Bahma de Los Angeles Loop

Kayaking the Sea of Cortez
By Andromeda Romano-Lax
Snorkeling with sea lions
Snorkeling with sea lions

Islands exhibit evolution in action, a natural laboratory for the study of how species compete and interact in remote, undisturbed settings unreplicable on mainlands. Darwin had his Galapagos. We, who can't make it that far, have the islands of the Cortez. They are, in one researcher's words, "the most pristine archipelagos left on earth."

Bahma de Los Angeles, a large bay midway down Baja's eastern coast, provides access to 15 of these islands. Most important to the kayaker, most of these are in a tight cluster no more than four miles offshore. No other area in Baja offers the average paddler an opportunity to visit so many isles, each of them unique, without requiring long days of paddling or a sequence of dangerous crossings.

En route to the islands one may spot any of over a dozen cetaceans that frequent this area: blue, gray, finback, Bryde's, Minke, humpback, pilot, sperm, pygmy sperm, killer, and false killer whales; as well as bottlenose and common dolphins. Sea lions are also commonly encountered. On the islands themselves, there are over 50 species of birds and at least five species of lizards. In this latter category one finds the giant chuckwalla, a lizard about two feet long, which is able to store fresh water internally for long periods, as well as desalinate seawater within its body once the fresh water has been used. When threatened, the chuckwalla distends its abdomen, anchoring itself between rocks. Most of the time, however, it can be seen sunning itself out in the open, on the islands of Ventana, Smith, Piojo, and Cabeza de Caballo.

The physical aspects of the islands are as diverse as the area's living inhabitants: within a day's paddle one may see a volcano, a lagoon, a mangrove swamp, whitened bluffs, rock arches, crushed-shell beaches, sandy arroyos, and cactus-covered slopes.

Back on the mainland, visit the Museo de Naturaleza y Cultura, which has many local bird and marine mammal displays, a large shell collection, and artifacts from the town's early mining days (open 2 p.m.-4 p.m. in winter, 3 p.m.-5 p.m. in summer).

American community colleges operate summer classes out of the Vermilion Sea Field Station, a research facility at the southern end of Bahma de Los Angeles. (Anyone may register for the classes through Glendale Community College in California. On a more casual basis, it's worth introducing yourself to the staff there if you have specific questions on local wildlife.)

Finally, a Mexican conservationist, Antonio Resendiz, tends a sea-turtle facility on the shore north of town. Volunteers help Resendiz care for several endangered species of sea turtles; though visits are usually planned through organizations in the United States, enthusiasts might inquire locally for a chance to see the facility.

These small institutions present many informal opportunities to combine a kayak trip with local nature study. Just about anyone can enjoy playing the amateur naturalist, or the castaway philosopher, for a few days.


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