration out of the way a couple of days early we'll have more time to vegetate while we're here. In the perfect temperature we retire to the tent for a deliciously cool sleep, half the night spent on top of the sleeping bag and half inside.

 
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Wednesday

We awaken slowly to a warm tent, and open our eyes to find bugs covering the outside surfaces, gathered around seams and corners by the thousands as if drawn by some ancient mating ritual. There appear to be a lot of flies in the mix, but they aren't flying much. We step outside to a delicious breeze and piles more of bugs on the ground around the tent. Although we're somewhat taken aback at first, none seem to be biting or even walking on us. It is as if they've been immobilized.

Morning on the Playa - April, 2004

We set up the gas stove, heat coffee, and enjoy a breakfast of instant oatmeal and fruit bars while watching the seagulls fishing in the tide.

Once breakfast is finished I get up to check out the view from the top of the dunes behind our camp, but decide I need sun block on my skin first. Although I had no immediately apparent burn from our last excursion, I did peal some four weeks later.

 
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The Agony and the Ecstasy

Always the child, I find it difficult to face the chore of smearing sticky, greasy sun block lotion all over my body, and am fortunate to have a soul mate who, forever playful, comes to my rescue by forcing the situation. I submit. My wife is not only my soul mate, my lover, and my best friend, but she is the world's best masseuse, turning it into a scintillating and sensual experience.

The wind kicks up just as we rise again to climb the dunes, but before we take three steps the sunshade begins flapping like a banshee and threatening to go over despite the two reinforcement ropes we put in place last evening. Some minutes are required to secure a complete set of ropes and stakes. The top continues flapping through our exercise, and when we get to it we find that it has been inverted by the wind, bending the overhead fiberglass rods backwards. We tie reinforcement ropes across the diagonals between opposite legs of the folding frame and set our handy-dandy stabilization rod atop the intersection to hold up the center of the top. Our stabilization rod, an inch-diameter length of natural driftwood with a tight fork at either end, was picked up on the beach some years ago and has become a permanent part of our equipment. It could not have been intentionally designed and built to work any better.

Once the sunshade has been stabilized, we realize the tent is in danger of being uprooted from its sandy footing. Poles are straining in the wind to break free of their duty. More rope and stake reinforcements are required. It is over an hour before the sunshade and tent are both firmly back under our control, and with the strenuous activity behind us we are no longer so interested in a walk up the dunes. ¡Mañana! We'll get to it tomorrow. We go back to our front row seats in our communion with the playa, watching the white caps. My soul mate withdraws to her music, and I to my excursion notes.

After an hour or so of sand stinging our legs to above the knees, and an occasional grain in the face, it seems an appropriate time to take that walk to the top of the dunes after all. Since our tent and sunshade seem to be remaining stabile, I grab my tripod and we pick our way up the gentle slope of the low spots between peaks. Once at the top, we are able to confirm that it is as we finally realized yesterday -- Rio de la Concepción stretches for miles behind our dunes forming yet another peninsula along this lonely coastline. Then the upper end of the estuary gives way to an endless series of ice plant flats, Los Tanques, no doubt. While there we take pictures of it all.

The Ice Plant Flats of Los Tanques - April, 2004

With Rio de la Concepción on the north, the rock-strewn stretches of Barra los Tanques on the south, and some thirty miles width essentially uninhabited, this ten mile or so stretch of coastline remains as remote as ever and is likely to do so for some years in the future. We feel fortunate to have come across it in the last few years and now found an access route that cuts off hours of treacherous highway, back road and beach driving. Fortunately, our new route is still convoluted enough to discourage most people, and that, for us, is an important attribute.

1:50 pm -- My soul mate tires of the sand stinging her face and retreats to the tent for rest. I go back to my notes. The battle of typing on a pocket device in blowing sand continues late into the afternoon, but I eventually do catch up. Then later we go down to water's edge for a wade and a bit of relief from the stinging sand. The breakers are substantial, but near the water there is little dry sand to be picked up by the wind and thrown at is.

To say there is an over-abundance of bugs today is gross understatement. Those same fly-like bugs, despite the wind, congregate in the millions on our vehicle tires, and in depressions in the sand under and around the vehicle. Most are on the shady sides, but many of them crawl and fly around in sunny areas as well. Fortunately they do not seem to bite or care about us in any way. They are in a different world from ours until we walk by and cause them to go into a frenzy.

The wind and blowing sand continue through the afternoon. To reduce the grit in our evening meal we move the stove and table into the tent. My soul mate prepares a delicious meal of tamales, which we hungrily devour in our sand-reduced environment.

Late on a windy afternoon on the playa the big hope becomes whether the wind will die down at dusk. Today it doesn't. We play cards in the tent until about 10:00 pm, then walk down to the pounding surf in the moonlight. It is high tide, and it is magical. We stand silently in communion with nature until bedtime, then return, check tent ropes and stakes, and prepare to bed down for the night.

Despite the flapping of the tent we both sleep soundly until daylight, when I am awakened by the pounding of tent stakes.

 
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Thursday

I look around the tent. There is water all over the floor. The source seems to have been the water jug -- apparently blown off the table during the night, although it is now standing upright on the floor. A few other articles are scattered about the tent integrating with sand. The pounding continues, and once lucid I realize it is my soul mate. I become aware that the tent is billowing in all directions, the seams around the periphery of the floor rising off the sand by some 18 inches. I can see the shadows of most of the tent stakes through the translucent floor, dangling six inches off the ground like so many useless legs on a swollen tick. Out of twelve there may be four still in the ground. Why the tent is managing to stay put so well is beyond me. Were it not for the four ropes we staked in on the leading sides yesterday to help prevent bending of poles it would be gone by now, rolling over the dunes like a gigantic beach ball. I struggle to throw on some clothes and go outside to help my wife.

There seems to be no way to pull the tent back to the ground sufficiently to keep the stakes in the sand -- the billowing pulls them straight up and out. My soul mate points out that letting the air move freely through the tent will reduce the amount of billowing, so we zip down and tie several windows. It helps immediately. Then we attach ropes at the tops of remaining vertical pole members and stake them to the ground some eight to ten feet from the tent to provide the optimum pulling angle against the stakes embedded in the sand. Now three top members (poles) are separating at the joints. We tighten a rope across the length of each of these to keep them intact and triangulate the end poles with additional ropes so they can move neither front-to-back nor sideways. Then, starting at one end of the tent, we pull one stake loop to the ground, dig the sand away until moisture is reached, and pound the stake into the wet sand at a greater than usual angle so that the tent will be pulling it sideways to get it out. It holds. We go on to the next stake and work our way around the tent, gradually returning it to earth. Gaining confidence in our solution, we finish the job by loosening all ropes just enough to let the walls of the tent lean as demanded by the wind, and heap sand around the base of the tent to prevent wind from going under it so freely.

My soul mate mops the water off the floor and picks up the scattered articles, and we collapsed back into bed to complete our rest. Despite the early morning sun on the tent the wind is sufficient to keep a gentle coolness for another two hours of quality sleep.

When I awaken again my soul mate is once again outside, this time enjoying the substantial surf. She reappears and sweeps the sand from the tent floor, a futile effort in the best of times. While I re-tie the sunshade to its frame and restock the water jug from the ice chest she prepares another of her full-fare breakfasts of eggbeaters, corned-beef hash, toast and coffee. By now the wind seems to have subsided sufficiently to quit picking up sand, and for this reason alone the day seems much more bearable than yesterday. The blowing, however, seems almost as strong, as the breakers will attest. It would be a very warm day without the wind, but as-is, I find it a bit chilly in full beach regalia under the sunshade. I withdraw to the tent for long pants and a sleeved shirt, noting that the swarm of fly-like bugs around the left rear vehicle tire is still as populous as ever.

Floating Mollusk Beds - April, 2004

High tide of the day comes and goes to the ever-present roar of the heavy surf. The pelicans are returning in small numbers today after their usual half-moon absence, and there is a fishing vessel close on the horizon with its rigging booms clearly visible. This is the day we originally intended to do our exploration, but since that was completed on Tuesday we stay put for a lazy makeup afternoon for the one we didn't quite have yesterday.

And we vegetate.

 
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The Ice Dilemma

Contemplating the difficulty we've had in finding quality ice in recent years, we did an Internet search before leaving home and came up with some new possibilities. The supplier we used this time appears to be an old establishment and is almost directly across the street from the icehouse that closed some five to eight years ago. We had never been aware of this supplier before, although we had traded at the other one for over forty years.

Sadly, full 25 lb blocks of crystal ice are definitely a thing of the past. This place supplies 11-lb blocks that appear of reasonable quality except for one thing -- it is partially clear but mostly cloudy, meaning it contains air. But it is better than anything we can reliably obtain anywhere else. Also, their cube ice is better than any we have seen, except possibly the Safeway Crystal Ice -- sharply defined crystal cubes of around 1.25 to 1.5 inch. It costs $1.75 per block or bag. We purchased ten blocks and one bag, and managed to get eight blocks into our 40-gallon ice chest. One plus is that it packs pretty compactly using it to line the chest and putting our cold goods in the middle. While there is a lot of ice left after 60 hours, it is clearly melting as expected for ice containing air.

The other possibility gained from the Internet listings is the clear ice created for ice sculptures. There were at least two listing of this kind. We'll have to investigate that next time. I suspect you have to order it in advance, but I'll bet you can still get something of the quality of the 25 lb blocks of crystal -- for a price. The issue will probably be whether we think it's worth the probable substantial cost.

Unable to keep my eyes open any longer I withdraw, at the coaxing of my soul mate, to the tent for a vegetative nap. This visit is unusual in that the tent is not overly hot during the day. In the two hours I'm in there, she watches the afternoon and the wind slip away with the tide; when I return, the breeze is mild and stabile, a great relief from the past 30 hours. It is a relaxing and satisfying end to the afternoon, and an adequate beginning of the evening.

A lasagna supper and the evening chill come upon us before we know it. We retreat to the tent after dark. I spend considerable effort tuning our portable AM radio around the dial, catching snatches of talk and drama befitting the 1950's. As when we were children the nighttime stations fade in and out according to ionospheric conditions; we fill in the cracks with a card game.

At 10:00 pm, we step into the moonlight to check the tide. This time of the month the evening tide is the highest of the day. It will rise further each night for another five days leading up to full moon.

With a perfect chill on the evening air, it is time for bed once again. We doze off to the roar of the surf and sleep deeply until morning.

 
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Friday

The gentle breeze continues into the day. We step outside, reassemble our paraphernalia for breakfast and protection from the sun, and greet the day with enthusiasm. The tide is rising fast and the morning air is, as always, deliciously cool. A flock of pelicans stand in the advancing surf a quarter mile north of us, patiently awaiting high tide. It is another perfect day on the playa, and we have not seen another human being in three days.

Sandpipers here control the narrow band of beach between the surf and the last high tide. There are many, and a few of the individuals are highly territorial, driving off all others of their species with vigor. There is also an occasional lone Blue Heron in the surf above or below our campsite. While watching them at their work it occurs to me that we have not seen a single coyote since arriving; I make a mental note because it's quite rare.

The tide is at peak before noon; we stroll over the dunes to see how much water is in the estuary behind us and find that it appears to be nearly full. Our route across the estuary, however, is still clearly visible above the creeping backwater. With a little luck we won't have to go around through Puerto Lobos to get home, and if we have time we would like to revisit Rio Asunción and take a few pictures along the way.

As the hours tick by a steady breeze keeps the heat of the day at bay. We continue our vegetative vigil, engrossed in details of the surf such as watching the reversal of waves that glance off the beach and head back to sea, combining and re-combining with new incoming waves.

A Pescador's Home at the Point - April, 2004

1:00 pm -- We snooze for a time, take a walk on the beach to pick up shells, and then return to our chairs where I amuse myself sifting through the sand within reach of my chair for tiny fully-formed micro shells of a sixteenth inch and smaller.

Toward mid-afternoon we jump in our vehicle and head to the point for the purpose of setting the odometer for a more accurate measurement of the distance around Rio de la Concepción. I snap a few pictures of the half full estuary.
 
miles partial
  0.0 The point at Rio de la Concepción.
  0.4   0.4 Our camp.

Following our return we empty one can of gasoline into the vehicle's tank, but put off using the second until we can be sure there is enough room. The wind picks up for a few minutes, a warning of what could follow; but it quiets down again after an hour or so. My soul mate retires for a snooze in the tent, and later I hear her sweeping the floor in preparation for a calm evening.

5:30 pm -- the tide is full out, exposing new pools and drainage ways beyond the mud flat, and promising a quick return. Preparations for supper are underway.

We are already hating the thought of leaving tomorrow. It has been a perfect getaway from the chaos of city and humanity. Not one person have we seen in more than three days, and by the time we depart this paradise it will be nearly four.

We devour our supper of vegetable soup and sit out in the perfect evening weather watching the incoming surf until bedtime. Tonight's moon is about 3/4 full, finally providing sufficient light to allow us to move about our campsite without fear of stumbling over a sidewinder or stepping on a scorpion. After we're bedded down for the night a meteor lights up the sky before we're off to sleep to assure us of a peaceful rest.

 
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Saturday - The Assault

A lone coyote announces the dawn, a joyful sound. We sleep on for a time enjoying the perfect temperatures the morning is affording us, completely unaware of the nightmare that is almost upon us.

8:30 am -- We arise together, set water on the stove for coffee and oatmeal, and start packing.

Almost immediately a vehicle passes on the lower beach, followed in quick succession by two more. They've apparently come up the beach from Puerto Lobos, not an easy journey due to the rock-strewn expanses below Barra los Tanques. In keeping with our politeness policy we wave as they go by, and they wave back. Despite our preference for solitude we try to avoid alienating the capable (as well as help the incapable). But it isn't getting any easier for us when a fourth vehicle goes by, and then another. They're driving at high speed as if they know where they're going, and we continue to hear the sound of engines coming from around the point and over the dunes, laboring along the shore of the estuary behind us.

So much for solitude. I trek to the top of the dunes to see what I can of them. The estuary comes into my field of vision just in time to catch sight of a vehicle roaring up out of the estuary on the opposite shore behind two that have preceded it.

Vehicles Molesting the Estuary - April, 2004

Oh, oh! This is definitely taboo! The locals will not like this one bit! Signs are posted all over the north bank to make it clear that they do not want the estuary molested due to the bivalve/mollusk population it contains. In fact, they don't even allow swimming.

And there are more vehicles coming. As I watch, they continue to arrive at a rate of about one per minute. They come to a stop on the extremes of the point, along the sand bars that are still exposed in the estuary, and along the primary shoreline. Doors open and sound systems blast as the occupants mill about in apparent confusion as if they don't really have a purpose for being there at all. It's revolting, to say the least.

I return to announce the worsening news and resume helping with packing. Soon more and more vehicles are passing. We can see them coming for quite a distance, but there is a point beyond which any additional vehicles blend with the heat waves and sand, dissolving into nothingness. The rock-strewn portion of Barra los Tanques lies well beyond the heat waves -- and then, after more sandy coast, Lobos.

Eventually 16 vehicles have passed us, all men and all Mexican license plates; and there is a 17th that appears to be stuck just above the surf about a mile south of us. We watch for a while as they struggle against the approaching tide, trying to free it. My soul mate suggests that I drive to the point and warn their companions. I leap into our vehicle, head up the beach and around the point, stopping on relatively high ground a short distance from several of the vehicles, and approach a group of men on foot. They are in fact struggling with their own vehicle that seems to have gotten stuck in the sand. They have a tow strap stretched to a second vehicle.

"¡Señores, señores -- sus amigos estan stuck en la playa!"

"What?" the first hombre asks.

"¡Su amigo en la playa -- stuck!" I repeat.

"What kind of car is it?" He asks in perfect English.

So much for my cerdo Español.

"What kind of car is it," he repeats.

"I don't know," I respond breathlessly, "It's the seventeenth vehicle. You do have seventeen vehicles in your group, don't you? I'm sorry; we really don't have any way of helping them."

"Yes," he replies, "Ok; we'll take care of it."

His attention goes back to the problem of freeing his own vehicle. I return to mine, and drive back to our camp.

There are now two additional vehicles helping the one that is stuck on our beach. My wife explains that they appeared shortly after I left. We return to our packing, and shortly all three pass by. Nineteen vehicles -- it is apparently a 4-wheel drive club from Caborca or further off. They probably spent the night near Lobos before heading north on an early morning low tide, a good time to traverse the rocky outcrops that must be conquered on the way to Barra los Tanques. It is as good a time as any to destroy our communion -- if it must be done. We're grateful we were going home anyway.

We complete our packing in silence. The continuing roar of distant engines wafting over the dunes intermingles in the rising heat waves -- like a migraine headache -- with visual glimpses of the sparse vegetation and the sand lizards that call the dunes their home. It is going to be a hot day. I shift the vehicle into gear, and we head south toward the exit road, visions of a raped and dying estuary swimming in our minds. My soul mate finally breaks the silence.

"It is only once. They'll probably get a local constable, eventually, to control such riff-raff."
 
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Critical Balance

We make several futile attempts to reach the heavy sand of the exit road, but the beach is slanted enough that even with 4-wheel drive and low tire pressure the vehicle slides in the loose shell-fragmented sand so badly that it cannot be turned upward on the beach quickly enough to prevent missing the narrow tracks by several car-lengths.

Meanwhile, my soul mate has suggested we wait a couple of hours for the tide to recede sufficiently to give us the room to build the momentum we need on the moist hard surface of the lower beach to propel us over the light, slippery portion of the upper beach to the heavy sand of the exit road. I ignore her suggestion and make several more passes, but as we chew up the surface further with each pass the maximum attainable speed grows less and less, and the distance from our goal greater and greater. Eventually we're hopelessly bogged down in the dry, bottomless quagmire and unable to move the vehicle at all.

I kick myself for not listening to my wife. We now have no choice but to wait for the tide to give us more driving space while sweating like pigs to extract the vehicle from this sand trap. I unload the gas and water cans, and then we both set about shoveling sand from under the vehicle, as well as from the tracks immediately in front of and behind the tires to allow the vehicle to start rolling without having to climb. When we try moving the vehicle again it is as if we have done nothing.

We review our options again. We goofed; some tires are at almost 24 pounds and others are as low as 20, a condition which can cause trouble in sand all by itself. I test our pressure gauges against each other, determine we have a bad one, and (hopefully) discarded the right one. We then let the tires down further -- to 17 pounds. My soul mate warns that if the vehicle is high centering it will only drag worse with lower pressure, but I press on. We then unload more of our equipment.

The sand is too hot to put our hands on to see the undercarriage, but we find lying down to be tolerable with the insulation of our clothing, as long as we turn from side to side frequently -- much like a lizard lifting one foot and then another when standing in open sunlight. We thus manage to dig a substantial amount of sand from the undercarriage. It is exhausting work. When we try to break free under engine power the vehicle still does not move in either direction, but manages to sink a couple of inches deeper into the sand.

By now we've spent over an hour. Tired, and beginning to develop a feeling of hopelessness, we take a badly needed rest, then get out and attack the problem again. It's the hottest part of the day now, but we must be aggressive if we expect to improve our situation.

I take a long, hard look at the sand. There are a number of distinctive kinds along the Cortez -- some composed of fine particles, some containing microscopic grains of clay that dry up and blow away in the wind -- but this sand is a bit unusual. All beach sand comes from crushed and ground shells, but this contains a higher than usual amount of larger sized crushed and polished shell particles in addition to the usual grains -- about forty percent of it is the size of fingernails and a little smaller. Such sand is unusually slippery if clean; that is, if it doesn’t contain any clay particles, which this doesn't. If the shell particles are not polished, or if they're much larger -- more like broken shells than like sand -- or even mostly whole shells or mixed with clay -- any of these things will render a harder denser driving surface. Clean, polished fingernail sized shell fragments, however, are treacherous4.

We have never noticed this problem of particle size along this particular coastline, probably for two reasons:

1.  The offending particles are in a narrow band, maybe only forty feet wide. Below, within the tidal zone there is a higher mixture of fine sand and clay particles; and above, from the leading edge of the dunes on it is all fine-particle windblown sand containing some percentage of dry clay particles (dust).
2.Our driving has always been restricted to the moist higher tidal zone, which is relatively firm.
 
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Whatever the composition and the cause of our entrapment, we must free ourselves; and if we're going to go home via Campo Ostricola rather than Puerto Lobos we must cross this treacherous band of light, polished fingernail-sized shell fragments. Realizing the tires will probably dig no matter how low the pressure, I have to admit to my soul mate that she is, once again, right. We get out the electric pump and bring the pressure back to 19 pounds to maximize clearance even though it could harm floatation to some degree. Then we turn our attention to freeing the undercarriage. As we begin a cloud covers the sun and a substantial breeze begins, cooling us remarkably as we work utilizing both shovels, one "spoonful" at a time. We spend considerable time in the effort -- well over an hour -- scooping sand from the undercarriage until we can easily see light under all parts of the vehicle. In doing so, we discover how badly the spare tire has been dragging.

We finish unloading everything that is left in the back of the vehicle, including ice chest, port-a-potty, luggage, food box, stove, tent, stakes and ropes, table, chairs, and incidentals of any weight whatsoever. Finally, we remove the spare tire from under the rear of the vehicle and roll it aside.

Next, we gather as much driftwood and as many sticks as we can find, dig out all tires again, place the driftwood and sticks under the tires and embed them thoroughly in the sand for several feet behind the vehicle to provide increased floatation.

Two more hours have passed by the time we're finally ready, and the tide has withdrawn thirty feet or more. I get into the vehicle alone, slip it into reverse and press down on the accelerator. It digs for a second or two, pulling the strategically placed driftwood firmly under the wheels, climbs onto additional pieces, and then begins to move. I put my foot in the carburetor and the vehicle responds, reaching the end of the driftwood bed with enough momentum to cut a groove to lower, moist ground, dragging the undercarriage most of the way. Finally out on top, I slow down and then stop. It's now sitting nicely on the surface of the moist sand as if on pavement.

I shove the vehicle into drive and race up the beach to a speed of at least twenty miles per hour, turn quickly upward, and bouncing nicely over the ruts and driftwood, arrive in the heavy sand tracks well within the dunes. Now, at about five miles per hour, I continue to the highest point in the dunes and perch the vehicle in the tracks, poised and ready to head down the slope on the other side.

The vehicle is now about fifty feet off the beach, but there is no rest for the weary. Several of the nineteen vehicles that plunged into the mass assault of blue-green Rio de la Concepción this morning are accumulating on the portion of the point that is visible to us from here. In all appearances they will soon be headed back our way, and we don't want to be humbled by having them see what we've gone through. To avoid the humiliation, all we have to do is tote the sum of our possessions some 75 feet through deep polished-shell sand, up, and over the fifty feet of road.

A Look Back at the Exit Road After the Repacking - April, 2004

Walking in deep sand will quickly give you achy calf muscles, and I'd particularly recommend toting heavy objects through deep sand to anyone who thinks he's in good cardio-vascular shape. It's an eye-opener. Up to now I've given the impression that the heavy wind-blown sand of the upper dune provides a hard driving surface. Not at all; it is simply heavy enough that a vehicle typically will not sink deeper into a deep track already heaped with sand on either side. Not so for humans. Our narrow feet have no trouble sinking ankle-deep into even a vehicle track so as to make walking laborious and exhausting. While there is definitely a difference between walking in polished fingernail-sized shell particles and walking in deep wind-blown sand, the point is moot at near exhaustion.

We commence moving our equipment off the beach as efficiently as possible. The whole 125-foot trek proves way too difficult, so we settle for a two-stage attack. We first carry our equipment the 75 feet to the entrance road, shuffling as best we can through the light polished shell fragment sand, and deposit it on the tracks between the dunes. From here it is still completely visible to passers-by, but is out of site to all except vehicles directly below us on the beach. This is the most laborious part of the job and consumes about forty-five minutes, after which we take a badly needed rest before continuing. Then we start again, carrying it all the last fifty or so feet up the deep sandy road. Once our equipment has been retrieved we re-mount the spare tire and re-pack the vehicle.

The second stage of the move and re-packing take another forty-five minutes, and we're just closing the tailgate as the first of the 19 vehicles passes headed south. Now completely exhausted, we collapse into the vehicle to catch our breath, pop a couple of juices, shift into gear and get on with the trip home.

Road Around Rio de la Concepción - April, 2004

With the extra trip to the point and the difficulty reaching the exit road, we've lost complete track of the distance from the point to the road, and forget to record it until we reach the intersection at Campo Ostricola. We believe it to be something around two to three miles, but it will have to remain approximate until next time, not that it matters much as we are getting quite used to the route.

In crossing the estuary from the beach there are a few forks; but the rule is, stay left in all cases. Once at the intersection we turn left and climb the hill for a last, longing look at Rio de la Concepción. There are still three vehicles stuck in the estuary. I privately find myself hoping they are still there at the next high tide, which would be a suitable lesson for all of the offenders5. On the other hand, the mollusks and the families who culture them do not deserve the destruction of the estuary over a simple lesson for the perpetrators, so I have to change my hope to a positive outcome for all.

We pull into the yard at the previously empty house to the left of the road instead of continuing to the beach. A Mexican family is there, eating lunch under a tree and watching the foibles of those molesting the estuary. We can only guess what they're thinking about it all. Not wanting to become a part of the circus, we quietly turn around and head toward home as quietly as possible.

We cover the sixteen miles through the Cardón forest and around Rio Asunción as quickly as possible, pausing for the better part of an hour to pump up tires in the backwashes of Asunción. After our ordeal it seems particularly abusive to return via the unpaved route through Álvaro Obregón, so we elect the paved highway route around the triangle despite the extra distance. The following mileages are approximate:
 
miles partial
 0.0 Point at Rio de la Concepción.
 6.5  6.5 Road Intersection - Campo Ostricola.
18.2 11.7 Abandoned farm. Road branches sharply left. We continue straight ahead6.
19.5  1.3 Desemboque highway at blue "Los Tanques" sign. The 1.3 miles represents the increased distance from Campo Ostricola to the highway by following the main road out instead of the shortcut we took on our first visit.
22.7  3.2 Turnoff on left - gravel road via Álvaro Obregón to Desemboque highway at Villa Guadalupe.
40.7 18.0 Intersection of highways known in the 1970's as "The 'Y'". Caborca is 38 miles ahead, but we turn left toward Villa Guadalupe.
53.5 12.8 Villa Guadalupe. Highway curves northward toward Puerto Peñasco.

Our adventure over we concentrate on the homeward journey, reaching the border late enough to encounter little traffic backup. Once across, the remainder of the trip seems effortless but for the expenditure of time.

 
Next Nav

 

Epilog

We had another grand excursion, and we survived to desire yet another. We had a great time. Once again we got away from civilization. Well, almost -- enough to drive the responsibilities of employment, family and bureaucratic red tape from our psyches; enough to forget about human and traffic congestion and the difficulties of survival in the Devil's Gridiron7. Enough to find communion with the earth.

As to the appearance of nineteen vehicles on that lonely coastline in half an hour, it was and is a disaster to us. We know that like all wild places where nobody has been before except God and the guy that throws beer cans around -- no matter how remote, there is a certain imminent potential for human assault; but we also know that statistically, such assault may not happen again while we're there for another thirty years.
 

Geographic Conclusions

Cross-referencing several maps, we've come to the conclusion that Rio de la Concepción is in fact the estuary that we thought it was, the beautiful blue-green lagoon we saw for the first time in 19988. The inlet we found in March is in all appearances Rio Asunción9.

Rio de la Concepción meanders in from the east-southeast, a course distinct from that of Rio Asunción, which marches toward the coast in a south-southwesterly direction. But no map appears to indicate more than a single wash reaching the coast in this area, let alone an estuary the size of Concepción. This in contrast with numerous others -- Espinosa's, Gillespie's, San Jorge, Salinas.

There is one feature on some maps that we have come to realize in our research of the area may come close to indicating the presence of the second estuary. It is Barra los Tanques. In reading the maps, Barra los Tanques would appear to be a series of shallow basins resting atop or behind the low beach cliffs that line the coast midway between Puerto Lobos and Desemboque. In reality, it is likely the name refers to the extreme backwashes of Rio de la Concepción, which start a short distance behind the beachfront dunes. These backwashes go on for miles, forming a barrier to vehicle traffic coming north from Puerto Lobos that is as formidable as the rock-strewn stretches of the coastline.  ( Return to text )

 
April 27 - May 1, 2004
 

 
Navigation

Tracks - April, 2004

1Reference: Desemboque and Beyond, 03/17/2004.

2"Improved" is another word for washboard. Usually this means that the road has been "straightened out," rather than following the easiest path, by grading. Such "improvement" usually means that although heavy vehicles can now safely traverse the road at high speeds, the pounding of their wheels has produced excessive washboard, a condition causing sever high frequency vibration for smaller vehicles. For those, such washboard requires much lower driving speed than did the original "unimproved" road.

3Ref. Excursions: 09/21/2002. Article not yet posted.

4The only beach I have ever seen that is worse than Barra los Tanques at the exit road to Campo Ostricola is along the south end of Sandy, or Norse Beach between Puerto Peñasco and Cholla Bay -- known today as "The Reef" (Named for a reef that is exposed at low tides and the adjacent hotel of the same name. In the sixties the beach was fresh and clean, but today it is declining due to over-use). Sandy Beach was, in the seventies, composed almost entirely of thumbnail sized highly polished shell fragments without fine sand or clay particles. It was particularly treacherous to vehicles, which could not stay afloat (of the sand) while driving parallel to or away from the surf (upward on the beach), but only while approaching it. Even many very light sand buggies foolish enough to try driving on Sandy Beach would be hopelessly drawn into the surf and oblivion.

5The result would be complete loss of each vehicle.

6Refer to Desemboque and Beyond, 03/17/2004, for a complete description of this 11.7 miles.

7Ref. Desert Rat: The Devil's Gridiron - Desert Rat in a Concrete Jungle.

8Ref. Adventures: Old Woman of the Sea - 10/03/1998.

9We first laid eyes on Rio Asunción in 1997 (Ref: Excursions, 05/09/1997 Article not yet posted.) on our first beach trip from Salinas to Desemboque and beyond. On that day we watched a Hummer of Federales cross the shallow Asunción in about two feet of water. That was our first trip to Desemboque in my second life. The last time we were in the area prior to that was a series of camping trips in the 1970's. (Ref: Desemboque, 11/27/1970 Article not yet posted.) In those days there was no settlement at Desemboque and there were no residents, and we did not venture the two kilometers south on the beach to find the estuary.
 

 
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