Baja: Mike’s Sky Rancho
Mike’s Sky Rancho
Mike’s Sky Rancho is a place of legends, where the stories are mostly true, albeit dubious due to the requisite tequila consumption at its outpost bar. We’d heard mention of the place by the numerous folks we’d met during our travels. Not from regular folks, but the kind of folk that say yes to adventure, relish difficult travel, and don’t mind a little sand, sweat, and beer. Well, maybe more than a little beer. Mike’s Rancho was added to our list and reconfirmed again and again as we got closer to the border. We heard stories of its remote location, of the long, dirt track to get there, of its historic place as a stop on the Baja 1000, of the hotel and bar and home cooked meals in the middle of nowhere, where life off the grid meant lights out on the entire compound at 10:00 pm. It sounded every bit like our kind of place.
The border crossing at Tecate was uneventful and we spent one night on the coast just south of Ensenada. The next morning we headed inland for the infamous desert outpost. Once we turned off the main highway we stopped to air down the tires and began the twisting climb up into the mountains to Mike’s. We rambled and wound up and up. The desert gave way to more desert and all I kept thinking was “there is no way there is a hotel with a bar and pool out here. No way.” We kept on, and after a couple hours finally came to the river crossing and our first glimpse of the white-washed hotel. The river valley was lush for Baja, some cows looked up at as we rolled by, and we pulled up the steep drive and parked outside a surprisingly nice looking compound.
We were met with a bit of a ghostown feel, but finally tracked down Claudia in the kitchen and she told us where we could set up camp for the night. There were no other guests so there would be no dinner that night and the bar was closed. We settled in to the letdown and planned our departure for the next morning. However, being a place of legend, Mike’s was not about to disappoint. Just as we dozed off, we were startled awake by a dirt bike blasting by our camp on the way up to the hotel. And then another. And another. In the pitch of night, with headlights blazing, there seemed no end to the bikes and UTVs blasting by. What the f*@#k?!
In the morning we wandered up from our camp to meet the maniacs who blazed through the Baja desert in the middle of the night. We were met with a welcoming “What the hell are you doing here?!” To which we replied “What the hell are YOU doing here?!” It was an introduction that led to instant friendship. The group of about 50 or so people were the family and friends of Cliff Matlock, a former Baja 1000 champion, who passed away several years earlier. Since his untimely death, they have kept his memory alive with a midnight run from Southern California to Mike’s Sky Rancho, followed the next day by a blistering ride to Rancho Meling for lunch and the compulsory amount of Tecate consumption required to erect a beer can pyramid to the ceiling. Only when the pyramid was completed could everyone stumble out to rally back over the rocky desert to Mike’s. Our eyebrows raised in excitement at the prospect of their trip to Meling’s and their collective response was to find two open seats in the UTVs for us to come along. We scrambled to put on our mountain bike helmets (safety third), grab some water, and jumped in for a ride like none other.
We blasted out of Mike’s at top speed, our drivers forgoing picking a line and opting for raw speed to crank us over boulders, across ditches, and around tight turns. This was not the lumbering off-roading we do in our van. This was pure adrenaline. We got air, we landed, and kept going. I could not contain my smile or my whoops of sheer joy. This also meant my teeth were covered in a layer of Baja of silt, which thankfully I was able to rinse off with a Tecate each time we had to stop for a trail side repair- and there were several. Broken axle- no problem. Flat tire- changed faster than I could squat behind a cactus. Loco as this group may have seemed, they were also entirely capable of handling whatever came up.
Eventually we rolled into Rancho Meling to what felt like a scene from an old western. Gorgeous desert landscaping, immaculate stone buildings, an old church, and antiquated farming implements that were still in use. The ranch itself has been in the family over 100 years. In addition to continuing as a working cattle ranch it also has hotel rooms, the dining hall, and provides access to incredible recreation in the surrounding mountains.
After a scrumptious lunch we all set to the hard work of emptying the beer cans and swapping tall tales. By the time we left Meling’s the sun was setting. When we arrived back at Mike’s there were only a couple hours to be had around the bar with new friends until the generators were turned off and everyone stumbled to bed.
Farewells and contact info were exchanged over breakfast the next morning and we left Mike’s Sky Rancho knowing we had made friends that we will know for a lifetime. Thanks to Cliff Matlock for being the kind of guy who inspires people of this caliber to rally together for a real good time. I only wish we could have met him.