My friend and excellent dirt bike rider, Alan Dietor, and I began riding in Baja in 1974 when the roads were almost all dirt. There were far fewer people in those days and very little traffic except in the larger cities like Tijuana, Ensenada, and La Paz, which we avoided. We made an exception for Ensenada, which was a great place to stay overnight because it was on the coast and yet near the mountains, and offered good motels and restaurants. In short, Al and I rode Baja in the peak years of the 1970’s when you could travel almost anywhere on challenging dirt roads. It was even acceptable to pass through huge private ranches as long as you closed the gates behind you.
The only principal improvement in Baja these days is the quality of the fuel dispensed by plenty of modern gas stations which pump clean regular or premium fuel into your motorcycle fuel tank. In the 70’s you often bought fuel out of an old gallon milk jug, which in turn was refilled from a 50 gallon drum. Plenty of opportunity for dirt to enter the process.
The fuel was a very low grade gasoline called NOVA, which was jokingly referred to as “petroleo” by the locals (in spanish “petroleo” usually refers to a crude product like kerosene). Al Dietor’s two stroke 1974 400 Husky engine seemed to run better on the concoction than did my four stroke 1974 XL-250 Honda mill. The carbon collected rapidly and had to be removed from the combustion chamber from time to time. Al’s 2 stroke carbon clean up was of course a simpler process because it lacked the 4 valves found in my XL-250’s head. If only we had the choice between nice clean regular or premium fuel back in those wonderful riding days!
One of the places Al and I bought gas quite often was in a small town named Heroes de la Independencia or Independencia for short. In 1974 the main dirt road from Ensenada to San Felipe went through the middle of town and the “hand operated” gasoline pump was painted red. The photo here was taken in 1974 and shows this gas pump with Al standing behind his motorcycle eating a fresh cantaloupe, with plenty of curious young men gathered around him. In the foreground is my almost new XL-250 Honda parked in front of Al’s also almost new 400 Husky. The kid with the burro could go places we couldn’t and did not have to rely on NOVA. Looking at the photo, it’s hard to believe those kids are in their 50’s and 60’s today.
Shortly before it was paved, the highway was moved out beyond the tree in the background so that it would no longer pass through the center of town. The gas station was also moved out to the side of the new highway. A new electric pump was installed and the station was repainted with the standard green and white colors of all “PEMEX” stations.
The second picture was taken by former pro motocrosser Garry Wright, of me, his XR650L Honda and my Ohlin’s shod, tricked out Kawasaki KL650A (1993 model with 125,000 miles on the clock). The photo was taken in the early 2000’s, but sadly, the old pump has been removed and replaced with a more modern gadget. Oh well, at least it dispenses much better fuel than when it was located in downtown Independencia 45 years ago.