Northwest coast

The northwest coast is the most visited part of Baja California.  Not because tourists are interested in the natural landscape, but because the main road from San Diego to the touristic town of Ensenada passes through it.  And because most people take the toll road (with few places to stop), they don’t see the very interesting transition to a more succulent rich landscape as one proceeds southward.  Even most naturalists coming from California tend to pass through this region quickly – they are trying to get to “the interesting and more novel areas” farther south.

Digression – traveling and seeing

Perhaps this is the place to mention that when traveling through a new region there is the tendency to expect to see better examples of plants as one proceeds.  For example, as you head south, you might see for the first time a plant “X”.  You don’t stop because you know there will be more later.  You continue driving.  You have to make your hotel for the night.  You keep driving…  Eventually you decide to stop… but now there aren’t any plant “X’s”.  But you know there will be more…  You discover, reading through your Flora that night in your hotel room that you’ve passed through the range of plant “X” and you won’t see any more heading south.  This scenario isn’t a problem – IF you are returning the same way you came.  But if your trip is a one-way drive (rental car for example) you’ve missed your opportunity to see plant “X” close-up!

The above scenario can be played out anywhere in the world.  It is especially problematic when driving loops – you are not retracing your route.  Should you stop the first time you see something new?  Spend an hour photographing a poor example – when excellent and highly photogenic examples are just around the next curve?  It is the dilemma of every nature photographer in a new environment.

Fortunately, many Americans driving south into Baja California will return via their original route.  Thus, even if it is your first trip to the peninsula and you have taken good notes (you do take notes – don’t you?) you will have a better idea of where to stop on the way back.

Even if you are retracing your route, the conditions may not be the same.  The time of day may be different and the light poor for photography.  It may be cloudy.  It may even be dark – if you haven’t budgeted your stops and time correctly.  Perhaps you spent too much time early in the day at poor sites and have to rush past excellent habitat to reach your accommodation before dark.  Unfortunately, there is no substitute for making multiple trips at different times of the year to have a better chance (no guarantees) of seeing and photographing much of what you want.  As every explorer knows, every trip is a learning experience.

This map shows the relief of northern Baja California and the area we call the “northwestern coast”. This is very approximate, but roughly includes the area along the coast from the border to north of San Quintin.

The California chaparral extends well into Baja California and the old highway to Ensenada passes through landscapes mostly modified by agriculture, but some hillsides and some large road cuts have excellent displays of succulent plants that have had many years to colonize these areas. (The toll road (Highway 1D) from Tijuana to Ensenada has almost no places to stop.) Most of the photographs above were taken from walking along the road (best done at low-traffic times of the week) about 20 miles north of Ensenada on the old Highway 1.

Entering Ensenada, one see Stenocereus gummosus for the first time – it remains with the traveler all the way to the tip of the peninsula. Prior to that, Bergerocactus emoryi is present from extreme southern California southward, but its distribution ends before the Central Desert. It is restricted to coastal areas.

Although members of the succulent genus Dudleya of the Crassulaceae family occur far south in Baja California and are common near the coast to at least the Guerrero Negro area, they have greatest diversity and abundance in the northwest coast area of the peninsula. We only had one late-afternoon excursion to see these plants on our latest trip. Part of the problem is that much land in this part of Baja California is private property that is potentially valuable and is well-protected against land invasions. Farther south, in the desert areas, there are few fences and few people. All land in Mexico belongs to someone.

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