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Expert Review: Untamed Baja Aboard National Geographic Sea Lion

by Chris Harter

The Baja peninsula... For the uninitiated, it brings to mind unforgiving desert landscapes, an abandoned Mexican outpost, or even all inclusive tourists resorts at its tip. For those that have been though, the mention of Baja tends to give one a distracted faraway look in their eye with serious thoughts of an eventual return. After my recent 8-day expedition cruise aboard the National Geographic Sea Lion in the Gulf of California, I most definitely fall into the latter.

Not an hour after embarking from Loreto aboard the Sea Lion, our arrival into the great blue was greeted by a group of perhaps 100 playful spinner dolphins surfing in both the surge wave at our bow and the wake in our passing. After several days of sighting a multitude of marine life such as bottlenose dolphins, manta rays, orcas, pilot whales, sperm whales and blue whales, it's hard not to imagine that this entire sea and its azure waters are not absolutely rife with marine life. Our daily naturalist lectures and interpretations on the geological and biological processes in the Gulf of California confirmed this with discussions on the rich deep waters that up swell in this area to create one of the richest marine ecosystems on the planet. With all the fun we had on zodiac cruises, kayak paddles and snorkel excursions it was all we could do to get out of the water, and up on dry land.


The lure of Baja doesn't end at the water's edge however. With a rugged mountainous peninsula over 800 miles long and over 200 islands to explore, most of which are deserted, it's a hiker and amateur naturalist's dream. Our expedition used a fleet of zodiacs to land on remote islands and hike into their sandy bottomed arroyos to see what was around each curve and bend, and unexpectedly there was a lot! Desert wildflowers such as desert lupine, desert globemallow and fairy duster were in bloom in the deeper shady sections of these isolated canyon washes with flowering cactus such as giant barrel, cholla, and the giant cardon lining the ridges in profile.

Witnessing abundant life on these islands did not end with the abundant flora. Our hikes brought us face to face with the shy chuckwalla lizards, an endemic rattleless rattlesnake, courting great blue herons, hunting ospreys and nesting birds such as elegant terns and blue-footed boobies who come to these secluded islands in the thousands. With such incredible backdrops and encounters it was astounding to me that in many areas we were making the first footprints since at least the most recent rain storms several months before.



With memories of spontaneous wildlife sightings, ocean sunrises framed in Baja's surreal pink-, orange- and red-hued mountains, and active exploration in truly remote settings fresh in my mind, I can't seem to shake thoughts of when I'll get to make a return trip to this magical destination. For those of you who have always wanted to explore this natural gem, give me a call. I'd be happy to discuss the wonderful options for travel that exist there, and why I'll be returning sooner rather than later! Additionally, if you have interest in viewing a DVD of my travels in Baja I'd be happy to send one along, just ask.


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