Laguna Seca de Chapala [1967]

After 250 miles of rocky or sandy rises, falls, and interminable twists, most travelers were astonished to find themselves looking down on the spectacle of a level plain apparently devoid of life or blemish. This almost-always dry lake bed was in fact only a couple of miles in length or breadth, but in its serenity seemed vast. Once a driver got his vehicle down to the edge, he was greeted by dozens of divergent wheeltracks that fanned out to either side. When a heavy rain does fall, a shallow lake fills the basin from rim to rim. Soon it filters down and evaporates to leave an incredible sea of mud. Each driver forced to cross in time of mud swung wide to avoid sinking in the ruts of his predecessors, hence the multiplicity of tracks. But all traffic converged on Rancho de Laguna Chapala out on a tiny man-made rise in the lake bed. Here lived Arturo Grosso, one of the premier characters in the drama that accompanied driving the peninsula. Don Arturo offered meals, occasionally gas, and always conversation.

  • San Felipe as it was..., 1952
    Once upon a time, San Felipe was the sleepy fishing village at the end of the long dirt road. It had no hotel and the most modest of restaurants, actually the rival kitchens of two enterprising boatbuilder's wives. The long beaches were populated only by birds and a few dories pulled up to the high tide line. Needless to say, progress has transformed San Felipe.
  • El Pedregoso, 1990.
    This striking hill some 13 miles north of Laguna Seca Chapala lay immediately east of the old road and was visited and photographed by nearly every tourist in transit. Today's paved highway passes two hundred yards to the east and affords a less impressive view. Most people now drive by with little more than a glance. The giant boulders [note human figure in center] appear to have been stacked by some mysterious force, but El Pedregoso is actually the in situ remains of a granite monolith long exposed to erosive forces.
  • Landform fifteen mile southeast of El Rosario, 1990
  • Rancho de Arenoso, 1971
    Today in ruins, this home was long occupied by friendly people, including good cooks. But the vision that leaps out of memory is that of an unexpected propane refrigerator and its stock of cold beer. Requiescat in pace Servel.
  • Laguna Seca de Chapala, 1967
  • Laguna Seca de Chapala, 1967
  • Arturo Grosso, 1967
  • "Gas Station/Rest Stop" near Mezquital, 1971
    At irregular intervals, from 20 to 50 miles apart, local residents put up roadside structures that allowed them to offer meals and gasoline to passing truckers and tourists. Their buildings employed local materials as well as plywood, galvanized sheet iron, and miscellaneous salvage from nearby beaches. They were low, open, and ugly and provided poor protection when cold, damp winds blew off the Pacific. But the weather was usually fine, the people cheerful, the coffee and sea food good. Few drivers resisted the temptation to take a break from the trail, gas up, and relax while exchanging stories with attendants or fellow travelers. Caravanserai peninsularis did not have the style or color of its Mid-East prototypes, but each now-vanished example lingers in the memory of those who plied the difficult but beguiling wheeltrack that could be followed as far as Cabo de San Lucas.
  • "Gas Station/Rest Stop" near Mezquital, 1971
  • Roadside butcher shop in Villa Insurgentes, 1967.