Legality of driving on Mexico’s beaches a bit murky

With miles of sand, the beaches in Mexico look like a four-wheeler’s dream. Many are so wide that if a vehicle were to drive by, it would likely not bother the people using it in some other fashion.

The problem is the federal law in Mexico prohibiting driving on the beaches is not consistent. According to an ATV tour operator in Baja California Sur, the federal law states people cannot drive a vehicle within 20 meters (65.6 feet) of the high tide line. States and municipalities can have their own laws. A Los Cabos area turtle preservation group says regulations are based on the ecological interest of a particular beach.

When people are in violation of illegally driving on a beach in Mexico the penalty includes a stint in prison from six months to six years, along with a fine of $127,000 – that’s U.S. dollars, not pesos.

Driving on the beaches of Baja Sur is common, even during turtle season when it’s illegal. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

A tourist ATV rental company based in Todos Santos that didn’t want to be named said,Like most laws here in Baja it’s not quite as straight forward as ‘it is illegal to drive on the beach anywhere.’ There are leeway’s and allowances, but the clarity on them is somewhat foggy depending on where you pull your information from and what municipalities you’re in. That is why you hear a lot of people just tell you it’s flat out illegal. It’s easier to say that as opposed to trying to make people understand just exactly where the high tide mark lies.”

Fun Cabo out of Cabo San Lucas touts riding on the beach, with pictures of people doing so on its website. An employee from the company was asked about the legality of riding on the beach. “It depends on which beach you go to. The public beach you would not drive on. But many of the regular beaches that no one goes to you can drive on.”

Gringos and Mexicans are guilty of beach driving. Most do so on quads or some other all-terrain vehicle. Sometimes it’s faster to drive on the beach than regular roads. No traffic to contend with, plus getting from Point A to Point B can be more direct. At least those are the reasons people use for driving on the beach when they know better.

Tire tracks prove rare signs like this one are ignored. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

It is hard to find signs in the greater Todos Santos area telling people not to drive on the beach. Like any law, it’s incumbent on the person to know the rules. They don’t have to be posted to be real or enforced. Data about citations for anywhere in Mexico could not be found.

In Los Barriles on the East Cape there is a section of beach farthest from the Sea of Cortez where vehicles are allowed. It’s distinct, with signs telling drivers what is OK and what isn’t. Those signs appear to be ignored more than followed.

Environmental/ecological reasons are cited for the “no beach driving” rule. Turtles lay their eggs in the sand, which can be crushed by a tire. Birds also have nests on the sand. Various plants grow along the farthest reaches of the beach from the water. These get trampled by tires as people come and go to the beach. Erosion can be a problem. Then there is the noise and air pollution emitted from any vehicle which are both harmful in various ways.

People who want to file a complaint against someone driving on the beach should send an email in Spanish to atencion.ciudadana@semarnat.gob.mx. The Mexican Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources has offices at City Hall in San Jose del Cabo. This document has more legal information, which can be used if people wanted to get a petition together to take to SEMARNAT, the government body with oversight of beach driving.

Desert comes alive along Sierra Madre trail

The Sierra de la Laguna mountains are a constant focal point on the Sierra Madre trail. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

With the rainy season in Todos Santos extending well beyond summer, it means the desert is awash in color in January.

Red, yellow, purple and pink stood out against the lush green. On this second day of the new year we were surrounded by lomboy, yucca, jumping cholla, pitaya, elephant trees, ocotillo and morning glories.

Coral vine on the trail. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Anna led us into the desert on the Sierra Madre trail. The route is a mix of soft dirt, almost sand, along with small rocks that require paying a little more attention when stepping. It wasn’t long before stunning views filled our vision in every direction. From this vantage point the town of Todos Santos seems small, but also sprawling because of the abundance of construction.

The cemetery on the outskirts of Todos Santos. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

The new cemetery is a focal point at different times, as it abuts the desert as it rises on the edge of town.

The ocean at times looked gray with how the sun was beating down on it. Other times it was a dark blue, almost like Lake Tahoe except much larger. From this perspective the Pacific seemed to be living up to her name – peaceful. So often that is not the case, at least in Baja.

Anna and May on the way back along the Sierra Madre trail. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

The Sierra de la Laguna mountains beckoned; perhaps another day. The desert provides a lush carpet of green leading to the mountains. While many of these plants can draw blood when touched, they look anything but menacing from afar.

The radio tower is pretty much the highest point of the hike. From there we headed down in a bit of a zigzag that had us wondering if it might loop back to where we started. The route actually goes under the Highway 19 bypass leading farther out into the desert. We opted to make the tunnel our turnaround point.

Various cacti stand tall in the desert. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

While we went 5.23 miles, the Sierra Madre trail was built as a single-track mountain bike route. It’s just more than a 10-mile loop, and with various offshoots could be much more.

We hit an elevation of 597 feet, with the lowest point being 181 feet. Our elevation gain was 659 feet.

Fairy duster is some of the flora. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

We started by parking at Jazamango restaurant, heading east into the desert on a road wide enough for the three of us. A small connector goes left, leading to another road that eventually hooks up with the Sierra Madre trail. This is the lone sign we saw going out. It’s also possible to start at the new cemetery. It would be fine to take a dog on this trail, however there is no water.


Dazzling kaleidoscope of fish off the coast of Los Cabos

More than 800 species of fish call the Sea of Cortez home. (Image: Donna Rockwood)

With each gentle stroke, it was like being transported to a new aquarium. Only this was no aquarium; it was the Sea of Cortez.

No need for dive equipment, several fish were at eye level, even more just feet below. Coral, sea urchins and star fish were more like permanent fixtures in this underwater oasis.

Convict tangs are often found swimming in a group. (Image: Donna Rockwood)

Flame angelfish with their orange and black coloring stood out against the floor of the sea. The Cortez rainbow wrasse is native to the waters of Baja, and can be found as far south as Peru. The long spine porcupine can be hard to spot with its camouflage-like coloring making it easy to blend in with the sandy bottom and light rocks. Guineafowl puffers were hard to miss with their polkadot bodies. Convict tangs are prolific in this part of the world; the black stripes on a yellow-silver body looks like they belong behind bars. A school of what we believe were sardines darted back and forth, shimmering as though they were silver coins.

Flame angels are also poplar in home aquariums. (Image: Donna Rockwood)

Those are just some of the creatures that Donna, Craig and I spent a couple hours admiring earlier this month. At times we could see at least 30 feet down.

On the right of Chileno Beach is a rocky area, with the reef farther out. With so much to see underwater, it was only necessary to look up to make sure my friends were nearby.

The long spine porcupine fish blends in with surrounding rocks and sea life. (Image: Donna Rockwood)

While I got chilled after going out about three-quarters of a mile, there was no need for a wet suit earlier this month. Buoyed by the salt water, it was easy to stay afloat.

From the shore of Chileno Beach it would be hard to imagine what lurks beneath those salty waters. Indicators this is the place to be were the dive boats in the area, along with people who paid someone to bring them via boat to snorkel.

We drove ourselves; signage is good along Highway 1. Parking is free. Plus, we had our own equipment so it was not necessary to pay to play.

Plenty of marine life make snorkeling at Chileno Beach a delight. (Image: Donna Rockwood)

Chileno Beach is along the corridor between Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo. It’s away from the chaos of the tourist core. It’s also one of the few beaches in the area that is public and swimmable. A roped off area prevents boats from coming in.

Umbrellas, kayaks and other beach paraphernalia are available for rent – but not every day. Restrooms are available, as is an outdoor shower. Food may be purchased at neighboring Chileno Bay Resort. It would be easy to spend an entire day here — on land or in the water.

Tortoiseshell butterflies make mass migration to Lake Tahoe

Scientists are still trying to figure out why tortoiseshell butterflies have population booms. (Image: Matt Forister)

With the desire to bring environmental news to the masses, in 2012 the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency launched the publication Tahoe In Depth.        

Most years it comes out in the winter and summer. A wealth of information is provided about what is going on in the Lake Tahoe Basin. Some stories are written by employees from agencies like the U.S. Forest Service, some by independent freelancers.

The winter 2019 edition has an article on Page 7 and Page 8 that I authored about the tortoiseshell butterfly boom in the Sierra last summer.

Swimming with whale sharks — the world’s largest fish

Kathryn tries to keep up with a whale shark. (Image: Katrin/La Paz Vip Tours)

“They won’t swallow you.”

But will they nibble on me? Could one dismember me?

No and no.”

Whale sharks, while they are the largest fish in the world, are also docile. They are sharks, though their size is more whale like. They are often more than 30 feet long and weigh 20 tons.

In pairs we swam with these beasts with the guidance of Katrin. Polk-a-dots never looked so beautiful. A mass of gray is splashed with white circles. Their eyes tiny, like golf balls, are on the side of their heads instead of the front. They rely more on smell than sight to know if danger lurks.

With a maximum of six people, La Paz Vip Tours has intimate excursions. (Image: Katrin/La Paz Vip Tours)

Kicking as fast I could, eventually I couldn’t keep up even though they only go about 3 mph. I wanted to reach out, but knew better. Swimming alongside them in their natural environment was a privilege and I wasn’t about to abuse it.

No need for wet suits this time of year, the water is bath like. Whale sharks prefer warm water, which is why they are found in the tropics like La Paz.

As solitary animals, they don’t swim in pods. They wait until they are 30 to have babies. Then can live another 70 years.

Whale sharks are one of the magnificent ocean creatures. (Image: Katrin/La Paz Vip Tours)

With their 4-foot-wide mouths constantly open as they saunter through the 75 to 80 degree waters of the Sea of Cortez, these creatures use a built-in filtration system for eating. All those thousands of tiny teeth are useless. For the most part they swallow plankton and a few other things whole. Gills expunge all the water that is swallowed.

“Their throat can only swallow something the size of a tennis ball,” guide Katrin says.

Unfortunately, these fish along with manta rays are consuming a large amount of plastic, at least elsewhere in the world, according to a study published this month.

Being so large, other fish will latch on to the whale shark for a free ride or swim nearby, almost like drafting, all as a way to be protected from predators.

Kathryn and Sue ready to swim with a whale shark. (Image: Katrin/La Paz Vip Tours)

With their primary food source plankton lacking this fall in the La Paz area of Baja California Sur, the whale shark tour boats had to delay the normal Oct. 1 opening for a couple weeks. Whale sharks are protected here and in other parts of the world. The Mexican government limits the number of tour boats, when they can operate (season ends in February), regulates the number of people in the water, how close boats can be to the animals, and mandates people don’t touch the whale sharks.

Katrin with La Paz Vip Tours was our guide on the first Monday in November. To date it was the best tour I’ve been on in Baja – great response time, service fantastic, the knowledge and English fluency of Katrin exceptional, her patience with diverse personalities and athletic abilities outstanding, the equipment top grade. Eddie, the captain, was adept at finding these beasts (sonar is not allowed). A dorsal fin or tail out of the water were his clues. For $100, each of the six of us was in the water four times, wetsuits-snorkel-fins-mask provided, snacks-water on board, with tour time of three hours.

Obscure spirit path combines nature, ancient language

Guidebooks are good to a point. They tend to highlight the most popular places to visit in a city or region. That’s their purpose.

But what if you want to go off the beaten track? That is when you go to Atlas Obscura. My friend Denise introduced me to the site. She and hubby Steve swear by it when they travel close to home or far distances. The site describes itself as, “The definitive guide to the world’s hidden wonders.”

I had a few hours to kill in Menlo Park, California, earlier this fall. Atlas Obscura took me to The Great Spirit Path at Bedwell Bayfront Park.

Images of what the rocks are designed to look like and the poem. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

While there were limited copies of a guide about the path at the park, it was the description at Atlas Obscura that got me to search out this unique wonder. It would have been easy to miss the special path without prior knowledge of it being there because of how big the park is and the tiny sign pointing to the starting point.

Susan C. Dunlap is credited with being the inspiration behind Spirit Path. She wanted the park, which was being developed in the early 1980s, to have something unique in it.

Rocks spell out words in a poem. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

“The stone poem fuses together both literature and sculpture – it can be read, yet retains a purely visual format,” according the pamphlet. “These rock clusters were inspired by American Indian pictographs.”

Rocks (892 weighing more than 505 tons) from a Sonoma quarry and a meadow near the Stanford Linear Accelerator were hauled to the park in 1981 and 1985 to create the path.

It was good to have a picture of what the rocks originally looked like because time and weather have taken a toll on of them. Not all are whole and grass obscures some. Each cluster of rocks represents a word or phrase in the poem.

The 53 signs are numbered, each with the full poem. This makes it easy for those strolling through the park to follow the numerical order. While I didn’t visit each formation, I saw enough to have an appreciation for the effort involved to create this path.

“It is the artist’s intent here to illustrate a reverence for the evolutionary methods of both man and nature in combination with a message of hope,” the brochure reads. I believe she achieved her goal.

West Shore trail weaves along Lake Tahoe, into the forest

Trail builders in Lake Tahoe need to find other places to lay down pavement.

The West Shore trail from Tahoe City to Meeks Bay is too pretty. Too many beautiful distractions and photo ops are along this 11-plus mile (one-way) trail to keep pedaling. I felt like I was out of the saddle as much as I was in it.

In other words, planners, developers, builders, visionaries – they did their job and then some with this route. It’s perfect for walkers, cyclists, joggers, and all ages. It can be done it segments or all at once. It’s about 10-feet-wide the whole time.

Much of the north section of the bike trail is along Lake Tahoe. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

While the whole trail is not new, a significantly scenic section was completed in the last year. This is the 0.7 miles going from the south end of Sugar Pine Point State Park down to Meeks Bay Resort. By themselves those are two of my favorite destinations in the basin. The state park has a plethora of things to see and do no matter the season. The section of the paved trail that goes through the park is the densest forest area. No need to hike – just walk/ride here. Enjoy the pines, firs, aspens and junipers.

The color of the water at Meeks Bay is like no other at the lake. The aqua hue reminds me of the Sea of Cortez in Baja and the Caribbean. The water gently laps, almost to a cadence that beckons one to enter. This is one area no matter the winter snowfall where it still seems like there is plenty of beach. Such was the case this year. The white sand stretches from the land to beneath the water for as far as the eye can see.

Meeks Bay is the southern point on the West Shore trail. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Because we were making this a round trip we didn’t venture into the water. Meeks Bay might need to be the starting point next time so we end at the beach. Sue and I started in Tahoe City based on a friend’s recommendation because of elevation gains. Most of the ride is relatively even (aka flat), but it is Tahoe and these are the mountains, so it really isn’t flat – though it is flat for Tahoe. The most significant steepness was coming out of Meeks Bay into the state park.

Starting out from Tahoe City it isn’t long before the trail dumped us into a neighborhood. It’s a short stint. This is just north of Sunnyside restaurant. The other neighborhood section is Homewood. Both are easy to navigate – and we did this on a Saturday in September.

The Homewood section was completed in 2016. This had always been the missing link for this trail system. Before the routing into the neighborhood and along a more defined trail, cyclists had been along the busy highway, in a travel lane.

The only downside to the trail is the multiple times is crosses Highway 89. There are crosswalks at most of these intersections, but drivers are not always cognizant of the two-wheelers on the side of the road or don’t simply know they are supposed to stop for anyone in a crosswalk. Flashing yellow lights at all the crossings would make it better for everyone.

Still, we always felt safe.

Even when the trail is alongside the highway, it never felt like we were in vehicle traffic. The separation is clearly defined.

Riding through the forest of Sugar Pine Point State Park. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

At times the trail is right along Lake Tahoe, other times it is on the mountain side of the highway. It crosses Ward, Blackwood and General creeks. So many photo ops, especially next to the lake. It was all so visually stimulating that I cannot recommend a favorite section.

There’s even a bicycle campground closer to the Tahoe City end. A lone tent was set up.

While it is a multi-use trail, e-bikes are not allowed. A couple repair stations are set up — good if you need to add air or make some adjustments to your bike. There are even large trail maps in case you need to know where something is.

Here is a map of the trail, which will help you decide where to start if you don’t want to do the whole thing.

Relaxing Truckee River float a scenic wonder


Various types of rafts float down the Truckee River. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Two hours or more of outstanding fun. That’s what floating down the Truckee River is all about.

A bag slung over the boat, drifting in the water is deal to keep beer cold. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

It’s one of those summer rituals that locals and tourists enjoy, and that most ages can participate in.

While there are multiple commercial entities to rent a raft from, Sue provided a two-woman “boat” that worked just fine for us. I commanded the oars, steering us through rapids, around rocks (sometimes over them) and never into the bank except when we took a break.

Many places the water is shallow enough to stand in. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

I’m not going to earn my whitewater guide certification doing this route from Tahoe City to the River Ranch, but I definitely needed the oars at times. Only a few people were going down in inner tubes without any steering capability; this season I’m not sure I would have liked that based on the mini rapids and current in some sections.

It was never scary. At most there might have been a class 2 rapid.

It doesn’t matter the direction one looks — it’s scenery is stunning. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

It was always scenic. You can’t go wrong with any river in the Sierra. Add the sometimes grassy shoreline, sometimes beach spots, tall pines and towering rock formations, well, Mother Nature really has outdone herself. Some sections of the water were so shallow it would have just covered my ankles, with only a couple sections where it would have been over my head. Most of the time I could stand up had I wanted to.

Don’t bring towels — they just get wet. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

This is one of those experiences that is likely to be different each time one does it because of the water level, the craft one uses, water temperature, and the people. We were out on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend. It was a hoot. The people around us made it even more entertaining, as some had dogs with them, others had floatation devices just for their adult beverages, others had water guns in case people got too complacent.

In many ways it was one big floating party with a bunch of strangers all having fun in the warm California sun with the 60-something-degree Truckee River keeping us cool.

Just completed East Shore trail captures majesty of Lake Tahoe

Nearly three miles of paved trail are open for walkers, dogs and cyclists in Incline Village. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Breathtaking. That is one of many superlatives to describe the East Shore multi-use path that opened earlier this summer. The nearly 3-mile paved route goes from Tunnel Creek to Sand Harbor in Incline Village.

A few years ago, for a story I did for Lake Tahoe News, I had the opportunity to walk along part of what was the planned route. Even then I knew this was going to be something special. It’s so much more spectacular than anything I could have imagined.

“It is a trail that takes you someplace, but the journey is the destination,” Amy Berry, head of the Tahoe Fund, said during that excursion in 2014.

It takes a while to walk the trail because there are so many vistas to photograph. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Estimates during the planning stage were that 100,000 people would use this trail each year.

The East Shore of Lake Tahoe has some of the most dramatic scenery in the basin. This trail allows almost anyone to enjoy this slice of Tahoe that until now may have been off-limits to certain people. Before it meant seeing these views from a vehicle whizzing by on Highway 28, being on a mountain bike along the Flume Trail, dealing with the masses at Sand Harbor beach, or risking your life parking and darting across the highway to get to the water.

The pavement is 10-feet wide and built to ADA standards. There are a couple curvy and steep sections that had skateboarders using their foot as a brake, and some cyclists panting. Walking didn’t seem like any big deal.

Looking north with Highway 28 in the foreground. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Planners were able to keep 11 offshoots to the lake. This is the only place bikes are not allowed. With the lake being so high this summer, not all of those locations offer much sand to sprawl out on. Still, it’s nice to know these spots are there for those with dogs who would want to have a drink.

Major troublesome spots for dogs are the six steel-fiberglass bridges. The longest is 810 feet. This also happens to be the longest bridge in the basin. An Ohio company made the bridges. After dogs had their pads damaged from the hot surface, signs were posted warning people about the bridge temperature. At the long span and another bridge are wagons people may use to transport their canine. The Tahoe Transportation District, which oversaw the project, would not say if anything is going to be done to lessen the danger on the bridges.

Some of the bridges are so hot that local residents have left wagons to transport dogs. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

A good rule of thumb is if you wouldn’t go barefoot – on any surface – because of the heat, a four-legged family member shouldn’t be either. This includes asphalt and sand. At sunset the temperature wasn’t an issue.

TTD manager Carl Hasty would not say if the heat of the bridge should be a concern to cyclists’ rubber tires.

Bike racks are plentiful along the whole trail. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

A nice attribute to the route is the abundance of bike racks, as well as the couple stations to do minor repairs, including adding air to bike tires.

The total endeavor came with a hefty price tag – $40.5 million. This was a mixture of private and local-state-federal government dollars. About half went to the trail, underpass and parking, while the other half was for environmental and highway upgrades. Considering construction was right next to the lake, this meant more environmental concerns; then there is a tunnel where the path goes under Highway 28 taking people from the mountain side to the lake side; plus, there are a multitude of granite vista areas – ideal for sitting to take in the views. Parking spaces were also added. Eliminated is all the highway parking between the two points of the trail, with this being done mostly as a safety concern.

More than half of the trail is along Lake Tahoe. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Eventually it will cost to park at some locations. Tahoe Transportation District officials would not say what the fee will be or when it will be implemented. The payment portals are already in place.

For those who want to enter Sand Harbor State Park it costs $2 on foot (dogs are not allowed), while it is $10 to drive in.

While the bi-state Tahoe Transportation District was the lead agency to make the path a reality, it will be the Nevada Division of State Parks which maintains it. It took three years to build it.

Views along the trail are mesmerizing. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

This is the second section of the greater 33-mile Stateline-to-Stateline trail. One day it will cover the entire Nevada side of the lake, thus the reference to the state lines. The end/starting points will be Stateline and Crystal Bay. The first section was completed it 2013 with 2.2 miles that go from Rabe Meadow in Stateline to Round Hill Pines Beach.

Cyclists enjoy the scenery at one of the many granite rest stops. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

The third phase is already being planned, with the comment period on the U.S. Forest Service’s draft environmental assessment document having ended Aug. 11. The documents are available online. This next section will be eight miles from Sand Harbor to Spooner Summit.

As with all the sections, it’s not just a multi-use path that is being laid down. A major goal is to eliminate parking on the narrow Highway 28 and to create parking areas that are safer. Improvements to utilities, a focus on erosion, and reducing sediment from reaching Lake Tahoe are all goals of the project.


Flowers continue to dazzle at Winnemucca Lake

Mother Nature at work along the route to Winnemucca Lake. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

It’s always all about the flowers when hiking to Winnemucca Lake. Even this late in the season the flora is fantastic.

While the flowers are past their peak, even on Aug. 11 Mother Nature was putting on a spectacular display.

An array of flowers, with Caples Lake in the background. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

The area between Frog and Winnemucca lakes has the biggest splash of color. Some of the plants are a couple feet tall. This is where the lupine are the healthiest, while at the start of the trail they have petered out. Irises are well past their best bloom. Still, a few were photo-worthy.

An iris stands tall in the Mokelumne Wilderness. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

With it being a cool day (only in the 70s), it didn’t matter that we got a late start to the day. It did mean we didn’t see any people swimming at Winnemucca. I could only touch the water because it was so icy cold. AJ lapped it up. She loves cold water. Round Top Peak still has measurable snow, which will one day find its way into the lake. On the far side of the lake is a small waterfall coming out of the granite wall.

Round Top at 10,381 feet stands above Winnemucca Lake. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

While Sue, AJ and I ventured out on a Sunday to do this nearly 4-miler, it wasn’t a total freeway of people. Other locals were also in search of wildflowers. It seemed like nearly every group had a dog with them. Fortunately, all but a couple people abided by the rule of keeping their pooch on leash.

An array of flowers decorate the trail to Winnemucca Lake. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

I’m not sure I had ever done this hike in August before. Usually this is a July hike – early to mid-July. All the snow from last winter had the trail buried so much longer this summer. It was worth the wait.

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