Jim Bishop’s plan was simple: buy some land in the San Isabel National Forest, then build a modest get-away cabin. A great idea, but it didn’t quite turn out that way.
Bishop has been building his “one-room” cabin in Central Colorado since 1967, but the project evolved into a castle with a tower 160′ tall, topped with a stainless steel, fire-breathing dragon. For many of the years he’s worked on the castle, Bishop was engaged in an on-going battle with government officials over the rocks he used in construction; specifically the rocks coming from the nearby national forest. Bishop felt the rocks were his for the taking, while the government thought differently.
Toroweap is on the north rim of the Grand Canyon, but with more than 60 miles of dirt road to get there, it provides an uncrowded and remote experience, especially with 100º August daytime temperatures. The National Park Service describes the services available at Toroweap: “there is no water, gas, food, lodging, or phone service.” But the lack of crowds (there were none when we arrived) and the spectacular views of the Canyon made it well worth it.
We’ve been unintentionally staying at all the little towns which line California Highway 395 on the eastern side of the Sierras. Over the Martin Luther King holiday, we adopted Independence as our temporary home, a town which has been around since 1861. As always, our basic MO will be wandering, exploring and maximizing fun.
The good news was that Carol and I got to spend Thanksgiving in Mexico. The bad news was we didn’t spend it together: she was in Loreto and I was in San Ignacio, 273 km to the north of her. I made the best of it by wandering San Ignacio like the village idiot, to end up at Victor’s Restaurant for Thanksgiving fish tacos and a margarita especial.
At 8 pm on a Thursday, San Ignacio was quiet. Some people relaxed on their front porch, while others stayed inside watching TV, with their front door wide open. The town felt relaxed and comfortable just like any small town.
It began 50 years ago as the National Off Road Racing Association’s Mexican 1000, beginning in Tijuana and racing from Ensenada to La Paz. 68 vehicles started the race competing in four classes. This year, SCORE-International is the sanctioning body for the race named the Baja 1000, with a 1,134 mile run from Ensenada to La Paz with more than 400 entrants. (course map).
Racers have 48 hours to complete the course which means everyone will be driving through a night. The slower classes and cars with problems will be racing through two nights. No matter how you slice it, racing in the Baja 1000 involves a really long day.
Cops Racing Team entered three cars in the race: Trophy Truck #50 driven by Zak Langley, the Class 1 #150 driven by Morgan Langley, and the Mason Trophy Truck Spec #250 making its inaugural run, driven by Team Owner John Langley. Each of the three cars would have three drivers to move it down the peninsula.
But let’s back up a week and a half. The entire team departs for Baja, all equipment in tow, long before the race to begin …
“Prerunning,” aka “practice,” aka “course reconnaissance” — running the course in advance of the race to see what’s out there. Unlike race day, prerunning is much more relaxed and can include an occasional fish taco. Drivers make notations of the course on the GPS, marking areas which require special attention, such as big rocks, or surprise turns, or silt beds, or goats — the list is endless.
The COPS prerunners between Loreto and La Paz were essentially the same cars as the race cars. Once drivers got the feel of the race course in the prerunners, the transition into a race car was seamless.
Let’s cut to the chase. Our race day started on Friday morning at around 2:30 at the BFGoodrich pits near the oasis/farming community of La Purisima. The three COPS cars left the starting line in 750-mile-distant Ensenada, 15 hours earlier. The #150 Class 1 and #50 Trophy Truck DNF’d and would not see Valle T or Loreto, respectively. On the other hand, the #250 Trophy Truck Spec was doing well, quite well.
The decision was made. Drive 1,000 miles south, to the tip of Baja to watch one of the longest solar eclipses ever: totality for six minutes, 53 seconds. The sun’s shadow traveled over Hawaii and then Baja California — most eclipse fans opted for traveling to Hawaii (which was overcast during the eclipse).
Eric and I camped near Punta Colorado on Baja’s East Cape to wait for the noon event. We’d done our homework on what to see, what to expect, but nothing prepared us for the sensations during the eclipse: much cooler, a noon-time sky with stars, and dusk 360º along the horizon. To say “surrealistic” would be an understatement.
Nine days to kill in the Eastern Sierra — what a great problem to have.
Of course there was the usual mountain biking, most likely relegated to Lower Rock Creek or other non-Mammoth Mountain locations. We wandered into the eastern side of Yosemite Park a couple days, and also hit a lot of other trails and creeks and lakes. We made one unsuccessful trip to Laurel Lakes.
As always, we got to see and experience lots of cool new things.
Time to take Dennis to Laurel Lakes — he’s never been there.
The 10-mile out-and-back road starts a little south of Mammoth Lakes in the Eastern Sierras and climbs 2,700′, topping out a little over 10,000′. We were hoping to make our destination, but given the amount of snow the area received that winter, failure was a distinct possibility.
Earlier this spring, Carol and I made our pilgrimage to the Mojave high desert to see the wildflower bloom. This part of the Mojave is located about 3,000′ elevation, so spring doesn’t arrive until April and later. Many people choose to visit the bloom at the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve, a state-sanctioned wildflower viewing area — of course, this comes with fees and regulations.
Several years ago, we figured out that the poppies had a mind of their own and grew outside the preserve, free from The Man’s influence. We explored the north and south sides of CA-138 in search of flowers and this is some of what we found …
This is the daddy of all off-road races: the Mexican 1000. It started exactly 50 years ago by the National Off-Road Racing Association, the first sanctioning body dedicated to off road racing. The first event began in Tijuana and finished in La Paz, while this 50th Anniversary running would start in Ensenada and finish in San Jose del Cabo 1,264.10 miles down the peninisula. After leaving Ensenada, racers passed through San Felipe, Bay of Los Angeles, Loreto, and then La Paz before the dash to the finish. Start to finish took five days, if you were lucky enough to make it.
Day 2: San Felipe to Bahia de Los Angeles (221.00 miles)
Day 3: Bahia de Los Angeles to Loreto (396.70 miles)
Day 4: Loreto to La Paz (293.30 miles)
Then the Shinola hit the Westinghouse. The #250 drove into a Grand Canyon-sized rain rut which hurdled them off the road, breaking tie rods and the rack-and-pinon steering. One of the #250’s rescue trucks hit a cavernous pothole on Highway 1, which fatally damaged its steering. At 10:30 pm, we received a text from Zak asking us to help in the rescue effort — we were looking at a four-hour commute to the Pacific side of the peninsula. Meanwhile, only minutes before the start in Loreto, the #55’s starter failed causing a one-hour delay in starting the race, knocking Zak from around fifth place to near 25th.
A mile from the finish, the driver’s-side rear brake caught on fire, and neither Zak or Josh were aware of it until they arrived on the podium and a hundred guys came running at them with fire extinguishers. The COPS Racing #55 finished sixth in class and 15th overall.
Cameron Steele cinched the overall win in his Geiser Trophy Truck — congratulations to all!