Espinazo del Diablo… the Devil’s Backbone. Sounds scary right?
When we were on Baja, we didn’t really know where to go next. We are not much into pre-trip research, rather let ourselves decide according to the circumstances. That’s how we came across old highway 40. It involves scary climb from the sea level to around 2800 metres but we were looking forward to seeing the mountains again.
And we’ve done so well. Starting from Mazatlán just after Christmas, we took highway 15 which is boring but thankfully flat, so you’re in Villa Unión really quickly. We spent the night with bomberos in Villa Unión who were a bit surprised about our request (probably don’t receive many cyclists cycling by) but agreed immediately. We left Mazatlán in the late afternoon, so it was a short day.
In the morning we joined highway 40 and started the climb. Few years ago cycling on 40 wouldn’t have been such a pleasant experience but since they built new Supercarretera 40D, it’s like a rural road with very good pavement. The climb was pretty gentle into Concordia with only one longer hill and a bit more traffic. You can get water and food in the supermarket. After Concordia the real workout started. Very soon we entered the jungle. High humidity, bird songs, dense vegetation. Big tarantula on the road, with the stick we made it to leave to safety. We were drowning in our own sweat and climbing really slowly. Our day finished at 254km where on the right you can see a gate and after that there’s a path leading to an old shelter. It’s well covered spot from the highway.
Guess what you’re doing the next day? Yup, climbing again. We are super slow, maybe if we left earlier in the morning but our morale is always questionable when it comes to waking up. After 23 km we reach Santa Lucia where we share our lunch with few dogs and buy some groceries and water in a small shop. After Santa Lucia there’s a hamlet of Chirimollos where you can find a nice stream to cool yourself or get some water for filtering. We slept at 227 km on the left side of the road, where’s a little gate and a cow’s path.
Our day started too early for our liking and we were sooo tired. Plus we saw much better camping options on the way to Potrerillos and were pissed off that we camped where we camped. Just before Potrerillos a stray doggie joined us and he was following us all around. Shame he rolled himself in two carcasses on the way there and he smelled like… really – the carcass. He would have followed us for the whole day for sure but we were worried about him running freely on the road so Tom had to shoo him away :(. The plan was to get to El Palmito and spend the night in the hotel to have an opportunity to sew and patch the rest of our tent. But on the way there, on kilometer 209 we saw a perfect place. It looked like a state park in Oregon, forest with amazing view over the Sierra Madre and one of the bridges of the new highway 40D. After careful examining of the surroundings for presence of ants we camped early and had time to finish patching and sewing before we went to sleep.
In the morning we cycled few kilometers to El Palmito where we bought some fresh fruit and water. Longer hill after the village was passing through Tropic of Cancer to Loberos and was followed by shorter uphills and downhills with amazing views. This section of the road has the widest and uncovered views of the mountains around. You as a cyclist have the great advantage to be able to stop nearly anywhere and enjoy that scenery or take pictures. The next village is Revolcaderos but we haven’t seen any shop or open restaurant there. One of the “international” highlights of the trip is going through village of Los Ángeles. We camped shortly after in a garden full of corn and cacti and some orange trees but looking pretty wild. It was New Year’s Eve and we were really happy to be far away from all the fuss, Phoebe being especially grateful about being away from the fireworks. We put the tent up on a big rock with even more amazing view than the day before. We camped at pretty high altitude at this point so it was a chilly night when we used our winter jackets again.
On New Year’s Day we headed to Espinazo del Diablo (Backbone of the Devil) , about 16km from where we camped. The road there flows beautifully, with only smaller hills and some great view. Espinazo itself is a very short section of the road where you can see to the both sides of the valley. After that, more uphill but with much more covered views unfortunately. We felt it’s pretty safe to put the doggies on the harnesses and bungee leashes as there was hardly any traffic. We could have only regretted we hadn’t done it earlier. Suddenly we were superfast, the energy of our friends pushed us uphill. We passed the military check point just before Buenos Aires (another international visit ;-)) and headed downhill to La Ciudad. Here we had to find accomodation as we felt the need of a shower as well as laundry. And a miracle happened. Jose, Mexican who lives in the US, sponsored a cabin for us at Cabañas Rústicas Mi Ranchito that was beyond our budget. We spent a nice evening at the fireplace and slept peacefully not worrying about ants.
On the way to El Salto you have to pass 4 reasonable hills. El Salto is a bigger town and we tried hard to get out of its surroundings for camping. It was getting dark and it’s all fenced (maybe there are some primitive gates we couldn’t see in the dark but the metal ones were locked). So we ended up asking for a permission to camp at Santa Isabela restaurant. The owner Cesar was very helpful. Night was freezing and it was hard to get out of the tent in the morning but the hot tea helped.
After El Salto the traffic increases and also the pavement is not so smooth and nice. We even got a bit of headwind which made it all worse. There are some annoying hills stil but nothing compared to the previous days, though the lack of stunning scenery makes it harder. There are some small shops on the way but we ended up asking for water in one ecoresort in El Soldado and they happily gave us some. It’s 100 kilometers from El Salto to Durango and after the amazingness we experienced before, this part was pretty bland. But here we are in Durango, spending few days and getting ready for the next bit.
This road is definitely one of the highlights of the whole journey and we can recommend it to everybody as an alternative to taking the coast. We hope these photos persuade you that even though this was the hardest physical challenge we’ve had so far on this journey it’s so worth it!
Older woman, 33 years old, experienced. She stopped being a doctor and started being a traveller. She likes animals more than people because they don't lie. She also likes looking at the the world through the viewfinder of her camera.