Isla Carmen and Danzante, 12/22/2021, National Geographic Venture
National Geographic Venture
Sunrises and sunsets in Baja California have quite the reputation for their beauty, and today was no exception. The first hints of light illuminated lingering wisps of clouds before painting the steep walls of the peninsular mountain range. Light winds and warm temperatures met the crepuscular light as it broke the horizon. Seabirds glided around the ship as we pulled into our first anchorage for the day, Isla Carmen.
For our morning excursion, we donned wetsuits and dove below. The underwater environment was teeming with fish on rocky reefs, including sergeant major and king angelfish. Juvenile giant damselfish, bright blue with dazzling flashes, looked like jewels hiding among the coral. In cracks and crevices, urchins and sea stars crawled about. So much life spoke to the diversity contained in the waters of the Vermilion Sea.
Born in the mountains of east Tennessee, it was easy for Steve to fall in love with the wonderful natural environment around him. What started as a childhood passion to scan the creeks and ponds for all they would reveal evolved into a studied desire...
We started the last full day of our expedition very early and for a good reason. The colorful, reddish sandstone formations at Punta Colorada on the eastern side of San José Island are particularly gorgeous at sunrise, and many of us went ashore long before the sun rose. Eager photographers and nature lovers boarded Zodiacs to find the perfect spot to photograph the formations, and they were rewarded with spectacular vistas of the multicolored geology and a pristine, cloudless sky of fire. Tripods helped to achieve the desired depth of fields to capture the three- to five-million-year-old fossils of ancient sea turtles or snails. Other guests looked for birds, trying to identify those that were just beginning to get active. Many, many gigabytes later, everyone came back on board for a well-deserved breakfast and to download all those wonderful images to make room on memory cards for another round. After breakfast, we went back to the island to explore it more thoroughly by hiking a beautiful arroyo. We enjoyed the intrinsic beauty of a desert environment and admired, among various plant species, the now familiar cardón and galloping cacti, Adam’s tree, and agave. Punta Colorada is exposed to the northwest winds that prevail in the Sea of Cortez during the winter and spring. It is a place that we don’t get to visit very often, but today the weather was perfect. Conditions were ideal to enjoy this amazing place. After we all came back on board, National Geographic Venture headed offshore towards deeper waters. The glassy waters were an irresistible invitation to search for marine life, and we were not disappointed. Just about the time that lunch was announced, a sperm whale was spotted, the first one of the entire Baja season! The unmistakable blow, tilted to the left and forward, was clearly seen far away near the horizon. The king of divers, capable of diving to abyssal depths more than nine thousand feet and possibly more, showed his flukes in the air before we were able to get close. We patiently awaited his return to the surface. A bit more than an hour later, the characteristic blow was spotted again! Everyone on deck – guests, staff, and crew – eagerly hoped for a closer look before those huge flukes in the air disappeared once again. Another hour later, the owner of the largest brain on our planet came back to the surface and allowed us to get an excellent and close view of his large, square-looking head, his wrinkled skin, and his thick caudal peduncle. Everyone admired the magnificent creature right next to our ship. When those flukes disappeared under the surface once again, we couldn’t think of a better way to end our remarkable journey exploring the beautiful peninsula of Baja California and the Sea of Cortez! Photo caption and photographer: Male sperm whale showing his flukes at the start of a deep dive. Photo by Carlos Navarro
A glorious day began before dawn with Zodiac cruises of the magnificent Los Islotes, location of a California sea lion haul out in the northernmost part of Ispirito Santos National Park. After breakfast, many of us reveled in the playful joy generated by the younger sea lions that came out to swim with us. Afterwards, we set sail for Isla San Jose and stumbled across a mother and calf humpback pair within San Jose Channel as we made our way to the northern end of the island. Our afternoon was spent exploring an (as of yet) unnamed beach complete with a saltwater lagoon. Many guests spent time strolling and beachcombing, while others swam in the turquoise waters. A group of bottlenose dolphins came into the area as we departed for our home on National Geographic Venture .
While not everyone believes in the green flash, dozens took to the bow before dawn in an attempt to witness the phenomenon. With the full moon above the cliffs to the west and oranges glowing to the east, we prepared ourselves for the possibility of the moment. Photographers were ready, and their preparedness paid off as a small green flare lit up just before the top limb of the sun crested the ocean. There isn’t a better event to set the tone for a day in Baja. After a delightful breakfast, we cruised the San Jose channel for wildlife. This deep-water passage often provides great sightings of wildlife. With a light breeze and clear skies, the conditions for watching were idyllic. While no creatures put on a show this morning, the weather and scenery made it an enjoyable passage to soak in the beauty of Baja. We passed the morning with presentations, and the hotel department provided delicious treats, including an ice cream sundae bar post lunch! For the afternoon, we set out to Bahia Encantada. This landing offers a long arroyo, or dry riverbed, where we explored deep into the desert island of San Jose. The tenacious plant life is always impressive, thriving in an arid and harsh landscape. Land birds and reptiles flitted about, including a cooperative and endemic Xanthus’s hummingbird. As evening set in, our second beach barbecue was on the schedule. The festive event gave us a chance to relax with our toes in the sand. After the sun set, we played with night photography and searched for florescent scorpions. Back on board, an early evening was in order. Tomorrow, we set out at sunrise for our next day exploring the Gulf of California and the desert islands. Today was another incredible day on this memorable voyage.