Camping Baja Mexico… Westy Style

Twenty miles after crossing the border at Mexicali we turned onto a dirt road and headed to our first camp ground in Canyon Guadelupe, Baja Mexico. We chose this destination because it advertises a hot spring pool for every campsite. Two hours later we had only covered ten of the seventeen miles to our destination. The road was the worst we had ever encountered but we drove faster realizing that we not make it to the campground before dark if we did not speed up. The crash of silverware in the drawer became our speed limit. When we finally made it to our destination we stopped before a stream and looked up to see a hand painted sign that said “Office this way….Safe”. We waded across the knee-deep stream checking for large holes or rocks and decided to go for it. We had come this far and were looking forward to a good soak to remove the dust.

Our site was surrounded by date palms and had a very clean hot spring pool with a view of the hills. As we soaked in our private hot spring, our only concern was the drive back to Mexicali on that daunting road and the possible effect that eating dozens of dates would have on our traveling companion Bailey.

Our campsite at Canyon Guadelupe

Each site has a private cement lined hot spring pool

A trip to Baja is a dream for nearly every Westfalia Van owner and we are not the exception. With the adventure of extended backpacking and mountaineering trips just a memory, we were looking for a new challenge. Ruining two new shock absorbers on a terrible dirt road the first week of our trip and trying to buy replacements at “Autozona” without speaking any Spanish was perhaps more adventure than we bargained for.

Sunrise over the Sea of Cortez

Pete’s Place/ San Felipe

After leaving Canyon Guadelupe we drove two hours south to San Felipe. To our amazement, it was an easy drive on a smooth highway with beautiful scenery. The route passes close by a State Biosphere Reserve that is an estuary and home to thousands of birds. We stayed at Pete’s Place, six miles out of town. We drove onto the beach and enjoyed our first Sea of Cortez sunrise the next morning. Each site came with a palapa (small grass beach shelter) and the beach extended out nearly a thousand feet at low tide. It was a secure camping area and we enjoyed the evening around a campfire with other Westfalia owners who shared their favorite Baja destinations.

Great Camping at San Felipe despite unseasonably cool weather

 

Deserted Gonzaga Bay

Puertecitos/Gonzaga Bay

An hour and a half south of San Felipe on the last stretch of maintained road on this section of the coastal Sea of Cortez highway 5, is the fishing town of Puertecitos. The camping can be noisy because of early morning boat launches but the cove features a hot springs pool that is tempered by water from the sea. The springs are too hot to use at low tide but as the tide comes in the temperature moderates. We chose to camp farther south on a more deserted beach near Gonzaga Bay. The heavily cockroach infested outhouse was the only down side of the camping area but the heavily shelled quiet beach more than made up for the inconvenience (at least for Bob).

Cocos corner, an interesting stop on the way to Mulege’

Mulege’/Bahia Conception

After reluctantly leaving the beach at Gonzaga Bay we braved the 25 miles of dirt road that connects to Mexico Highway 1 on the way to our next stop Mulege’. The road was in better shape than the road to Canyon Guadelupe but the worry of rocks cutting our tires and the many washboard sections made the trip from Puertecitos to Mulege’ an all day affair. We arrived in Mulege’ just in time to enjoy a farmers market and the annual pig races. Music, great food and a welcoming local community made this a great destination after our day on gravel roads. It was like stepping back into the 1970s. The town has a cash machine that actually works, you can have your clothes laundered and folded for five dollars and a local hotel sells showers that do not cause you to linger.

Breakfast at Magos’

The beach at Mulege’

Camping Bahia Concepcion

South of Mulege’ there are a series of sandy beaches that are appropriate for an extended camping stay. With some patience we were able to find a great spot and we will leave the excitement of discovery to you. The five-dollar per night camping fee made it just right for our budget. Every morning vendors came by with fresh fish or shrimp, tamales, vegetables, avocados, firewood and baked goods. Supplying the winter campers is a good source of family income for locals in the area. During our week there and easily settled into beach life enjoying nights by the fire, kayaking, hikes in the hills and great home cooked meals.

Our Bahia Conception Campsite

Shrimp Tacos Westfalia Style

San Ignacio/Kuyima

The turn around point of our trip down the peninsula was to see the Grey whales and their babies at Laguna San Ignacio. This destination requires another 10 miles of heavily washboard dirt road but the reward is one of the nicest campgrounds we visited. Hot showers (bucket style), flush toilets, recycling and absolutely clean beaches. Reservations are required but the sites are large, sunny and at waters edge on Laguna San Ignacio. For $50 certified guides will take you out in a Panga to see the mother grey whales and their babies. The guide boats are 25 feet long and they sit stationary once the whales are near. The whales swim up to the boat and often the babies come close enough to touch. It seems as though the mothers bring their babies up to the boats to visit. We held our breath as a giant mother whale headed straight for our boat and silently swam under. It is an Eco Tourism whale watching camp and it is very well run. They are most respectful of the whales.

Grey Whales of Laguna San Ignatio

Whales swim up to the boats

The ground at the campsite is made up of tiny shells

Sunset at Kuyima

Would we return to the Baja Peninsula?

Travel in Baja can be stressful because you never know what lies around the next corner. Will the pavement end? Is that dark area on the road ahead a four-inch hole that is the size of your dining room table? Will those goats ever get off the road? Where can we buy propane or water? Is the extra five-gallon can on the roof enough to help us make it to the next gas station? Why on earth didn’t we brush up on our high school Spanish? If you travel without self contained bathing facilities you need to work on your outhouse skills.

 

For us, all of these inconveniences add up to adventures. Would we return to Baja?

We certainly will, because we like the white sand beaches, turquoise water, funky restaurants and coffee shops, great tequila, friendly locals and the Baja culture.   What would we do differently? We will travel less and stay in each location longer.   We will also bring a compressor so that we can lower our tire pressures to make dirt road travel more comfortable.

 

Follow your curiosity! It may lead you to adventures you never thought possible!

 

We would be happy to help you with your local adventures and travel dreams.

 

 

Bob and Maureen

Chuckanut Westfalias

We rent fully refurbished Westfalia Vans

Camping with Dogs

Chuckanut Westfalias

Camping with Dogs

( as told to Bob and Maureen by Bailey )

First let me say that I am one camp loving dog. One of the hardest things for me is when one of our rented vans heads down the driveway without me. It is not that I never get to camp. I spent over 120 nights sleeping in a van last year but I can’t seem to get enough! There is nothing better than sleeping on the floor of the van so close to Bob and Maureen and knowing that our next walk full of new sights and smells is just a few hours away.   As a fellow dog traveler I want to give you some sound advice that you should share with your owners when they take you van camping.

 

Bailey, packed up and ready to vacation!

Riding in the Van

  • I ride on the rear seat. Bob and Maureen bought me a really nice sunbrella cover and I am only allowed on the seat when the cover is in place. They get really mad if I get up on the seat without the cover and sometimes they have to shampoo the upholstery so the next renters don’t have to sleep with their face in my hair and dander. It takes two hours and they forfeit some of their deposit. I hate listening to Bob carry on as he cleans the seat.
  • I know that I am in the front seat for photos sometimes but I am so afraid to get up there that they have to bribe me with cookies. Bob and Maureen do not allow me up in the front seat….ever! (except the time Maureen broke her foot and there was no where else to sit).
  • When it is hot Bob puts little white fan on and points it toward me so that I don’t overheat. Sometimes he even closes the curtains on the sunny side of the van. Every time we stop I am allowed to get out of the van, do my business (usually at a McDonalds because they always have grass) and get a drink of water. We never ride with the overhead vent open because the plastic will break in the wind.

Chillin on the back seat!

All Alone-

  • I am so glad that we have a rule that I can never be alone in the van.…even for a quick stop. The van is my part time home and I still worry that I will be left alone in there. We were parked next to a van on the ferry once and the dog in the van next to us was left alone while the owners went up on deck. I felt so sorry for that little guy! He ran back and forth inside, barked constantly disturbing us as we were relaxing on the ferry. He had licked the windows, was scratching at the doors and I think he did a lot of damage. He might have even peed on the seat in his anxiety.
  • I am too big for a dog carrier but if I was smaller having a place I already know would ease my anxiety and I would not bark so much.  I don’t know why but small dogs sure get nervous.
  • Not being alone means that Bob and Maureen really don’t eat out much because there is nowhere for me to be while they are gone. I am lucky that they look for restaurants with outside seating because sometimes I can wait out there with them. I know I am an inconvenience but that is what they signed on for when they decided to take me camping. In Switzerland I can just go in the restaurant and lie on the floor if I behave but not in the U.S.A.

In the Campground-

  • I go everywhere on leash with Bob and Maureen when we are in a campground. It is against the rules but sometimes Bob even sneaks me in the men’s bathroom. One time we were at Kalaloch and Maureen let me off leash for just a couple of minutes so I could do my business in peace and a ranger came around the corner, gave her a lecture and a ticket for letting me be off leash! It was just for two minutes! Honest! Those rangers drive around in the early morning looking for dogs that are off leash! You can’t even pee in peace in State Parks and National Parks. Private campgrounds are much cooler and I can usually just run free.
  • Some beaches don’t even let dogs on the beach. When we go to California we need to be really careful because they think I will chase their birds (my favorite!). They even let motorcycles on their beaches but not dogs! It is not fair at all because we are the coolest animals on earth. Bob and Maureen always carry a long rope that I am tied to when we are in camp. Once I walked around the fire pit and my rope was burned in half. It is a hard adjustment for me but Bob says that it is for my safety because the raccoons in the campgrounds and the Fog Wolves on the coast are really dangerous. Once when we were in Banff a wolf walked right through the campground. There are groups of coyotes in some remote areas that try to get me to play with them and to have me for their dinner.

Why Don’t Other Van Rental Companies Allow Dogs?-I asked Bob and Maureen why other van companies don’t allow dogs (service dogs excepted). Here is what they told me.

  • A rental van is a new place for dogs and they are nervous. A perfectly calm dog that is accustomed to being home alone will bark, chew even pee in an unfamiliar enclosed van. A van ruined by a dog also ruins the next persons vacation and that is not fair to them.
  • Some people are allergic to dog dander and hair. Even the cleanest dog leaves hair and dander behind and most often the van seats are shampooed after a dog rental. This is a lot of extra work and the $50 fee doesn’t cover it.
  • People leave their dogs in the van while they go in the store or on a ferry or in a restaurant and the dogs wind up in the front seat scratching the dash board and door panels, barking and slobbering all over the windows. Re-painting a dash board is a $500 project that is done by their detail shop and renters are responsible.

Dogtini for my birthday.

I hope that you bring your dog because there is nothing cooler than camping with a dog but be sure that you know the responsibilities that go along with the experience.

Camp On!!

Bailey

Animal Coordinator

Chuckanut Westfalias LLC

 

Camping San Juan Island, Washington

Camping on San Juan Island-

Travel to the San Juan Islands used to be an all day affair.  The new Washington State Ferry Reservation System  makes access to the San Juan Islands both easy and economical. It takes the stress out of ferry travel and allows advance planning and full use of time on the island.  A trip to San Juan Island takes about an hour and if you are lucky you will see members of our local Orca pod, seals and even dolphins during the crossing.  Plan ahead, make your reservations and enjoy beautiful campsites, great hikes, and enough food and spirits establishments to satisfy the most discriminating epicure. We like to chose one island per trip and set up a base camp making day trips in the van or by cycle and hikes from that location. 

Where to Camp-

Make reservations so that you are able to secure a nice camp site on San Juan Island.  Consider the San Juan County Park as your first choice.  Gather shells on the beach, use the no bank shoreline to launch your kayak or take a short drive with a picnic lunch to Lime Kiln State Park to watch for Orcas that often frequent that shore.   You can also camp at Lakedale Resort which is located on the northeast end of the Island and has a variety of nice campsites that can be reserved in advance. 

Activities on the Island-

  • Be sure to stop at English Camp to walk the grounds, visit the formal garden at Garrison Bay.  Try to envision island life at this small outpost in the mid 1800s. If you are there in early July you may be able to pick some of the tiny wild blackberries that grow along the trails to the beach.
  • Pack a lunch and take a short drive to the other end of the Island for a day on the wild beaches of American Camp.  Walk the shoreline out to Cattle Point and view the over 150 nesting pairs of eagles present at this National Park Site.  If you are there in spring you may be able to view one of the nests of fledglings through a telescope at the interpretive site.  Pause during your walk through the open fields to the beach to look for Black Foxes on this part of the island.
  • Make time to go into the city of Friday Harbor and visit the nationally acclaimed Whale Museum. You will enjoy looking through the shops and restaurants in this little town that has a population that ebbs and flows with the arrival and departure of the ferry.

 

Where to eat and drink on San Juan Island-

  •  Downriggers Restaurant in Friday Harbor is top on our list of places to eat if you are tired of camp food.  They have fully recovered from the fire that devastated the restaurant in 2013. They have great views and a wide assortment of Northwest seafood.
  • For a variety of ethnic menu choices in a beautiful garden setting make reservations for dinner at the Backdoor Kitchen.
  • Stop by San Juan County Distillery and taste their latest spirits.
  • Make time to visit Roche Harbor.  We enjoy walking the docks, looking at the yachts and hiking around the grounds of the old estate. Enjoy lunch at the Lime Kiln Cafe out on the end of the dock.  This is also a great place to get a hot shower if you feel the need.

San Juan Island is just a short ferry from Bellingham but the “island feeling” makes it feel miles away. A trip to the island is a great camping experience with each coastline offering a different view of life on this island.  There are opportunities to study the history of San Juan Island, appreciate the marine life and as you explore the island you will have many opportunities to visit the variety of farms that sustain the full time residents.  A camping trip to the islands is a great chance to slow down, smell the salt air, listen to the birds and appreciate this part of the area known as the Salish Sea.

Let us know if we can help with your camping plans,

Bob and Maureen Jorgenson
Chuckanut Westfalias

Camping the Wild West Coast

Camping the West Coast of Vancouver Island

If you love to camp and have not been to the West Coast of Vancouver Island this trip needs to be your next outdoor adventure.   Vancouver Island is easily accessible from Bellingham.

Make early ferry reservations and take the BC ferry from Tsawwassen to Duke Point/Nanaimo. Plan to have breakfast on the ferry and keep an eye out for whales and other marine life during your two hour crossing.

Be sure to stop at the MacMillan Cathedral Grove on your way to the Long Beach peninsula and walk through the type of forest that transforms you into a dark world that makes you feel tiny. Next stop is Port Alberni where you can pick up any supplies that you have forgotten to pack before continuing your trip to the coast. Farther down the road to the coast you can eat a picnic lunch at the Taylor River Rest Area. It is a nice stop with clean restrooms and a river next to the picnic tables. Feel like doing some cliff jumping or swimming in a giant river pool? Stop a few miles farther toward the coast at a spot marked as “cliff diving” on Google Maps.

When you reach the Long Beach Peninsula information center you are almost at your destination. You can turn left and explore the fishing town of Ucluelet or turn right and continue on to the surfing town of Tofino.

Ucluelet

 Camping in Ucluelet

If you are ready for wild beach camping with pit toilets and outdoor showers make reservations at Mussel Beach Campground. The road in is six miles of washboard dirt but the reward at the end of the road is your own beach fire, great kayak access and a beautiful view of the broken group islands. Be sure to bring your own water!

 

Hiking in Ucluelet

Plan to spend an hour or two hiking out to Amphrite Lighthouse and walking along some of the Wild Pacific Trail.  Take photos of the ocean between wind shaped trees and look for stairs down to hidden driftwood-covered beaches.

 

 

 Eating in Ucluelet

If you are tired of camp food be sure to make a reservation for Norwoods Restaurant. Their menu item “A Taste of the West Coast” offers a gourmet approach to great West Coast seafood.  If you are an Oyster fan be sure to reserve a table at Raven Lady Oyster Forte. You will not be disappointed.

 

Tofino

 Camping in Tofino

If you are interested in forest camping with access to a beach that you can walk six miles in either direction then Parks Canada Green Point is your campground. Each site has electricity and there are four large new tiled bathroom toilet facilities with room to clean dishes, take showers at no extra charge. Simply the best facilities we have ever seen. Reservations are open now and they go fast.

Another great campground is closer to Tofino on Long Beach where you can walk six miles on a flat sand beach is Bella Pacifica. At least check out their list of things to do in Tofino.

 Hiking in Tofino

Be sure to take a shuttle out to hike the Big Tree Trail on Meares Island. This island is part of the B.C. conservation history and the opportunity to stand among these giant cedars is something that reminds us of our place in natural history.

 

Eating in Tofino

Plan ahead and find a way to eat at Wolf in the Fog. This is a very famous restaurant with outside and indoor seating. West Coast ambiance plus! Stop off and buy a bag of Rainforest Blend coffee at Tofino Coffee Roasting Company on your way into the city. Rainy day? Find The Pointe Restaurant Wickaninnish Inn Tofino for a great lunch with a view that consists of a 200 degree window to the waves of the West Coast. We park in their lot, have a great lunch and then go down their stairs and walk the beach in front of the Inn. You can walk for two hours in one direction on a low tide.

What else to do in Tofino?

The list ranges from Salmon Fishing to First Nations Art Galleries. You can rent Kayaks, go on a whale watching tour or spend time at their farmers market and craft shows on Saturdays. It is a great community that gets more interesting every year that we visit.

Please let us know if you would like more information about travel on the West Coast of Vancouver Island and of course, if you would like a comfortable, safe restored Westfalia Van to use during your trip. All of our vans have heaters and a built in electric refrigerator.

It is time to plan your summer adventure!

Bob and Maureen

Chuckanut Westfalias

 

Time to Reserve a Campground

Planning for your Summer Camping Trip 2018

It is the middle of winter but it is time to start thinking of those summer reservations and itineraries so that you are able to spend your spring, summer and fall camping time planning where to find that great micro-brewery or coffee shop instead of driving around hoping to find an empty campground. There are many great places in Southern B.C., Washington and Oregon to park a van, set up camp, get out your fly rod and enjoy the outdoors. Here is information on the 2018 reservation windows for parks in Washington, Oregon and B.C. We can help you with an itinerary if you simply mail us, info@chuckanutwestfalias.com. We have some really great four day itineraries for spring and fall that get you outdoors enjoying the beaches near Tofino or Mountain biking in the Whistler/Pemberton. Even if you already own a van or plan to use your tent and need advice for camping, mountain biking or hiking in our area simply drop us a mail and we would be happy to help you out. (as long as we are not busy getting one of our vans ready for the road).

Reservation Windows:

BC Provincial Parks– Make your reservations up to four months in advance of your anticipated camping date.  The campgrounds on the sunshine coast and near Quadra Island are perfect for your salt water beach adventure.    http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/reserve/frontcountry.html

 

Canadian National Parks (Banff, Jasper, Green Point on Vancouver Island and many other great parks on their web site) Reservations open on January 8, 2018 and they are sites can be reserved from April 2018 until March 2019. Now this seems crazy to us but that is the direction they are moving.

http://www.pc.gc.ca/en/voyage-travel/reserve

 

United States National Parks-Kalaloch is booking now and reservations can be made 6 months in advance. https://www.recreation.gov/camping/kalaloch/r/campgroundBookingWindow.do?contractCode=NRSO&parkId=70944

Sol Duc Hotsprings resort camping reservations can be made a year in advance. This is a great place for a day hike in the rain forest followed by a soak in a modern hot springs.  This is not the log lined hot springs that we visited in the 70s.

https://www.recreation.gov/camping/sol-duc-hot-springs-resort-campground/r/campgroundSeasonDates.do?contractCode=NRSO&parkId=139890

 

Washington State Parks – For these parks you need to go to the reservation site https://washington.goingtocamp.com and check out availability. Extremely popular sites like Spencer Spit on Lopez or Fort Casey book out early.

 

Lake Chelan City Park-They take reservations 9 months in advance and this is a park with tight camp sites but the walks around the city, wine tasting, swimming in the lake and the quiet vibe of the city of Chelan, wine tasting and makes it tolerable for one or two nights on a North Cascades loop trip. https://cityofchelan.us/departments/parks-recreation/rv-park/

 

Oregon State Parks-Reservations are available up to 9 months in advance. The most recent check of our favorite location at Beverly Beach had several nice tent sites (the type of site that we use for our vans) left for mid July. These campgrounds always have some first come first served sites but so often people already camping in the area will run up and “occupy” those walk up sites until their friends arrive.

Camping Resources for Wild Camping or the unusual private campground:

Hipcamp– We have had customers use this site to find some really interesting campgrounds. www.hipcamp.com A known favorite is a little spot on Whidbey Island called Whidbey Island Sheep Camp.

 

IOverlander– This is the site that we use to find free campsites and DNR/Forest service camping. They do not have much listed for the North Cascades National Park but there are many sites on the Olympic Peninsula. http://ioverlander.com

 

Travel Resources:

GasBuddy– we use this handy app to help us find gas stations when we are on the road. This is especially useful when driving VanGogh as that van only runs on premium gas.

We hope that planning your summer adventure will give you some respite from the short days and grey skies of winter.  Meanwhile, we are looking forward to Baja camping soon,

Bob and Maureen

Chuckanut Westfalias