NW Sonora’s treasure: Pinacate National Park

If there are any nice beach places on the northern Sonoran coast, I haven’t found them.  On this driving trip with Megan and Ferda, we went to both Desemboque and Puerto Peñasco, and both were stunningly awful.  With a cold wind blowing, dust in the air so we could barely see, no pedestrians, and more closed buildings and businesses than open ones, Puerto Peñasco felt like the apocalypse.  It was unrecognizable for my first visit 25 years earlier.  I don’t even think we found a part of the city that existed 25 years ago.

The draw to this region is a real gem — Pinacate National Park, a place that has changed for the better in the last 25 years.  Roads and access have improved, but it still feels like a bit of an adventure.  There’s a fantastic visitor’s center with solar power, excellent exhibits and information, and a couple, short interpretive trails adjacent to the visitor’s center where you can learn about desert vegetation and Tohono O’odham culture.  A bit farther north is a 80km sign-posted scenic dirt road to get near some of the craters that the park is famous for.  There you’ll learn about the region’s geology including the difference between tuff and maar craters and the difference between aa and pahahote lava flows.  There’s even a designated campsite at Tecolote with picnic tables and fire pits where we stayed two nights.  If you go, come prepared with food and water as there’s not much out there.  You can, however, buy firewood from El Chicle who lives near the Biological Station.

DSCN9694 by bryandkeith on flickr

DSCN9709 by bryandkeith on flickr

DSCN9699 by bryandkeith on flickr

Tecolote Camping by bryandkeith on flickr

DSCN9728 by bryandkeith on flickr

Cerro Colorado by bryandkeith on flickr

La Maya Crater?? by bryandkeith on flickr

El Elegante Crater by bryandkeith on flickr

I highly recommend visiting Pinacate National Park, and you should definitely allow time for a hike to the sand dunes.  We did it quickly in two hours, but you could easily spend twice that long.

DSCN9753 by bryandkeith on flickr

DSCN9769 by bryandkeith on flickr

DSCN9754 by bryandkeith on flickr

DSCN9777 by bryandkeith on flickr

The day after our visit to Pinacate’s sand dunes, we drove all the way to Tijuana where we spent the last night of our road trip.  We had considered staying in the Pueblo Mágico, Tecate, but nixed that plan after a quick look around.  That meant we ended up rolling into Tijuana, Mexico’s fourth largest city, in the dark with no map, something that, well, not everyone would be so excited about, including my sister.  We found an adequate hotel near Avenida Revolución in La Zona Centro and went out to party!

DSCN9792 by bryandkeith on flickr

Margaritas and sombreros, we’re really in Mexico now!  I poked around Tijuana a little, but really it’s not so interesting.  The following morning we waited at least an hour in a line of cars to cross the border.  We had made a point of getting tourists cards in Nogales, staying within the “free zone”, and not staying more than a week to avoid an extra $25/person charge, but none of that really matters if you leave by car from Tijuana.  There is actually no Mexican immigration control!

Megan guided us through San Diego — Balboa Park, the mission (we were still sort of on a mission kick after our Father Kino adventures), and Ocean Beach where Ferda had a real US speciality — burger and fries.

DSCN9807 by bryandkeith on flickr

San Diego Mission by bryandkeith on flickr

DSCN9822 by bryandkeith on flickr

End of Part One.  Up next: Ferda and I fly to Mexico City.

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