In a nutshell, a great weekend on Shell Island for Memorial Day 2011!

It would be the first trip there with Baja Angel’s daughter Kristi… Her son Josh and his girlfriend Jonna would also caravan with us.

Jonna and Josh were last on the island this past Labor Day (Sept. 2010) and the four wheel drive wouldn’t engage so they were stuck were the road reaches the beach, then.

This trip, the Ford transfer case engaged and they were able to keep up with my Tacoma for the trek up to our favorite camping spot, a couple miles away.

We left the San Diego area Friday evening around 7:30 (after dinner) and headed east on I-8 to Hwy. 111 to Calexico/Mexicali, which is the fastest route to San Felipe. Coming home, we prefer the Tecate border (and it was a doozy last night with almost a 3 hour wait.. and we heard the other borders were almost a 6 hour wait).

There were several dusty miles of detours in the Rio Hardy/ El Mayor area and again at Laguna Salada by the old canal location… On the way home, I recorded about 7 miles of dirt detours. Our vehicles were searched at the military checkpoint southbound (but not northbound, 3 days later).

We arrived in San Felipe about 1:30 am, topped off the gas tanks at the station in El Dorado Ranch and headed right for Shell Island. We were concerned for the Ford Ranger and expected to maybe need to pull it if air pressure alone couldn’t help if the four wheel drive again failed. There was no need to worry, as the Ford did fine!

We got camp set up, and a fire started to kick back… enjoy the Tecate Lights we bought in Mexicali… and realized that the glow in the sky was the approaching sunrise! Man, was I sleepy! I think I got (maybe) 3 hours of sleep before the warming sun got me up… The day was beautiful, the water was smooth, and we were in paradise!

We camp on the island left of the umbrella on the above map.

Now, some photos… and more of the trip report will follow:


I hear the rumble of ATVs approaching…

It’s ‘Baja Rob’ with champagne!

Rob and Connie ride up to our camp from Bahía Santa María (4-miles).

Champagne Time!

Low tide and the kids are kite flying and shell collecting.

High tide was at midday and then the water goes back out again to expose new treasures to photograph…

Saturday, was a pretty mellow day with a nap or two. We did drive to Bahia Santa Maria to show off Rob and Connie’s house to Kristi. We then drove down the beach to El Vergel to look for ‘El Vergel’ (Vern)… found his Jeep, but not him… left my card on his windshield wiper. We then went to Delicias for lunch at Aniceto’s and it was very good. A return to Shell Island for a relaxing afternoon.

Low tide Sunday Morning…

High tide coming in.

The next six photos are a 270°panorama from the north end of the island, across from Rancho Percebu: East to south to west to north.

Sunday Afternoon at low tide, I took the kids to the far south end of the island (which is the north point of Bahia Santa Maria) for some goodie searching (shell collecting, photos, discovery)…

Of course I love my Tacoma and any chance to drive it in four wheel drive is a thrill. Last February, the stock BFG tires (265/70-16) that came with the new truck got replaced with Hankook Dynapro ATM tires… also 1″ taller (265/75-16) as that increases my ground clearance 1/2″… all without needing any lift or changes. The Dynapros were very quiet on the highway, amazing in snow and mud, as well as desert sand at Ocotillo Wells. This was the first test on Baja’s bottomless beach sand… which is the most difficult of all sands to drive on. Probably due to the high percent of crushed shells and slightly coarser grain…

When we arrived on the beach 2 am Saturday morning, I dropped them to 14 psi all around and had no issues getting to our camp. With the truck unloaded, I dropped the rear tires to 12 psi. What you want is a wider ‘foot’ in order to ‘float’ on top of the sand and not dig in. Once over the dry sand and onto the wet sand between the high and low tide lines of the day, it is possible to drive in 2WD even… but getting to the wet sand requires crossing the dry, deep stuff where most people will have trouble without 4WD and without deflating their tires. On future trips, I would discover that 18 psi was the point I got floatation with this tire model. VERY GOOD!

I like off-road lights!

Time to pack up… do I got to go?

Brother picking on sister!

Happy David & Elizabeth!

David, Elizabeth, Jonna & Josh (photo by Kristi)

Kristi and mom.

On the way out, Jonna wanted a close look at the giant fish she saw the last time we drove past it…

Marine biology students! Yes, that is a totuava.

We are off the island and tires re-inflated before noon. The drive into San Felipe was easy. We filled our tanks… it was just under 9 pesos per liter in San Felipe and just over 9 pesos in Tecate. The exchange rate was 11.50 pesos per dollar making the cost of 87 octane gas just under $3 a gallon south of the border zone and just over $3 in the Pemex special border zone… a dollar or more cheaper than in California!

We enjoyed fish, shrimp and carne asada tacos in San Felipe, we bought some tourist stuff (t shirt, silver jewelry, friendship bracelets) and were northbound before 3 pm. San Felipe looked almost dead for Memorial Day (compared to past years… well I mean 5 or more years ago).

The military checkpoint by the Hwy. 3 junction (31 miles north) just asked us some questions and waved us through.

The road widening detours totaled about 7 miles and are at the north side of the Laguna Salada crossing (by the failed canal) and again in the Rio Hardy area.

We took the Libramiento Mexicali (2-D) toll road west for Tecate (55 pesos). The military check at the bottom of the Rumorosa Grade also waved us through. We stopped for some snacking and leg stretching up on the grade and saw quite an interesting (state and federal) police escort of plain white vans… Maybe going to the El Hongo prison?

Toll Gate at La Rumorosa was 18 pesos and the toll gate at El Hongo 55 pesos.

When we arrived at the Pemex coming into Tecate, we saw that there was a line of cars from there on ahead… this would be the longest border line I have ever seen at Tecate! We learned that Tijuana and Mexicali both had 5-6 hour waits, so many people detoured to Tecate… and many lost out because Tecate border is closed from 11 pm to 5 am. We got into line at 7:18 pm and crossed in at 10:07 pm. There was a mile of cars behind us!

Despite the border wait (the only negative part of the vacation), the trip was wonderful… even the wind of Sunday night was no big deal. The kids and us had a great time… it was really nice to get visits from BajaRob, Connie, plus Baja Warrior and Chris, as well!

The Baja 500 is this Saturday and July 4th weekend is a month away… we can’t wait to go back again!

ALSO, a special thank you to Baja Geoff and the gang at for providing excellent and easy to buy Mexican Auto Insurance for Josh’s Ford Ranger and my Tacoma. I appreciate’s support of

I hope you enjoyed a small look into our 3 days on the beach as much we did. I have been camping on Shell island since 1978, and it is still as wonderful (and above sea level) today!

Thanks for joining us on our Memorial Weekend Baja Vacation. More Baja travels to see at