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Old 06-02-2010, 08:06 AM   #1
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MexTrek 2010 - The Extended Version

MexTrek 2010 - The Extended Version
or alternatively it could be called
Nine Days of Adventure with Madman Milton

Life worked things out so that I had the entire week of MexTrek off. What should I do with the extra days? Go to MexTrek early, of course. Dual sport adventure riding in Mexico sounded like the perfect way to spend my time off. My buddy Milton, the World’s Foremost Adventure Dentist, thought it sounded just right too and was able to arrange his schedule so he had the same days off. Early Saturday morning we loaded the bikes in my trailer and headed for the border with the intent of scouting out some new dual sport roads for the MexTrek crew.

Day 1 – Austin to Galeana

We trailed to McAllen and then rode the bikes to Galeana. The ride to McAllen was boring as always. There’s not much you can do to spice up 300 miles of freeway. The good news is that it's only 300 miles. A virtual hop, skip, and a jump. Mexico is practically our back yard.

Just on the outskirts of town a large billboard alerted us to the fact that a local establishment named "Valley Girls" had 100 hot girls just waiting for us to stop by. Hmmm, do you really thing they have 100 hot women? 100? Hot? We debated whether we should verify their claim - truth in advertising and such - but we were on a mission to Mexico. Maybe next time (most likely not, but I should probably leave the option open. :) )

We passed some huge fields of sunflowers in full bloom on the drive to McAllen. I’m not a good enough photographer to take a photo that shows just how massive and colorful these fields of flowers were.





Milton stayed up most of the night before doing last minute prep on his bike. So, he wasn’t exactly a bundle of fun on the boring ride to McAllen.


I took advantage of the drive time to practice my Spanish. Most of the Spanish I’ve learned has been via this “Learn in your Car” Spanish course. If you drive much it’s a good way to pick up some Spanish. It has certainly worked well for me.



After his power nap, Milton decided to get in on the action. His Spanish is mucho, mucho better than mine.



As in years past, I left my vehicle and trailer in the parking lot of the McAllen Motel 6. We’ve been using this motel as our link-up spot since the first MexTrek. The hotel manager is a great guy and lets us leave our vehicles there while we are riding MexTrek. The other option is to park in long term parking at the airport. $3 per day per parking spot (so, it's $6 a day for a vehicle/trailer combo).

My Italian Supermodel Husky TE610 was about to be put to its first real test of fire. Nine days of adventure riding with Madman Milton is guaranteed to stress any bike and reveal all its weaknesses.


Note the very sano luggage set-up on my Italian Goddess. I can install or remove all three pieces of luggage - Wolfman tank bag, Dirt Bagz Ranger side bags, and Nelson Rigg seat bag – in about five minutes. All three pieces are designed specifically for motorcycles and are easy- on and -off. For me this is great because at the end of a long day I can unpack the bike very quickly and take everything to the hotel room in one trip. In short order I can have my feet up, enjoying the first cold beer of the evening. Ahhhh.

Milton was riding the venerable DR-Z 400 (ven•er•a•ble, adjective, 1. commanding respect because of great age or impressive dignity; worthy of veneration or reverence). It’s a time-tested machine, worthy of all the respect and praise that has been heaped on it over the years.

Milton and I have different packing methods and preferences. I’m what you would call a minimalist and use a system designed for motorcycles. I don’t carry a lot of stuff and don’t want to spend a lot of time messing with my bags. Milton is a maximalist and carries lots of stuff in a home-grown kind of style. He just keeps stacking and arranging till it’s all on the bike. He calls his packing method “vagabond” but it works for him and that’s all that really matters.


From the Motel 6 we headed west to the new Anzulduas International Bridge that John Thompson had told us about. This bridge is fantastic for several reasons. You can do all of your paperwork in one location, it has lots of parking, it’s not crowded, you bypass most of Reynosa (especially downtown Reynosa), and it takes you straight to Hwy 40. The only downside to the bridge is there aren’t any convenient money exchange places (Cambios) or gas stations. So, get your money exchanged and your tank filled before you head for the bridge.

Milton getting his tourist permit at the immigration station inside the Anzulduas International Bridge tourist building



You can get from Austin to Galeana in a single day. It’s 300 miles from Austin to McAllen and 200 miles from Reynosa to Galeana. Figure on 12 hours of travel (9 hours of driving/riding, and 3 hours for bike unloading & packing, tourist paperwork, gas stops, money exchanging, food, checkpoints, etc).

If you want to go straight from Reynosa to Galeana it is easy to do. Take Hwy 40 out of Reynosa, turn left at General Bravo and take Hwy 35 to Montemorelos. Head south on Hwy 85 to Linares and then take Hwy 58 to Galeana. Of course, there are a number of much more adventurous and interesting ways to get to Galeana but we were bypassing those routes today. Our goal was to get to Galeana as quickly as possible (and in daylight) so as to be positioned for the adventure ride planned for day 2.

However, a little adventure was not out of the question. Milton ran out of gas a few miles shy of Montemorelos. The stock tank on the DRZ doesn’t hold all that much gas. Knowing this, Milton always packs a little one gallon gas can for these occasions.

Digging out the spare gas


While Milton was conducting Operation REFUEL, the guy that lived across the street walked over to see what was going on. He spoke excellent English and offered his yard as a safe storage place in the event Milton couldn't get the bike running again. The kindness of strangers in Mexico is something you have to experience to believe.


We rolled into Montemorelos about 4 p.m., looking for food. During these types of trips we usually skip lunch in the interest of saving time but also because it can be difficult to find a restaurant while riding in the boonies. We weren't in the boonies today so we reverted back to reason #1 for skipping lunch - saving time. Lunch time had long since passed. We had eaten breakfast hours ago and it was close enough to supper time that we decided to stop. Milton likes to eat at Milton’s whenever he passes through Montemorelos.

The two Miltons. One’s a restaurateur and the other is the world’s foremost adventure dentist.





After our early supper we made a bee-line for Galeana, arriving about 8 p.m.


There have been lots of stories in the news about the drug war currently going on at the border. There are daily reports of violence and other activities related to the cartels fighting each other over territory. However, despite all that we had heard about this war we didn’t actually see any evidence of it nor did we encounter anything particularly unusual. At most there are one or two additional military or federal police checkpoints on the highways. We went through the usual checkpoint outside Reynosa (where they randomly check tourist and vehicle permits) and a federal police checkpoint (they waved us through) on Hwy 40 about 80 miles west of Reynosa . There is a military checkpoint on the way back into Reynosa (they waved me through on Wednesday; they stopped our group of 8 and gave our bags a cursory inspection when we went through on Sunday). So, while I’m sure there is a war going on, I’m not sure just how dangerous it is to ride between Reynosa and Galeana. If the news hadn’t told me there was a war going on I would not have been able to tell while passing through the area. During the four trips I made through the area during my extended MexTrek I never encountered anything dangerous or saw any signs of the war. Which was completely fine with me.

That’s it for day 1. Tomorrow Milton is taking me on a road that’s not on the map. It’s a 70 mile long dirt road that crosses over the mountains east of Zaragoza.

Not on the map? That should be fun. And easy. Right? It just must be an oversight that it's not on the map. Surely that's the reason it's not on the map and not because it's the road from hell or anything like that. Or because it's not actually a road, but a torture test. Naw, nothing like that.
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Old 06-02-2010, 01:00 PM   #2
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Should be good!

MexTrek for us next year for M-day, but we did a great ride around the Southeast USA this time around.

Looking forward to the rest of your RR.

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Old 06-03-2010, 05:43 PM   #3
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Day 2 - Milton tries to kill me

Day 2 – Milton tries to kill me
Sunday dawned cool, clear, and beautiful. The temps were in the mid-60s but the sun was up and the sky was blue. It looked to be a fine day for Milton to try and kill me.

Okay, “kill me” is an exaggeration. Maybe “break me and my bike” is a better description. In any case, he had us scheduled to ride a road that turned out to be rockier than anything I’ve previously ridden.

The “not on the map” route. Start at General Zaragoza and ride east across the mountains.


We headed south from Galeana, enjoying the crisp morning air and blue skies.


The clouds were just peaking over the distant mountains.


Life in rural Mexico


The paved road through the mountains




Frog rock, on the road to Aramberri


There aren’t any Pemex gas stations along this route so we stopped at a convenient store / “gas from a barrel” place just outside of Aramberri. You buy the gas by the liter and a cloth filter keeps the bigger pieces of stuff out of your gas tank.


We made a breakfast stop in Aramberri. It was our first meal of the day and there was the possibility that we might not make it across to the other side of the mountains today. This little gal was our waitress.


Milton took advantage of our lunch stop to ask some locals about our proposed route. Milton had ridden this road twice before but it had been about 10 years since the last time. You never know what might have changed in 10 years.


Time to ride. Once we located the correct road out of town, we started climbing. As we rode higher and higher the views got really spectacular. That’s Zaragoza in the distance.


That’s the currently unexplored road to El Refugio, south of Zaragoza. The map shows the road becoming a trail going all the way through to Marcela but everyone we asked said it wasn’t passable except on foot or by horse. Somebody’s going to have to go ride it to confirm or deny. Maybe next year.



Next: Rocks, rocks, and more rocks. Skinny dogs. My bike breaks. Milton crashes. The only show in town.
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Old 06-03-2010, 08:15 PM   #4
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Day 2 continued

The riding was getting serious now. The road was a lot of fun early on and the views were fantastic. The initial climb up was as steep or steeper than anything I can ever recall riding before. If you were ever to ride down it, you would definitely want a granny gear and good brakes.

The narrow road snaked through the trees, often with a cliff on one side and a steep drop off on the other. We kept stopping to get photos (Milton and I both like to take photographs). Here’s some of the early ones I got.

A first taste of the rocks to come.


A short break with a great view


More excellent views


Somewhat surprising to me, we came upon an intersection not too many miles into our journey. Which way should we go? Left or right? Milton thought we should go right (which turned out to be correct). Several days later Milton reconned the road to the left and discovered the back road from Aramberri to Zaragoza. Now we have a new, cool, route to add to the MexTrek ride guide.

Left or right? Go right to cross the mountains and end up in Santa Engracia. Go left to get to Aramberri.


After several hours of riding we stopped for “lunch” in a nice tree-shaded meadow. Lunch consisted of beef jerky, trail mix, and water.


The road we are following


After lunch the road got really rocky. I felt like it was beating my bike to death. And it started to rain slightly, making the rocks wet and slippery. Traction became iffy. But we were a long way from anywhere so all we could do was keep going.




In one particularly steep, rocky section I rounded a sharp curve to find Milton’s bike on the ground. I nearly fell as I braked to a stop, but managed to save it. Barely. Eventually I got the bike parked and went to help Milton pick up his sleeping DRZ. Once we got the bike up Milton said, “I fell in this same spot the last time I came through here. That one rock is a *****.” or something to that effect. :-P The bike was flooded, but otherwise okay and so was Milton. A few minutes later he got the DRZ restarted and we continued our journey.

A 90 degree off-camber turn up a steep uphill with a big rock proved to be a bit challenging.


Further up the road we rode to the top of a ridge with a single house set off a bit to the south of the road. It was marked on my Bicimaps but I can’t recall what the name of the place was (Milton will remember). Anyway, an older gentleman named Pablo and his very skinny dogs came out to say hello. We visited a few minutes and got a few photos. Milton asked him if many motos come through here and the answer was a surprising “yes”. I would not have predicted that many motorcycle riders travel this road, but he said they do. I don’t know what a lot is, but clearly it’s more than just Milton and I. To be fair we did pass a motorcycle rider later on in the day, headed west. It was a local on a small (250cc?) dirt bike.

Pablo and his skinny dogs


Visiting with Pablo


Pablo has a great view from his front door.
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Old 06-03-2010, 09:13 PM   #5
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Great start!
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Old 06-04-2010, 06:12 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lionsroaar
Great start!
Thank you.
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Old 06-04-2010, 06:12 AM   #7
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Day 2 continued.

A few more along the road




Not long after leaving Pablo’s place, I grabbed my clutch lever and felt a pop as the clutch lever went slack. Did my clutch cable just snap? I had read a few reports on the internet of clutch cable issues with the TE610 so perhaps my bike was experiencing the same issue. I put the bike in neutral and slowed to a stop.

Upon examination I found that the clutch cable was not broken. The engine end of the cable had detached. It just hadn’t been installed correctly and the beating the bike was taking from all the rocks finally made it pop out. That was a relief because I could probably fix that. Riding 5 hours on this road without a clutch wasn’t something I was interested in doing at all.

I couldn’t get the cable end to install correctly, but I did get it mostly back together. Off we went. For a ½ mile and then it popped out again. I repeated the process a 2nd time but a short distance later it once again became detached. I repeated the process one more time and it held for several miles. I thought for sure it was good to go but, alas, off it popped yet again.

By this point we were up in the clouds, it was raining, and it was getting dark. We were losing light and I needed to get this clutch issue sorted out or we were going to be stuck on the mountain all night with no shelter from the rain. This time I decided to start bending metal to see if I could make a permanent fix. Sure enough, it worked. I got the cable end securely seated and it’s still holding today.

But now I had another problem. During all the bending, pulling, cursing, and general disgust something happened to the cable and all the slack was gone. The clutch cable was attached, but now the clutch was engaged and wouldn’t release. I had the slack adjuster on the handlebars completely in but still the clutch wouldn’t disengage. The bike wouldn’t move. I could start it up, put it in gear, release the clutch lever, but the clutch was still engaged so the bike wasn’t going anywhere. Milton and I looked and looked but couldn’t figure out what the issue was and where the system was binding up.

Then, something just popped and the cable went slack. Now I didn’t have a clutch at all. Completely demoralized, I told Milton I was done working on the bike and was just going to ride it off the mountain without a clutch. Once daylight, dry weather, and civilization converged I would try again to fix it.

I told Milton I couldn’t stop and if I did it would have to be on a downhill section or I wouldn’t be able to get the bike going again. With Milton leading, off we went. The STEEP, ROCKY, WET, NO TRACTION, 180º switchbacks were the worst but somehow I managed to make it through the next 5 hours without sliding off a 1000 foot cliff to my death.

Of course, during this time the views were the best of the entire day and I couldn’t stop and take pics. The “Pase del Muerto” (pass of death) was spectacular but I couldn’t stop. Darn it.

Remember that I mentioned Milton had ridden this road before but that it had been about 10 years since the last time? Well, he had taken some pictures the last time he was through here and had brought the pictures with him. During our trip he would periodically stop at a house or village and pass out the pics he had taken last time. It was a very cool thing to do and was well received by everyone.

There was a village (La Mesita I believe) along the way that he had several pictures of. When we stopped everyone in the village came running out to see what was up. It was like a show – the Milton show - had come to town and the folks were excited to see us. Every single person that came out shook hands with both Milton and I. It was just a natural display of courtesy and welcome that really caught my attention.

Saying hello to everyone in the small pueblo.


Milton passed out the pictures to the crowd and you wouldn’t believe how excited they got. The pics were passed around for everyone to enjoy. Then Milton got out his camera and got some pics of some of the same folks holding their pics from 10 years earlier. I took advantage of the opportunity to get some shots too. I’m not planning on riding this road again but I’m going to pass these pics on to the next person who does so they can give them to these folks.

The citizens of La Mesita






My clutch issues came to a head after leaving this village so I didn’t get any more photos this day. We finally exited the mountains and made it to civilization about 8 p.m., shortly before dark. Milton knew of a 300 year old hacienda hotel we could stay at. Hacienda Santa Engracia has been in the same family for something like 300 years and is just beautiful. We checked in, unloaded the bikes, and then enjoyed a terrific supper from their kitchen. During the upacking process they brought us a couple of frozen margaritas to help take the edge off.

Enjoying a margarita in our room, after a long day on the bikes


Hotel Hacienda Santa Engracia is 300 years old and has been owned by the same family the entire time.
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Old 06-05-2010, 11:10 AM   #8
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Day 3

Day 3

I had been mulling my options over and decided the first thing I would do is attempt to repair the clutch. If I wasn’t able to get the clutch working then I would likely have to have the bike towed to McAllen. I was not prepared to continue riding the bike without a clutch.

I got my tools out and went to work. Luckily, the problem with the clutch quickly revealed itself. Whatever had been binding the cable had come unbound and all I had to do was readjust the barrel adjuster and take the slack out of the cable. Once that was done the clutch worked fine. Doh! If only I had figured this out yesterday afternoon while up on the mountain I could have avoid the issue of trying to get out of the boonies without a clutch. Still, I’m glad it was an easy fix and my MexTrek could continue.

We were headed further south today. Our plan was to ride Hwy 101 southwest from Ciudad Victoria down to Juamave and then explore a dirt road / trail south from there. This dirt road skirted the west side of the Reserva de la Biostera el Cielo.


Hwy 101 is the old paved road from Victoria to Tula and points west. I had heard it was a good twisty mountain road and was looking forward to riding it personally. It turned out to be an excellent road with almost no traffic.

Here’s the straight part of Hwy 101 looking east towards Ciudad Victoria. It gets twisty after this.


Hwy 101 has miles of twisties, abundant elevation changes, great views, near perfect pavement, and no traffic. What more could you want? Milton was having a great time.








I can fully recommend Hwy 101 to you if you are ever in the area.
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Old 06-05-2010, 12:22 PM   #9
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Day 3 continued

After a gas stop in Juamave, we pointed our bikes south for a little dirt exploration. The first part of this road was straight and scenic. The surface was maintained gravel so it was easy riding. The views of the distant mountains were nice.

Milton headed for the distant mountains


A few miles south, where the map indicates the road turns into a trail, things got a lot more interesting. The road was still a road, but it was a dirt road, not gravel or rock. It also entered the mountains and became quite twisty with numerous elevation changes.

The dirt road south from Juamave is a fun, twisty, and scenic class 1 road


Up in the mountains, we passed a hombre plowing a field with a horse drawn plow. That’s got to be gut-busting hard work. I stopped and chatted with him for a few minutes about the road conditions ahead. He let me take a picture before I departed.

Plowing with a horse-drawn plow


At one particularly scenic spot Milton stopped for a photograph. While he was doing his thing with his camera his DRZ decided to take a nap. I was stopped up ahead and saw the bike down so I went back to help him out. I didn’t take a pic of the bike but I do have some evidence – the lever end busted off when the bike fell and I got a pic of that.

Incriminating evidence


More great riding and views






The main purpose of our extended MexTrek was to recon south and find new dual sport roads worth riding. This road meets that criteria with room to spare.
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Old 06-06-2010, 04:28 AM   #10
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My 2¢



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Old 06-09-2010, 02:29 PM   #11
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Great start...

I found the beginning HALARIOUS when you were describing your different packing styles. You could have been describing me and my riding partner Lionsroar. I would be Milton on a '09 KLR650 (mule) and Lionsroar packing light on his thuroughbred TE610. I found it amusing .
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Old 06-13-2010, 04:28 PM   #12
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Day 3 continued

Since this was uncharted territory for us we often stopped and asked directions when we encountered folks. Even kids could provide some guidance.


At the end of the dirt we went east then south to Los Flores and on to El Naranjo. Though this road is marked as dirt on the map, it is now paved. It was an okay road, with a few twists and turns and some interesting mountains off in the distance.


We needed a break so we stopped at a little store near Los Flores and made a fun discovery. This little fellow (whatever he was) was friendly and liked to play. Milton played with him for about 10 minutes and even feed him a Topo Chico mineral water.


On the other hand, this fellow was in charge of store security and growled at me when I got too close to him. I retreated and let him be.


It was fairly late in the afternoon and the vaqueros were in for the day. They had their saddles hung in the saddle tree, ready for the next day.


Once the break was over we rode south to El Naranjo (The Orange) and then west to Tamasopo for the night. We didn't make it before dark though. Milton knew a nice hotel in Tamasopo where we could hole up for the night. After a good dinner it was off to bed.

This was as far south as we rode. Tomorrow we were headed back north, with more new roads to explore.
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Old 06-13-2010, 04:32 PM   #13
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Thanks for the extended version.. and for taking us along

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Old 06-14-2010, 06:58 PM   #14
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Day 4

Day 4 dawned with just a hint of rain in the air. Every afternoon the rain would show up and get us a little wet, but this morning the rain appeared to be making an early appearance. The clouds were heavy and low and I thought for sure we would get really wet today. It sprinkled a little on us as we walked the streets in search of breakfast.

Milton picked this juice joint for breakfast


Breakfast Torta of jamon y queso (i.e. ham and cheese sandwich)


We left Tamasopo and headed west and then north on twisty paved roads to Cuidad del Maiz (Corn City - see, I knew we went there at some point). Tamasopo is at altitude and we were riding in the clouds. A few miles later we dropped down, out of the clouds and fog, and into the sun.

From Maiz our goal was uncharted territory once again. We wanted to explore the dirt road leading to La Providencia.

The dirt road east of Ciudad del Maiz to La Providencia was our first goal for the day.


The Mexican version of a drive up window. This vaquero rode up, ordered a coke, and then rode off. Never even dismounted.


Navigation was easy all the way to La Memela, but finding the trail from there to La Providencia proved to be a bit of a challenge. We wandered around for quite a while, asked a number of people, including a couple of vaqueros, and finally found the right road.

Which way do we go? Looking for the trail to La Providencia was quite the adventure. We eventually figured out that the trail to the left was the right way to go.


Hey, Amigos, is this the road to La Providencia? Si, Senor, esta diez kilometros alli.
I submit this as my entry for the the quintessential MexTrek photograph (the essence of a thing in its purest and most concentrated form)



This was an excellent road! It wasn't all that long, but it made up for it with great desert riding. Highly recommended!


After a couple of hours of really fun riding, we ended up in Ciudad Tula. Time to eat. We made a new friend within 10 seconds of parking our bikes at the town square. Carlos, a young fellow who spoke perfect English, approached us and introduced himself. After a few minutes visiting with him he led us several blocks away to a nice little restaurant.

Milton makes friends wherever he goes.


Carlos led us to this little, out-of-the-way place for a late lunch/early supper.


Mother and daughter. Stella and her daughter (forgot her name) were running the joint. They spoke perfect English, having recently moved to Tula after 13 years of living in Florida.
I had a hamburger. They aren't the same in Mexico as in the States. :)

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Old 06-16-2010, 07:41 AM   #15
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Hacienda Santa Engracia


Pay attention. The curves on Hwy 101, south of Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas


Lots of curves on 101. Antonio lost his life on this one. Looking south towards arid Juamave and Tula and more Hwy 101, south of Ciudad Victoria.


Rich, running south on Hwy 101, south of Cd. Victoria


On the unpaved road between Juamave and Ocampo, Tamaulipas. El Cielo Reserve to the left.


On the unpaved road between Juamave and Ocampo. El Cielo Reserve to the left.


Between Juamave and Ocampo, Tamaulipas


The unpaved road between Juamave and Ocampo.



Trailblazer screwed with this post 06-16-2010 at 04:20 PM
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