Ensenada to San Felipe (and attempting to visit the Observatorio Astronómico Nacional de San Pedro Mártir)

     On Saturday we made our way east out of Ensenada on Trans-peninsular Highway 3, heading in to the mountains to visit the Mexican National Astronomical Observatory. About 60 kilometers from Ensenada, the route to the observatory (at least according to the GPS) turned off the highway to a dirt road heading towards “Ranchero Mike” (the only sign on the side of the road was for Ranchero Mike, also referred to as “Mike’s Sky Ranch”).

Filling up on gas before our excursion, we saw lots of motorcycle tourists in the area.
     The off-road capabilities of a short school bus towing a jeep were put to the test, winding through unkempt, rocky and hilly roads (with a disparaging amount of garbage on the sides of the road for what felt like the middle of nowhere). Over an hour later, we had made it only half way to the ranch, and less than a third of the way to the Observatory road “San Telmo de Abajo Road.”

We wound our way up the mountain range.
     Perhaps the name “Sky Ranch” or that the only other drivers on this road were fully geared dirt bikers should have tipped us off, but we really wanted to get to the observatory.   We trudged along up some steep slopes and questionable cliff side dirt roads.

The only other vehicles on the road were dirt bikes, probably heading to Mike’s Sky Ranch

The view on the winding dirt roads up the mountain range was fantastic.

Us near the point where the road became impossible to continue.
    Ultimately, the road became too steep and uneven. We finally admitted that our bus is not an all terrain vehicle, and couldn’t complete the journey.  Talking to locals we met later, it sounds like even if we made it to the main observatory road, the way up the mountain in the winter would have been impossible anyway. We turned around and made our way back to the highway.


The road-side majestic horses made the drive back to the highway better.

There was a rich variety of cacti.
     We turned east on Highway 3 until it ends running into Highway 5, and took Highway 5 south to San Felipe and the beaches of the Gulf of Mexico.  We crossed another military checkpoint where Highway 3 met Highway 5, and they casually looked through the bus before letting us continue.
Our compromise for the evening was lounging on ocean front hammocks in an RV Park with cabin rentals called “Club de Pesca”, trading the snowy mountain top for the cool beach breezes, and a decent night sky above the ocean. We set up the hammocks and enjoyed a beach side movie accompanied by the waves to fall asleep to.


The night sky above the waves was a decent compromise to visiting the observatory.

Our beach front RV camping spot at “Club de Pesca”

More information on the Observatorio Astronómico Nacional de San Pedro Mártir 

     The other (and more recommended) way to get to the Mexican National Astronomical Observatory is off of Trans-peninsular Highway 1. From Ensenada, go south about 140 KM through Punta Colonet to the town of San Telmo de Abajo. Exit and take the road east about 77 more kilometers to the entrance of the Parque Nacional Sierra de San Pedro de Martir. The road can still be snowy or wet in the winter, as well as very steep and rugged at times, so it may still be hazardous. We ultimately decided that our winter adventure in a school bus could not make the full journey, and had to leave this trip for another time.

     If you visit the Observatory, you will pay a park entrance fee per person of 62 pesos, and this includes camping (the ranger station is open 7am-8pm daily). There are designated camp sites, and a parking lot about one mile from the observatory, hiking trails, and gorgeous scenery. There are also cabins for rent near the ranger station from 700-1700 pesos a night. The San Pedro Martir mountain range region features the highest peak in Baja, Pichaco del Diablo, at over 10,000 feet. There is diverse wildlife such as mule deer, bighorn sheep, cougars, bobcats, coyote, and has been used as a refuge habitat to introduce the endangered California Condor. The Cultural Center features information about the region and the native Kiliwa people.


By Jaime Sanchez Diaz (jsanchezd) (self-made, NIKON E5400, f/7.3, 1/354s) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
     The Observation station, Observatorio Astronomico Nacional, is open for tours 10am-1pm and 2pm-3pm Monday to Friday. It is world famous for its views of the cosmos, and was built here because of the low light pollution, clear weather, and minimal radio interference. It is home of the second largest telescope in Latin America, and two other deep space telescopes. As it is a working observatory, you may or may not be able to actually view the telescopes when you visit.
        To contact the Parque Nacional Sierra de San Pedro Martir:
phone: (+52) 646-172-3000
email: sanpedromartir@baja.gob.mx
     To contact the observatory: (+52) 646-174-4580
email: jefatura@astrosen.unam.mx

     Visit the Observatory’s Website: www.astrossp.unam.mx


By Jsanchezd (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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