By Gene Kira, Jan. 14, 2002, as published in Western Outdoor News:
I'm loading the truck tomorrow for a run down Baja California's 1,000-mile Transpeninsular Highway, Mex 1, and I'm probably looking at some cautious night driving as I seem to do on almost every trip...and it's gotten me to thinking about one of the most tragic lines I ever heard in Baja.
It was uttered by a lucky-to-be-alive American as his demolished van was being towed into a taller mecanico in Guerrero Negro.
"My God!" he exclaimed as the tow truck unhooked his completely crushed vehicle. "NEVER drive in Baja at night! Just look at what a cow can do to you at 85 miles-an-hour!!!"
The mystery of how a cow could achieve such a speed was resolved a few minutes later, when the police determined that it was actually the man's van that was going 85 m.p.h., not the cow, and negotiations began on how large a fine our night-speeding American would have to pay for the death of the apparently priceless beast.
The point of this little tale, of course, is that most Mex 1 night accidents could be avoided with a little common sense. While it does seem like a very good idea indeed not to drive in Baja at night, the fact is that, despite its horrendous reputation, relatively few accidents occur on the Transpeninsular Highway after dark.
Why is this? Perhaps it is because most people drive so much slower at night. Maybe the daring drivers were killed off long ago, and it's mostly the super-cautious, chicken drivers that are left.
Or, perhaps it is because Baja cows don't actually sleep on the road much anymore. In the old days a cow could hope for a nap of maybe an hour or so before an approaching vehicle would disturb it. Nowadays, there's a car every five or ten minutes, and a cow just can't get in a decent night's rest on the road anymore. (However, you still must be on the lookout for lots of cows wandering around looking for a place to sleep. They never give up.)
Or, perhaps all the recent road improvements, with painted lines and reflectors, and so forth, are making a difference.
Whatever the reason, night driving on Mex 1 does seem a lot safer than before--whether it really is or not--and after sweating it out many times, I've come to feel that the most important single safety factor is probably how fast you are driving.
For safety's sake, you should limit your speed at night so that you can stop your vehicle in time even if you encounter something like a brick wall that someone has suddenly built across the road. For most rigs, this means driving at a pathetic 40-45 m.p.h., or even a little less. Most Americans are not used to driving this slowly. If it feels like you are just crawling like a bug, you are probably driving at a reasonable speed.
One valuable thing about driving so slowly is that it isn't a big emotional deal to slow down even further, or even stop, if necessary. At higher speeds, the temptation is to hold your nose, blink your eyes, and brazen it out, hoping there is nothing bad hidden in that dark shadow or in that blind spot created by the glare on an oncoming vehicle.
Oops! Experience shows that if you get zapped at night, it is usually because of an animal, boulder, narrow spot, bottomless hole, washout, stopped truck, landslide, or whatever, hidden just outside the range of your lights. You'll be a lot safer if you are emotionally and physically able to slow way down, or stop, whenever you even suspect there isn't a passable road in front of you.
And especially around Guerrero Negro, watch out for those amazing 85 m.p.h. cows with no headlights.
(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.")