THE GARDEN FANATIC
“Only the desert has a fascination ... to ride alone -- away from
-- D. H. LAWRENCE
“Oh, down in Mexico!”
-- JAMES TAYLOR
I’m just crazy about the Milky Way -- not the candy bar (although
I admit a weakness for that chocolate delicacy, as well) -- but that
band of stars best viewed away from city lights. For that reason,
Catharine and I never hesitate to escape the nighttime glare of
Newport and Irvine whenever and wherever the opportunity arises.
One may disappear in Baja not only to appreciate the natural
illumination of the moon, planets and stars, but also to enjoy the
plants of the rugged desert regions. Friends Emma, Mike, Lynn and
James joined our traversal of the Baja peninsula, from the Pacific to
the shimmering Sea of Cortez.
The majority of the trip was spent in desert-like conditions.
Two-thirds of Baja may be classified as desert. Annual rainfall
varies from 4 inches in the higher climes of the central desert
region, to less than 2 inches in the San Felipe Desert subregion on
the gulf side.
Many of the plants that grow in Baja are highly modified by the
aridity. Heavily eroded landscape indicates periods of drought
interrupted by rain and savage storms called chubascos. Desert plants
grow only where they can. Rainfall, elevation and heat dictate which
plants can survive in the rugged terrain. Still, I was amazed by the
diversity of plant life as we headed through the canyons west of
The desert canyons are a small microcosm of the harsh conditions
and geologic isolation of the entire peninsula. They are filled with
unfamiliar and bizarre plants like the giant cardon, boojum tree, and
the elephant tree. Our off-road drive passed through the thickest
forest of agave, palo adan (cousin to the ocotillo), cholla and
datilillo I have ever encountered.
After traveling nearly 500 miles south from the border, we finally
made permanent camp at our remote layover destination just south of
Bahia de Los Angeles. Not a single person stood on the playa before
us, one of the finest beaches in all of Baja.
Our camp was also notable by the absence of plants over 5 feet in
height. Brittlebush, chicurae, cholla, and creosote bush survive the
horrific winds by “huddling” in the rolling hills just beyond the
sand. We had great fun paddling our kayaks to nearby islands and
watching the birds and fish. At night, we were treated to
bioluminescent streaks on the slow swells.
Our final night on the beach ... another beautiful sunset and a
gourmet meal. The Milky Way winked above as I sought Orion’s Belt;
and then a shooting star passed directly over me in the desert night.
I wished every night could be as clear and insightful.
* STEVE KAWARATANI is the owner of Landscapes by Laguna Nursery,
1540 S. Coast Highway in Laguna Beach. He is married to local artist
Catharine Cooper and has three cats. He can be reached at (949)
497-2438 or by e-mail at email@example.com.