Sunday, January 16, 2011

Road Trip to La Paz: El Rosario to San Ignacio

We made the left turn, just beyond Mama Espinosa's, and proceeded east along the valley at El Rosario to the bridge that spans the broad arroyo. Kathie and I both marveled how great the weather was; clear blue skies with a bit of nip in the air.

This part of the trip covers some of our most favorite areas and is some of the most scenic desert road one could imagine. Within the first hour we entered the magical land of the cirios (Cirio columnaris), or boojum trees. Wherever you look there are the odd boojum trees among the majestic cardon cactus (Pachycereus pringlei). Their growth patterns are random and whimsical, each one different from the next. Traveling further south we begin to see more elephant trees (Bursera microphylla). Many of these plant species have a very limited distribution and some, like the cirios, are only found here in Baja as well as a very small area of the Sonoran desert on mainland Mexico.

The amazing flora becomes punctuated with rollicking boulder fields
as we approach Catavina. The topography of this area is fantastic. The clear air adds to the spectacle by providing a backdrop of detailed mountains to frame the rolling boulder and cactus foreground. We make a pit stop at the Desert Inn hotel (formerly, the Presidente chain) before continuing south.

An hour south of Catavina finds us at the turn off to Bahia de Los Angeles. The flora begins to change once Catavina is left behind. Climbing onto the central plateau Joshua trees (Yucca brevifolia) begin to dominate the flora and the boulder fields of the north are left behind.

From the turn off to Bahia de Los Angeles, it's a relatively straight ride south, to Guererro Negro. Shortly after leaving the town of Rosarito, there are glimpses of the Pacific that can be seen between the coastal hills. Soon we find ourselves traveling the nearly linear highway along the relatively barren coastal plain towards the evaporative salt pans of Guererro Negro. While still miles to the north we can see one of the mega-Mexican flags that is flown on the highway between the border of Baja and Baja Sur California.

We arrive at Guererro Negro just before 1 p.m. and travel into town to top off our gas tank and to pick-up more pesos at the ATM. Besides being the site of the worlds largest evaporative salt ponds, some of the best whale watching along the Pacific coast of Mexico is found in the lagoon at Ojo de Liebre (perhaps better known as Scammon's Lagoon). While tours can be booked from a number of places in town, it has been our experience the whale watching camp south of town is one of the best places to experience the Gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) population. The camp is located about 10 miles south of town, along Mexico highway 1.

There are signs indicating "Scammon's Lagoon" with a whale icon showing the turn off. From the highway, it is about a 15km drive over well graded dirt roads, through some of the salt ponds, until you reach the shore of the bay. An Ejido owns the rights to run this camp site, with a picturesque restaurant, chemical toilets with a view, and a couple of dozen well separated camp sites along the shore of the lagoon. The Ejido runs several pangas that take guests out onto the bay to observe the whales as they nurse, sleep and play. While there is no guarantee, there is always a very good chance to encounter "friendly" whales that will view the people in the boats close enough to be touched.

A few more hours of driving and we arrived at the oasis of San Ignacio. What sets this village apart from others in Baja is the presence of two large spring-fed lagoons and a large (and now somewhat neglected) date grove. Based on previous visits to San Ignacio and recommendations of our friends Ted and Alicia from s/v Tumbleweed, we stop at the B&B run by a engaging Canadian couple, Jerry and Terry. We reserved a large yurt next to the lagoon for a
night. It was spacious with a king and queen bed, a seating area and a large private bath. We went into town to explore and have a bite to eat before returning to the large, but cozy yurt that would be our home for the night.

After a breezy night in the date grove, we awoke to a beautiful morning and had a delicious breakfast in the dining palapa with an eclectic group of Baja travelers. We took our leave of the B&B by 10 a.m. and after exploring town for one last time, we hit the road again, heading south towards Loreto.

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