The Sea Lion rides gently at anchor below the rugged volcanic rocks of Isla San Francisco in the Sea of Cortez. We spent our afternoon exploring this small island, both above and below the water. Some of us trekked across a narrow sandy isthmus to an area of excellent tide pools where we encountered crabs, sea cucumbers and a bright orange sipunculid worm, which was quickly voted one of the slimiest creatures on earth. Meanwhile a group of snorkelers prowled among the underwater boulders below one of the cliffs of pink volcanic rock lining the bay where we anchored. Coral growth was light, as expected in this temperate sea, but the waters were full of lovely, bright colored fish like Reef Coronetfish, King Angelfish and Cortex Rainbow Wrasse, whose outrageous, sex-changing life history we learned more about during the evening's recap.
A juvenile Magnificent Frigatebird soars through the cloudless blue skies of Baja. This morning we anchored in the large riple bay of Puerto Ballena on the west coast of Isla Espiritu Santo. While frigatebirds, pelicans and boobies circled above us, we spent the day exploring the beaches, mangroves, and off-shore islets on foot and by Zodiac.
Today we enjoyed a marvelous hike through Arroyo Encantado on Isla San Jose. As we hiked, we were surrounded by a rich diversity of cacti and the magnificent Palo Blanco, a tree that's withstood many a flood through the years. Some guests were able to reach the end of the narrowing wash and climb to a point were both the east and west coasts of the island could be admired. After the hike, we explored the tidepools of Isla San Francisco, snorkeled, and had a barbecue dinner on the island's mile-long white sandy beach. After dinner, everybody gathered around a bonfire to hear and sing Mexican folk music.
Today was the first hike of our voyage to the southern islands of the Sea of Cortez. We landed at the beautiful cove of El Cardonal on Isla Partida. We had our first look at the contrast between two completely different habitats found within feet of each other: mangrove forest and the impressive cardon cacti of the Sonoran Desert. Some of us were able to reach the eastern side of the island and enjoy the turquoise blue waters of the Gulf of California, while others investigated fiddler crabs and other life in the mangroves. Although not seen, fresh tracks of "ring-tailed cats" and the endemic black-tailed jack rabbit reminded us of their presence.
Life and art from Baja California's seaside desert. In death lies beauty. Upon the sands of Ensenada Grande on Isla Partida, a blanched triggerfish pays tribute to nature's wondrous adaptations in the struggle for survival. Its retractable trigger, or dorsal spine, and protruding teeth were effective tools in a watery world. Today, a helios from the dessicating sun radiates through its vacant orbit. Dwarfed by this relic, a Zodiac from the Sea Bird motors towards shore to pick up afternoon kayakers.
We began our trip last night in La Paz, Baja California Sur, and awoke this morning at anchor in a beautiful cove on the northwest side of Isla Partida. We finished breakfast in time to go ashore for hikes and sea kayaking -- our first introduction to the amazing diversity of life found here on the islands in the Sea of Cortez. After the morning's adventures and lunch, we moved a bit northward to some rocky islets known as Los Islotes. Everyone boarded our Zodiacs for cruises along the shoreline. We saw dozens of California Sea Lions, Magnificent Frigatebirds, Brown Boobies diving for fish and even a pair of Blue-footed Boobies in full courtship display.
Exploring Ensenada Grande by kayak. We spent the day anchored in the calm turquoise waters of this large bay in the western coastline of Isla Partida, dividing our time among various pursuits, both challenging and relaxing. Some of us chose to make a rugged hike up the valley to an overlook above the 500' cliffs on the eastern shore, while others opted for a leisurely paddle around the bay in the sea kayaks. Both groups encounteredbeautiful birds including Osprey, Great Blue Heron and Yellow-footed Gull (a species endemic to this region), as well as close-up looks at the fascinating geology of the island. In the afternoon we snorkeled in clear warm waters below rock formations beautifully sculpted by erosion and then finished our day with a barbecue on a tiny beach tucked into the walls of the bay. One of the staff serenaded us with Mexican songs as the brilliant desert stars came out, putting a perfect finishing touch to a delightful day.
We woke up to beautiful calm seas between Isla Carmen and the Baja Peninsula. Conditions were perfect to search for marine life, it almost seemed as if the Sea of Cortez was not a sea, rather a big laggon with mirror-smooth waters. As we approached Isla Danzante, we spotted two whales, mother and calf. The relatively low indistinct blow, as well as the small size, highly falcate fin, and sharply pointed snout identified them as minke whales, an uncommon sighting in these waters. The sea was also extremely active with five or six large schools of sardines that seemed to be the only organisms other than the whales interrupting the smoothness of the water. After the sightings, we enjoyed a magnificent hike on Isla Santa Catalina, home of the endemic giant barrel cactus and rattleless rattlesnake.
Today, like all others, was a marvelous day. We woke up to the sound of common dolphins bow riding our boat. We then experienced some magnificent hikes in Ensenada Grande and were surprised by a pod of about 40 short-finned pilot whales on our way to Los Islotes, one of the southernmost rookeries of the California Sea Lions. Everyone had a close-up view of these sea lions as they rested on the rocky shores of the island. To end our day, a pod of approximately 400 common dolphins again came close to our boat as the sun hid behind the impressive jagged peaks of Baja's Sierra de La Giganta.
The wind gods blessed us with calm waters, smooth and shiny as a mirror. Early in the morning we spotted a Brydes whale between Isla Carmen and Monserrat. After an hour or so with this whale, we headed to Arroyo Rojo in Isla Carmen to experience a fantastic hike through the ironwood and palo blanco-dominated wash. On the base of a cardon cactus, this sidewinder rattlesnake remained practically static for a long time, permitting everyone to appreciate its magnificence. After hiking, we all gathered at a beach west of Arroyo Rojo to enjoy a delicious barbecue dinner. Under a starry sky, we relaxed around the bonfire, and listened to the sound of folk music sung by our naturalists.
Snow in the Sea of Cortez is impossible, but the eyes of naturalists and guests can make almost everything come to reality. For example, this volcanic rock arising near the beach in Puerto Candelero has two promontories covered by guano. Our eyes found two gorgeous mountains with snow. Who said that there is no snow in the Sea of Cortez?
Today was a glorious day. From a luminescent sunrise over Isla San Jose, to this magical sunset seen from the beach on Isla San Francisco. In between we cruised the waters of the Gulf of California, hiked up a lovely desert arroyo at Punta Colorada, swam, searched for interesting creatures in the tidepools of Half Moon Bay and shared a delightful barbecue dinner on the beach. Brilliant stars, a bright, waxing moon, a blazing bonfire and s'mores were the icing on the cake. Buenas noches from Baja California.