pixel

Mike’s Ranch in the Sky
By Greg Niemann

Mike’s Ranch in the Sky

By Greg Niemann

Mike's Sky Ranch

It’s rare that an entrepreneur switches from one type of business to another, and rarer yet when the change is a drastic one. But 45 years ago Mike Leon did – from the bright glitter of Tijuana nightlife to the dark skies and twinkling stars of Baja California’s highest mountains, the San Pedro Mártir.

Leon, an American citizen whose family had come from Jalisco, Mexico, had owned a couple of bars in Tijuana, including one called Mike’s Go Go Bar. While American revelers in TJ made money for Mike, by the mid-1960s he’d had enough of the demanding grind and began looking for a more pastoral setting.

In 1967, he bought several thousand acres and opened Mike’s Sky Ranch, a guest resort in the high foothills of the San Pedro Mártir. The ranch sits on a knoll above the San Rafael creek in a picturesque and wooded valley.

Steep, brush-covered mountains rise in the background to the pine-covered 7,100-foot summit of Cerro San Matìas, visible off to the east. The crystal-clear San Rafael stream winds through the valley floor and must be forded to reach the ranch.

Sycamore-shaded campsites are snuggled both upstream and downstream from the incoming road. The San Rafael is one of the few trout streams in Baja California, yielding small rainbow trout. There’re even photos on the walls at Mike’s of people holding trout caught in the stream. Hunters to the area will find deer, rabbit, quail by the hundreds, and mountain lion.

Mike's Sky Ranch

In addition to the occasional hunter and angler, it has always been off-road racers who have been attracted to Mike Leon’s dream in the sky. Mike himself was quite a racing proponent, driving a desert racing Volkswagen bug and also an Isuzu in the SCORE races which have now become part of Baja folklore.

As several of the Baja SCORE races still go through the area, including the Baja 500 and on some years, the Baja 1,000, Mike’s fills up on race weekends and the campground becomes a large pit stop. For weeks in advance of the big races, riders stop by Mike’s while out prerunning the course.

The racers leave their mark, too. The tranquil vision of a restful mountain hideaway, complete with swimming pool and well-manicured grounds, changes on busy weekends. The community building offers the best vestiges of its regular inhabitants. The sala (living room), bar, dining room and recreation room are all covered with off-road business cards, stickers, posters, T-shirts and photos.

Mike's Sky Ranch

Racing lore decorates walls

On the front door is a signed poster of Honda’s former off-road motorcycle star Johnny Campbell. There are several signed posters of top Baja 500 and 1,000 drivers through the years, including Toyota’s Ironman Ivan Stewart. There is one Mike’s Sky Ranch 1996 Commemorative T-shirt hanging on the wall that would be quite a souvenir. That one shirt is signed by the famous drivers and riders Corky McMillan, Curt Le Duc, Ivan Stewart, Larry Roeseler, Rod Hall, Jeff Lewis, Rob Gordon and a few others.

Mike Leon was not only a racer’s friend, he too shared their enthusiasm. For Isuzu, Leon took a first place in the 1984 Baja 1,000 SCORE off-road race, and followed that feat six months later with another victory in the 1985 Baja 500 Internacional. An Isuzu T-shirt hangs in the bar at Mike’s commemorating those victories and adding "In Memory - Mike Leon, A Baja Legend."

Leon, who rarely left the ranch, was unfortunately killed in a traffic accident in 1990. Other mementos of his largesse grace the crowded walls of Mike’s Sky Ranch. In one corner of the bar behind a large glass frame is the actual door from Leon’s racing Volkswagen, a bright red door with No. 519 markings.

In the large adjacent dining room complete with six or seven family style dining tables under soporific tropical fans, another vintage photo of Mike Leon hangs just above a pot-bellied stove. And across from that is a framed photograph of a waterfall just two kilometers upstream on the San Rafael, with the inscription, "In Memory of Mike Leon Sr. May his memory be as fresh as the Rio San Rafael."

Mike's Sky Ranch

Groups arrive every weekend

It’s a new breed of tourist that has not only rekindled the off-road spirit but brought continued profitability to the legendary Mike’s Sky Ranch. Off-road "wannabees" are brought in by tour group operators every weekend in groups ranging from a handful of riders to upwards of 60.

Baja Tours, Trail Boss Tours, Baja Off-Road Adventures (BORA), Baja Bound Adventures, Go Baja Riding, Baja Trail Rides, and others all lead people up the mountain for a weekend of outdoor fun and off-roading.

There are 27 sleeping rooms, including singles, doubles and triples, at Mike’s, all surrounding the refreshing swimming pool. Breakfast and dinner are included in the per person rates and meals are large and wholesome, usually featuring steak and served family style. There are no phones and the power goes off each night at 10 p.m.

I should have brought fishing tackle

During the week only an occasional traveler passes by, and I enjoyed the beauty and quiet of the high country during my last visit. I walked down to the San Rafael half-wishing I had brought some fishing tackle. But I dismissed the thought, realizing the trout were probably an anomaly and the place had been fished out for years. Just then movement caught my eye. Three small trout darted across a pool to an overhang on the other side. I’ll be darned. They’re small, but they’re there.

The bad road to Mike’s from the south had finally been graded during the summer of 1999, and for a while even a few passenger vehicles came through. Winter rains and slides through the years since have again made that route difficult. The easiest way to Mike’s Sky Ranch is still the better 22-mile dirt road from Highway 3 near San Matias.

The high country hideaway is about two hours from the seaport town of Ensenada, but seems a world away. And it’s light years away from the Tijuana honky-tonks that got Mike Leon his start.

Mike's Sky Ranch

About Greg

Greg Niemann, a long-time Baja writer, is the author of Baja Fever, Baja Legends, Palm Springs Legends, Las Vegas Legends, and Big Brown: The Untold Story of UPS. Visit www.gregniemann.com.

4.7 112 Reviews
  • user logo
    Charles Gee
    From logo

    Incredibly fast and painless. Paid about $180 for a month of coverage. It was easier than going on line.

  • user logo
    Chyla Nava
    From logo

    Great, easy to use service. I haven't had to file a claim (and hope I never have to) but the online portal is very easy to use, and it's...

  • user logo
    Kierian Kuklok
    From logo

    I have been a customer for years and when I really needed them they stepped up in every way. I had a freak accident to my car and they...

  • user logo
    Lourdes Montoya
    From logo

    Easy, fast, and affordable.

  • user logo
    Aj Cornejo
    From logo

    Reasonable prices and we thought best chance to actually get results if we needed them.

  • user logo
    Adrianna Dorsey
    From logo

    Great company, great prices, and even better customer service. We've lived in Baja for 7 years and have used them for the past 6years....

  • user logo
    Gary Counts
    From logo

    So convenient and easy to navigate thru the online process. I'll never use any other Mexican insurance service!

  • user logo
    Joey Digiovanni
    From logo

    Easy to work with 😉. Always courteous and helpful. Have used them for all trips to Mexico. Easy website to navigate

  • user logo
    Jolene Bibian
    From logo

    Shauna at Baja Bound was AWESOME!! We had specific questions about how to quote the policy based on our vehicle type and she was super...

  • user logo
    Rebecca Newell
    From logo

    Great service!

  • user logo
    Maria Elena Smith
    From logo

    Easy and affordable.

  • user logo
    Mehdi Fahid
    From logo

    I reapplied for my Baja Bound Mexican car Insurance yesterday and I spoke to Ms. Shauna. This lady processed my application quickly and...

  • user logo
    Benjamin Driebe
    From logo

    Absolutely fantastic, I already forgot her name because I have a terrible memory but the woman that helped me on the phone was wonderful,...

  • user logo
    richard carr
    From logo

    fast replies and great price!

  • user logo
    Juan Zuniga
    From logo

    I just would like to know if you guys are going to update the fastpass direction any soon, during the month of January the lane changed to...

  • user logo
    Richard Schweiger
    From logo

    Very professional, very helpful, great policy, I couldn't be happier with Baja Mexican Insurance, the friendly smiles and ease of it all in...

  • user logo
    Ryan Frisby
    From logo

    We use them every time we travel to Mexico. Luckily we have not needed their services yet but getting insurance through them is quick and...

  • user logo
    Jan Muhammad
    From logo

    I need a tourist visa for maxico I'm from pakistan help me sir

  • user logo
    Tracy Moore
    From logo

    Very easy, quick, and professional

  • user logo
    robert kepper
    From logo

    They are very good . There website doesn't show you need a title to bring a vehicle across the border.I was stopped and told I had to...

  • user logo
    Edilver Martinez
    From logo

    Our go to Baja car insurance, everytime we take a visit down south . Usually it's for a day trip either for a quick getaway with the family...

  • user logo
    Daniel “Dan M” Markofsky
    From logo

    Third time working with Baja Bound and they made it easy! Thanks!

  • user logo
    Steve Bender
    From logo

    Have never needed to use the insurance fortunately but the website always works great. Can buy a policy in about a minute.

  • user logo
    Jose Paez
    From logo

    Had a great experience getting insurance at Baja Bound, before I always stoped at the border to purchase my insurance, not anymore. By the...

  • user logo
    JUSTINE SERRANO
    From logo

    I purchased insurance through them & CHUBB for our trip to San Felipe. Unfortunately, we had to cancel due to our vehicle having an oil...

  • user logo
    Christian Minor
    From logo

    Team were on point, provided inside information, prices were great and they had my proposal already in the system when I called back....

  • user logo
    George
    From logo

    Excellent customer service

  • user logo
    Kellye Pummill
    From logo

    Fast and easy!

  • user logo
    Jennifer Toups
    From logo

    Baja Bound is and has been my go to Mexico insurance company. The website is extremely easy to use, keeps all your info for a quick...

  • user logo
    Cesar Lopez
    From logo

    Very convenient, great price !!

  • user logo
    Louis Schneidman
    From logo

    I had an awesome experience with Baja Bound. Family owned and highly personal, top notch customer service. I have total peace of mind...

  • user logo
    Phil Noble
    From logo

    If you’re looking for Mexican Insurance that you can trust and feel good about while traveling in Mexico, you’ve found the right place....

  • user logo
    Jeff Bunker
    From logo

    Great coverage options . Price buy and print policy , very quick and easy , highly recommend them when driving in Mexico

  • user logo
    Burrell DeVine
    From logo

    Easy to navigate and very competitively priced! I had to call in and add an additional day, they couldn't have been any more pleasant to...

  • user logo
    Nereyda Torres
    From logo

    Me gusta la asuguranza porque la puedes comprar por un dia y te asegura en Mexico por el tiempo que vas ya sea hasta por mes (Translated...

  • user logo
    james whitmer
    From logo

    Best insurance I've had so far

  • user logo
    Rail1riders
    From logo

    Quick, easy, well designed website and not just for Baja. Good rates for temporal residente gringos. We’re not living in Jalisco. Printed...

  • user logo
    Matt B
    From logo

    I always use Baja Bound to source my insurance while traveling to Mexico. Fortunately, I have not had to file any claims. I do appreciate...

  • user logo
    Refugio I. Rochin
    From logo

    Excellent online and by direct phone. Spanish and English with proven response to questions. Website is very informative about driving in...

  • user logo
    Kelly Carney
    From logo

    Yara is very helpful and explains everything. Love working with companies like this.

  • user logo
    Slumdog Gump
    From logo

    Changed some money. Good rate and friendly people.

  • user logo
    Jeff G
    From logo

    Went down to TJ June 11 2020 No problems going into TJ but the way back was a ordeal 6 hours in line to get back into the USA but no...

  • user logo
    don letson
    From logo

    Great renewal process, if only south Dakota would do the same for car registration.

  • user logo
    len buckholtz
    From logo

    SIMPLE, STRAIGHTFORWARD. OLD GUYS LIKE THAT. WILL DEFINITELY USE IN 6 MONTHS IF STILL RUNNING AROUND THE WILDS OF BAJA.

  • user logo
    Susana Judd
    From logo

    Easy, quick and fair prices. Easy to deal with if needed.

  • user logo
    Seismic Waterfinder
    From logo

    Very excellent service, needed insurance for Mexico, price was fair. The custumer service rep was Yara

  • user logo
    Nicolas Dervé
    From logo

    Very good ans very fast. We hope all will ben good if we need it.

  • user logo
    Blake Glassco
    From logo

    I will never drive south of the border without Baja Bound in my center console. I was in an accident a couple hours south of Ensenada and...

  • user logo
    JohnPaul Gemelli
    From logo

    Baja Bound could not have made it an easier ... also, I made a mistake and called them having to leave a message ... but, they called back...

  • user logo
    Jeff Brandt
    From logo

    so far so good, however I have read good things about them

  • user logo
    Sengoz N
    From logo

    SERIOUS.

  • user logo
    Kenneth Trass
    From logo

    Getting a policy was simple, Provided more than provider for price comparison.

  • user logo
    Esther Valencia
    From logo

    Super easy to purchase just the coverage you need when crossing the border in your own car. I especially appreciate the fact that I was...

  • user logo
    Larry Cottingham
    From logo

    Great service, very helpful people there.

  • user logo
    Luis Cortes
    From logo

    Easiest way to purchase insurance when traveling to Mexico. I have used their service for the last 7 years and it only gets easier and...

  • user logo
    j dougher ty
    From logo

    EZ Peasy insurance purchase. Great service every time I've used them. Had to cancel one time when my travel plans went away - no problem....

  • user logo
    Paul Niehouse
    From logo

    Extremely easy to acquire a policy. Many options available. Reasonable rates.

  • user logo
    Colin
    From logo

    Super-easy and instant. Very happy with initial purchase.

  • user logo
    Howard M Elster
    From logo

    2nd year with Chubb. No problems

  • user logo
    Cyndee Congrove
    From logo

    Great customer service, quick, friendly staff helpfully answered all questions, very patient with my learning curve on a new product. Would...

  • user logo
    Art Eugenio
    From logo

    I've had Baja Bound insurance for more that ten years now with thousands of miles logged in Baja. Fortunately, I've only had one fender...

  • user logo
    Gabe Matthews
    From logo

    Where do i start..... you dont know you have good insurance until you have to actually use it. I have had Baja Bound INS for over 5 years...

  • user logo
    keith berkley
    From logo

    Been going to baja for 45 years. This is best insurance company i have come accross.

  • user logo
    Ryan Perkio
    From logo

    I have been using BajaBound Insurance for 15 years - multiple trips per year. Their website is easy, their coverage is great, and the...

  • user logo
    RaMon McBride
    From logo

    I have not had any claims thus far so rating is based on ease of purchase.

  • user logo
    Larry French
    From logo

    By far the best service for Mex insurance in Baja. They are personally there for you if you have problems south of the border.

  • user logo
    Tudor Thomas
    From logo

    Baja Bound makes buying insurance for going south of the border as easy as it gets. The website is the easiest I have used and the staff...