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Email Eric 







I'm always looking for different places to visit and experience, and I like to break away all stereotypes and shatter all molds when it comes to everything, particularly when it comes to the beautiful country of Mexico, and specifically, Baja California.  OK, close your eyes and picture Baja California...  Do you think of Tijuana's congested streets, the honkey tonks and the streetwalkers at Tijuana's legendary Zona Norte, or maybe the faux zebra donkeys on Av. RevolucŪon, the gringo shopper's paradise? Or stark, desert scenery, and a lonely, deserted beach along the fabled Sea of Cortťz?  Is that your vision of Mexico, and Baja California in particular?  Break all of your molds, throw away all of your stereotypes, and visit historic Meling Ranch.

Photo:  Meling Ranch is a nearly a kilometer down a dirt road from the paved road that ultimately leads to Parque Nacional Sierra de San Pedro Martir.  Andrea's house is near the center of the photo, and the ranch buildings like to the right of the house.

Meling Ranch is a large, 10,000 acre cattle ranch, located on the west slope of the Sierra San Pedro de Martir mountains, in Baja California, Mexico, about 200 air miles south of the U.S. border.  It's really off the beaten track; if you want to travel to the ranch, you have to take a secondary road off the Transpeninsular Highway 1 at the small village of San Miguelito, then drive about 40 miles east to the signed turn-off that leads to Meling Ranch.  Then, it's a half mile drive down a dirt road to the entrance to the ranch, where you have to open a gate to drive into the ranch, and then close the gate behind you, so not to allow a small herd of hungry horses into the ranch compound. If you use a GPS, you'll note the coordinates are N 30.58.335, W 115.44.664, with an elevation of 2, 120 feet.

Photo:  "Main Street" at Meling Ranch, with the Sierra San Pedro de Martir in the background.  Notice the Ponderosa Pines, which are transplants from the high mountains.

As you open the gate to enter Ranch Meling, you immediately realize that Meling Ranch is a real, working ranch, that features horses, cattle, and real cowboys.  That's the small picture, and as you gaze beyond the ranch, toward the towering Sierra San Pedro Martir mountains to the east, and you'll realize that all of your typical stereotypes of Mexico, and Baja California, have been dashed to pieces. After you've closed the gate behind you, you'll notice that Meling Ranch is indeed, a real, working ranch, that includes horses, cattle, outbuildings, a shop, employee housing, a small motel, a swimming pool, a beautifully-landscaped courtyard, a large building, which turns out to be the dining room, where all you-can-eat family style meals are served in a spacious natural wood dining room that contains a huge, open, rock fireplace.

Meling Ranch, also known as Rancho Meling or Rancho San Josť, is the product of a marriage uniting two Baja California pioneering families, the Melings and the Johnson's.  Both families settled in northern Baja California, Mexico, in the early 1900's; some buildings at Meling Ranch date back to 1907.  The ranch is owned and operated by descendents of the original Melings that pioneered the area in the early 20th century.  As of my visit in October, 2007, Meling Ranch had five, full-time employees

Photo:  The dining room, which serves as the focal point for the entire ranch, and the cooking annex, with the red roof.

You walk into the rustic, main dining room, and you're immediately greeted by Andrea Meling, who manages and operates the ranch, and is a part owner in the operation, along with her sister, who runs the ranch's web site from Ensenada.  In my situation, I had made reservations three weeks in advance, so Andrea simply looked me up on her list, and she immediately knew who I was.  Keep in mind that Meling Ranch doesn't have landline telephone service, as they rely on satellite telephone service, and a couple of Motorola hand held radios that keep them in touch with a ham radio repeater, XE2BC out of Ensenada.  Andrea and her sister both posses Mexican ham radio licenses, so they are able to relay non-sensitive information and keep in touch with the real world, by using the 2-meter XE2BC repeater system, that operates on 146.700 MHz, with a PL tone of 186.2.  If you're not a ham radio operator, please bear with me, as this information is interesting to those readers who hold a Mexican ham radio license.  About internet access at Rancho Meling... what's that?

If you're staying at the Meling Guest Ranch, you give Andrea your confirmation number for the advance reservations that you made, you did make advance reservations, didn't you?  and she'll show you to your room, which is the rustic motel-like structure in back of the dining room.  Andrea won't hand you a key to your room, as there are no keys at Meling Ranch, as they're just not needed!  The rooms look to the east, and offer a breathtaking view of the foothills of the Sierra San Pedro Martir, the grassy courtyard, the sparkling pool, the beautiful landscaping, and the dining room, and the adjoining kitchen where the famous wood stove is located. You can also see many of the ranch's outbuildings, corrals, pens, vehicles, and you can observe the workings of a real cattle ranch, located in some of the prettiest scenery that Mexico has to offer.  

Photo:  Lookinng across the grassy court yard, at the house where fhe female staff members live, with the Sierra San Pedro Martir mountains in the background.

What amenities does Meling Ranch offer its guests?  For starters, your room is rustic, clean, comfortable, quite large, and is heated by a wood stove or kerosene heater.  You also have a kerosene lamp on your bed stand, for use when the power is out.  It's also quiet, as Meling Ranch is shunned by the "Cabo crowd," and at night, you won't hear the sound of boom boxes, instead, you'll be treated to the sounds of crickets chirping, and screech owls screeching.  In the morning, you'll be awakened to the sounds of roosters crowing, and you'll catch a whiff of frying bacon coming from the cookhouse.  

Andrea Meling told me that when you're a guest at Meling Ranch, you're free to go where you want to go, do what you want to do, and everything that the ranch has to offer is yours.  Meling Ranch is beautifully landscaped, with a mixture of native vegetation and imported plants, and annual flowers, and the total combination adds up to only one word:  beautiful.  If you're not inclined to any of the outdoor adventures found outside the ranch, you can take a dip in their sparkling spring-fed pool, relax in one of their hammocks slung between a couple of trees, watch the antics of the squirrels, the hummingbirds, or just sit on the covered porch, in front of your room, in a comfortable lawn chair, and just take in the majestic beauty, or watch the doing's of the staff.  You can wander all around the ranch, explore the grounds, hike to their 3500 foot hard-packed airstrip, or watch real cowboys, do what real cowboys do, on a real, working cattle ranch.

Photo:  Meling Ranch has many vintage pieces of ranch and farming implements, including this broken-down, but picturesque wagon.

If you're a member of the party crowd, a visit to Meling Ranch is not advised, as I doubt if the staff and guests would tolerate a loud, drunken orgy to spoil the beauty of an evening in the foothills of the Sierra San Pedro Martir, and since there is no electricity after 2100, you'd be literally left in the dark.  Plus, if you have that "party mindset," you'd probably be really bored at Meling Ranch, as the ranch offers nothing to fill the empty heads of party animals.  If party-life is your thing, skip Meling Ranch, and stay in Ensenada, where you can party all night long at Hussong's Cantina.  But if you like peace and quiet, you'll love Meling Ranch.

So what sort of activities does Meling Ranch offer its guests?  For starters, lots of time to relax, kick back, and just do what you want to do.  Personally, I could spend DAYS just relaxing around their pool, or sitting on the comfy chair in front of my room watching the workings of a real cattle ranch.  For the outdoor enthusiast, Meling Ranch has a lot to offer, including endless miles of dirt bike, A.T.A. and four-wheel drive trails, in the beautiful foothill scenery.  If you like less exciting activities like birdwatching, the area is host to many diverse species of birds, including frequent sighting of California Condors.  Naturally, hiking is unlimited, as there are developed hiking trails, cow trails, 4WD trails, and miles of creeks and meadows to explore.  Hunting is mostly limited to upland game, but according to friendly hostess Andrea, the hunting is excellent, but due to the fact that the Mexican government recently has all but killed hunting by non-Mexican citizens, due to very tight regulations of firearm ownership, hunting regulations, and gun control that would make Al Gore look like a militia-minded, ultra-right wing conservative.  

Photo:  Staff and guests park in the large parking lot on "Main Street."  The awning shades the patio of the dining room, where the main entrance is located.  That's my Ford F--250 to the left of the photo.

Pack trips can be arranged, in advance, using one of the ranch hands as a guide, into the foothills or mountains. Andrea told me that they can accommodate just about anything the client has in mind, including pack trips into the nearby Parque Nacional Sierra de San Pedro Martir, but most of their trips aren't quite that extensive.  Rancho Meling is only about an hour away from the gates to the park, so much of the beautiful National Park can be explored while staying at Meling Ranch.  During my stay at Meling Ranch, I spent Tuesday, October 2, 2007 exploring Parque Nacional Sierra de San Pedro Martir. Forget the myth that you need a four-wheel drive vehicle to explore the park, as I explored much of it in my plain-Jane 1996 Toyota Camry.

Photo:  Antonia starts ot prepare salad, as Jicelia cooks salsa on the wood-fired kitchen range, in the kitchen annex.

Oh yes, concerning  the matter of the availability of electricity...  Meling Ranch is located many miles from the power grid, which seems to reach only as far as the village of San Telmo, which is about 40 km west of Ranch Meling.  Not a problem at Meling Ranch, as they have a diesel generator, which is capable of generating enough power to keep every appliance operating at the ranch, at full capacity.  However, due to the rustic nature of the ranch, and simple economics, power is only available 8 hours a day, and it's generated locally, at the ranch.  Power comes on at 0800, and stays on until noon, then its dark until 1700, when the power remains on until 2100.  I was curious about the freezers, e.g., does the food stay cold when the power is off?  The answer was yes, and I also tested the theory by grabbing a Corona beer from the refrigerator around 1600, an hour after the power came on, and yes, the beer was cold.  The generator starts and stops by a timer, so you sort of need to plan your electrical needs around the schedule of the generator.  What do you do after the power goes off?  Light your kerosene lamp, relax, sit out on the porch, and enjoy the solitude, and the quiet.

A visit to Meling Ranch might not be for everybody, but it sure is for me, as time spent at Meling Ranch shatters any north-of-the-border stereotypes and images that most gringos have of Baja California, and Mexico in general.  Hey Dorothy, you ainít in Kansas, or for that matter, Tijuana!

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