By Carla White
Rancho Meling, where the old west never dies!
For me, Thanksgiving has always been a time to wrap myself in the comfortable blanket of tradition. Someone’s tradition, anyway. To explain, I grew up all over the world — I really don’t have my own family holiday customs and patterns. So, my idea of tradition easily morphs from a vision of Waterford crystal and bone china in Connecticut, to a pit-roasted wild boar in Australia, to kebabs and tabouli in Lebanon. Luckily, there are always friends and loved ones to share the ‘comfortable blanket’ with me, and 2012 was no different as, on Thanksgiving morning, three of us set off in the truck and headed south down Highway 1 from Ensenada to create yet another new tradition. Journeying about 3-3.5 hours, we cut inland at the rough-hewed burg of San Telmo (about eight miles south of Colonet), to head towards San Pedro de Mártir. Our destination: the famous Rancho Meling (Meling Ranch), where the old west never died. Just 45 minutes from the main road (not always the smooth-paved route that now exists), we arrived, the rancho clearly marked by a big green fancy sign proclaiming the name, and indicating that rooms, food and even big toilets would be available. Who could want for more? We gave thanks.
Just to be clear, I didn’t coin that phrase: ‘Rancho Meling, Where the Old West Never Died’. It is the name of a book written by Paul Sanford and published by the Naylor Company (Book Publisher of the Southwest). It was written back in 1968, but my suspicion is that things at Rancho Meling (Meling Ranch), haven’t changed all that much. Now you can read about the history of the ranch in the book or find blips about it online. There’s some romance, for sure, and ultimately Meling Ranch is the result of a marriage that took place between two pioneering families who came to northern Baja in the early 1900s, the Melings and the Johnsons. Today, there remain remnant structures of that era, even though the ranch was destroyed in the 1911 revolution and later rebuilt. It still encompasses 10,000 acres on a small stream in the foothills of Sierra San Pedro de Martir. Its access to water means that aspen trees thrive, as do gardens and fruit trees (and an amazing hybrid walnut/pecan tree) thrive that have been lovingly tended over the years. It is an oasis in the harsh lomas and high desert of the region.
Young proprietor of Rancho Meling (Meling Ranch) Christian Meling welcomes visitors to this tranquil, gentle place, sometimes with his wife Emily, and their daughters Edna and Emily. After checking into simple and basic rooms (there are approximately 10, and two family cabins) with very comfy beds, that are spotlessly clean, most equipped with pot-bellied stoves that — take it from one who is challenged — are easy to light, and small gas lamps for when the generators turn off at around 9 p.m., it is time to explore the grounds. What fun! Rancho Melingis still a big cattle ranch, but there are pigs, and goats, and turkeys (ps–our Thanksgiving bird came from CostCo), and quail, and all kinds of farm creatures guaranteed to create some photo opps. There are swings, and a swimming pool, and the sense of a hundred summer-times echo here as all is drenched in late afternoon sunlight, buzzing bees and occasionally the distant sound of ranchero music from the workers’ ranch house.
Foods at Rancho Meling offers a lot to be thankful about, as well. In true ranchero style, they are basic but delicious and perfectly seasoned and filling on a chill November night. The roast turkey (that turned into succulent chilaquiles for breakfast) was accompanied by homemade frijoles (beans), hot rolls and gravy, Olga’s amazing turkey stuffing that added just a hint of black olive, and two kinds of apple pie. Set in the lodge (which ever reminds me of the Ponderosa Ranch) with a roaring fire blazing in the ample stone fireplace, and bright conversation by strangers who all bathed in the glow of Rancho Meling’s hospitality, nothing could have been be more homey, more warming and more traditional.
Lulled to sleep by the distant cries of coyotes, and nudged awake by the crackly sounds of roosters and chickens, we all felt embers of excitement start to burn in anticipation of a day of exploration, knowing that the evening would bring more of Rancho Meling’s coziness and comfort. So, what to do? Over the morning meal, Christian explained the array of diversions available in this remote and fascinating part of Baja. First, it is important to know that the Sierra de San Pedro Mártir is one of the peninsular ranges of Baja, and the highest peak is the Picacho del Diablo, at 10,157 ft, also called Cerro de la Encantada. It is the highest point in Baja California and in all of Baja, and on a clear day, both the Sea of Cortezand the Pacific Ocean can be seen. In fact, it is so high that it can be seen from as far away as Sonora, Mexico. This area is also home to the National Observatory (9,280 ft) which was built in 1975 and hosts scientists from around the world to take advantage of the region’s altitude, low humidity, clear skies, lack of residual ambient light and low atmospheric pollution to observe activity in the universe.
To get to the observatory for our tour (Fernando, a government engineer at the facility guided us), we entered the National Park at a cost of around $5 per person. And what a national park! The only true pine forest in Baja, this fantastic area of pine- and boulder-studded mountain in the heart of Baja offers diverse wildlife, hiking trails (for the die-hards, the Altar trail is a must-do–about 2.5 miles each way, but pretty much straight up), vistas, and more. There is even a museum, that hopefully will be open soon.
There is a California Condorviewing area, too, which is part of a larger multinational project spearheaded by the Baja California Condor Release Project. The condors are not always in sight, but when they are, it is a magnificent opportunity to experience and give thanks for the grandeur of nature.
Back at the ranch, there are other things to do, including signing up with Christian for a 4-day or longer trail ride through the forest. Riders can hire horses or a burro for the trek, camping at spots along the way. It is obvious that this is one of Christian’s favorite ways to show off the region — as he talks about camping in the evenings, and the animals that can be seen along the way, his eyes sparkle with enthusiasm. No takers in my group…at least, not this time. Or you can just hop around the property on horse- or burro-back, after a relaxing nap in one of the tree-shaded hammocks. Exploring, fishing, swimming, off-roading: It’s all fun, but the seductive thing about Rancho Meling is the sense of the past and a quiet atmosphere that makes you glad there is no WiFi, no cell service and no television. A game of cards on the porch, with a cold beer or a steaming coffee, the whistlin’ winds and an occasional neigh from the corral…interrupted only by the ring of the Chow Bell at 6 p.m., and a hearty repast of meat soup, and roasted potatoes. Olga scores again!
We are already plotting our next visit to Rancho Meling, to be weclomed by Christian, Ramon, Andres, Olga, Antonio and Aki. It’s a great stop on the way north or south in Baja, and just a great stop, period. It also has its own landing strip, and Christian promises that he is planning to bring people down from the US soon, most likely starting in 2013. For us, it is a quick drive that will become a tradition in our family; maybe even our new Thanksgiving. I am so thankful to have had a life that includes adventure, living in Baja, and good friends. Now, I have something new to give thanks for: knowing a bit more about Rancho Meling, where the old west never died! Rancho Meling (Meling Ranch) is a serene get-away, just a half-day drive from the US border.
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