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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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Pacific waves pound granite formations at the south end of Solmar Beach near Cabo San Lucas.
Compared with my typical landscape photography trips, where I’m loaded down with a bulging backpack full of camera gear, I pack light for these kayak-based shoots since everything needs to fit into the hatch. I bring my Canon EOS 5D Mark II fitted with a 24-105mm zoom, a 24mm fixed lens for extreme depth of field, a carbon-fiber Gitzo tripod with a lightweight Acratech ballhead and a Canon EOS 5D as a backup body. Without a laptop or portable hard drive to back up files each night, I bring several 8 GB CF cards and edit my images along the way, deleting all but the best ones. I toss in a polarizing filter to eliminate reflections off the water and a couple of neutral-density graduated filters to reduce contrast. I stuff the Mark II with its zoom lens into a Lowepro chest pack and wear it as I paddle as long as the seas aren’t too rough. If the waves pick up, I stuff the chest pack into a waterproof SealLine river bag and strap it to the deck in front of me until the waves subside.

Once back on dry land in La Paz, we rented a car for a four-day trip along the portion of Highway 1 that forms a 200-mile loop around the southern tip of the peninsula. Todos Santos, the first town encountered as you drive south from La Paz, hosts a small community of artists on the Pacific side of the peninsula. Several miles south of town, palm-tree-lined Playa Las Palmas offers a long deserted beach surrounded by rocky headlands.

After 50 more miles of narrow, winding highway flanked with cardon cactus, Highway 1 drops into the teeming resort developments of Cabo San Lucas at the southern tip of the peninsula. If you can handle the traffic and crowds, it’s worth a side trip to photograph the dramatic granite cliffs and arches around Lover’s Beach south of town. Most people reach this area on tourist boats filled with partygoers. If you prefer to avoid the carnage, scramble over the rocks along the west side of the point south of Solmar Beach. After Cabo, head east to San Jose Del Cabo with its quaint old town and then north to the windsurfing mecca of Los Barriles on your way back to La Paz.

With more than 1,200 miles of Baja coastline along the Sea of Cortez, it would take several lifetimes to explore it all. With the keen knowledge that a fair portion of my lifetime is already behind me, I’ve already sketched out plans for our next adventure.

More In And Around Baja

Kayak Excursions
Baja offers countless opportunities for sea-kayaking excursions. Except for the hardy few who choose to make the 900-mile drive south to La Paz with their own kayaks, most will find it easier to fly into La Paz and rent boats there. Of the several rental companies in town, I personally recommend Mar y Aventuras (Sea & Adventures) (www.kajakbaja.com). Located a stone’s throw from the waterfront in a quiet La Paz neighborhood, this U.S./Mexican-owned company offers fully guided kayaking trips, ranging from day excursions to weeklong expeditions. They also rent kayaks for self-supported trips. You can inquire with their U.S. booking office at (800) 355-7140. The English-speaking staff is well-informed and friendly. Located above the rental office, the reasonably priced rooms of the Posada LunaSol inn offer views out across the waters of La Paz Bay.

Summer temperatures in Baja can be blistering while winter highs range in the 50s to 70s. The months of December through February can be very windy, with rough seas lasting for several days at a stretch where you won’t be able to get on the water if you’re kayaking. Avoid the hurricane season in September and October. Keep in mind, however, that after the occasional drenching rains of a tropical storm, the southern half of the normally desiccated peninsula miraculously transforms into a verdant, green paradise. Water temps in the southern half of the Sea of Cortez average in the 60s in winter and reach into the high 70s in summer. Bring snorkel gear with a shortie wetsuit.

Whale Watching
La Paz serves as a gateway to Magdalena Bay located about 100 miles northwest of town on the Pacific coast. While whales range throughout the Sea of Cortez during the winter months, the lagoons of Magdalena Bay are a major Pacific calving ground. There’s a well-established whale-watching community based there with photographic excursions into the bay during the winter months. Mar y Aventuras also offers guided whale-watching trips to the bay.

To see more of James Kay’s photography, visit www.jameskay.com.

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