By Gene Kira, Oct. 29, 2005, as published in Western Outdoor News:
The sad news has been coming on in Baja California for at least ten years or so, but this last trip south has made it so obvious that it can't be ignored any longer: Mex 1 is dead.
Not the road itself; that's in the best shape of its life... and that's the problem. What's gone is the mystique of Mex 1, the splendid adventure of heading into a foreign country and not being absolutely, positively sure you were going to make it back.
The Transpeninsular Highway in its original form was a preposterous 1,000 miles of potholes and worse that kept dilettantes out of Baja, while letting in those who cared enough to go through hell for it, rub it their eyes and armpits, wallow in it and suffer any danger or discomfort in order to become one of the privileged few.
No mas. The Mex 1 of 2001 is a place where big paving crews are laying down mile after mile of trowel-smooth blacktop. Painting crews are right behind them, putting down yellow center lines and white edge lines; many lines even have reflectors on them to make night driving a lot easier for those who wish to risk it.
Guard rails are popping up in all the dangerous spots and skip loaders are pushing dirt up to the edges so the next layer of pavement can be laid down a few precious inches wider than before.
New, 24-hour Pemex stations are pumping gas at close intervals (except for the one remaining "stretch" between El Rosario and Jesus Maria), and they almost always have gas nowadays.
Even the numerous washouts caused by last month's massive Hurricane Juliette are being repaired so quickly, very few tourists will ever see them.
All this convenience and safety is making a fundamental change in the experience of driving to Baja. Historically, most people going the full length of Mex 1 have seen maybe one fairly serious accident per round trip. My personal record in this dubious department was four accidents, including one fatality and a head-on collision between two ambulances in La Paz. Mark Walters of Rancho Buena Vista was an observer at the beginning of this process, when Mex 1 was finally paved a quarter-century ago, and he said, "One of the first effects of the opening of Mex 1 was that there were dead and maimed people all over Baja." Sad, but true.
Well, no mas. On this last trip down, not only did I not see any accidents, I didn't even have any tense moments, no sweaty hands, never even blinked. It was a total milk run.
Probably contributing to the strangeness of this trip was the fact that there was almost no tourist traffic to be found anywhere in Baja. From the border at Tijuana, all the way to Cabo San Lucas, I kept an exact count for well over a thousand miles of driving. I saw only two boats on trailers, eight vehicles carrying kayaks, and only a single RV. Really, this must be about the lightest tourist load that Mex 1 has carried since the day it opened.
We tourists will be back, of course, just as we always have, and those who are making their first trip down "The Baja" (hate that name) will enjoy an adventure that feels to them every bit as wonderful as always, but it won't be. The old potholed Mex 1 is gone forever, like the dirt road that came before it, and the Camino Real that came before that, and all that is left of them is memories. Driving down to Baja, for better or worse, has once again gotten a little smaller.
(Related Baja California, Mexico, articles and reports may be found at Mexfish.com's main Baja California information page. See weekly fishing news, photos, and reports from the major sportfishing vacation areas of Mexico including the Baja California area in "Mexico Fishing News.")