With only a couple exceptions, we typically go to Shell Island over Memorial Day weekend. The weather is great, the sea water is not as warm as we like best, but okay for short swims, and we mostly need to get away from civilization by the time late May rolls around.
We had not planned to go until Friday noon when Baja Angel (my wife and best friend) said she needs a Baja beach fix!
We left home at 5:30am Saturday, stopped for breakfast along the way and arrived in San Felipe a little after 11 am… topped the gas tank, bought a case of Tecate Light and a few sodas and headed first for our friend Baja Rob’s in Bahia Santa Maria. A lot of activities were happening and despite his strongest efforts to have us stay in his great guest room (which we have many times) and join in the fiestas, we had to decline as peace and quiet is what Baja Angel really needed, and camping on Shell Island nearly always provides that tranquility.
The highest tide of the month was that day (Saturday, May 25) at 2:40pm and a whopping 19.7 feet… Anything over 18.5 feet surrounds Shell Island with sea water (why I call it an ‘Island’ and not just a ‘Beach’… as shown on many maps, too):
There is no ‘Castañeda’, but Rancho Percebu (formerly Laguna Percebu) is at the end of that road going to the beach opposite the north tip of Shell Island.
So, after visiting with Rob for a while, we headed back north to the access road to the island… and as we neared the beach, the tide already had flooded the access… This is where 4WD, good tires, and Toyota’s Active Traction Control makes getting to tough places less stressful than otherwise!
One patch of gooey mud and the Tacoma goes sideways briefly, but counter-steering put us back on course and soon we were out of the mud and onto the sand. I got as far as the water’s edge before I had to deflate the tires for floatation. Even super traction 4WD is no match for the bottomless sand/shell mix of this beach. Dropping the pressure to 18 psi is enough for the brand of tires I have on the truck (Hankook Dynapro ATM) … some other brands require lower pressure to keep from digging into the sand. While I let the air out, Baja Angel takes some photos…
There is a dead porpoise on the beach nearby… and later we would find 5 dead porpoises along the 4.5-mile-long barrier island beach, evenly separated. It is a sad sight and had us wonder if it was an act of nature or commercial fishing that caused this. I have never seen more than one dead whale or porpoise in a single trip here, since 1978.
Well the tide was already so high, reaching the brush of the dunes, we could not get to our typical camp site. So, we just parked where we could get and waited for the tide to go back down… We went for a swim, had some cold beer, and just relaxed… for about 3 hours…
East Side of the island, looking south towards Bahia Santa Maria.
West Side of the island, looking north towards Rancho Percebu. This body of water, that helps make the island, is called Laguna Percebu or Estero Percebu, on maps.
My truck just inches above sea level! I have been in this same place over the past 35 years… and it still is ‘above sea level’.
The Baja Feeling!
The tide turns around quickly and the steep beach is exposed after a couple of hours… We leave the point where the dunes and high tide had stopped us and head a bit further north.
Sunday Morning… I get up and take a walk out onto the sand bars being it is low tide….
Above: it isn’t hard to walk a long way into the ocean, when the tide is low! Below: One gull has a fish, and he doesn’t share!
It’s a LONG way when the sea goes out… here’s looking back to camp.
Lonely sand dollar.
A few rocks are north of our camp and it makes a home for millions of small hermit crabs and snails.
Time to head back, make some coffee, and enjoy breakfast with my wife…
Before Baja Angel is out of the tent, I have most of the sun canopy set up… she does help however, and it really is easier with two.
At low tide, we take a drive to survey the island and see what changes can be noticed. Looking for some extra pretty shells is fun, too.
Lots of these Desert Iguanas on Shell Island.
They curl their tail to mimic a scorpion.
As I mentioned earlier, along the 4.5-mile-long island, we saw 5 dead porpoises, all about the same size except for one that was smaller.
Pelicans fly between 20-25 mph… I clocked them!
Back to camp…
This tern kept a close watch on us.
Tide was nearly as high Sunday as it was on Saturday… 19.5 ft.
Shell Island… the barrier island beach that separates the Gulf of California from Estero Percebu (Laguna Percebu).
Rancho Percebu as seen from the north end of Shell Island.
Camping and vacation homes at Percebu. It gets very busy here on holidays, but on the island we are usually the only ones!
Zoom photo of bird on one of the rocks our friend Steve (‘Hotschott’) brought to hold down his sunshade parachute back 10 years earlier. Rancho Percebu is in the background.
Sunday morning, we tear down camp and have the truck packed up before 8:30 (a record) … thanks to the easy up and down tent and Baja Angel’s assistance!
There is more sea water and mud to cross than there was Saturday… but the Tacoma has no issues at all (using low range 4WD and A-TRAC) …
View to the island across the mud flat that is underwater at the highest lunar tides .
Once out of the mud, I park on a low, blow-sand dune at the edge of the salt/mud flats to air back up the tires… from 18 psi to 34 psi takes 5 minutes per tire.
Back in San Felipe we go to our usual car wash shop, along the main road north, before reaching the traffic circle… Good news is he can get to work on it right away. It is next door to a carnitas cafe, but we want healthy food and a fruit salad vendor is new and across the intersection! We each have a large fruit salad ($70 pesos) and it is great, with mango, papaya, strawberry, pineapple, orange and kiwi chunks.
The truck is clean of all the mud (150 pesos + 20-peso tip) and we top the fuel tank in town ($11.05 pesos/liter or $3.64 dollars/gallon) and are headed north from San Felipe at 10:30 Monday morning.
The big surprise is no inspection at the checkpoint, 31 miles north of town (at the Hwy. 3 junction to Ensenada). There are no detours or any construction on Hwy. 5 back to Mexicali.
110 miles north of San Felipe, we take the toll highway west to go to Tecate… As there is no direct ramp from northbound 5 to westbound 2-D, you must go under the toll road and make a U-Turn to head back south to get onto it. The U-Turn opening has been moved further north than it was previous.
The toll gate for the first section of Hwy. 2-D (also known as the Libramiento de Mexicali) is very near Hwy. 5 and costs 63 pesos. It is only a 2 lane road, but is fast and avoids all of Mexicali city traffic.
The military checkpoint at the base of the grade up to La Rumorosa also waved us through. The toll gate at the top of the grade was $21 pesos.
The final toll gate is at El Hongo and was $60 pesos or $5 dollars.
In Tecate about 2 pm (190 some miles from San Felipe), we topped the gas tank. Magna was $11.36 pesos/liter and the dollar exchange was 11.80 pesos/dollar making regular fuel $3.64 dollars per gallon.
We arrived in the border line at 2:18 pm Monday… very near the top of the hill and we were pleasantly surprised we beat a lot of the Memorial Day traffic (if there was any). We arrived at the gate in 1 hour and 7 minutes. The guard asked lots of questions about things we weren’t supposed to have and then asked where we were… he didn’t know where San Felipe was and then asked if that was where “all the gringos are”… I was never asked such a thing and then he asked if it was like Mulegé or Loreto being mostly “gringos” there…!??
I told him while San Felipe may have a large retired American population neither it nor Loreto or Mulegé were mostly “gringo” towns… Baja Angel and I were really startled at the bigoted-like questions he kept throwing at me. I assured him, all the towns in Baja were “mostly Mexican” and Loreto and Mulegé have just small American populations with San Felipe perhaps more…
Then the guy with a dog came to the truck… and I was asked if I had any people, dogs, or drugs… the guy with the dog walked to the back of my truck, passenger side and the dog went ballistic, jumping up on the side of my truck and we would soon realize… was trying to get to some dogs in the back of a truck in the lane next to mine!
So, it was a poorly trained dog upset at other dogs that freaked me out wondering if some drugs were planted in my truck, at the car wash!! Guess what? The guy sent me to Secondary, anyway! LOL
I guess after so many easy crossings, it was my number… and we waited about 20 minutes for someone in Secondary to take a quick look in my ice chest and a couple of camping boxes before sending us on our way.
As with so many other Baja trips, the only bad part is coming home and the border crossing… the wait and weird questions, and dog scratching the side of my truck.
Hope you enjoyed traveling and camping with us!
See more great Baja California trips and information on my website