Baja South, Unplugged

Driving into Deepest Mexico
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Photo by Erik Gauger
Purple Haze: Experience Baja's mysterious land and seascapes

It's an eerie green that pulsates under the waves at nightfall. In the warm winter waters of the Sea of Cortez, the bright otherworldly glow lights up the water like a runway. But this is no airport. In the southern section of Baja—remote Mexico—the glow comes from cities of plankton, which burst forth with color every time they hit rocks, shoreline, and my kayak. Plankton, which means "wanderer" in Greek, consists of plants and animals at the mercy of the tides. And like the green material, I, far removed from any lights or signs of civilization, am reduced to a simple wanderer at the mercy of the sea.

As far removed from civlization as northern Baja can seem, the southern part of this state is even more so. The south, in fact, is a world apart, the first indication being the inquiry—for immigration papers and foreign fruits—at the border in Guerrero Negro. Next comes the open expanse of land: Northern Baja's population of 2.3 million seems a virtual metropolis compared to 300,000 in Baja Sur, which occupies the same amount of space.

The state's quiet, dusty-town isolation is not all that separates the south from its northern neighbor. Below the 28th parallel, the landscape becomes a junction of the desert and the subtropical—harsh canyons and a cactus-riddled coast give way to ripe citrus groves and lush stands of exotic palms.

The idea of exploring this remote landscape lured me, along with my brother and father, to drive south, down Transpeninsular Highway One and through cactus forests, stark mountains, island-dotted seas, bustling Mexican towns, and silent bays. Only 40 years ago the trip from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas took a pioneering spirit and ten days on rocky roads. The road has since been paved, but that doesn't make the trip much more accessible. Until we came in range of La Paz and the tourists of Cabo, we found gray whale breeding grounds, snorkeling, rock climbing, and Indian cave paintings, all in some of the most desolate countryside we had ever experienced.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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