Sea of Cortez

California is a US state. It is also a geographical expression that covers the whole area of Mexico that extends to the south of the US from the border town of Tijuana in a peninsula that is known as the Baja California. It is over six hundred miles long - the same as the length of the UK - and desert.

It is that uniquely American desert of mountains and cacti, aroya - dried up river beds - and wheeling vultures. Inside that peninsula, on average about one hundred and twenty miles across, is the Gulf of California also known as the Sea of Cortez, protected from the Pacific and sparsely populated where the mountains of the Baja fall into the sea. Imagine the Grand Canyon three quarters full of seawater and you get some idea of the land and sea scape.

Into this calm (compared with the Pacific anyway) whales go to calve and the sea is rich in dorado, rays - leaping to shed themselves of lice, or just for joy, no one knows - and countless other fish and their predators; ospreys, frigate birds and boobies that look so like gannets, the evil looking fighter-bombers of the bird world.

There are towns along the Gulf but once you leave La Paz near the entrance you are away from any phone signal or internet; quite a thing in the modern world. There are few people other than fishermen and they are clustered in some extraordinary places - like Isole Coyote - a rock really with no fresh water but a small chapel and a dozen houses.

On the Baja, Mexico proper is called The Mainland; not surprising really as for a long time before the Spanish made their way to the head of the gulf it was considered an island. As even today any road trip either from the US or from the metropolitan parts of Mexico would involve a drive of over a thousand miles, island status is simply a matter of practical geography.

It is a magic place. On a boat you quickly get away from any sight or sound of civilisation with stratified cliffs populated only by wheeling birds. The sea is rich. Sea lions lie on rocks that you can approach within yards met only by yawns and the odd bark from the dominant bull safeguarding his harem. 

Fishermen sell grouper, dorado and snapper to be turned by the magic of lime, pepper and onion into the finest creviche. There is no rubbish or the usual detritus of civilisation because there is very little of it. In ten days we only met two settlements - both only fishing villages.


One had a restaurant... 

And a ‘supermarket’ where the boy manning the store played the guitar....

We didn’t make to the head of the gulf where once the mighty Colorado river once debouched into the Sea of Cortez in a delta sixty miles across. Now there is nothing but desicated salt pans as its whole volume is dammed and channeled into the intensive agriculture of Southern California and the golf courses that surround Phoenix, Arizona. As the Lake Powell, the reservoir of the Hoover Dam continues to fall there is going to be fierce competition for a resource that is now fully accounted for.

This makes no difference to the lower Gulf which is much more effected by the Pacific than the Colorado River. Long may it remain an unspoilt, beautiful and thinly populated place where the main tourism is still surfers and snowbirds escaping the Canadian winters.


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