The Cortez Chronicles


In search of solitude in a raging world . . .

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Salinas / Parque Nacionale de Cerro Pinacate

April 04 - 06, 1997


(Transcribed directly from the original excursion log)

It's Friday, April 4, and we're headed to Salinas for some seclusion on a three day weekend.

Oh! Look at that; it is gorgeous! What we have here is a day with lots of clouds, and we've got a black mountain ahead with malapai1 on it, that rock that's iron black on the exposed surface but lighter inside and where it hasn't been exposed to the sun. It's in the shade, and that big old volcano mountain, Cerro Pinacate, is in the background.

We're on the road between the border and Rocky Point. It's rained for three days in Phoenix, not hard -- sprinkled, and I should say this is the third day2. It's been very cold; there have been blizzards all over, and it's snowing in Flagstaff and Prescott; but we had planned this trip for a few days, so we came anyway. On the way down here the clouds were behind us, and by the time we got to the border there were hardly any, but now they're building again. They're mostly thunderheads and very light style rain clouds, in terms of rain. But it's mostly sunlit, and dry. We had a lot of Palo Verde trees in bloom south of Gila Bend, just really pretty; and some Ocotillos -- a lot of Ocotillos in full leaf bloom through the Organ Pipe National Monument.

We left at 7:00 am this morning, stopped for a fast breakfast, and were headed out on the highway, I-10 west at 7:30. We got to the border at a quarter after ten after getting our insurance in Ajo. There were 20 or more cars backed up at the border, and, uh, what else? My soul mate reminds me that while she was waiting in line to cross the border I ran and got coffee, and then had to catch up with her by walking through the border; and the Mexican Aduana officer was trying to wave her out of the way, but she was refusing to move until I got there. Idle minds find humor in inconspicuous places, and it was kinda funny to us.

As we roll on they've put down some grava suelta on the road, loose gravel...and we have some pink clouds here, south of the border -- a bunch of them. We've finally decided it's a subtle thing with the sun shining off of the sand, the ground and back up, reflecting on the clouds.

Here's another one, a road sign, that says...oh, here comes a Hummer! Look at that! Wow! You can see about as much light under them as above! That was an old one, too; [chuckle], they are wide and low!3 Anyway, there was a sign that says solo carril and it apparently meant "single car"4 because they had the cones set up to where it was a real narrow lane.

Anyway, we're hoping that -- it's supposed to warm up for 3 days now, or 4 days, or 5 days, according to the weather reports; so we're not going to see any rain or cold weather, although it's still pretty chilly outside. I just, just a few minutes ago, finally shut off the car heater5.

We didn't have to stop for car permits or for visas on this trip, because the car permit from November is still good and the visas from two weeks ago are still good, too6. We're headed south from Rocky Point at 12:35 pm. Uh, oh, there's a guy with a flag. What are they doing up here?

Well I don't know where I was but it's now 12:38 and we've cleared Rocky Point. We stopped for...let's see, I guess I talked last when we got whisked through the border without stopping. We stopped in Rocky Point and got tacos de pollo and a couple of quesadillas to go.

The exchange rate has dropped to seven and one half pesos per dollar, or increased, whatever...a better deal for us; and the cost of gasoline and tacos...chicken tortillas is down a little bit. The guy entered 7.5:1 on the...on the, uh, when he was converting pesos to dollars; and, uh, oh geez, I lost my train7...oh, and I asked him what 10 peosos was worth in dollars, and he said about a dollar twenty. So that's interesting8.

We ran into Federales, among other vehicles along the road stopping motorists to collect money...not collecting money9 -- some were, but the Federales were not; they were just slowing everybody down and checking them out carefully, and as we turned south here out of Rocky Point we ran into another batch about 2-3 miles out of town -- Federales -- they slowed us down, looked us over, and just kept us moving very slowly during the process; so, anyway, that's that -- the Federales are really checking everybody out today.

The sky has cleared up to where you can see thunderheads in the distance all around us except in the west. There are tiny amounts of clouds, and there's still a little bit of pink; it must be reflecting off the sand or something, I dunno. But its open above us; it's open way around us now and almost 100% sunshine, if not a full 100% where we are. You can see shadows in the distance on the mountains, but not anywhere close by.

Next Nav

OK, in the backwashes of St. George Bay at the base of the entrance dune we just passed all kinds of puddles, long big puddles that almost looked like ocean water backed up in the low spots; but it was just rain water, some covering more than a couple of acres. I'm pretty sure all it was was rain water. We had to go around a number of places and through a lot of mud, practically. We're the only ones here. We arrived on the beach, I think, at around 3:00 pm. The wind was blowing pretty's been blowing pretty good but it's gradually settled down quite a bit. Surf and Sand - Salinas, 2002

It's pretty warm this afternoon. If you can get out of the wind and face the sun...sit in a chair shielded by the car or something, it's pretty neat for three minutes, but, uh, here comes that bird again! Well, we suddenly have some little birds flying around us. They've got real bright little under bellies. They flap around a little like bats. They're very friendly little birds; not very big, but they keep flying around and around us.

We got our camp set up. We set up our sun shade immediately and then sat and ate the chicken burritos...tacos de pollo...whatever; anyway, they were marvelous, fantastic! We got that done and we took the sun shade back off the stand because we weren't sitting under it anyway. It was too cold, and we chose to sit out of the wind. It was flapping around and turned downward, our fancy sunshade; so we took the top back off of it when we were done eating. But there've been some nice those birds come again from behind...temperatures, late in the afternoon; as the sun was going down it stayed warm pretty long...those birds just came back, three of them this time, and hovered...I hope we don't get 'em in the car...

Uh, what else? The sand is hard this time; it's hard everywhere, because a quarter of an inch below the surface it's wet, moist; however, the surface is dry. You can see minor moist spots in the sand where the dry sand may have blown away. But we just don't leave any footprints to speak of when we walk, we just step right on top and don't sink in.

We took a walk over to the other side of the dune and down to the beach on the St. George Bay side of the peninsula. The water was way out so you could go all the way out to the green...stuff...the foliage that Doug and M-- looked at that one time that's growing where it's terribly muddy10. They were crawling on it, I guess.

Anyway, the sun has finally gone down now...about 7:00 pm. About 15 minutes ago while the sun was still up I looked over there, and by gollies, if it didn't look like a comet. It seemed too good to be true to be able to see that comet so clearly in broad daylight, but the sun was shining on it, up there like a jet trail. It was way off in the distance, with the right angle and everything11. We watched it for a while, and it was not apparently moving; but it did turn out to be too good to be true, because it eventually went away behind us, down over the horizon; so whatever it was...I guess it was a jet...

There's that bird again...

Now we've got some kind of giant insect...I don't know what's going on it gets dark. Anyway, I guess the tape is caught up. We got the tent set up after coming back from the other side of the peninsula. Even so, it's finally getting chilly and I've changed into warmer clothes.

Next Nav


We had some very heavy wind during the first part of the night; woke up at, what, 11:30 pm or something, and wondered if the tent was going to make it. We went outside and looked around a couple of times (as if that would help), but it made it. Then the wind tapered down, and we had a pretty good sleep. It was very warm in the tent even though it was quite cold outside.

My soul mate got up at 8:00 this morning and I got up at 9:00, I guess. We had what felt like a gentle breeze inside the tent -- it was a bit more outside -- and we decided the best thing to do was pack up and seek a less windy place, because it was clouding up like mad, although the clouds have changed again already. We got packed up and came out, just barely beating the high tide. We got out about 11:00 or 11:30 am probably, just ahead of the tide; and we're going to have a real high one here...what time is it now? It's about 12:15 pm. In another 15 minutes it may be high tide. It hasn't quite reached what we predicted an hour ago, but it's getting very close. Tonight it's probably going to be higher, and there are some really heavy breakers out there at the moment.

Has anything special gone on? We saw the comet -- did I record that last night? We saw the comet and it was absolutely beautiful. The tail was so big and so long! If we're where I can take a picture tonight, I'm going to take a picture of it. It really was the Hale-Bopp comet again. This was a new moon, so there were a lot of stars out last night, and the comet was really good because of that. I can't believe what a good view of the comet it is; it's one of the brighter things in the sky -- not the brightest, I guess, in terms of point of intense light, but that tail streaks out for, must be a million miles. Sitting in our line of vision it streaks out for probably one or two whole degrees in the sky; it's really spectacular.

We came back to the entrance to Salinas and pumped up our tires.

A comment about the birds that picked on us last night is that you could hear them chattering and flying around in stereo pretty late into the evening, which we thought was pretty odd12.

The road hasn't changed any coming in here since our last visit; but there's a huge, huge piece of road machinery driven by a John Deer device that's got dual tractor wheels on it and a giant blade. It drove down the beach, went past us toward the point and disappeared yesterday afternoon. It came back this morning...I don't know what's going on down there, but apparently some major excavation.

We just passed the Aduana check station headed north. That good gravel road that goes east...northeast...toward the Rocky Point highway is 3.6 miles before the check station. We're going to check out some of the places where you can access the beach between here and Rocky Point as we head up the road.

OK, we just checked out Gillespie's. We haven't been in there in over 30 years. They now call it a public beach. It's of course private, and they charge $5.00 per vehicle per day. The stone house is still there after all these years, and some of the trees13. We couldn't see that pretty little estuary that I remember, that little cove where you might be able to camp in a hidden area; but it all looked pretty nice in a lot of ways. They were building some cabaņas. Nothing was in very good shape, and there was a bit of clutter, but it's no doubt worth the five bucks a night.

We just checked out Playa Dorado, only we went in there a quarter mile and it forked left with a sign that said "Playa Dorado this way". We took the right fork...yeah, there sure is water there; a lot of signs of rain this time...the Playa Dorado sign said "rentals, construction, and lots for sale." So we took the right fork and went on in, and there were many little forks in different places along the road, and it forked out into fingers all headed toward the beach. We finally came to a fence with no gates...that is, just open gates...and a road all along the fence. We crossed that, went through a dry lake bed, and came out at the edge of the main dune. A sign there said "Private Property; No Trespassing," so we turned around. I have a feeling Playa Dorado is selling land all up and down here, and every one of them is a separate private lot, so none of those probably go anywhere we want to go. Cerro Pinacate on the Horizon (left) from the Playa somewhere south of Salinas / Birds at Water's Edge, May 1997

We didn't check out Playa Encanio; we'll have to do that another time. There were Americans coming out of there. It looks like it might be an open beach where you just pay and camp.

Uh, there was a sign that said "Welcome...something Avular," and I have a feeling that that was a place you could camp.

We're getting close to Espiņosa's original place now.

We arrive Rocky Point at 2:30 pm.

OK, we checked out the beach just south of the perimeter fence on Sandy Beach where we camped once before in my second life, and it was beautiful and fantastic this time of year with only a hand full of gringo RV's perched at The Reef. The wind seemed to be warmer, but [chuckle] it was going to be a cold one tonight, and the wind wasn't going to let up. Besides, there were still too many people there even if it is the off-season, so we didn't stay14.

Next Nav

Cerro Pinacate National Park

It's just a nice afternoon in the vehicle, and we're north of Rocky Point now. At 3:50 pm we reached Nayarit, the settlement halfway between Rocky Point and the border, and decided to head down the gravel and dirt road to the El Pinacate National Park. It was 927.4 where we left the road, according to the odometer.

We just passed an Ocotillo fence. I didn't check the odometer, but maybe after about 6 miles we came to a fork. The left fork goes to Crater Elegante and the right fork goes to Crater Colorado. After about 10 miles from the highway we've reached an area that is covered with ash...all over the ground, spread out with know, it's kind of like desert pavement, except not shiny...spread out on the ground, and our road is now maintained in really dark black ash. The whole road is gravel composed of black ash, at least a quarter to three-eighths thick on the ground.

There's a very interesting cast to the landscape with the black ash and unusually dark green foliage -- dark and foreboding, and exquisitely beautiful. This looks a lot like the place I've seen countless times, particularly in regard to "aggressive mimicry"15.

Unique Desert Pavement of Black Ash - Cerro Pinacate National Park, 1997

Now we've passed through an incredibly interesting pretty area with foliage and the black ash on the ground, and finally hit another sign that said Colorado, the opposite direction and Elegante pretty much straight west. We've got saguaros and some good heavy foliage around us, but the road is incredibly bad wash-board, and we're in a Cholla patch that is remarkably...a fantastic Cholla patch of large, dark cactus.

We're climbing a hill. There are mountains all around us and sort of in the distance. We're coming to a hillside covered with foliage, and there are a number of vehicles parked on the hillside up here, about 1...2...3...4...5 of them. We don't see any people yet. The road has become incredibly rocky...bumpy, and is nearly turning into a...slowly into a 4-wheel drive road; but not quite, and we're approaching these cars up on the hillside.

Next Nav

We have arrived at wherever we've arrived at -- miles 843.7; and there are 5 vehicles here, two Arizona and a couple of Mexican vehicles, I don't know what the other one is.

[We disembark and follow a path a short distance up the hillside to an informal observation area, then return to the vehicle.]

Well, that side of the hill was the edge of a giant crater. You walk up the rest of the hill, which isn't far, and look down into it. It goes well below the regular ground level -- a huge crater maybe 1.5 miles across and several hundred feet deep -- I took some pictures. We talked to some gringos who said that they didn't know anything about active volcanism in the area16. A Dark Butte - Cerro Pinacate National Park, 1997

So from Elegante, we followed the road back and forked left to the crater Colorado, passing a road that goes to the east-west highway on the north; and we got to Colorado, and it was that funny looking thing that looked like a small mountain of dirt from a long distance away [but turned out to be solid rock]. It was another gigantic crater with this mountain of rock on one side. We took some pictures and then headed north from there, and in 15 minutes, barely, we were headed up the highway; so we've gone clear across the Parque Nacionale de Cerro Pinacate road, and now we're headed back into Sonoita. It's about 32 miles from the looks of things, and that was at about mileage 610 or 612.

Well, we made it through the border and got to the campground at Organ Pipe National Monument by dusk, found ourselves a campsite by going around two or three times, and got bedded in real nice and comfy. It's a real picturesque place with lots of foliage, and we're in the best campsite in the place even though it was pretty full of gringos. There's a lotta foliage around us, hiding us, and we're close to running water and a bathroom.

Next Nav

Sunday - Saguaro National Monument

There was not a breath of air all night, nor this morning. We had a magnificent, fantastic breakfast of eggs and hash and the works. We got packed up and put away, and I took off my sweats just before we left at about a quarter to twelve. My soul mate left hers on, but it's very nice weather today; no breeze at all...maybe just enough moving air to tell it's moving, but no wind...and we've just cleared Gila Bend. We dumped our gas can into the tank, finally, at Gila Bend before gassing up, and we're on our way at, what time is it here? It's 1:45 pm; so we should be in Phoenix by 2:30 or 3:00 pm, probably.

Oh, and there was just a little too much overcast last night to see the comet. You could see it for a little while, but not very well due to the overcast. Later on it cleared up pretty nicely, but there were a few too many lights in the campground and we never got a good look at it, and then it went down behind the horizon and disappeared, so I never got to take a picture of it after all.

OK, we arrived home at a quarter to three and went straight to the carwash. My soul mate sprayed the car off while I fed the money machine. She got all dirty, but did a good job getting the mud off the vehicle...big clods, more clods and more clods; and we're headed home.

I dunno if I said how nice the campground was. While it's not our style, it was very nice at Organ Pipe National Monument, and there was room for over 200 people there -- 200 RV's and campsites.

April 04 - 06, 1997


1"Malapai" appears to be an incorrect name for the mineral in rock with high iron content that turns black when exposed to the sun and weather for centuries. The irregularly shaped rocks, typically 18" or less in size, are common in the southwestern United States, covering whole surfaces of small mountains and giving a dark cast to the landscape. In the flat, similar scattered rocks of an inch or smaller are largely responsible for the beauty of desert pavement, the natural polished gravel covering in some areas of the Sonoran desert. The rocks are typically a medium to light brown color internally and on surfaces which haven't been exposed to the elements. The abundance of the rocks is partially responsible for the lasting ugliness of scars in the landscape caused by road building and other bulldozer activity. Once disturbed, the natural beauty of the landscape cannot be restored without turning over each rock by hand to re-establish its original orientation.

2Three days of rain is very unusual in the Phoenix area, which receives only 7.5" per year on the average.

3Or high, depending on your point of view; Hummers have a lot of ground clearance.

4A more accurate translation might be "single lane" or "single narrow road."

5In this part of the southwest it is highly unusual to need an automobile heater during daylight hours in October.

6Car permits are good for six months. Visas are good for one trip unless stamped for multiple entrance. Multiple Entrance visas can be obtained for up to six months.

7The interruptions in thought in this taped log are caused by driving while recording.

8This apparent contradiction depends upon whether they're converting pesos to dollars or dollars to pesos. When in doubt, always round a little in your own favor!

9Collecting money along the highway is an accepted practice for charities in Mexico. The Red Cross, for example, may park one of their vehicles perpendicular to the highway to slow down motorists, and then place agents in the roadway to collect change from each vehicle as it stops. The arm-banded agents are very polite whether you contribute or not. We always keep some change handy for these worthwhile causes.

10This is not so much a mud flat, but a foliage-lined channel through a flat behind the bay. In such an area, instead of covering the flat at every high tide, the water overtakes it at each peak for a week or so and then only backs up into the channel for the duration of the cycle.

11This was, in fact, the Hale-Bopp comet. has a picture of the comet at

12This behavior is not actually odd at all. The birds, probably sandpipers, were attempting to drive us away from the area, or at least distract us from their nests (probably containing eggs), which were nearby on the beach and almost completely invisible to us due to the degree to which they blend into the sand and rocks on the ground.

13When Gillespie lived there in the sixties a low stone fence surrounded the yard, with a whale bone arch over the gate. In addition, there was a pile of bleached whale bones in the yard, scrounged from the playa, that measured some fifteen feet in diameter and ten feet in height. The mouth of the small estuary was a beautiful private cove lined with green ice plant, and it was not uncommon to see a sailboat drifting in the bay which is formed by a narrow peninsula of some estimated twenty miles in length that originates at the old Espiņosa place, some eight miles east of Puerto Peņasco. The peninsula ends at Gillespie's, about a mile off-shore.

14As much as we abhor being around people, there are sometimes so few here this time of year that it is not impossible to cope, and on rare occasion we have actually camped south of the perimeter fence at The Reef. In the dead of summer, however, several thousand gringos can be found camping here; and as of 2003 hotels are popping up like popcorn on this beach.

15Shadow Walker: 06/18/95. Article not yet posted.

16Our interest in Parque Nacionale de Cerro Pinacate was triggered by a conversation a couple of years earlier with a curio vendor on Sandy Beach, who showed us a scar on the rubber sole of one of his shoes and told us that he had received it stepping on hot lava. When questioned further, he disclosed that he had visited Cerro Pinacate and had observed a limited amount of lava flowing from a number of fissures in the ground. He went on to describe a scientific observation party which he had seen, that he said had apparently been there for days observing the volcanism in progress with their instruments. We were never able to substantiate his account; however, that gringos were not aware of volcanism in the area is no indication the account might be false.



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