Baja South, Unplugged

Playing with Whales
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Photo by Erik Gauger
Oh, sandy: The dunes in Baja are like nowhere else

Their faces are scratched and barnacled, their movement is elegant: To see 45-foot gray whales up close in a small, outboard Mexican fishing boat, or panga, is to understand the hardship and beauty of an incredible migration.

And to boot, some of the whales are curious enough to surface directly next to the boat, allowing us to touch them and look into their soft eyes.

For as long as we know, gray whales have migrated to these waters from Alaska and the Bering Sea to mate and give birth during the months of January, February, and March. It's amazing they're still alive: From the 1850s to the turn of the century, Guerrero Negro and Scammon's Lagoon became a famous whale-fishing site. But early environmentalist concerns turned the tide, and now the whales, protected in the Parque Natural de la Gris, boast healthy numbers. And two lagoons, Scammon's and San Ignacio, are two of the only places in the world where you can boat directly aside these docile beasts.

Afterward, we came ashore and hiked through the sand-dune shores around Guerrero Negro. It's a rare sight in the Western hemisphere to see a place where the sand dunes roll into the sea — there's certainly nothing like this on the west coast of the Americas. The so-called Dunas de Soledad, part of the Vizcaino Desert, and just four miles north of Guerrero Negro on Highway One, makes for an exquisite dawn or dusk hike.

What makes this area unique isn't the height of the dunes — they only reach 35 feet — but how they appear to simply roll into the sea. Where northern Baja's scenery is largely mountain and scrubland, these unique dunes signify the geological changes of the south — long, flat plains and endless salt flats. Vegetation is also completely missing from much of the dunes, making this landscape one of sun, sand, and sea.

The three of us walked for miles along the tops of dunes, until dusk. We stood there for several minutes, watching the subtlety of afternoon's light turn the white sand brilliant orange, and returning to our campsite after the sun went down, when the dunes turned from orange to blue.

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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