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Up from Cabo San Lucas, almost 50 newly paved miles.

Road runners pedal furiously across your asphalt path; vultures and hawks perch on roadside cactus. Along the western horizon, are after sweeping arc of solitary beach is punctuated by rocky outcrops that drop steeply into the surf.

This is the scene along much of Baja California Sur's newest paved road. Except for five short detours where road and bridge construction continues at arroyo crossings, Sunset reporters found the 48 miles clear sailing in late December. Underway for many years, the paving opens up the route along the Pacific from Cabo San Lucas to Todos Santos, where a dirt road through town connects with the paved highway to La Paz. It's a more Level, less winding alternative to Mexico 1, with an average speed of 40 mph. The greatest benefit is access to beaches that truly fulfill the claims of Baja tourism ads: they stretch for miles and are virtually unpeopled (we met one surfer and a handful of local fishermen). Avid anglers can cast for croakers, corbina, sierra, and other surf fish. Todos Santos is a small farming town with the dusty pastel quaintness that movie-set designers strive to re-create.

The beaches are idyllic locales for self-contained campers. Other visitors might consider a day trip by rental car from Cabo San Lucas resorts (most hotels will pack you a picnic lunch). A Volkswagen "bug" rents for $16 per day plus 11 cents a kilometer, a midsize car for $38 a day plus 18 cents a kilometer; add $4 a day for automatic transmission, $8.50 for full insurance coverage. Fill up with gasoline in Cabo (or La Paz). You'll find no resorts and only modest provisions at tiny grocery stores in Todos Santos.

Here's a guide, from south to north, to help you recognize which nameless dirt roads lead to the best beaches and overlooks. We list distances first in kilometers (miles in parentheses). Watch out for cattle; don't drive after dark and remember that late-summer and fall storms can alter road conditions. Because odometer readings can vary from car to car, you may need to adjust our mileage readouts slightly as you drive.

0 km (0 miles). From Mexico 1, just east of the Cabo San Lucas marina, turn northward at a major intersection near a bright yellow auto supply store and a thatch-roofed restaurant called El Caracol. Bear left past military barracks. The road rises as you head inland, with the newest pavement flowing ahead, a crisp black ribbon fringed with ragged mounds of red earth. Cardon dominate the landscape, along with other cactus and elephant trees; the sawtoothed Sierra de la Laguna rise purple-gray on the right.

After a stretch of particularly dense cardon, you'll encounter within the next 18 kilometers four detours (look for signs marked Desviacion). From rises, you can see panoramic views of the Pacific.

32.4 km (20). A wide and level graded road cuts off to the west, leading in .6 km (.4 mile) to parking spots sheltered by dunes; scramble between or over them for views up and down the coast and to reach a beach with rocks at the south end, where anglers might cast a line. You're likely to see bonyrumped range cattle browsing the dunes.

41 km (25,4). Look for a little sign on the side of the road saying Rancho El Cajoncito; turn west down a dirt road. At .9 km (.5 mile) you are at a fork. The left fork leads shortly to the beach just south of the point pictured at the top of page 68 (park at roadside where it gets rutty). From here you can walk well over a mile southward, exploring two coves with some rock-scrambling required between them. The right fork leads uphill (a bit rocky) to the point's lookout for long views to the south as well as north to Punta Gasparino,

45.7 km (28.3). A short unpaved spur west leads to a miles-long beach that ends to the north in the rocky jumble of Punta La Tinaja. This is a particularly wide beach. Just north on the highway, another cutoff leads to level parking that's closer to the rocky point; walk over dune hillocks to reach the sand.

51.6 km (31.9). In December, a short detour here had become a drivable catch basin of rain from fall rainstorms (chubascos); stately snowy egrets found it a popular water stop.

53.4 km (33.1). An easy cutoff to the left takes you northward, paralleling Mexico 19. Shortly, you make a left turn leading to a beach with perhaps the coast's most dramatic backdrop: the rugged cliffs of Punta Gasparino to the north look as if they belong in the Pacific Northwest. You can walk for miles, but don't play in the surf; at low tide, a 4-foot-high cliff of sand separates the upper and lower beach, attesting to strong wave action.

If you miss that trunoff, 1 km (.6 mile) north, look for a shpar hairpin cutoff to the left; it slopes down alongside a dry wash to the same beach.

65.1 km (40.4). Turn left down a wide, well-graded dirt road; you'll drive 2.7 km (1.7 miles), crossing a few cattle grates to reach the pristine arc of Playa Los Cerritos, the coast'ss best surfing beach and a good place to test the water. In the shallows, the sun glints off bits of feldspar that shine like grains of gold. A thatched shelter offers some shade.

73.2 km (54.4). Opposite the cluster of white buildings that is El Pescadero, an uppaved cutoff bears left, paralleling the road. If you see the primitive gate open (sometimes the ranch gate is closed), continue to Playa San Pedro, a favored camping spot of vacationers in the spring.

76.0 km (49.1). A wide, graded dirt road leads .5 km (.3 mile) to Playa Punta Lobos, home of the Todos Santos fishing fleet, comprised of some two dozen colorful pangas. These boats come in with their catches between 2 and 3 P.M. weekdays, a bit later on weekends. You're likely to see locals spearfishing for octopus from rocks near road's end. This beach is not recommended for swimming, but you can walk miles northward.

77.5 km (48.0). Paving ends at the town of Todos Santos. Colonial-looking buildings around the flagstone-paved town center data from the 1860s. Narrow roads lined with eucalyptus and concrete irrigation ditches fan out into surrounding farmland planted in sugar-cane, citrus, mangoes, and bananas. Neon-bright blazes of bougainvillea cloak fences and roofs.

Paving resumes on the north outskirts of town. From Todos Santos to Santos to La Paz, it's 84 km (52 miles) of easy driving.
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Title Annotation:Mexico
Date:Mar 1, 1985
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