Island Paddling in Southern Baja

Climactic Effects

This is not an area where nature is kind. Even the rain is harsh.

The annual rainfall here—almost on the Tropic of Cancer—is highly variable, depending on the summer tropical storms, known as aguaceros. On the Pacific side of the Baja peninsula, the cold ocean current from California meets the warm current from Peru and mixes with the saline current from the Sea of Cortez. Mists, fogs, and storms occur from September to November. If the storms miss Baja, as they often do, rainfall can be as little as one-half inch a year. If the summer storms do hit, the deluge can often cause more destruction than no rain at all.

Then there are the winter rains, known as equipatas, or "horses' hooves," for the sound the droplets make on a metal roof. These rains may add a few centimeters over a period of several days. While the locals value the fresh water, they dislike the cold that accompanies the northern rain. In 1951, John Steinbeck, with biologist Ed Ricketts, wrote about these rains in his Log from the Sea of Cortez.

Otherworldly Beauty

Modern television has conditioned us to believe that beauty in nature is synonymous with lush ground cover. This sparse landscape of Isla Espiritu Santo creates a different kind of beauty. The lack of vegetation coupled with multihued rock formations is otherworldly. The island is home to a stunning array of colors and geological formations. Pink and red sandstone clash with dark gray masses of pudding stone and igneous rock along the west. Cliffs of yellow, purple, and ash stand guard on the western headlands hiding deep bays.

While neither the quantity nor the variety were overwhelming, we find pleasure in studying the widely scattered plant life. An elephant tree with its thick trunk covered in flaking paperlike bark stands ten meters from a sad tree of Adam, showing no signs of life other than the few crimson flowers on its crown. Nearby is a cluster of cacti with a mat of spines so dense that even a suicidal rat would avoid an attempt on its sweet-tasting flesh.

We explore the white sand beaches and, in the cool of the evening, swim in the clear seawater. Our shadows bend and fold along the white bed of the sea. As dusk falls the sea between the island and main peninsula turns orange, gold, pink, and finally gray. The Sierra de la Giganta on the Baja peninsula fuses into lilac. The winds drop and the birds spiral down by the hundreds to roost on a cluster of offshore islets. Black against the evening sky, the birds look like sooty flakes settling to the ground in the aftermath of a great fire.

Darkness falls suddenly. Stars emerge and shine in the dry air with a brilliance that is seldom seen in the moister latitudes to the north. Far off, the lights of La Paz glow in the sky.

Article copyright © Rick Hudson. All rights reserved.

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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