Science, Sojourns & Steinbeck:
An Annotated Bibliography of Baja California
in the SDNHM Research Library
"A thousand fantasies
A place so remote and compelling, full of strangely beautiful species
of plants and animals, Baja California from the earliest times has lured
adventurers who later told the tales of their adventures to eager listeners.
Books about Baja range from painstakingly detailed accounts by naturalists,
who examined every new leaf and cactus spine encountered, to those who
treat Baja more as a philosophical state of mind rather than a geographic
and physical entity. Indeed, writers have spoken of Baja in everything
from the most glowing terms, to those of the German Father Jakob Baegert
who was stationed in Baja for 18 years and described it scathingly in
1752 as "nothing but a pile of stones full of thorns.....a pathless,
waterless thornful rock, sticking up between two oceans." It seems that
Baja evokes strong reactions in those who venture there, many of whom
are prompted to write about their experiences. This bibliography is by
no means comprehensive; indeed there are numerous titles that are omitted
in this list. Rather it is a group of books that together may give one
a view of some of the physical aspects of Baja, both historically and
today, and will also suggest to the reader the cultural, social and psychological
impact that either living or traveling in Baja has had on this kaleidoscope
Begin to throng into my memory,
Of calling shapes, and beck'ning shadows dire,
And airy tongues that syllable men's names
On sands and shores and desert wildernesses."
For further titles on these topics, check our online catalog.
- Aschmann, Homer. 1967. The Central Desert of Baja California:
Demography and Ecology. Riverside, CA: Manessier
- Originally published by the University of California Press in
1959 as a revised doctoral dissertation, and what an interesting
topic for a dissertation it was! The title of the book does little
to convey the actual scope. This is a scholarly and engaging summary
of the history of the aboriginal peoples of the Vizcaino Desert of
Baja California, including a fascinating description of the languages
and dialects, birth and death rates, uses of local plants and animals,
the effects of the missions on the native people, the disastrous
diseases that they suffered as a result of their encounters with
Europeans, and many other topics.
- Baja California Travels Series. 1965 - 1991. Edwin
Carpenter and Glen Dawson, General Editors. Los Angeles: Dawson's
- Pirates! Untold riches in pearls! Civil war, castaways, and escape
from oppression! These and a multitude of other subjects are covered
in this unique series of 51 volumes. All share in common personal
narratives of adventures and travel in the peninsula, from earliest
historical accounts to recent times. Many had never before been published
in English and were unavailable except for scholars who were able
to view them in the original manuscript form. Included in the series
are descriptions of everything from 16th Century first-hand encounters
with some of the indigenous peoples of Baja, to a history of cattle
brands and livestock farming, as well as Jesuit missionaries, railways,
natural history, whaling, art, and ethnology. Many of the volumes
include beautiful reproductions of illustrations, maps, photos, and
other graphic elements. Limited numbers printed of this series.
- Berger, Bruce. 1998. Almost an Island: Travels in Baja
California. Tucson: University of Arizona
- Bruce Berger does not so much write about the peninsula as a land
mass, as about how the locale is defined for him by the amazing people
he has encountered while living and traveling over the past 30 years
in Baja. Although there are lyrical as well as quirky descriptions
that vividly bring to the reader's eye a vision of the land, the
environment, and the animals and plants of the area, Berger shines
foremost in his capture of the memorable personalities and eccentricities
of Baja natives and visitors. His recounting of the tourist invasion
of La Paz for the viewing of the 1991 total eclipse is by turns hilarious
and moving, including a wild mix of Japanese amateur astronomers,
enterprising Mexican nuns, ex-hippies, journalists, and a motley
group of hangers-on. Trained as a musician, Berger's writing is as
elegant and evocative as an etude by Chopin. He also never fails
to see the irony and humor inherent in life in this land that is "almost
- Botello, Judy Goldstein. 1998. The Other Side: Journeys
in Baja California. San Diego: Sunbelt Publications.
- Although the title of this book includes "journeys in Baja", and
refers specifically to crossing to "the other side" of the Mexican/California
border, it is at least as much about one woman's very personal encounter
with another culture, and the complex changes these encounters wrought
in her own experience. Covering a period of 15 years in the author's
life, it reads more like a novel than a travelogue, full of self-discovery
and romance, but at the same time chronicles her growing knowledge
of Baja, its towns and natural history, but most particularly, its
- Bowen, Thomas. 2000. Unknown Island: Seri Indians, Europeans,
and San Esteban Island in the Gulf of California. Albuquerque:
University of New Mexico Press.
- Did they exist? An ethnohistorical look at whether a strange, legendary
group of Seri Indians once existed on San Esteban Island, distinct
from the Seris of Tiburon. The book explores the history of the Midriff
Islands, the coming of the Europeans and their activities in the
Gulf from the 16th to the 20th century, the oral history of modern
Seris and archaeological evidence found on San Esteban Island. Who
were these San Esteban Seris? Why did the Europeans not detect them?
Similar to Jared Diamonds Guns, Germs and Steel, perhaps; a
hefty but readable volume.
- Cannon, Ray. 1966. The Sea of Cortez: A Sunset Book. Menlo
Park, CA: Lane Magazine Book Company.
- The majority of this book is a collection of black and white as
well as color photos, although there is some accompanying text. The
book is divided into sections covering each region of Baja. Many
of the descriptions reflect Ray Cannon's personal and colorful adventures
while fishing or hunting with friends, including hair-raising descriptions
of being caught in the Sea of Cortez during chubascos, and having
bobcats leap over his sleeping bag one night near Bahia Escondido.
Although the information about accommodations and transportation
to Baja is obviously out-of-date, the photographs are enjoyable in
their own right, and the text follows a conversational, easy-to-read
style. A classic Baja "picture book."
- Case, Ted J., Martin L. Cody and Exequiel Ezcurra, eds.
2002. A New Island Biogeography in the Sea of Cortés. New
York: Oxford University Press.
- A collection of studies and surveys of the physical and biological
aspects of the islands in the Gulf of California, including a few
articles on the history of scientific exploration, human impact and
ecological conservation in the area. Edited by SDNHM's former Director
of the Biodiversity Research Center of the Californias Exequiel Ezcurra,
the emphasis is on the biological data, with articles on plants,
insects, fish, reptiles, birds, mammals and food webs. One quarter
of the book consists of appendicestables of species distribution
and census data. This is a completely revised version of the 1983
volume Island Biogeography in the Sea of Cortez, also held
in the library.
- Crosby, Harry. 1997. The Cave Paintings of Baja California:
Discovering the Great Murals of an Unknown People. San
Diego: Sunbelt Publications.
- A beautiful book about the "thousands of brilliant cave paintings"
still to be found in central Baja California. Crosby takes us on
a journey through the caves and canyons, with detailed descriptions,
travelogue, and large photo illustrations. Explore the art of the
Great Murals of Sierra de San Francisco, Sierra de Guadalupe, Sierra
de San Juan, Sierra de San Borja, dating back 500 to 2000 years.
- Cummings, Joe. 1994. Baja Handbook: Mexico's Western
Peninsula, including Cabo San Lucas. Chico,
CA: Moon Publications, Inc.
- There are numerous guides to Baja, designed specifically for the
occasional tourist, of which this is as good a representative as
any. Although this guide has the typical listings of restaurants
and accommodations by specific towns, about a third of the text features
background information on everything from Baja's flora and fauna,
history, language, customs, food, to immigration and customs. Of
a small, compact size that can fit easily in a backpack or suitcase,
this book is nevertheless quite comprehensive as a brief introduction
to Baja for visitors.
- Dedina, Serge. 2000. Saving the Gray Whale: People,
Politics and Conservation in Baja California. Tucson:
University of Arizona Press.
- From devil-fish to tourist attraction. This slim volume traces
the history and politics of gray whale conservation in Mexico, with
a particular focus on San Ignacio Lagoon and Magdalena Bay. Dedina
argues that "in Mexico, gray whale conservation is a microcosm
of national, regional and local politics"
and provides an interesting perspective on the unusually successful
effort to revive a once-threatened and now well-beloved species
- Gardner, Erle Stanley. 1960. Hunting the Desert Whale:
Personal Adventures in Baja California. New
York: William Morrow & Company.
- Gardner, the prolific lawyer-turned-writer of Perry Mason fame,
lived in southern California and in 1947 was able to do what few
Americans before him had done: he drove down the entire Baja peninsula
and recorded his experiences in his book, The Land of Shorter Shadows.
From that time on, Gardner, along with various friends and fellow-adventurers
explored Baja, using all kinds of vehicles-including airplane, helicopter,
boat and even a type of hybrid motorcycle. Gardner's books on Baja,
written in typical "tough-guy," fast-paced style, show how most "gringos"
exploring the peninsula during this time viewed Baja, as a place
of escape and high adventure, with perhaps less regard for the fragility
of the landscape and associated biota or for the intrinsic value
of its natural history. Hunting the Desert Whale describes his adventures
in Scammon's Lagoon where he ventured with 7 or 8 others, including
a reporter from Newsweek magazine, to photograph whales. Illustrated
with black and white photos of the trip.
- Grismer, L. Lee. 2002. Amphibians and Reptiles of Baja
California. Including its Pacific Islands and the Islands in
the Sea of Cortés. Berkeley: University
of California Press.
- A beautiful volume with many color photos by the author, divided
into six major sectionssalamanders, frogs and toads, turtles
and tortoises, lizards, worm lizards and snakesorganized by
family, genus, and species. For each species, information on identification,
relationships and taxonomy, distribution, physical description, and
natural history is provided, along with other remarks, an image,
and often a distribution map. Handy reference.
- Hodgson, Wendy. 2001. Food Plants of the Sonoran Desert. Tucson,
AZ: University of Arizona Press.
- A catalogue of edible plants, documenting their historic usage,
cultural significance, and current status, illustrated with black-and-white
photography. Sources include
"current research, herbarium vouchers, ethnographies, personal
narratives, and historic documents." The plants are organized
into gymnosperms and angiosperms (monocot and dicot), and entries
are written for each plant family. An ethnobotany reference.
- Janovy, John Jr. 1992. Vermilion Sea: A Naturalist's
Journey in Baja California. Boston: Houghton
- A more accurate subtitle would be "a biologist's journey in Baja
California". John Janovy is a parasitologist and academic who teaches
biology at the University of Nebraska. His view of Baja, gained from
a succession of trips with college students visiting Mulege and Bahia
de los Angeles, is told with the somewhat weighty and intellectual
voice of the scientist/philosopher. Although his education in biology
and geology can lead him-literally--to an examination of the gravel
beneath his hiking boots, using a hand lens to study the rocks and
minerals there, his focus can also be grandiose. In fact, in the
preface he states straight out that the book is "intended to be a
sort of cosmology, an example of one way to see the universe." A
thought-provoking and intense book.
- Krutch, Joseph Wood. 1961. The Forgotten Peninsula. New
York: William Morrow & Company.
- J.W. Krutch was one of our most distinguished literary naturalists,
in addition to enjoying a successful career as a drama critic, biographer,
editor, and professor of drama at Columbia University. After retiring
from New York City to the Southwest for his health, Krutch fell in
love with the Sonoran desert and wrote such masterpieces as The Voice
of the Desert and The Desert Year. In The Forgotten Peninsula, his
lucid description of his fascination and joy in learning about the
boojum tree, ocotillo, gray whale, and many other things in Baja,
is given an added dimension by his passionate and eloquent argument
for the protection of the area from the ravages of development. Although
Krutch was not a scientist, he spent a lot of time traveling in Baja
with scientists and gained a wonderful insight into the work of taxonomists
and conservationists working there.
- Mackintosh, Graham. 1995. Into a Desert Place: A 3000-Mile
Walk around the Coast of Baja California. New
York: W.W. Norton
- An absorbing tale of an ambitiously wild plan to walk around Baja,
this book keeps you wanting to turn the page to discover what adventure
awaits the author next. Mackintosh was an unlikely candidate for
undertaking such a trip-a red-haired Scotsman, no outdoorsman, and
with no experience in deserts of any kind. Yet he decided on a whim
to see if he could walk the entire coast of Baja, living off the
land, and survive to tell the tale. Of course, he meets many friendly
people in the course of his journey, so the times when he had to
subsist on cactus and seaweed are interspersed with encounters with
generous campers and Mexicans, who stuff him with everything from
lobster to fresh fruit, not to mention plenty of beer, tequila and
other spirits. His most difficult challenges include securing a constant
supply of freshwater, and managing to stick to the coastline, even
when the cliffs are sheer and steep, but he is able to complete his
trip after two years. This story gives the reader a particularly
intimate, day-to-day feel for trekking by foot in Baja.
- Steinbeck, John and Edward F. Ricketts. 1941. Sea of
Cortez: A Leisurely Journal of Travel and Research. New
York: Viking Press.
- The Nobel Prize winning author's record of his six month trip
collecting marine life in the Gulf of California with his biologist
friend, Ed Ricketts, whom he immortalized as "Doc" in his novel Cannery
Row. Almost half of the book consists of a large appendix, listing
scientific names and collecting data for Gulf of California marine
invertebrates and vertebrates. The log itself gives natural history
information colored with Steinbeck's unique voice; describing the
mangroves near La Paz, he states, "We suppose it is the combination
of foul odor and the impenetrable quality of the mangrove roots which
gives one a feeling of dislike for these salt-water-eating bushes...It
seemed to us that there was stealthy murder everywhere. On the surf-swept
rocks it was a fierce and hungry and joyous killing, committed with
energy and ferocity. But here it was like stalking, quiet murder.
No one likes the mangroves." Given the luxury of telling the story
of a collecting trip whose sole purpose was to satisfy an intense
curiosity about the natural world of this rich environment, Steinbeck
mixes science, opinion, philosophy and anything else that comes to
mind with a master's touch.
- Williams, Jack. 1994. Baja Boaters' Guide Vol. I :
The Pacific Coast and Vol. II : Sea of Cortez. Sausalito,
CA: H. J. Williams Publications.
- While this book has sections that would be of interest only to
mariners exploring the Baja coast, including navigation and anchorage
guides, it remains a wonderful resource because of its abundance
of richly detailed maps and photos of the entire peninsula, particularly
for the many islands scattered on both coasts. In addition, there
are interesting descriptive and historical notes scattered throughout
the text. These books have facts and details about Baja's waters
learned first hand and not available in any other source.
- Zwinger, Ann. 1983. A Desert Country Near the Sea:
A Natural History of the Cape Region of Baja California. New
York: Harper &
- A sparkling gem of a book. The author's lyrical descriptions of
her adventures in the Cape area are greatly enhanced by her delightful
drawings of the local plants, insects, shells, and fossils. Zwinger
recounts her family's adventures over a period of many years during
which she fell in love with this unique section of Baja, south of
the Tropic of Cancer. Although her study is limited to the Cabo San
Lucas region, she investigates that area in depth. In addition to
her narratives which focus on various aspects of the Cape, such as
the mountains, the back country, and the tidepools of the Sea of
Cortes, she includes checklists of plants, birds, mammals, reptiles
and amphibians; an historical chronology, a bibliography, and a wonderfully
rich notes section with further references.
Titles on Specialized Topics:
- Brown, John W., Herman G. Real and David K. Faulkner.
1992. Butterflies of Baja California: Faunal Survey, Natural
History, Conservation Biology. Beverly Hills,
CA: Lepidoptera Research Foundation, Inc
- Gotshall, Daniel W. 1998. Sea of Cortez Marine Animals:
A Guide to the Common Fishes and Invertebrates Baja California
to Panama. Monterey, CA: Sea Challengers.
- Gould, Frank W. and Reid Moran. 1981. Grasses of Baja
California, Mexico. San Diego: San Diego
Society of Natural History Memoir 12.
- Kira, Gene. 1999. Unforgettable Sea of Cortez: Baja
California's Golden Age, 1947 - 1977: The Life and Writings of
Ray Cannon. Torrance,CA: Cortez Publishing.
- Krutch, Joseph W. and Eliot Porter. 1967. Baja California
and the Geography of Hope. San Francisco:
- McPeak, Ron H. 2000. Amphibians and Reptiles of Baja
California. Monterey, CA: Sea Challengers.
- Minch, John, Edwin Minch, and Jason Minch. 1998. Roadside
Geology and Biology of Baja California. Mission
Viejo, CA: John Minch and Associates, Inc.
- Roberts, Norman C. 1989. Baja California Plant Field
Guide. La Jolla, CA: Natural History Publishing
- Thomson, Donald A., Lloyd T. Findley, and Alex N. Kerstitch.
2000. Reef Fishes of the Sea of Cortez: The Rocky-Shore Fishes
of the Gulf of California. Austin,
TX: University of Texas Press.
- Wiggins, Ira L. 1980. Flora of Baja California. Stanford,
CA: Stanford University Press.
- Wilbur, Sanford R. 1987. Birds of Baja California. Berkeley:
University of California Press.