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Adventures of a CEO: Baja 101

The Museum’s expertise and interest covers one of the world’s most stunning and biologically fascinating ecological areas. Our "bioregion" stretches from Point Conception near Santa Barbara, California to the southern tip of Baja California Sur. When it was suggested that I needed to visit Baja California to more fully understand our bioregion, no arm-twisting was necessary.

I joined an expedition of biologists and Museum supporters to Rancho Las Cruces, across the peninsula from La Paz on the Sea of Cortés. We also backpacked in the nearby Sierra Cacachilas range.

Everyone keeps asking me "What did you think of Baja?" or "What were the highlights of your Baja trip?" These turn out to be difficult questions to answer.

In the first place, the Baja California region is enormous. It is the second longest peninsula in the world, stretching 760 miles from the border to the tip, or cape. More than 55,000 square miles, it is comprised of two Mexican states: Baja California and Baja California Sur. So the question is more properly "What do you think of the lowland sarcocaulescent scrubland in the Cacachilas range of the Cape region of Baja California Sur?"

On first impression, this region of Baja California was far greener than I expected. The landscape is gorgeous, with shrubs and small trees interleaved with spires of cactus. The ridge tops look like free-form lace with fine branches and leaves of Palo Blanco trees and fingers of Cardon, or Elephant Cactus poking through the shrubby canopy. The Sierra Cacachilas range is rugged, with palm oases and sandy washes that lead down to the piercing blue of the Sea of Cortés. Large granite boulders polished by geologic action sit on beds of ground granite, and the area has a rich history of mining for gold and silver.

Make no mistake, it was certainly hot and dry, especially away from the Sea of Cortés. Despite the green vegetation and surprising number of plants in flower, there was no question we were in desert scrub.  

The abundance of cactus should not have been surprising, but the wide variety of growth forms was amazing. In addition to the enormous and conspicuous pipe and barrel cacti, there were fantastical, cute, and cryptic species.

We saw so many plants and animals that were new to me, and also some that were possibly new to science (many pictured below).

We had the great fortune to spend time on two contiguous 10,000-acre reserves, protecting the plants and wildlife almost as far as the eye could see. People have lived, ranched, and mined in the area, but the intrusions were light and the habitat looks healthy. It is phenomenal that this biological wonderland could be relatively close to the La Paz airport--and intact.  

So what did I think of Baja? Ten days wasn't nearly enough for a first visit, and why did I wait this long to get there?



Sea of Cortés with Cardon (Pachycereus pringlei).

Hiking in the Sierra Cacachilas.

18th century graffiti. Note the date: August 3, 1763.

Mexican fritillary (Euptoieta hegesia). Photo by Bud Ferguson.

Laviana White-Skipper (Heliopetes laviana). Photo by Bud Ferguson.

A small Mammillaria cactus with two fruit.

Rajamatraca cactus (Peniocereus sp.) looks like the branch of nearby shrub, unless it bears its red fruit.

Ospreys building a nest. Photo by Bud Ferguson.

Scott Tremor with a Wood Rat (Neotoma bryanti).

The aptly-named Dog Poop Bush (Pithecellobium confine) has distinctive fruit.

Gila Woodpecker (Melanerpes uropygialis). Photo by Bud Ferguson.

A satellite image of the Baja California Peninsula. NASA image by Norman Kuring, Ocean Color Team.

Posted by President and CEO Judy Gradwohl on January 18, 2017

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