Mex 3 – Road Construction a’la Baja

Traveling the highways of Baja are – well – different than driving stateside.  When a huge rock slide close off a section of Mex 1 – the main north/south artery that connects Tijuana with Cabo San Lucas, the locals got to work.  In the USA, next steps would be emergency vehicles, flashing red lights, and weeks of no passage.  In Baja, next steps are a couple of guys with pickup trucks and ropes who move the offending obstructions out of the way, followed by maybe a friend with a bulldozer pushing some of the dirt aside.  I.e., roads are the lifeline .. and the residents don’t wait for the government to fix things.

Mex 3 – a southern route from San Felipe along the western edge of the Sea of Cortez has long been an out-of-the-way route that that terminated at Mex 1 near Lake Chapala. Mostly rugged washboard miles with an occasional paved section that washed out during hurricanes, the road was merciless on tires, suspensions, and overall mechanics of vehicles.

During the last two decades, small fishing villages have given way to retirement homes for gringos from the states, and the road has become more popular.  Gonzaga Bay, originally a landing strip with fly-in homes, now sports an upgraded hotel and multiple restaurants.

In their continuing effort to enhance access to all parts Baja, the government has set about ambitious road development projects, and Mex 3 is one of them.  The included photographs illustrate the scope of this project, the fact that a little dirt never hurt an intrepid Baja traveler, and the vast beauty of the landscape.

Just as Mex 1 was a dream before it opened in 1972, Mex 3 will provide an alternative to the crowded western route.

Crescent Moon ….

Sultry summer nights.

Palms against the Evening Sky

Palms against the Evening Sky

To the east, the mainland sends up a show of lightning.  Bursts of reddish colors paint the undersides of thick storm clouds.  Loreto is humid, but no rain or thunder for the moment.

The repaired lighthouse in the marina casts a welcoming green white light as the top spins in its glass housing, guiding mariners safely home.

Overhead, starts punctuate the space between the clouds.  The low level of city or neighborhood lights provides enough dark sky to enjoy a palette of twinkling white. Distant suns and planets.  The extension of our our small earth-based universe.

Suddenly, a larger break in the clouds, now backlit with white.  A tiny crescent moon, bathed in shades of orange, casts a shimmering pathway across the surface of the Sea.  It appears as if I could almost walk to Isla Carmen on a carpet of watery light.

Yes, sultry summer nights on the Sea of Cortez, as we step toward fall …..

Buster & the Fish

Buster (the Bajanese) loves to SUP with me, and our morning paddles are a great solace for both of us.  Paddling up the coast we have been gifted with turtles, dancing rays, leaping fish, skimming pelicans, diving terns & osprey.  The light on the water some mornings, a reason to pause in honor of the stunning beauty of the Sea of Cortez nestled against the small city of Loreto.

Yesterday, Buster was in rare form.  He stood tirelessly on the ‘bow’ of my SUP board searching for anything that moved. When we both spied the small fish (already in it’s last gasp) he was unstoppable.  He lept off the board and could not be cajoled back.  Each time he reached to catch it in his mouth, the fish would swivel and turn – both spooking him and enticing him on.  But he was close. Oh so close ….

This was ‘his’ fish, and I was not to spoil the moment.  I tried paddling away.  He didn’t seem to care.  I yelled at him to get back on the board (we did have a flight to catch). Finally, I had to yank his sweet wet hairy body from the water and keep his head turned away from the fish.

Yes, we left the fish in our wake. And yes, the little hunter had his day.  And yes, we made our flight, sadly leaving Loreto – so we could once again return.

SUP, Sea of Cortez

soft light
still waters
the sky the color of the sea

blue footed boobies make like diving jets
silvery fish dance and skate on the water’s edge

yellowtail and small dorado race from shallow to shallow
stingrays ruffle the sand
puffer fish skitter across the sandy bar
shimmering cerulean sardines leap en masse

pelican wings glide millimeters from the water
cormorants beaks glow golden against black feathers

my paddle eases my board quietly toward the light
no real destination but exactly where i am ….

pre-dawn ….

Sunrise, Loreto 21 January 2015

Sunrise, Loreto – 21 January 2015

roosters crow in the distance … so blessed to be in space where i can hear their call to morning

dogs begin their own conversation one house to the next .. a woof/bark that reaches all the way to Buster, who adds his voice to the symphony of canine expression

in the hour before light, each sound echos across the flat basin that flows to the sea from the foot of the sierra

i hear the chatter of early beach walkers, their figures shrouded in the dark,  their voices announcing their presence before i can make out their shadowy forms .. girl talk, boy talk, start the day talk.

the crunch of footsteps on the gravelly sand – the neighbors and their dogs out for morning ‘duties’

pre-sunrise light paints the sea and the sky with corals, periwinkle blues, deep reds and brilliant yellow gold

a pelican splashes

the wind begins to ruffle the surface of the tranquil sea

a cruise ship waits to unload their guests for an exploration of our small town of Loreto.

morning. wednesday. for those of us with breath, we begin again.

Always Dreaming …

Even when I’m not in Baja, I dream of her. The starkness and beauty of her deserts. The rugged cliffs of her mountain ranges. The two faces of her seas – the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortez. Blessed with a 2 hour reach of either side, I can trade surfboard for SUP board – cold fish for warm fish – crashing waves for serene waters.

Last evening, I paddled the Sea of Cortez and was rewarded with leaping fish and soaring birds. Here’s a small sampling:

beauty where we find it …..

Baja : Pacific Morning

For the uninitiated, there is little that can be said to fully express the beauty of Baja California Sur.  From the moment one leaves the populations of Colonet & San Quintin, makes a requisite gas stop in El Rosario, and heads into the heart of undeveloped land of cardon, bojum, cholla, poloverde, cirrius and more …  the heart slows, the shoulders drop, and the mind begins to embrace again that primal space of undeveloped land.

Mex One zigzags across the peninsula in undulating rhythms, following for the greater part, the easiest passage through rough terrain.  That translates to switchbacks, mountain climbs and descents, and arroyo crossings.  Wide plains, dry lakes and craggy rock piles – the spewn evidence of long-ago volcanoes litter the landscape.  I’ve stopped counting the trips. I never fail to be inspired.  I am always stunned by her beauty.

For those who are afraid to travel, I am sorry.  So much the greater landscape and less crowded roads for me.  While the horrors of the drug cartels are not to be ignored, the city streets of any major metropolitan area has its own body and assault count.  I feel safer in my home in Loreto than I ever did in the states.

The Pacific side teases with waves that follow distant swells.  Spots like the Wall, Shipwrecks, the local spots of Ensenada .. and of course, Pescadero, Todos Santos and Cabo San Lucas beckon surfers from across the globe.

The east coast, the beautiful bountiful Sea of Cortez, is filled with dolphin, sea turtles, fish of every color and size, rays and whales – blue, pilot, fin and orca.  Sunrises, sunsets .. kayaking, paddling, surfing, hiking, sailing, scuba diving, snorkeling .. exploring ..  magic.  To be with and surrounded by such beauty is to me – pure magic.
And then there are the people – beautiful kind warm family loving folks.

Food!  Beverages!  Music!  Dancing!  Camping under stars and/or a full moon. Yes : Baja : I love and dream of you always.

Conservation and the Plight of the Vaquita

‘The last fallen mahogany would lie perceptibly on the landscape, and the last black rhino would be obvious in its loneliness, but a marine species may disappear beneath the waves unobserved and the sea would seem to roll on the same as always.”
– G. Carleton Ray in “Biodiversity”, National Academy Press, 1988

Last week I had the honor of attending the Conservation Science Symposium in Loreto, BCS, sponsored The Ocean Foundation and a consortium of charitable organizations. Researchers, scientists, and resource managers from both the United States and Mexico, joined with local community members in a dialog about conservation in the Gulf of California and Baja.

For the most part, Baja California is a rugged and arid desert region with mountain ranges that separate the Pacific Coast from the eastern Sea of Cortez. There are small eco-systems within the overall peninsula that affect fisheries, agriculture, and the availability of water.

The symposium was broken into multiple tracks with presentations ranging from “Protected Areas and Biodiversity” to “Species of Concern.” Overarching was a discussion of community involvement, government interaction, and how to manage conservation for the most effective outcomes, both to habitat and to human populations.
The conversations were lively. Everyone is a stake holder – whether a developer who wants to grade down a mountain for a real estate development (and disrupt and/or destroy a watershed in the process) or a fishermen, whose entire livelihood is based on the bounty of the sea. In many ways, it is only now, in this age of rapid and constant information exchange, that we become increasingly aware of the effects of our actions and activities.

In the northern Gulf of California, there is small dolphin, the Vaquita, which has been seen by very few human beings. It is the smallest – less than 5’ long, with calves the size of a loaf of bread – and rarest cetacean on earth. It is estimated that less than 200 remain. When they are seen, they are tangled in the shrimp fishermen’s gillnets and drowned – adults, juveniles, and newborns.

Vaquita, or “The Desert Porpoise,” came into a small spotlight after a 2006 expedition led by Bob Pitman to search for the Baji dolphin on the Yangtze River in China. After two months of searching, not one dolphin was spotted, nor had the local population seen any. The Baji had become extinct because of human population expansion and related activities. Extinct: as in no more, never again, gone forever.

The situation in the upper regions of the Gulf of California is similar to that of China. The men who fish the region know no other trade, nor are there opportunities for change. They do what they know how to do to feed their families, and in most instances, live a subsistence existence. How to convince a man who needs to eat, that his activities, which are killing off a small sea mammal, need to be changed?
Several approaches have been developed and are being tried simultaneously. Education about the plight of the Vaquita is a keystone.

A protected zone – a no-take area – was established with the northern waters around the known Vaquita habitat. Alternatives to gillnet fishing are being explored. The Mexican government, along with several NGOs, developed a plan that either bought out fishing permits or ‘rented’ them.

If all the programs fail, then the Vaquita – like the Baji – will no longer swim in the Sea of Cortez.

It did not go unnoticed by the attendees at the Conservation Symposium that the US administration voted not to list the Bluefin Tuna as an endangered species. The rationale was that no one could prove, that without protection, that the tuna would disappear.

There were cheers from the fishing industry, where one Bluefin can sell in the Japanese market for up to $400,000. There were wails from those whose research has followed the majestic tuna’s decline. Between 1970 and 1992 the eastern Atlantic’s stocks declined by 80 percent; the western stocks by more than 70%.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration classified the fish as a species of concern. The Bluefin’s’ fate now lies in the hands of international management, which has high levels of infighting and insufficient oversight.

Which brings the conversation full circle to governance. How to we choose what to protect – be it a watershed, a desert porpoise, a wolf, or a migrating swan? And when we collectively decide, how do we implement agreed upon standards to ‘police’ those protections, whom do we choose to enforce them, and how do we fund the process?

The Conservation Science Symposium opened a dialog that is valuable to continue. Since human activities appear to be the cause of modern day species extinctions, it is up to us to change that course.

First published in the Coastline Pilot, “Chasing the Muse: Reversing the Course of Species Extinction,” June 3, 2011.