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On Healthy Deserts and Blue Water Animals

Whale Shows, Dolphins in Blue, Healthy Deserts and Lost Landscapes

sunny 81 °F

I apologize. I started this week with grand intentions of writing a well thought out piece about travel writing. I forgot how grueling working the night shift could be. It turns out, staying up all night turns my mind to mush. My creative endeavors died without a whimper.

Whale Show
That being said, I have had a jaw-dropping week, even by my standards. I saw four different kinds of whales. This includes the giant sperm whales, orca and pilot whales. Get this, there were orca attacking a pod of sperm whales, trying to get at the newborn calf. The sperm whales were getting defensive forming a circle around the calf and batting at the orca with their flukes. There was a gigantic male taking charge of the pod. His enormous white head was scarred from a life full of battles. The orca had met their match.
I watched a large pod of short finned pilot whales for over three hours. I should have been sleeping, but it was too good of a show. I even saw them breach for the first time. As we cruised along side of them, they passed right by another pod of sperm whales. There was another giant male logging on the surface. As I stood on the fantail of our ship, I passed not more than thirty feet away from it. It was awesome!

Dolphins in Sapphires
One morning we came upon a pod of dolphins. I decided to head up to the lido deck to watch them from up above. Judging from experience, I figured that the glassy seas and morning light would make for good underwater dolphin photos. I was not disappointed. These are among my favorite dolphin pictures I have. I will never forget how beautiful it is to watch dolphins glide just beneath the surface of the water.

A Healthy Desert
I went for a walk among the boojum trees. Boojums are endemic to a very small region near Bahia de Los Angeles on the eastern side of the Baja Peninsula. They look like an upside down hairy white carrot. I love this desert. It’s very healthy, full of blooming cacti, birds, bees and vibrant desert fauna.
I sat in a narrow band of shade of a skinny cardon. It felt good to sit in the dirt. I could only hear the soft rustle of wind through the desert. I let my mind relax. Ahhh.

The only thought that came to mind was that I should continue to visit the desert in March and April. It feels really good to me be here. I don’t know if it’s the sun, warmth or desert itself, but I need to work this into my overall plan for healthy living.

Hiking Isla Danzante
There will come a day when I will be able to spend more than just three hours on Isla Danzante. There are just too many adventures waiting to happen. I want to walk around the island along the shore. I want to see the views from every high point. I want to anchor my sailboat in honeymoon cove. I will listen to the breeze and watch the stars.
It’s going to have to wait.
Ah well. I had a great morning hike on Isla Danzante. I walked around the north side of the island along the shore. I saw all kinds of sea stuff. I like calling the animals and plants of tide pools “sea stuff.” The ocean is so diverse and interesting, it’s hard for me to identify and understand what is going on in just one small section of shoreline.

Fortunately, my new adventure buddy knows a lot more than I do and she tells me all about it on our walks.

Walking Through Heaven
I took an early ride to the rocky shores of Isla Santa Catalina. I was exhausted from working all night, but I wanted to hike to a distant beach to try to find a certain kind of seashell I was convinced could be found there.
I never found the shells. Instead, I found a gorgeous desert landscape bathed in changing light. I don’t know if I was hypersensitive to the conditions due to my weariness, but I felt like I was walking through heaven.

I love this scene. I can't decide which one I like better. Let me know which one you prefer.

Thank you for putting up with this sad excuse for an entry. I promise I will get more sleep, which hopefully will lead to better stories.


Posted by Rhombus 17:28 Archived in Mexico Tagged desert cactus mexico whales oceans dolphins photography Comments (0)

The Mexican Saga Continues

Snorkelling At Puerto Escondido, Climbing High on Santa Catalina, More Gorgeous Sunsets, The Morning in Santa Rosalia

semi-overcast 72 °F

A Morning at Puerto Escondido

I have the morning off. I know this, but I get up at 6 am anyway. I love mornings, especially when you don’t have to work. Why would I sleep in? I’m not in Mexico to sleep, and I when I get up to the crew lounge, I find a “Dirty Chai” waiting for me. The early morning crew is taking good care of me.

I sit down, drinking my chai, and finishing a book. It was perhaps the best book I have ever read, and I was quite satisfied.

The dawn came and went. I enjoyed it. I went up to the top deck to stretch out with a bit of yoga and breathing focus. Relaxed, I made my way down to the breakfast table for some vittles and conversation with some of the crew.

It’s warming up a bit, and so I meander my way up to the snorkel lockers and get some gear. My plan is to snorkel right off of the break wall. I had done this last year on the recommendation of the chief mate, and it turned out to be some of the best snorkeling I have experienced. I wanted to go back and see some more.

I walked out to my makeshift launching point, scrambling over the rocks down to the water’s edge. I test the temperature, and it’s cold. I don’t mind. I’m used to cold water, and I put on my fins, secure my snorkel and launch myself into the moment.
For the next forty minutes, I am lost in a watery world full of interesting characters. I see a wide variety of sea creatures, all of them quite charming in their own way. The beauty of the Cortez rainbow wrasse blew me away. These small fish are beautifully decorated, taking on bright yellows, reds, blues and purples, all glowing brightly under the strong morning sunlight.
It was safe to say I was quite satisfied with my efforts. I started to shiver. Then I began to shake, and I knew the end of my snorkeling was near. I swam back towards my take out point, I really wanted to stay in the water, but I was frozen.
I hauled myself out, and sat on the hot black rocks soaking in the sunshine. My shivering began to die down, but I was still quite cold. I decided to get up and go take a shower, and as I crawled back on the dock, I met the security guard. He was a very nice guy, and knew enough English to be able to hold a simplified conversation. We talked of Michigan, snorkeling, and Puerto Escondido. I offered him a cup of coffee, but he preferred a coke. I brought it out to him, wished him a good day.

As the hot water ran over my clammy body, I thought of my morning and smiled. I could get used only working six hours a day.

Santa Catalina High Peaks
I had a couple of hours of freedom and set my sights on one of the few high points that I hadn’t climbed yet on the southwestern side of Isla Santa Catalina. Looking at the terrain, I opted for a route I hadn’t tried before, walking up a desert wash, climbing to the top of a small ridge that reached up to the shoulder of the mount I wanted to summit. It would be steep, and probably sketchy, but I knew I could make it.
I love long views from high places. Atop this mount was a clump of cardon cactus, which looked beautiful in the afternoon light.
The descent was sketchy. I precariously placed my feet hoping that they would hold, because if they didn’t I’d be sliding down with only the spiny arms of a cactus to catch my fall. Not a pleasant thought, but one I was willing to face. I love hiking in a vertical desert world, and besides, I like this kind of thing.

Amazing Sunsets
When the skies are overcast on the Sea of Cortez, the rising and setting of the sun in an event not to be missed. For three days straight, the coming and going of the sun has been gorgeous. Sure, there are pretty sunsets almost every day, but the addition of a few bands of clouds, increase the beauty exponentially. I was moved, happy to be experiencing these incredible light shows.

Water and Clouds
I had a two-hour break to position a zodiac to a deserted beach. It was awesome. I stretched out and did some yoga and breathing exercises, then sat calmly in the water up to my neck. It was very refreshing. I finished my break off by taking a nap on the pontoon of the zodiac for an hour, floating and listening to the water chuff along the rocks. There are some days where they could pay me with sand and I would still go to work.

Santa Rosalia Mornings
DSC_0078__2_.jpgDSC_0033__2_.jpgSanta Rosalia is a small mining town on the eastern coast of the Sea of Cortez. The mornings here remind me of days long past on Lake Superior. Quiet mornings, a palette of subdued light yellow, pale blue, grays, and white. There were fishermen in the distance, hoping to catch some luck, and a pair of osprey ate their breakfast fifty yards from the boat, perched on a telephone pole. It was a very good morning for photography, at least until the sun broke above the clouds.

All is well here in Mexico. I have one week left before I turn my sights northward, restocking my toys and heading to the northern Rocky Mountains to ski.

Posted by Rhombus 18:49 Archived in Mexico Tagged wildlife hiking cactus towns deserts sunsets oceans photography Comments (0)

The Best of a Mexican March: Part 1

A Vagabond's Last Takes On A Winter in Mexico.

sunny 79 °F

With only just over a week left here in Mexico, I feel a bit overwhelmed thinking about all the writing and photography I’d like to share about this remarkable peninsula. The problem lies in the fact that I want to get out and play, savoring my last week before starting the long ten-day voyage back to the United States and Alaska. Once again, I’ll solve this problem by offering a photographic journey through some of the desert and ocean scenes that I’ve enjoyed so much.

Sperm Whales
Sperm Whales were on my list of whales I really wanted to see while down here in Mexico. I had visions of Melville’s classic ‘white whale,’ and I wanted to see one for myself. Sperm whales have a very different shape than the other whales I’ve seen, and their spout is distinguishable from others as it comes out diagonally from their blowhole

I witnessed three separate pods, and a huge solo male. Sperm whales are very social; the females tend to stay together with calves and it almost as though they are synchronized swimming. They would rest on the surface in between dives, and it was during this time when I could get a really good look at them. When at last they had rested enough, they would take a final breath, and begin the long slow process of diving. First, the head would go down, and like a cracking whip, the rest of the body would follow. I could see the dorsal bend and submerge which would lift the huge flukes of the whale’s tail to a near vertical position. Seeing the humungous fluke lift out of the water is amazing. It is among my favorite views of the whale, any whale. It’s as though they are waving goodbye before disappearing into the depths for several minutes.

Animal Prints
The desert is full of nocturnal animals. They come out at night to eat, drink, and be merry--avoiding the harsh light and heat of the day. I was lucky enough to get out at first light, and spent the golden hours of the morning admiring the simple beauty and design of animal prints on the sand dunes.

Two Sunrises
I told Clay our Chief Engineer that the sky would light on fire this morning. He was skeptical, and impatiently called me out when at first the clouds remained unlit by the rising sun. I told him to be patient and wait, that it would happen. Ten minutes later, the sky smoldered and caught, briefly highlighting the large gray clouds in sunrise orange over the ocean and Isla San Francisco. Sunrise orange is hard to describe, it’s not pink, orange, or gold but some amazing mixture of them all.
It was a cold, windy morning on Magdalena Bay. It was brisk. I watched a panga of anglers slowly work their lines in the choppy seas. I thought about the life of an angler here in Mexico; the long hours, the hard work, for not very much money. Two things stuck in my mind. One was that I was more or less living the same life, working all night on a boat to watch the beauty of the rising sun and cloud. The other thought I had, was that to work outside for a living is a good life. To immerse oneself in the golden glow of a sunrise for its entire duration is better than the best corner office with a good view in the world. Money is worthless in comparison to a life lived well.

Desert Plants and Landscapes
What do you think of when you think of a desert? Perhaps you think of a flat, bare, plain, rocky, desolate with the odd scrounging a living here and there. The desert of Baja is a lush desert full of desert plant life. It’s varieties of plants, cactus, shrubs and flowers is quite impressive for how little water falls here.

Boojum Trees
We took a field trip in buses to a Boojum Tree forest. The Boojum tree is a funky looking tree, with a white trunk and hundreds of think twig like branches extending about a foot from the trunk. It grows tall; maybe thirty to forty feet high twisted and bent high into the desert sky. It looks like a tall inverted white carrot.
The desert where these trees are located was superb. It was full of a wide variety of flowering plants and cactus. I loved the silence of the desert solitude. The only sound was that of the occasional bird, or the buzzing of giant bumblebees, and the cursing of your absent-minded author as he accidentally thrust his foot into an extremely sharp ball of needles that punctured deeply into his foot. This marked the first time I had received a puncture from a cactus spine in four and a half months of sandal wearing wandering. I was due, and didn’t let it slow me down.

Snorkeling at Isla San Marcos
The island of San Marcos is a geological gem, and an amazing setting to don your snorkel gear and see what’s going on below the surface of the water. The shoreline was a jagged rock wonderland of arches, sea caves, overhangs, spires and coves. The water was cool and refreshing, and as I made that first lunge into the darkness of the sea cave, I gave a little yelp as the water reached my sensitive areas. I don’t dive with a wet suit, as the water temperature here is about the same as Lake Superior in mid July.
I swam deeper into the dark water, heading underneath a giant arch and to the greenish glow of sunlit water some distance away. It was very cool to swim through the darkness of that cave, and to emerge into the bright sunny water beyond. I saw at least ten varieties of fish swimming lazily through the coral covered giant rocks and boulders. The water was warmer in the sunlight, but occasionally a cold current would swirl over me, mixing warm and cold water over my body leaving my skin tingling in delight.

This was among the best snorkeling I’ve done here in Mexico, and I hope to return one more time before I leave.


Dolphins are good for the soul.

Desert Insects and Animals
The desert is full of life. The best advice I can offer is to walk slowly, take your time, and look at each rock and plant before you move much. Often these insects, birds, and animals are lazily sunning themselves in the heat of the day.

So Ends Part One. There's more to come this week, so stay tuned!

Posted by Rhombus 11:06 Archived in Mexico Tagged cactus plants whales deserts oceans insects dolphins photography dunes Comments (0)

Baja Visions

Looking Closer At What Makes Up This Great Peninsula

sunny 74 °F

About an hour before the sun cracked the horizon, I could tell the sunrise was going to be spectacular. In the low light, the high clouds were the first to catch the early light. The southeastern sky had a lot going for it, meteorologically speaking. For one thing, the low bank of fog hung over the sea. It was several miles away, and it obscured the land behind its opaque shroud. The clouds above us had set up in a strong alto-cumulus pattern, like many perfectly spaced layers of popcorn puffs floating along. In my experience, the Alto-cumulus clouds usually yields gorgeous sunrise/sunsets, though I don’t know why. A beautiful harmony between sun and cloud, perhaps?
As the sun rose closer and closer to the horizon, the clouds began to glow; first it was golden, then orange, then fiery orange. It was beautiful, ethereal, and moving. The sea was glassy, with a mild swell. It reflected the beautiful orange light, but twisted it in a swirled collage of psychedelic visions. I believe it touched all of us who were out on the aft decks of our ship, though we all respond to earthly beauty in our own way. Most of us had a camera, set to record this scene for ourselves to remember later, and to share with our friends. That’s what I am doing here. Though I am an avid photographer, there are times when I know I should put down my camera. This was one of those times, and I was smart enough to listen to my own advice. Had I kept shooting, I may have had an electronic snapshot of the scene, but would have missed the whole of it completely.

The Rocky Concerto of Isla Danzante.
Isla Danzante is by no means a large island, but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in interesting composition of rock. Danzante rolls in rocks; a sonata of rocky composition starting low along the sea, then rising steeply to the jagged peaks and ridges of the high notes. It is an island loved by the turkey vulture. This graceful bird soars along its thermals, gliding and rising easily atop the warm uprising of air current. The vulture makes its home in its high places. In the morning, they can be seen drying their wings atop the tall cardon cactus, that dot the ridge tops. It reminds me of totem toppers of the Pacific Northwest.

The Birds of San Carlos
San Carlos is a small town on Bahia Magdalena, which is located on the west side of the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula. At the wharf, the anglers dock to unload their catch, (in this case, sardines), to be shipped to the nearby processing plant. The process of transferring the fish attracts hundreds of birds, mostly pelicans and frigate birds. I’ve never seen such a mass of birds before, a chaotic crescendo of noise and feathers. The birds fly around in seemingly random directions scouring the sea looking for that next tasty morsel. They all vie for a spot on the few level platforms around the conveyor belts, and it’s a wonder why they don’t run into one another. It was hypnotizing to watch the frigate birds make lazy circles high above it all.
I also wondered how often the wharf workers are crapped on. It’s been said that being shit on by a bird is good luck, but by that reasoning, these people are probably the luckiest people on earth. I wonder if they feel so lucky. I might have a different point of view, if I worked there.

The Dunes of Isla Magdalena.
Isla Magdalena is the barrier island that protects Bahia Magdalena from the strong swells and storms of the Pacific Ocean. The island’s features include sand, mangroves, plants that like sand, sand, sand dollars, sand dunes, sandy beaches, and sand. Did I mention the sand? Fortunately, I really like sand, especially when I can find it in mass quantities, and even more so when it starts to form dunes.

The dunes of Magdalena are fun to play around on; running, jumping, cart wheeling (beware of flying sand and wind direction), or what have you. The wind was strong from off of the sea. I walked the dunes, watching the dune lines recreate themselves right before my eyes. The prevailing wind whipped the sand into a scouring force. I was whipped, and sand blasted. Even as I write this, every time I blink, I hear a scraping sound from all the tiny grit in my eyes.
A little sand never hurt anyone, and I had an enjoyable afternoon wandering around the undulating sand piles. There is a lot of beauty to be found on the dunes. To me, sand seems to make its own art out of the delicate lines of the top of the dune, or the weathered brown lines at the bottom. Look at the pattern here. It’s graceful, and perfect. It also mimics the veins of a leaf or the watercourse of a river as seen from up high. Nature it seems, has found a beautiful grand design, and uses it with great success.
I found small “bumps” of sand, with the top covered in greenery which supported the tiny purple flowers, called sand verbina I enjoyed hamming it up for a few photos; I’m a believer in doing something in a portrait other than just standing there with your arms limp at your sides. I think it makes a better photograph.
I also found a large graveyard of old seashells, partially buried in section of dune. The bed was about 60 feet long, and filled with a variety of shells, some I’ve never seen before. It made me start thinking about the power of wind, sand and water. Where once the sea flowed, was now covered in sand.
The Sally Lightfoot crab is a gorgeous creature that lives on the rocky outcrops by the sea. Her colors are extremely vibrant a concoction of orange, red, and blue. She’s generally shy by nature, in fact, it’s very hard to get close to her. She keeps her distance well, and doesn’t allow anyone to invade her personal space. She makes an excellent addition to the dynamic and flourishing seaside, and tide pool ecosystems found here along the Gulf of California and the Sea of Cortez.

Leading Lines
Sometimes a photo comes together without any coaxing from the photographer. I was the first and only person on the beach at Bonanza Bay. While I was planning my hike up into the high country, I glanced around and saw the wonderful foam lines from the smallish surge of water lapping the shore. I settled onto my haunches, waited for the right timing for the foam lines to roll in, and took the picture. These are among my favorite surf pictures I’ve ever taken. Simple, yet effective.

Gray Whale Pre-School

Eight crewmembers from our ship piled into the pang all set to go and find some gray whales to watch. A panga is THE boat of Mexico, and it’s a damn good one. It has a typical rowboat shape, Maybe 20 feet long, shallow draft, fast, sturdy, relatively spacious, and simple to use. If I were going to buy a boat, I’d consider a panga. Our Captain was nice enough to rent us one from a nearby town so we could all get out, enjoy the day, watch some whales, and build some camaraderie. He’s a good man, our captain.
We had an excellent guide, Jimmy, who has been following the whales around Magadalena Bay for many years. He is a great boat handler, and knows how to read a whale’s movement. I think with all his experience, he has a good idea of what a whale is likely to do. As it was, he put us right with them.
It was amazing. We saw in one small area, five pairs of mother and calves. That’s ten whales in a space about the size of a soccer field. The whales we saw were a major percentage of the entire breeding population in the whole of Magdalena Bay!

The calves were very small, only about a thousand pounds at birth, and the mom’s were still quite protective of them. Later on in the season, as they grow bigger, she will be more tolerant of the calf’s curiosity, and hopefully at that time, I’ll get to touch one. We shall see, it’s all up to the whales.

Neptune’s Finger
I always wanted a picture of Neptune’s finger. Neptune’s finger is a thin jutting rock that pokes out of the sea by the arch cape formation near Cabo San Lucas. It’s a great name for a rock worth remembering. The explorers, who named it, did well, and I salute their creativity.

Posted by Rhombus 20:45 Archived in Mexico Tagged cactus whales deserts oceans photography dunes Comments (0)

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