Baja: A Springtime Adventure in Mexico’s Sea of Cortez

"...Let us go," we said, "into the Sea of Cortez, realizing that we become forever a part of it; that our rubber boots slogging through a flat of eel-grass, that the rocks we turn over in a tide pool, make us truly and permanently a factor in the ecology of the region. We shall take something away from it, but we shall leave something too."
     John Steinbeck, The Log from the Sea of Cortez,1951 

In his perception, Steinbeck points out how our presence in a place affects both the place and ourselves, leaving an indelible mark. A remarkable region like Mexico’s Sea of Cortez changes us forever. Immersed in nature we walk desert terrain, swim with sea lions, paddle a kayak, or feel a salty spray as a whale glides past. What remains with us is deeply individual and that is one of the wonders of being in nature.

For adventure seekers, Baja California travel provides wind-sculpted dunes, towering cacti, and beaches for tide pooling. Waters are teeming with whales, dolphins, and sea lions with opportunities for snorkeling and kayaking. There are glorious sunsets and hundreds of birds including elegant terns, pelicans, and blue-footed boobies.

Designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Sea of Cortez, also known as the Gulf of California, is considered one of the world’s most diverse and biologically rich seas. Well known of Baja California’s wildlife are the annual migrations of humpback, gray, and blue whales to Baja California’s nutrient-rich waters. Over 5,000 species of macro-invertebrates thrive in the Gulf. The slender Baja Peninsula is the second longest in the world. In addition to the migratory whales, manta ray and leatherback turtles travel here; while sperm and fin whales make the Sea of Cortez their year-round residence.

Within the gulf are 37 islands, many of volcanic origin with most located close to the peninsula. Exploring these islands on a Sea of Cortez cruise is deeply rewarding. As you sail these waters it’s thrilling to keep a lookout for whales, likely encounters may include fin, Bryde’s, minke, humpback, gray, sperm, and the largest creature on earth—the blue whale.

It’s fascinating how different whale species hunt and feed in the gulf waters. Baleen whales swim open mouthed and filter food through baleen plates. Others hunt with echo-location, by making a series of clicking noises that bounce off nearby objects and travel back to the whale. Gray whales get their food from the ocean floor, consuming well over 3,000 pounds of food per day. They swim down to get their prey, taking in sea sediments, crabs, larvae, plankton, and small fish as they go. Humpback whales feed as a group by bubblenet feeding. Sperm whales thrive on squid, octopus, and fish, at times diving 3,000 feet underwater and remaining submerged for more than an hour during a hunt.

Moving on land, walks on the desert islands in the Sea of Cortez reveal a huge variety of vegetation. Because of its location, a subtropical zone that rarely frosts with high humidity from the Pacific Ocean, the Baja California desert is lush and home to plants found nowhere else in the world. See towering cardon cacti, succulent aloe, and boojum trees. Cholla, hedgehog and prickly pear cactus adorn the landscape. Hikers are rewarded with a density and diversity of plant life.

Thousands of birds make their home on these gulf islands. On Isla Rasa, 90% of the world population of Heermann’s gulls reside and find sanctuary. Blue-footed boobies, known for their ritual mating dance, can be seen as well as red-billed tropicbirds and flycatchers.

As you cruise in the Sea of Cortez, there is time to stop on the islands and coastal towns along the way. At Santa Rosalia, learn about the copper mining industry that made up much of its history. On Isla San Esteban, look for the endemic chuckwalla and the spiny-tailed iguana. Isla Santa Catalina beaches offer excellent snorkeling and the desert cactus includes the giant barrel and cardon. Playful dolphins are often seen while cruising around the islands.

An adventure Baja California cruise is full of endless possibilities. You can hike on desert islands, see wildlife up close, and experience an incredible diversity of whales and dolphins. Seeing animals in their natural habitat is deeply rewarding. The Sea of Cortez is one of those places that lingers with you long after you return home

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