A beautiful sight in Baja Sur

STEVE KAWARATANI

"Whale time" 1.28.05 $50

"Two roads diverged and we ... took the one less traveled by, and

that has made all the difference."

-- with apologies to Robert Frost

"Poor Mexico -- so near to God but so close to the United States."

-- with apologies to Porfirio Diaz

A pleasant breeze wafted through the restaurant patio. Our motel

was just a few hundred yards removed from a salt evaporation pond in

Guerrero Negro, Baja California Sur. Even in winter, the Baja sun is

strong enough to keep us comfortably warm.

Always wary of crowds, Catharine and I ventured south before the

majority of the tourists arrived at this isolated coastal locale.

Those who make the drive come to visit the largest calving ground for

the gray whale, at nearby Scammon's Lagoon. Still a month from the

peak whale season we had been told that more than 500 grays had

already arrived.

Guerrero Negro is different in Baja, as it is not solely a tourist

town. It is home to the largest salt works in the world; supplying

the mineral to ports throughout the Pacific Rim. When the whales head

north in March, the coastal wetlands remain permanent or part-time

home to more than 110 species of birds. Best known is the Osprey, the

fish hawk of coastal waters.

The coastal wetlands support plants, which are low due to the

wind, and often succulent because of scant rainfall. Most plants have

difficulty in up-taking water here, given that the soil is highly

saline. This has created a "physiological desert," with the native

species resembling plants of the nearby Vizcaino Desert.

Within the cozy confines of the Malarrimo Motel, I sipped

Pacificos and admired the landscaped grounds. The garden is

punctuated with a number of Mexican Fan Palms, Washingtonia robusta.

This slender trunked palm is native to portions of Baja and is a

common sight in Laguna. The leaves are often used in Mexico as roof

thatching. The leaves are also used for basket weaving (my minor in

college) and the trunks make fine fencing.

Familiar plants were the profusely blooming bougainvillea, zonal

geraniums and impatiens. Although more than 500 miles south of

Laguna, the temperate climate of Guerrero Negro is reminiscent of

Orange County. Not surprising, philodendrons, alocasias and aloes

also filled the subtropical garden.

A small cactus garden near the tour office contained Baja's most

unusual plant, the Boojum Tree. Some say that young trees look like

an inverted carrot. The Spanish name of Cirio was allegedly given to

it because mature trees resembled the tall wax candles of the nearby

missions. Attaining a height of more than 50 feet, the Cirio is

second only to the Cardon as the giant of the Sonoran desert.

An additional botanical curiosity was the unmistakable Ocotillo.

Comprised of many whip-like branches, this plant was filled with

scarlet, tubular flowers and visited by several hummingbirds. Found

throughout Baja, the cuttings are often planted as a living fence.

Powder from the roots is reputed to relieve fatigue when added to

bathwater.

Our panga trip, arranged by our hosts, into Scammon's Laguna

brought us within a few feet of 35 long whales, weighing up to 40

tons. We were surrounded by dozens of these magnificent creatures.

The highlight for most of the visitors may have been five consecutive

breachings by an amorous, young male. However, for me, it was

Catharine perched on her imagined bowsprit, appearing as the most

beautiful mermaid of all of Baja.

See you next time.

* STEVE KAWARATANI is happily married to local writer Catharine

Cooper and has two cats. He can be reached at (949) 497 2438, or

e-mail to landscapes@ln.coxatwork.com.

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