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About Carla White

Carla White is a freelance writer, public relations/marketing consultant and event organizer based in Ensenada, Baja, California. Carla and her husband Jim moved to Baja in 2003 from the Los Angeles area believing that, thanks to the internet and satellite communications, they could continue working from home while enjoying a richer, more affordable lifestyle. So far, they’ve been right. Connect with Carla Google+

Off the Beaten Track: Rancho Meling (Meling Ranch), Where the Old West Never Died

By Carla White
Rancho Meling, where the old west never dies!

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.

We gave thanks to be at Rancho Meling

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.

Rancho Meling (Meling Ranch) is perfect for families, for relaxing, and for outdoor activities.

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.

Chilaquiles, a breakfast fave at Meling Ranch

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.

The National Observatory in Baja California is shared by scientists throughout the world.

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.

Entering San Pedro de Martir National Park

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.

California Condor

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.

Artifacts of the past are everywhere at Rancho Meling (Meling Ranch), bringing a feeling of the ranches western history alive.

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!

Christian Meling brings the hospitality of generations to Rancho Meling when he welcomes guests.

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.  

Want to find out where to stop along the way, or where to have lunch at some Highway 1 restaurants?  Visit Baja.com.

Baja.com is a comprehensive online source of first-hand travel information for the Baja California Peninsula, supported by a full-service tour operator staffed by Baja locals (our “Baja Travel Savants”). We offer Baja travelers expert advice about local restaurants, hotels and vacation rentals, as well as guides, maps and articles about events, sports and activities. We provide bilingual customer support, information and sales seven days a week, 365 days a year. For more information, please call toll-free (US/CAN) 855-BAJA-411 or email us at info@baja.com.

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Lobster Burritos? Mama Espinoza’s South of San Quintin!

By Meghan Fitzpatrick

 Mama Espinoza’s restaurant is the famous landmark that puts the small agricultural town of El Rosario on the map for tourists and travelers. Born in 1908, Mama Espinoza has been serving her famous lobster tacos and burritos to people passing through El Rosario since 1930.

A landmark south of San Quintin, famous for lobster burritos

Before 1973, the town of El Rosario was known as “the end of the line,” because, if you were driving south down the Baja peninsula, it was the last town with a paved road. After El Rosario, the roads were treacherous and the journey south could be perilous. However in 1973, the completion of Highway 1 (otherwise known as the Transpeninsular Highway, running the entire length of the Baja Peninsula) changed El Rosario’s identity and it soon became a popular place to stop off before continuing down the long and smoothly paved road south through Baja. The road has recently been upgraded, once again, and continues south to the next stop, Cataviñia, without a hitch.

In addition to the completion of Highway 1, in 1967 the main promoter of the NORRA off-road racing tournaments organized the first ever Baja 1000 – a race that is today infamous around the world. The Baja 1000 is an off-road race that spans the entire length of the Baja peninsula, 1,000 miles, hence the name “Baja 1,000”. On the map for the Baja 1000, Mama Espinoza’s restaurant was the very first checkpoint.

 The drivers in the race were all blown away by Mama’s delicious lobster tacos and burritos (and her crab soup, shrimp dishes and breakfast machaca are no slackers, either). They went back to the US and into Baja and told everyone about Mama Espinoza’s delicious food and soon her place was legendary! Mama Espinoza’s was such a huge success that it has remained a key Baja 1000 checkpoint for over 40 years now. The inside of the restaurant is decorated with memorabilia from past races and drivers, making it almost like a museum of the Baja 1,000’s history.

 Mama Espinoza, whose real name is Anita Grosse Peña, has lived a very charitable and admirable life. Kindness and generosity are two qualities she believes to be very important, and you can see this carry over in her restaurant. Mama Espinoza’s was founded under the pillars of honesty, respect and quality of service. These were all important to Mama Espinoza to ensure that people would return again and again and that her customers never had a bad experience.

When the restaurant first opened it was called “Espinoza’s House,” and it was run by Ana and her husband, Heraclio Espinoza. When the Baja 1,000 racers started to frequent her restaurant, the drivers of the off-road vehicles and motorcycles affectionately started to call Ana, Mama Espinoza. The name stuck and soon the name of the restaurant was changed from “Espinoza’s House” to “Mama Espinoza.”

Mama Espinoza: A Baja icon and friend to the road warriors.

Mama Espinoza is today 104 years old, and still enjoys coming into her restaurant to eat and enjoy a glass of wine – though she has retired from running the place. Today the restaurant is run by her daughter, Anita Elva Espinoza Grosso. Anita runs the restaurant upholding the same values that her mother believed to be so important – service of quality, honesty and respect for all of their customers. Mama Espinoza’s business has now expanded to include accommodation for travelers and a family museum next to the restaurant where visitors can learn more about the history of the restaurant and the Espinoza family.

Have you been to Mama Espinoza’s? Tell us about your experience and share any pictures you may have with us here.

Baja.com is a comprehensive online source of first-hand travel information for the Baja California Peninsula, supported by a full-service tour operator staffed by Baja locals (our “Baja Travel Savants”). We offer Baja travelers expert advice about localrestaurantshotels and vacation rentals, as well as guides, maps and articles about events, sports and activities. We provide bilingual customer support, information and sales seven days a week, 365 days a year.

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