San Pedro Martir Road Trip
Last week Baja Bound Mexico Insurance took a trip up to the San Pedro Martir mountain range to visit the observatory and check out the Baja Dark Skies Inn. We departed from San Diego at around 8 am and made a quick stop in Rosarito Beach to top off the gas tank. We reached Colonet by about noon and made the turn east to start heading up into the mountains.
The drive east is about 100 kilometers and as you can imagine, has a lot of tight turns and switchbacks. The road is in great shape though, and the stunning scenery once you get to the higher altitude makes it a fun drive.
After passing by Meling Ranch, we stopped in at the Baja Dark Skies Inn . Proprietors Mike and Pam have built a really nice bed and breakfast that can accommodate up to eight people, with the primary focus being on those interested in astronomy. On the grounds they have an observatory with a giant telescope and a nifty set up that allows the roof to roll off and expose the night sky.
The road in to Baja Dark Skies Inn is 6 kilometers of pretty rough terrain, so a vehicle with four wheel drive is recommended. We had no problem in a two wheel drive 4Runner, but there were a few spots where we had to use low gear and go pretty slow. Mike and Pam have posted some pretty hilarious signs along the drive in.
Mike and Pam have built a great casita that can accommodate up to four people comfortably, and also have a guest room in their house. The casita is well appointed with two bedrooms, a full bath, a dining nook, mini-fridge, coffee maker and a great outdoor kitchen.
After our visit with Mike and Pam, we made our way back out to the main road and continued to head up the mountain. As the elevation started to increase the terrain began to transform, and soon we were driving through a pine forest.
About twenty minutes later we reached the entrance to the San Pedro Martir National Park. We stopped in at the ranger station, paid the entrance fee of 50 pesos per person (about $4.50 U.S.) and signed in.
Once we started getting close to the top, we drove out of the sun and into the clouds. There was a sizable thunderstorm pounding away, complete with bolts of lightning and the rumble of thunder. We finally reached the observatory entrance and the rain was coming down pretty steadily. The storm was so severe in fact, that we had to wait until it passed before we could go up to the largest observatory.
After about a half hour, the storm system finally moved to the north of the observatory, so we were cleared to head up to the top of the mountain. You could really feel the effect of being at 9,500 feet, as a short hike up to check out the view made us out of breath.
We got to tour the inside of the telescope building and then went out on the catwalk to check out the view. If you are afraid of heights this is definitely something you should avoid doing! The view was incredible, and even though the weather was not great, you could still see down to the desert floor with the Sea of Cortez in the distance. When conditions are right, you can see the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortez simultaneously. It was breathtaking….literally.
Afterwords, we had a chance to check out the offices and the cabins where visitors and staff stay when they are working at the observatory. The cabins had a cool vibe to them and looked like something straight out of the 1960′s. Our visit was complete and we made the drive back down the mountain. From the Tijuana border, the distance to the top of the observatory is about 230 miles, so you definitely need a full day to allow time to drive up and back. It is a great drive and a trip that is a must-do for Baja enthusiasts and astronomers alike.