Sanctuary El Niño Style
A Salinas Wind Disaster
March 27-29, 1998
(Taken directly from the April 13, 1998 log)
Two weeks ago,
We decided to make our first trip of the season.
Of course, this is an El Niño year,
The worst El Niño in years, they say,
And it's been a bad winter --
A lot of storms and different things.
We've been getting rain in Phoenix
Every week for quite a while;
Not big heavy storms, but regular rains --
Anyway, it seemed to be a clear weekend
If we said it was warm enough;
And we took off...
This weather map showing the tail end of a storm
That went up and way into...
I think it was beginning or something, way up the west coast,
Only [it] looked like
There was just the wispy edge...
A wispy edge of clouds once in a while;
So basically, it was gonna to be clear,
So we decided to go.
This was of course March 27th; and the year is 1998.
We didn’t notice any wind on the way down there,
But when we arrived on the beach the wind was pretty bad.
It was high tide,
And we figured we'd drive on down the beach;
But uh...the road ended --
In a drop-off, actually.
Well, I don't know if it was actually a drop-off at that point,
But it ended where it went out onto the beach,
The last possible place before it got really sandy --
Almost the last possible place;
And we looked at that,
And the water was clean up,
And there was no beach to get down onto,
So we decided, well, we'll camp just past the turnoff
Where the road ends.
[Now we got past] one, uh, sand drift,
Found a flat spot in the next sand drift,
And behind the dune...
Set up our tent
And stayed the night.
It was really quite miserable --
Heavy sand all night coming off the top of the dune,
Coming into out tent, raining down on us
[Through the rain cover and ventilation panel in the top];
And the next morning we thought about going on down [the peninsula],
But sand was blowing in our faces --
[Right off the lower beach]
At face level, stinging us.
Did we drive down there?
We did drive down there, didn't we?
We drove down there.
We could not find any places
Where sand was not stinging our faces,
And we said, "Well, this is no good".
So we said, "this isn't gonna be"...
That was Saturday...
"It isn't gonna be good enough".
So anyway, we decided,
"We can't stay down here on the peninsula
With the sand stinging our faces",
When we were standing up, you know --
Six feet off the ground...and so
We went back down
And parked at the base of the [entrance] dune;
And the only place we could find
Where the sand didn't sting our faces
Was right out against the water in the estuary there1.
We re-set up our tent and stayed there all day,
And the wind got worse
And it was absolute misery
And it was cloudy, not sunny,
And uh, the...I dunno, it was just...just terrible, and uh...
We reinforced the tent to hold it upright with rope,
Which was a mistake,
Because over the period of the day
That stretched several of the loops --
And just really stretched it;
And the main seams looked like they were gonna tear,
And we stayed there.
We elected to eat a cold breakfast because...
Because of the wind,
And it was late enough that we didn't eat any lunch.
And we decided to head down the beach
In the afternoon
And look at the high tide
When it came in;
The tide was clear over the cabañas2 when it reached high tide;
It was blowing in.
It was a high tide,
But I think the wind is what brought it over the cabañas --
Not over the tops,
But over the places where people would normally have their tents pitched.
There was not a soul there3,
So it didn't matter,
And then we went down to the end of the road
To where we'd camped --
The road, by the way, hadn't gotten any longer
Since we'd been there last year --
And now there was a drop-off
Where the road went off onto the beach --
About a 3 foot drop-off;
And we looked North from there,
And the water was washing
Clean up against the row of dunes
Where the tracks had always been,
And making a two to three foot cliff all along there;
And we marveled at that for a while,
And took a couple of pictures...uh...
And I was gonna take pictures of the cabañas,
But we never did -- for some reason;
And, uh, we [got out our chairs]
And sat out there at the cabañas
On the, you know, on the first pass [down the peninsula].
And we were out there,
And we dared the breakers to get us,
Which they almost did,
And we cavorted there
Until we forgot about the wind
And the tent
And the city,
And our jobs,
And we had to keep moving our chairs back until the tide covered the...the cabana floors...
And it covered all of them, I think, eventually.
We went back to our campsite then,
After all that; and the wind was just terrible,
And we sat in our car the rest of the day --
Until, like, I dunno, 6:00 PM;
And we decided..."the tent is really stressed,
And we're never going to make it the night;
The tent's going to be destroyed",
So we decided to pack up and get the hell out of there.
So we had to blow up our tires.
We ate some sandwiches
That my soul mate prepared from what she brought --
Cold sandwiches, which were delicious --
Uh, and we finally got out of there...What? About 8:00 PM?
And the wind blew and blew and blew,
And followed us all the way back to Colonia Coahuila
And up the road to Puerto Peñasco,
And across the border to Why, and in fact, all the way home.
Uh, in going up the road to Rocky Point,
[It was] the first time we've ever seen rain [in that area];
Uh...and it sprinkled on us, rained on us several times on that road.
That rain got us nice and wet,
And then it simmered down again...and, uh...
We got to Rocky Point,
And didn’t check on places to stay4,
We just figured it would be awfully expensive,
"We’ll just check in Sonoita".
Well, the speed we had to drive,
And the fact that we didn't have a speedometer on the jeep,
Because it had broken recently --
(We hadn't gotten it fixed;
We’d gotten something else fixed
On the car,
The transmission "start" switch, "start" override --
Whatever it is -- protector switch.
It was fairly expensive, and we forgot.)
So we didn't get the speedometer fixed,
And uh, so maybe we were driving, you know, a prudent speed,
But we really made it to the border,
To Sonoita, by...oh...about 11:15 PM or something,
And we checked two
or four motels,
And they were all full -- everything was closed up tight.
And we saw that we only had ten...ten or 15 minutes
To get across the border before it closed,
If we were gonna do it,
So we figured we'd better do it.
So we crossed the border, and figured, well, "We'll stay in Why".
We [drove on up the road] to Why,
And could not find any way...
That row of motels is still there,
We couldn't figure out any way to, uh, contact the people.
Now, uh, finishing a little bit more about this,
This uh, trip,
on Easter...on this Easter weekend
We arrived home at 7:35,
Got the car unpacked by 8:00 AM,
March 27-29, 1998
1This is somewhat unusual, in that the base of the dune is directly across a 100 yard wide estuary from a slender peninsula consisting of a single row of low dunes with beaches on either side that is known as the outer dune, and when camped behind this outer dune it is not uncommon to feel the sting of sand blowing across the estuary even in relatively mild weather. But such is the character of the Cortez playa.
2Back in the 80's, a short primitive road was put in and 18 cabañas were built along a beach adjacent to the fishing camp on the lower part of the peninsula. It was the expectation of the Mexican government that these would be used by locals and perhaps visitors from Caborca. Such an attraction would undoubtedly increase Mexican tourism as well as providing respite from summer temperatures for local Sunday visitors. The plan worked perfectly for the first few years, but by the middle of the 90's the area was so over-run with scorpions and other vermin, attracted by basura and food scraps, that visitations began to decline. By the end of the nineties, those few visitors who routinely came to Salinas had forsaken the structures, returning to the open playa to picnic in the sun, and a third of the cabañas had fallen to the ravages of weather. True to form, the area is returning inexorably to its natural pre 1980's state, and soon most traces of the cabaña tourist attraction will be gone. The road, however, attracting a very few fool-hardy sand aficionados, has contributed in large part to the decline of the beautiful and pristine maximum-angle dunes which were a prominent feature of the lower peninsula. Despite this, as of this writing few visitors ever venture more than a mile or two past the cabañas, and the upper half of the peninsula still affords near-perfect amenities for those primarily interested in seclusion.
3This is not particularly remarkable, in that you can camp at Salinas for years and see no-one, and then on one visit the eight mile peninsula is crawling with visitors (3 or 4 carloads of locals and/or from Caborca, and maybe even a couple of gringos), and then there are no visitors again for another year or two.
4In fact, we have never stayed in Puerto Penasco for purposes of respite, or anywhere on either side of the border on that highway, except for once in my first life; but this is not the first time we’ve tried.
Copyright (c) 1998-2011
Larry K. Fox
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