Modern Baja: Different But Still Lots of Fun

When the best all around dirt rider I ever knew, Alan Dietor, and I began riding in Baja Norte in 1974, there were very few paved roads and what pavement existed was pretty bad. It was easy for the late Niles Ussery to set up a Tecate 500 course to and from San Felipe without using much pavement. Niles would have a difficult time avoiding pavement in 2014. Many of the dirt roads Al and I traveled while trophying several times in the Los Ancianos Tecate 500 Mile Enduro are now paved.

The other day while returning from Ensenada on paved Highway 3, I stopped and took a picture one mile south of Valle de Las Palmas. As you can see, it depicts a new highway and bridge being built. Al Dietor would probably recognize that the new road has wiped out part of an old abandoned rocky one-laner that took us over the mountains to El Testerazo during the 1976 Tecate 500.

The good news for ADV Baja travelers is that a very rough narrow road, once impassable for all but a few heavy, knobby-shod sport-tourers, will soon be a wide paved road cutting through scenic mountains to El Testerazo and ultimately to Ensenada.

For those who are afraid to go to Baja because “the place is too dangerous” let me comment. Rod Morris, Jay Bass, Mike Henshaw, “KLR” Kurt, and Pauline and I riding tandem never stopped traveling in Baja and have never had a major problem. Even during the drug wars, which were concentrated in Tijuana, we followed Don Arturo Santana’s advice, staying away from the immediate border and off rural private fenced property unless we knew the owner.

Finally, how does riding a motorcycle in modern Baja compare to the way it was in 1970’s Baja? The reality is that Tijuana, Ensenada, Tecate and the San Quintin Valley have grown over the last four decades, so highway traffic has increased substantially. But if your equipment is in good shape and you drive skillfully, you will be ready to enjoy all the beauty and thrills awaiting you in Baja. You can also avoid the worst of the southbound traffic by heading east from Ensenada to San Felipe and then south to Highway 1. Unlike the old days, most of this route is now paved except for a section south of Gonzaga Bay.

Also, remember to buy Mexican auto insurance. I get mine through Discover Baja Travel Club in San Diego (www.discoverbaja.com). Good riding and don’t forget your “Spot” GPS device.