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Los Cabos, Baja

Listed under in Mexico.

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The Sea of Cortez has gone down in literary history with John Steinbeck’s famous book of the same name. I was looking forward to swimming those aquamarine waters but found a towering white granite monument instead. In the shadows of this mountain range, the Sierra de la Laguna, are the twin cities of Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo, connected by the Transpeninsular Highway (Route 1) running down the spine of Baja.

A granite batholith (the term applied to very large masses of granite) eroded over millions of years into the conical granite peaks so prominently visible from both resort cities. In a sense this mountain mass forms an elevated “island” that provides unique habitat not possible on the scorching plains. That’s why it was declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1993.

If you’d like to visit this Reserve, you cannot drive through it, as the roads terminate at its periphery in the foothills. But you can hike upwards from the trailheads. My favorite hike, based on the advice of the owner of a San Jose amber shop, was up into El Chorro Canyon. To get there, drive north of San Jose, past the airport, and past the Tropic of Cancer monument (meaning that you are leaving the tropics) until arriving at Santiago, and from there drive west towards the mountains to the town of Agua Caliente (“Hot Water”). Continue west until arriving at the gate where 20 pesos is collected as an entry fee. A little further on, at the very mouth of the canyon, you will see a World War II-era irrigation dam that became non-functional when it filled with sediments from the ever eroding canyon. At the near side of the dam you will see a white plastic pipe sticking out of the rocks. This modest spigot, chugging out 5 gallons per minute, is the hot spring that gave the nearby town its name. But don’t stop there. Continue hiking up the stream bed with its enormous white boulders, and soon you will come to the pristine waterfalls leading up into the high plateaus.

Retreating back to Santiago and making your way west again over the anastomosing road system in a different direction, this time you will arrive at the San Jorge Canyon, where there is another, and much better equipped hot spring, the St. Rita Hot Spring. You will certainly need high ground clearance and 4-wheel drive to get there. But this spring has a rock-ribbed hot pool to relax in (bring your swimsuit).

This granite is ubiquitous in both towns. At Cabo San Lucas, it forms the spectacular El Arco (The Arch) at Land’s End, a huge sea arch rising from the waves marking the southern tip of the Baja peninsula and the boundary of the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific. While you can reach this marvel from the water taxis departing from the port, you can also hike the trail leading off from the same port. Both have their own advantages: the land trail brings you along a high marine terrace, called the Balcony, while the water route reveals rocky outcrops laden with sleepy harbor seals and granite sea caves that pierce the rock masses, letting the sun shine through from the Pacific side.

“Lover’s Beach” at El Arco, teaming with tourists, struck me with its visual puns in granite: some of these outcrops have eroded naturally into forms resembling buttocks, entwined lovers, and so forth. It just depends how active your imagination is. Did these whimsical outcrops suggest the name of the beach, I wonder?

But there’s also pink granite at San Jose, alongside the white. Like Cabo San Lucas, San Jose has its own set of sea arches and caves, but they are smaller and harder to find: just off the highway connecting the two towns, near Mike Doyle’s Surf School. This pink granite intruded, or pushed into, the white granite, far in the geologic past when they were molten, as I could tell from their relationship to one another. But the pink granite erodes the same way, leaving arches to frame your view of the guano-spattered seabird rocks jutting from the surf. This is the only place, too, that I was able to find chunks of coral, and the remains of other invertebrates, washed ashore.

But for me, the most unusual freak involving water was the San Jose River, which winds through that town. Lengthy bridges arc over wide arroyos that only fill during hurricane-type weather. Walking along a sort of lover’s lane (heavily patrolled by police!) that runs behind the San Jose sewage plant, I noticed that the treated sewage (very well treated: it had no smell or turbidity) was augmenting the river. However, after flowing happily along, the river vanished into the sands before conquering the final beach ridge that barred its entry to the sea. It’s a seepage estuary, a river not reaching the sea, but sinking into a final low spot. The pool was dense with milfoil mats to the extent that the visiting American coots were uncertain whether to swim or walk. They did a little of both, like any tourist visiting from the North.

Written by  Greg Brick.

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