SCORE Journal

SCORE Journal - September 2018

SCORE Journal - The Official Publication of SCORE Off-Road Racing

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Page 76 of 90

Mikes Sky Rancho The legendary Oasis in the desert of Baja By Matt Kartozian Photos: Durka Durka Photo While the Baja 1000 and Baja 500 have reached the 50-year mark, there is another Baja icon that is celebrating its long history with racers as well. Mike's Sky Rancho, a location with as much history as Baja racing race itself, opened in 1967 and became a legendary Baja racing landmark. Mike's is an oasis in the hills. Located about 28 miles from Valle de Trinidad, a stock truck will take just under an hour to make the trip. The ranch was built and opened by Mike Leon Lopez, aka Mike Senior, back in 1967. At that time, Baja was far more primitive than it is now. Highway-3 between Ensenada and San Felipe did not exist; there was only a one-lane dirt road to Valle de Trinidad. All the materials to build the original ranch came from Ensenada. They were brought by truck South to Colonet and then 60 miles over the mountains to where Mike's Sky Rancho sits today. If you’ve raced any of the SCORE Baja races, then you know firsthand how tough that trek is and how much more difficult it would have been in the late ‘60s. While the trails were not so beat up from years of racing back then, Mike Senior accomplished reaching and building the rancho with a truck from 50+ years ago, complete with an old suspension and tires. His son, Mike Leon Hernandez, aka Mike Junior, now operates Mike's Sky Rancho believes it was an undertaking almost as brutal as racing Baja. The ranch opened with just 11 rooms which took six months to build. It was intended as a retreat for hunters, fishermen and for those who enjoyed horseback riding. Visitors hunted for deer and quail and fished for rainbow trout, which were common around the area. "In 1970 NORRA came and asked my father if they could run the race through here," said Hernandez. With his dad’s blessing, the ranch became part of Baja racing history as it phased out hunting and fishing and had catered to the many off-road racers and enthusiasts. At that time, the ranch had 18 rooms, plus the famous bar that so many racers know today. Hernandez says that for the first time that the race would come by the rancho, a bar was built below the ranch near the water crossing. Since it was a checkpoint for the race, the bar would usually be packed with officials, pitters, and fans. The ranch was always of sold out of rooms at every race, and many other visitors camped in the meadow below the ranch. "I love the races because I have a lot of friends," said Hernandez about Baja races. He ran the ranch in the early years as Mike Sr. was racing his Class 5 -1600 car. The door of that car still sits in a case inside the ranch bar today. It's not just SCORE races that fill up Mike's Sky Rancho, however. The ranch is also a frequent stop for motorcycle, Jeep, Ford Raptor, and other off-road tours operating in Baja. "I am busy from September until June, then by July and August it's too hot," said Hernandez. The ranch now has 26 rooms and can house about 70 people but Mike Jr. has no plans to expand. "I like it the way it is,” He says. “No more rooms. You have to take care of everything like make dinner and breakfast for guests. Once a week I get supplies from Tijuana. My wife lives there and I stay there for three or four days. Then I come back." For decades the ranch had a diesel generator to provide power after dark. However, Hernandez converted the ranch to solar power recently, to cut costs versus using two barrels of diesel per week to power the generator. Even with the solar addition, it’s still lights-out at 10 pm on the ranch. Hernandez has been running the ranch for 28 years now. His father Mike Sr. left it to him after he passed away on January 9, 1990. "I like seeing all the people,” he says. “All my life I've been here. I know so many racers and they are good people. They are my customers. I've met people from all over the world; it's nice." Because of this, Mike’s Sky Rancho rich in race history. Virtually every flat surface on the walls, ceiling and more are covered with team stickers, t-shirts, business cards, and posters from the racers and groups that have visited over the years. "The stickers started as soon as we opened,” said Hernandez. “There are 50 years of stickers here. People always look at them and say, 'look at that one! Oh yeah, I remember that.' I like all the history here, and the reaction when people see a sticker they put up 27 or 30 years ago. We don't do anything to them, they stay there. It's nice to see so many different colors. Even the refrigerators in the kitchen are covered." If you have never been to Mike's Sky Rancho, you owe it to yourself to stay there at least once. You can spend hours looking at the old stickers and race memorabilia around the ranch. During race week, you never know who you will run into there. Robby Gordon is a frequent visitor to the ranch and has long memories of trips there. "One of my favorite memories is the camaraderie of being around Mikes,” said Gordon. “It's off-roaders from all types of racing, moto guys, UTV guys, rock crawlers and more. I've met Americans, Germans, Canadians, and all these people gather in one small area and have dinner together. It reminds me of going back in time, it's such a cool atmosphere." "My first trip to Mike's, I think, was back when my dad was racing the Blazers in the 70's. 1978,” added Gordon. “I was probably nine or 10 years old, (about what Robby Gordon’s son Max is now) and I got to spend time with my dad. You look back and those are times you enjoy. Plus the road to Mike's is probably one of the coolest roads you could dream of ripping up." While Mike’s Sky Rancho will remain as a Baja historical spot for Robby Gordon, and many racers over the years, it still stands to inspire SCORE fans and off-road enthusiasts as to what the Baja experience is all about. For racers, it’s a great place to recall and remind us of all the great racers who have stepped foot here and continue to make Baja a great place to race and preserve. Author’s Note: On my first trip, 10 years ago, I met Mr. Baja, Larry Roeseler, and sat enamored at the dinner table as I listened to him swap stories with other racers. I still specifically remember Larry telling the story of him winning his first Baja 500 on a 125cc dirt bike, the year I was born. Mike's is also a great place for stargazers. I have been lucky enough to have traveled around the world, and nowhere has better views of the stars. After the lights go out at 10 pm I always grab my camera and head outside. Many nights you can even see the Milky Way over the trees. A night at Mike's Sky Rancho costs $70 and includes a steak dinner and breakfast, a bargain when you consider how remote it is. To make reservations call +52-664-681-5514.

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