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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Baja California

South of the border, where the rugged windswept desert meets an emerald sea, James Kay shows us some of the hidden splendors that await an adventurous photographer

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Kayaking in El Cardonal Bay, Isla Partida, Espíritu Santo National Park.

Architectural details of the Posada La Poza boutique hotel in Todos Santos.
I’m watching my wife Susie disappear behind the swells as she bobs up and down while paddling her kayak to my left. Often described as the most notorious of any sea-kayaking trip along this 100-mile stretch of Baja coastline south of the town of Loreto, the turbulent waters around Marcial Point are living up to their reputation today. With only a slight breeze to accompany them, however, the waves are providing us with an intense, yet exhilarating roller-coaster ride as we round the point.

It was invigorating to be back on the water again after spending the previous 72 hours holed up on a small spit of sand as 50 mph wind gusts slapped the tent fabric against our faces. Known by the direction from which they blow, these “El Norte” winds can wreak havoc for kayakers plying the waters of the Sea of Cortez. At the time, however, I remember being more concerned about the havoc they were wreaking on my sleep.

The dry, rugged jag of land that forms the 800-mile-long Baja Peninsula was once attached to what’s now the west coast of Mexico. Beginning about 7 million years ago, tectonic forces deep within the earth began to rip it away from the mainland. As this movement progressed, the sea slowly invaded the gap between these two land masses to create what we know today as both the Gulf of California and the Sea of Cortez. The entire Baja Peninsula, along with an approximately 50-mile-wide strip of southern California up to San Francisco, rides atop the Pacific Plate as it grinds northwest along the edge of the North American Plate. The famous San Andreas Fault marks the boundary between these two plates. Contrary to the predictions of California “falling into the sea,” as the Pacific Plate continues to drift to the northwest, this fragment of crust will one day form a large island off the west coast of North America. With an average rate of movement of one inch per year, however, it will be a while before we’ll need to build a bridge to reach Los Angeles.

A doorway in the town of Todos Santos.
When I first developed an interest in sea-kayaking photography, I found myself drawn north to the fiords of Alaska and the wilds of British Columbia. As spectacular as these locations are with their tidewater glaciers, waterfalls and huge mountains rising straight from the sea, the nearly constant drizzle and low clouds of summer often can lead to photographic frustration. Then there’s Baja. Imagine yourself paddling beneath perpetually sunny skies along white sand beaches while suspended by transparent green water. The only clouds you’ll see will be of the high cirrus variety, seeming to materialize out of thin air just in time to enhance yet another glorious sunrise or sunset—no rain, no soggy tents, no fogged lenses.

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