Mike's Sky Ranch

The roosters got an early start at Mike's Sky Ranch, cackling off in the distance shortly after dawn. Unfortunately, my roommates and I were already awake to hear them. Mr. Rooster, in fact, had probably been awoken by the same thing that roused us at first light. Our overly friendly neighbors started moving before dawn, boisterously preparing for another day of offroad explorations. Talking smack and carrying on outside our door, the riders seemed to pick up right where they left off at the campfire the night before, as if the intervening hours had only been a five-minute break.

Burying our heads under our pillows, Lory, Sirpa and I tried unsuccessfully to go back to sleep. Finally, we gave up and shuffled into the dining room for a strong cup of coffee and desayuno. While we waited for our chorizo and eggs, the others joined us, and we discussed the day's activities. We could spend another day driving offroad to visit the Observatorio Astronómico Nacional at San Pedro Mártir, or we could hang out, relax and do some exploring in the surrounding canyon. We opted for the latter.

Mike's Sky Ranch sits on a hill overlooking Arroyo San Rafael, a steep-walled canyon through which a stream runs. Simple, rustic rooms surround a centrally located swimming pool. Off to one side, a large common room, dining room and bar offer a comfortable respite after a strenuous day of offroad play. The ranch even boasts a billiard room, though we could only find 13 balls during our visit (forcing Tom, Mike, Sirpa and I to get creative with a four-person game of Cutthroat). Our accommodations were located in a long block of 10 rooms above the main ranch, which ostensibly offered a quieter stay (but not this time). Below the ranch, sycamores overshadowed a sandy wash near the stream, where our campers erected their tents.

An offshoot of the dirt road we'd traveled yesterday followed the watercourse further up into the arroyo. We got behind the wheels of our vehicles again and started exploring. Our first diversion came when the road crossed the creek. The water level did not pose a significant obstacle, but it was still high enough for some whitewater fun. As we continued along increasingly rutty roads, we realized we'd split off from the stream some ways back. Since our goal was to find a suitable spot to hike along the water, we turned back and parked.

As before, the lushness of the scenery caught me by surprise. I frankly expected dry brush and barren hillsides, but the canyon glowed with brilliant greens. Along the stream, especially, reeds and plants grew thick in riparian splendor. The trail, too, provided an exciting hike. Paralleling the water, it undulated over rocks and boulders, giving me a chance to do some of the climbing I hadn't fully taken advantage of at Joshua Tree two weeks ago. Reaching a small waterfall, we reached an unspoken decision to go off and do our own thing. Sirpa and I climbed up to join Rich and Nate atop a low cliff, while others explored the surrounding area. Eventually, most continued on up the rocky trail. I stayed behind with Lory and Drew, stripping down to my bathing suit to take a brisk dip in the chilling water.

Later that afternoon, some of us made up for our interrupted sleep by taking a long nap. When the ranch filled up with riders again at the end of the day, the dinner hour arrived. As one would expect in a ranch house environment, a full breakfast and a hearty dinner come included in the cost of accommodations. In the early evening, proprietor Mike lights up two large piles of mesquite, over which the night's repast is grilled (steak the first night, chicken the second).

After dinner, our group retired to the cozy bar, the walls of which were covered with bumper stickers and other racing and offroad paraphernalia. Bartender Alejandro mixed up some wicked margaritas, and even shared a bit of the Mike's Sky Ranch private-label tequila (which apparently was made in Guadalajara, not on the premises). Too soon, the generator shut off (10:00 p.m. sharp every night), so we made our way down to the campsite for some late-night revelry around the fire. DJ (and man of many other talents) Nate spun some music out of his iBook as Sirpa, laughing uncontrollably, passed around the tequila time after time. Throwing the last of the wood on the fire, we watched as the flames—and one fine day—subsided at last.

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