A Hellish Road to Surf Paradise
It’s easy to see why the early padres chose Mulege.
The town straddles a narrow, but not-too-steep, riverbed lined with lush palms. On a bend in the river a hundred feet above the town sits the mission that the padres built just about the time the US declared independence. I love this mission with its neat stones perfectly laid and mortared, vaulted white-painted interior ceiling and soaring belltower.
A long rope hangs down from the bell. No one was around so I gave that rope the gentlest, most respectful of tugs jus to hear that sweet timeless sound. Donnngggggg! The noise hung in the air, dissipating into the desert and filtering into those green palms.
Back in the car, we dropped down from that celestial mission, driving through town and turning onto the road to the Mission San Miguel. At first the road turned to mile after mile of teeth-shattering washboard.
Then, it got rough. Really, really rough.
For several hours we slither from one canyon to the next, the 350 cubic inch Suburban motors growling up switchbacks while baseball-sized rocks ping off the underbody of each car. If our air-conditioner worked, which it doesn’t, we would dare not turn it on for fear of adding additional strain to the sweltering motor. Inside the cab, the only thing keeping our bodies attached to the frame are our seatbelts we wear as we drop into one neck-snapping ravine after another. We’re probably averaging 10 miles per hour, often less.
There is nothing out here and no person, no cow, no goat. For the entire 6 hours of this trip not a single car passed us, and we passed no one coming the other way. We passed three ranchos, but each of them was abandoned as far as I could tell. We crossed several small streams, and traveled for dozens of miles down other dry arroyos. At one point, we scraped the undercarriage of our ‘91 Suburban, knocking loose the muffler. With a straight exhaust pipe and nothing to throttle the sound, the big motor now had the throaty, aggressive growl of a Daytona 500 car.
Dust coats our skin like a fine abrasive. Now the inside, as well as the outside, each car is desert-colored. Our hair is matted and caked. Black, gritty boogers sit caked inside our nostrils and dust grinds in our teeth. There’s dust between our toes and our skin is coated with fine powder. We need some salt water to wash it all off.
At last the downhill grade eased and at around 4 PM we got our first glimpse of blessed blue ocean. Forty-five minutes later, at Scorpion Bay each of was racing the fading sunlight, furiously tugging on hot, dusty wetsuits.
A Surfer Must Have Designed the Waves at Scorpion Bay
This bay is huge and encompasses seven different points, each with different degrees of surfing challenge. On the second point sits a great palapa restaurant bar and a few sleeping palapas that rent for about $10 to $15 a night per person.
We surfed just below the palapas. The waves break at the point and peel perfectly for hundreds and hundreds of yards to the right. The shape is perfect, with steep walls that ever sectioned once the entire evening we surfed. The wave is so long that it is usual for a surfer who catches one to go to the beach and walk back instead of doing that arm-wearying paddle. When it is too dark to see, Mike Sullivan and I, the last of us catch a last wave to the beach.
That evening, beneath the twinkling colored Christmas lights hanging from the restaurant palapa a great fresh fish dinner, with lots of beer and margaritas sets the eight of us back only $15 each.