Mexico - Baja California Sur - Sierras

As if it were its dorsal spine, the Sierras stretch throughout the entire length of southern Baja dividing this narrow peninsula into two different worlds, with the Pacific Ocean on one side and the Sea of Cortez on the other. Actually the Sierras themselves are like another planet, a different world in its own right, and an amazing one at that for those like us who enjoy riding the desert on remote tracks. Thanks to a well-maintained vehicle designed for serious four-wheel driving equipped with some extra water, fuel and food, we were able to stop any time we fell in love with a spot and stay a while to savour its breathtaking view, vegetation or atmosphere. From the border with northern Baja all the way to the southern tip of Los Cabos, here are some pictures for your enjoyment.
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3 min. video: Crossing the Sierras
Almost at the top of Sierra San Francisco rests Mesa Los Crestones on which the Ranch El Represo Santa Ana is located. Deep canyons were cut as if with a giant knife. At this elevation the land is made of gravel and pebbles, whereas the lower plains of the Vizcaino Desert are sand. A change in vegetation is also noticeable.
Sunset over Mesa Caguama, in the Sierra of San Francisco. The air is cool and crisp. Good night!
Cirios -- the word for candles in Spanish -- is the common name of the Idris Columnaris cactus (or Boojum Tree, Idria C.) which thrives in the elevation of the Sierra San Francisco. We were lucky to be there in December and to see them bloom.
In the foreground lies the Sierra Porcellano. Further, on the banks of El Salado arroyo is an archeological area still under research. On the road to the village of San Francisco de la Sierra, cave paintings show evidence of early settlements of the Guachimis or Cochimi people over 1000 meters of elevation and as old as 1100 BC.
As this canyon formed, it separated Mesa Coral to the left from Mesa El Datil, on the right. In the late afternoon light, the greenhouses of Ejido Guillermo Prieto and Vizcaino create shiny spots in the background.
On the southern slopes of the Sierra San Francisco some tracks can be quite bumpy... On this particular one, we were heading to Arroyo Covarrubias.
One last glance at the craggy Sierra San Francisco in the background, with the sierras of La Higuera and Chilipitan closer to us.
We are now heading to the sierras extending roughly between San Ignacio and Mulege, centered on the --now abandoned -- Mision Guadalupe. Sierras act as huge rainfall collectors, taking advantage of the moist summer air coming on the southwest from the Pacific Ocean. As rivers flow above or below the ground, many oases are scattered throughout Baja such as this one. El Paraje is located on the banks of Arroyo Jesus Maria.
Small settlements survive near water pockets and tiny cemeteries illustrate the relatively short history of Christian settlements on this peninsula.
Standing like a tooth in the back-ground is El Pilon, "the pillar" in English. With its distinctive shape, it is a friendly reference point when crossing Mesa Santa Ana.
The San Tadeo Wash must have easily cut deep gorges through these sedimentary layers, such as here in Canyon de Rubio.
During our last days spent in the drainage basin leading to the Pacific Ocean, we particularly enjoyed this view of Sierra La Azucarera with its summit Cerro La Victoria, from the top of Sierra El Potrero.
It took us a whole day to cover the 12 km going through the pass between Sierra San Pedro and Sierra La Palmita...
We are now descending to the old mission of Guadalupe, into the Sea of Cortez drainage basin feeding the oasis of Mulege.
Sierra La Giganta extends from 100 km north of Loreto to Ciudad Insurgentes. One of Baja's architectural jewels, the Mision San Javier is ensconced in a deep canyon which casts its welcome shade on the village of the same name.
Heading east on the most remote tracks along arroyo El Peloteado...
From this overhang above arroyo San Lucas, the summits of Cerro Borrego and Cerro Chivata tower above the mesas of El Burro, El Mojoso and Las Yeguas which mark the southern end of Sierra La Giganta.
At lower elevations, cattle roam quietly while vultures warm up their wings in the morning sun.
Just below the last ridges of Sierra La Giganta, this sandy track announces the coastal Pacific plain and leads to Ciudad Insurgentes.
The Mision of San Luis Gonzaga marks a geographical border. On its western side begins from Ciudad Constitucion the coastal plain of Llanos Magdalena, while on its east the mesas turn into sierras which literally dive into the Sea of Cortez.
This colourful chapel found in the village of San Jose de las Palmas -- also referred to as San Jose de la Palmita -- is a good illustration of the creativeness often encountered in remote places. Here, occuli were created in the façade with recycled wheel rims.
North of El Aguajita del Zapote, the light colour of Cerro Banquetita and Cerro Los Pilones marked our entry into Los Cerros Blancos.
After more than three years of drought, this is not much of a ford crossing arroyo San Pedro, near El Huamuchil.
Right before reaching the small community of San Pedro de la Presa we were thrilled by these incredibly scenic views over the Cerros Blancos.
Seen from Mesa las Animas, the white spot is the church of Las Animas -- the souls -- and in the background is Cerro Pilon Blanco.
Surrounded by Cerro Alto and Cerros Borrega, the oasis of Primera Agua occasionally receives the visit of wild white goats, an endemic species protected in this area. In the foreground our eyes met for the first time these pink and green layers which we would soon find again further down the rocky coast of the Sea of Cortez, at the end of our inland exploration.
The southernmost mountain range in Baja Sur is Sierra La Laguna, seen here at dawn from the shores of the Pacific Ocean.
From west to east there is only one track across Sierra La Laguna. Seen from right above the settlement aptly named San Pedro de la Soledad -- Saint Peter of Loneliness -- the dark blue strip in the background is the Pacific Ocean.
La Cieneguita runs -- when it rains -- down this valley. However, Washingtonia palms make do with whatever trickles down gullies and manage to grow. Indigenous Indians used to make a nourishing flour from its fruit and nowadays its dry leaves are widely used as roofing material for "palapas", open air buildings or terraces.
At the foot of Sierra La Laguna, on the banks of arroyo San Jorge, the little town of Santiago marks the return to civilization...