As the sun rose from behind a low layer of clouds Las Animas became illuminated with morning light. This tiny island is not only a good place to look for marine mammals, but it is also stands above an incredible ocean drop-off of about 4,500 feet. The 300-foot contour lines are stacked so close together on a bathometric chart that they look like a thick dark line. Bottlenose dolphins appeared and enthusiastically rode our bow. Most of them seemed to be large males with many heavy scratches and scars.

Punta Colorada on Isla San José is a favorite place for many of us that work on the ship. It has spectacular 150-foot cliffs of reddish sandstone in the shape of a half bowl that faces the sea. A sandy arroyo full of granitic rocks from the higher ridges winds upward. Hikers sorted out the common plants and admired the blooms of Palo Adans and the endemic Baja California ruellia. Hikers were also impressed by Costa’s hummingbirds, loggerhead shrikes, verdins, and a gray thrasher. Desert whiptail lizards scurried across the hot sand as side-blotched lizards and chuckwallas lay upon rocks with good vantage points.

We cruised south to Los Islotes in the afternoon, an exciting place to observe and swim with California sea lions. These pinnipeds are habituated to boat traffic, and yearlings and sub-adults love to follow boats, porpoising out of the water, twisting and gyrating into aerial jumps that we watched with smiling faces. Snorkeling with them was even more fun. Like high-speed rockets they shot towards us, turning at the last instant as our eyes grew really large. At times they approached like love-starved puppies, slowly presenting their rumps as they looked over their shoulders, almost daring us to give them a scratch.

It was a great first day with time to unwind, unpack and enter into the spell of the Sea of Cortez.