Exploring the Amazing Sand Dunes, Sand Dollar Beach, The Stingray Episode
02/19/2011 75 °F
Magdalena Bay is located on the southwest coast of the rugged and beautiful Baja Peninsula. The town of San Carlos is the only real town of size in the area, and one can reach this small, dirty, fishing town by bus, auto or by sea. What San Carlos lacks in charm, is offset by its location. It’s a great staging point to access the beautiful natural areas that make up this unique and often bypassed region of Mexico.
Aficionados of good sand would do well to consider the splendor of dunes and beaches that Isla Magdalena has to offer. IIsla Magdalena is a long skinny barrier island that protects Magdalena Bay that provides a home to countless species of wildlife including a wide variety of birds and the gray whales. I’ll write more about close encounters with the Gray Whales in a future post.
I’ve been fortunate to make two forays onto Isla Magdalena (which I’ll refer to as IM from here on out) so far. You could have just as easily called it a jaunt, or stroll, or a ramble- They all end up the same. My treks of late have simply been open ended, spontaneous walk over places I’ve never been to before. My explorations rarely last longer than a couple of hours or a day at most, and they are very enjoyable. It’s a way to focus on a little slice of the big picture, an introduction to an area, but not covering everything there is to see. A mini-exploration if you will.
On my last exploration onto IM, I started out by exploring the beautiful dunes that undulate across the eastern side of the skinny island. It was mid morning when I stepped ashore, took off my life jacket, stepped out of my sandals and looked out over the rolling dunes before me. “Where to begin?” I thought to myself. Initially, I started walking though the ankle deep moist sand towards a high point, but as soon as I crossed the main trail that leads to the other side of the island, I quickly chose a different tack. One that would lead me astray from the road more traveled, and onto my own path of serendipity and chance.
I am very thankful for my delight in finding artistic beauty in nature wherever I roam. One man’s sand dune is another man’s treasure, and on this trek, I found several satisfying scenes.
Check out this Desert Beetle.
Sand Verbena is quickly becoming one of my favorite flowers. They grow in clumps on bumps of sand, sporting thin ivy like connection over the sand. The plant produces tiny, vibrant purple flowers with yellow centers. While composing some photographs of the verbena, I noticed a few water droplets had formed and saturated the flowers. The morning dew that forms very thickly on the west side of the peninsula and these tender little plants take advantage of this phenomenon, enjoying a satisfying drink every morning.
I finally crossed the dunes and made my way onto sand dollar beach. My co-workers had been raving about this place for weeks, and this was my first chance to see it. Usually when someone brags about a place, I tune them out preferring to make my own judgments about it. Yeah, I’ve been burned too many times with other people’s elevated opinion of places.
Sand dollar beach lived up to its billing. It’s a wide, flat sand beach, caressed by the curling waves of the pacific. The air is fresh, and cool. The sand is home to many different types of animals, some preferring the dry sand of the upper beach and others burrowing deep under the tidal range living their life underground.
I ran into my friend Ame, who had taken advantage of her free time as I had. We walked along looking at all the cool stuff there was on the beach. Including a hairy legged hermit crab , and other bits of interesting sea phenomenon that washes up on shore, and lives there. I think I could beach comb Sand Dollar beach everyday for a year, and not get bored with it.
We met up with our friend Edd, who I had made a plan of meeting the night before, and we decided to go body surfing in the beautiful curling waves that were rolling onto the sand bar out in the water. Ame declined to join us, as she’d been up all night walking the decks. Ed and I bid her farewell, and ran out towards the water, turning cartwheels (sort of), and yelling out, laughing and jumping until we hit the water. Then our laughing and yelling turned to high pitched, voice cracking shrieks when the water hit various parts of our anatomy. The water was a bit cool, but once submerged I got used to it rather quickly.
It was some of the best body surfing I’ve ever done. I’ve been body surfing all my life, mostly on the fine sand beaches of Lake Superior. I was curious to see how the oceans curls would compare.
Comparing Lake Superior and the Ocean
What I discovered was that ocean waves are more consistent, and once you figure out the wave pattern and set, it’s easy to time your jumps.
Lake Superior is nice because of its fresh water. The ocean is nice because the salt keeps you slightly more buoyant. The ocean is nice because the waves are consistent and strong. Lake Superior often has a very strong rip that pulls you along the shore away from your starting point. The ocean (here at least) didn’t pull us in any direction. To get big waves on Lake Superior, the wind needs to be howling from the correct direction. On the Ocean, the waves are there regardless of wind strength and direction. Swimming in soft breezes is more enjoyable than swimming in gale force winds.
I made several successful rides of over 50 feet and more, just by timing my jumps perfectly to catch the wave. I don’t like to swim with the wave before surfing it. To me, it seems like a lot of unnecessary work and not true surfing. My technique is to simply wait until my instinct tells me to go, and dive horizontally with the wave. I flatten and hold my body in a flying superman style and try to think like a surfboard (I think it helps). My technique works very well for me.
Body surfing perfect waves is akin to skiing down mountain slopes with a foot of fresh powder. It brings out an adrenaline-tinged euphoria that leaves me smiling all day long.
Edd was having as much fun as I was, then he yelled out in pain. I asked what was wrong, and he said that he thought a crab had bitten him on the foot. Having not felt that experience before, I didn’t question him. After all, he grew up by the ocean, and I didn’t. However, he was having a lot of pain, and he held his foot out of the water to check it out. A big drip of blood burbled up thinned out by the salt water and dripped into the ocean. Not good. Not good at all.
We started back to shore, and I was contemplating our situation. Edd was hurt, and we were a long way from the ship. I knew we had staff with radios somewhere on the island, but I wasn’t sure where. I knew that would have to be the first step: finding someone with a radio who could call the ship and the doctor.
Once on shore, the pain really started to hit hard. Edd sat on the sand, and I began to ask him the usual questions tapping his foot to see where the pain was. I wanted to keep him talking, as I didn’t know how bad it was, or if he would have an allergic reaction to the toxin. Knowing I’d have to go for help, I looked around and luckily saw our Video expert a couple hundred yards away. I sprinted over to him, and luckily he had a radio. He called the doctor, and I ran back to Edd. The doctor was only a couple of hundred yards further down the beach, and he made it to Edd and I relatively quickly.
Edd had been jabbed by a stingray. He had a small laceration on his foot, but luckily there was no stinger in it. The bad news was that the doctor had left his medical kit on the other side of the island. He radioed other staff members who were already halfway across the island with our guests, and in no position to turn around. I knew I could get the kit faster than they could anyway, and I volunteered to go and get it. I’m not sure why the doctor left his gear on that side of the island when everyone was going to be on this side. I didn’t really think to ask, I just started running.
Isla Magdalena is roughly three quarters of a mile wide where we anchored and walked across. It’s covered in sand of varying consistency, from hard packed, so soft ankle deep mush and flowing dunes. There are beds of old sharp and brittle shells that occasionally peek out, unearthed by the strong winds. These are not ideal conditions for a jog by any means; running in sand is hard work, and exhausting. I was up for the challenge.
I figured Edd would be ok, but he was in some serious pain and that thought gave me all kinds of energy to make my crossing. I hadn’t run in a long time, but I took it as a test to see what kind of shape I was in. It was a trial by fire, if you will.
I have long legs, and I’m in good shape from all my adventures. I ran hard, pushed on by my task, and I made good time. I alternated between running hard where the ground was good, and jog/fast trekking over the bigger dunes and through the deep moist sand. I was wearing only my tan shorts, and I was moving fast. I’d like to think our clients (most of them European) only noticed a pale blur gasping into the distance, but I’m probably wrong. I reached the other side, grabbed the kit bag, and started back. I was tired, but game, and continued my fast pace back over the dunes. It was a little harder to run while carrying the bag, but it wasn’t too heavy.
I retraced my steps and made it back to Edd, the doctor, and a few crewmembers that had shown up to offer Edd support. The doctor got busy making Edd more comfortable, and I drank some water, and caught my breath. I deemed myself in good shape, passing my physical challenge for the day.
After the doctor cleaned and bandaged Edd’s heel, it was time to try to get him back to the ship. With two people as crutches and two others carrying gear, we made a slow caravan over the dunes. I’m taller than Edd is, so I had to stoop to let him use me as a crutch. It probably looked fairly ridiculous, but desperate times call for desperate measures. Edd was really in some pain, and the toxin was spreading up his leg. We climbed to the high point on the dunes, before we stopped to let him rest. At that point, we decided to call in the cavalry.
We have a good emergency response protocol in place, and it was good to see that the system worked, and worked well. The ship was aware of our predicament, and standing by ready to assist as needed. They sent over a stokes litter, and five people to help us carry him. After we made the call, it became a waiting game. I had my friend Daisey stand on top of the dune as our guide, and I ran back across the dunes one more time to meet the reinforcements. My friend Daisey had the presence of mind to grab my camera and start taking photos. These pictures are hers, and used with permission.
The cavalry and I trekked back to Edd, put together the litter, loaded him up, and started carrying him out. We knew he’d be fine, so we teased him as we went, cracked some jokes, and made the best of it. We loaded him in a zodiac, and brought him to the ship where the medical team was waiting with a big bucket of hot water. Stingray venom is made of heat-labile proteins. The hot water acts as a neutralizer, making the venom less effective, and keeps the toxin from spreading further. In a couple of hours, Edd was feeling a lot better, though he was a little gimpy for a day or two.
One final comparison between the ocean and Lake Superior: Lake Superior doesn’t have stingrays. Don't let this little episode scare you away. Isla Magdalena is worth the trip, and I wouldn't hesitate to catch more waves on my next visit. Even Edd said it was worth it.