Although the Cape region is usually lumped together for geographical convenience, it is somewhat like saying “Southern California”. It has a geographical meaning, but when refering to specific vegetation is isn’t very useful. The mountains in the Cape region rise to almost 7,000 ft and have Pinyon Pine forests and other trees at their tops. At sea level there is Central Gulf desert flora and along the shores of some bays there are mangrove swamps.
Unfortunately for the naturalist traveler there are no roads that lead to the higher parts of the Cape. The paved road along the eastern side of the Cape reaches about 1800 ft – sufficient to experience tropical dry forest environments. Access to a microwave station leads to about 2500 ft. But the higher parts are only by trails. The Sierra de la Laguna National Park protects the higher parts of the Cape region – though protection is more on paper and due to a lack of access, since there are no visitor’s centers of park personnel in evidence anywhere. And, like most other Mexican National Parks, cattle grazing is allowed.
While the high Cape region is of difficult access to most naturalists, the lower elevation surroundings have many interesting aspects that nearly all tourists to Los Cabos don’t appreciate. These are summarized in the following paragraphs.
Tropical dry/deciduous forest
Central gulf coastal desert
The entire coastal region of the Cape is dry, but there are variations. Because the Pacific Ocean water is much cooler than the water on the Gulf of California side the daytime temperatures on the west coast (e.g. Todos Santos) are lower than on the Gulf side. More coastal low clouds as well. These translate into presumed subtle differences in vegetation, but we don’t know the specifics of this. A keen botanist familiar with the Cape flora might be able to say something definitive.
The Cape region receives noticeably more summer rain than the peninsula farther north and so there is a greater percentage of short trees in the flora. This is most evident driving north from Los Cabos towards La Paz via the eastern highway. Near the hamlets of El Triunfo and San Bartolo the trees are more apparent. Unfortunately, when most people travel to the Cape it is winter, and most trees are leafless. After summer rains (roughly Aug-Oct) the forest is dramatically more verdant.
The forest of the Cape, which is most apparent from 1000 to perhaps 3-4000 ft, is similar in appearance to that found in southern Sonora and Sinaloa on the mainland of Mexico. There are a handful of Bursera species, Lysiloma, and taller cacti like Pachycereus pectin-arborigeum that usually extend through the short canopy.