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Entries about deserts

The Magnificent Whales of Magdalena Bay

Some Insight on Gray Whales

sunny 76 °F

There were four of us in the panga including our whale-whispering guide, Jimmy, who had a unique ability to coax whales to come close. And it was CLOSE! A Fifty-foot long mother gray whale was floating perpendicular to our boat directly beneath us. It was about two feet away, and despite my gorilla arm length was inches out of reach. So close, yet so far.

I’m ok with that. Close encounters with whales are as moving as watching a gorgeous sunrise light up the alto-cumulus, or finding a mountain meadow full of wildflowers. Her calf was very curious, and surfaced a couple of feet away. In fact, it gave one of us a slap with his tail on her palm. I like to think it was a high five, though she didn’t see it my way.
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After our friends moved on, swimming away, practicing for the long migration up to Alaska, we looked about us and saw gray whales everywhere. There were more mother and calf pairs, seemingly synchronized in their swimming, breathing and blowing at the same time. A great big billowing cloud of misted salt snot for mom, and a cute little puff of salty snot mist for the calf. Speaking from experience, the smell of whale breath is far sweeter down here in Mexico than it is in Alaska. In Alaska, the humpback whales are feeding heavily on herring, giving their breath a horrible noxious mixture of rotten fish belches. The gray whales down here aren’t feeding yet. They have to migrate up to Alaska before they feed, and so their breath is relatively clean smelling. It’s weird to think about, but I’ve breathed the same air a whale has breathed.
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Look at the “knuckles” on this particular mother. The gray whale is a very unique looking compared to other whales. It doesn’t have a dorsal fin, it has “knuckles” This is an old whale, though nobody is really sure how old these whales are. Gray whales don’t have teeth, which usually tell us a whale’s age, they use baleens to eat, separating their food from water. Some think that the whales swimming in Magdalena bay are old enough to remember being hunted by whalers.

The gray whale was known as the “Devil Fish”, as they would fight harder than any other whale when harpooned. The harpooners who were dumb enough to harpoon a gray whale calf would have to face the angry mother attempting to save her baby, and there are tales of skiffs smashed to pieces by enraged whales.

If these whales remember whaling, the fact that these mothers bring their calves to our zodiacs to let us touch, pet, hug and kiss them, is amazing. These whales should give all of humanity hope that there are beings far more forgiving than man is. Man has spent decades trying to kill whales, and in some countries still are. However, these whales, these magnificent gray whales of Magdalena bay, have crossed over and connected with us. This is unprecedented, and it is one of the coolest, feel good stories of the year.
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Everyone who I have talked to concerning touching a whale, has this to say, “It is really, really cool!” or “It’s one of the highlights of my life!” The consensus is, we love whales. I’ve yet to see someone who’s seen a whale up close say, “BAH! So I touched a stupid whale, all it did was come up to the boat, and splash around.” It just doesn’t happen.
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While hiking along the western dunes of Isla Magdalena, I came across a couple sets of whale bones. They were very large pieces, some vertebra, and I think a skull. The scouring westerly winds combined with sand, and hot sun had polished and bleached them pure white. I stopped to look at these bones, and composed a few photos, but mostly I was thinking about the life of the gray whale and their bones on Isla Magdalena. It makes sense that if whales are born here in the warm shallow waters in Magdalena bay that they might come home to die as well. This small island is witness to the gray whale’s life from cradle to grave life coming full circle here in Magdalena Bay.
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I ran my hands over the smooth bones, pondering my own journey. Isla Magdalena is a very powerful and peaceful place. It’s a great place to wander and think. I love the white noise of the rolling waves, the wind continually shaping and remaking the textures of sand make for a pleasant place to lose yourself, and explore a unique place as well. The island collects interesting bits of ocean life. Next to my whale skull was the skeleton of a turtle. I really liked the skull. It was very cool. I’ve found five turtle shells in my jaunts around the island so far. I really like the shells of Magdalena Bay. Look at the colorful detail of this shell. I knew I was in the right place, and on the right path. My lucky number is number nine, and to find one of such vibrancy, was reassuring that I am where I should be.
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I walked on my way, feeling good, and enjoying life. This is how it ought to be.
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Posted by Rhombus 21:49 Archived in Mexico Tagged beaches turtles shells whales deserts oceans photography Comments (0)

Small Scenes That Give Greater Perspective

A Collection of Views of the Baja Peninsula, Photographic Anomales, Really

sunny 77 °F

Upon reviewing my pictures for the year so far, I discovered that I had several photos that I really liked, but remained unpublished due to their peculiar uniqueness. In other words, I have some photos I’d like to share, but they are random and without theme. I thought I would give them their own entry this week, because these photos, while narrow in scope, will help show the big picture of the Baja peninsula experience.

I rarely give myself a photographic assignment. I take pictures everyday, often stopping work just long enough to take a picture of a beautiful scene, and getting back to my job. Some of these photos, fit this entry, and others are just extra photos from the many hikes I’ve been on, that I couldn’t or wouldn’t show before.

Two paragraphs of explanation, when I could’ve simply said, “It’s a mixed bag of random scenes from Mexico.”

Without further ado, here they are.

Cardon in Late Evening Light
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The rugged mountain landscape of the Sierra De la Giganta from Puerto Los Gatos is among the most dramatic and beautiful that I’ve seen on the Baja Peninsula. I love this place, and I have stared at these mountains for hours, wondering what secrets they hold. If I could have one Baja wish, it would be to make the place a base camp, and go hiking here for a week.

Sandals
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Baja is the only desert I’ve been able to hike around in my sandals. True, I earned the bandage on my big toe by hiking in sandals, but it was worth it. It’s really nice to have your toes open to the open air; getting dusty, dirty, cut and scraped. The simplicity of a good sandal appeals to me, and I’m quite happy with mine.

Clouds
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These clouds remind me of summer, though it was winter when I took this picture. These are floaters, high above Magdalena Bay.

Self Portraits
I’m still shamelessly throwing myself into my landscapes.

Isla Magdalena
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My self-timer’s longest setting is ten seconds. In this picture, I hit the timer, jumped down a 20-foot sand dune, sprinted across a sandy plain, and up to the top of this dune. This was while I was counting down in my head down to zero. Often it takes several takes to get it just right, and in this case, I sprinted that same length three times, before I was exhausted, and “satisfied” with my first picture. After review, I am happy with this shot.

Made In the Shade.
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As I’ve said before, I can find a seat anywhere, and often times a shady spot to sit and relax as well. This beach was a challenge. There were mangroves, but they were near water, and nowhere near sand. Finally, I realized that I had to lower my standards, and lay down in the dirt instead of sitting in it. Perfect.

Summiting “The Nipple” at Bonanza Beach

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Climbing the nipple, a rock protuberance sticking high out of the ridge west of Bonanza beach was probably the best hike I’ve completed down here in Baja so far. The conditions were perfect, meaning, I had 4 hours to do the hike. I didn’t care about weather conditions, I just wanted to have enough time to enjoy and complete the hike.
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Every vertical step I took was on a bowling ball size boulder. It was a mountain made of boulders. I mostly hiked straight at the peak, until I hit the loose ledge rock. At that point, I veered to the right of the peak until I hit the summit ridge. The view from the ridge was amazing. A higher ridge rose far to the north, with a deep canyon dropping in front of it. Another high mountain was just taller than where I was. It led to a higher flattish peak, some distance away. To the west, my ridgeline led down to the sea, leading my eye to other high points and beaches I’ve been to.
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This was a magical place. Turkey vultures soared beneath me, curious to see who had come to sit on their throne. I spent the better part of a half hour drinking in the views, and clowning around in front of the camera.
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Magic Water
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Dawn. A fiery orange tinge to the sky in the southeast. Calm winds all night made for a glassy surface to the water. Our wake gave the glass a gentle bend, creating gorgeous coloring and designs. It was like watching psychedelic oil patterns on the surface of the sea. I find the water’s mesmerizing kaleidoscopic shimmering quality amazing, and beautiful.
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The South Ridge of Isla San Francisco
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I hiked the entire south ridge of Isla San Francisco in about 3 hours. It’s not a long ridge, but it’s height above half moon bay makes for some good views. There’s a trail that runs the length of it, and I had a ball running down the slopes and hiking up to the high points. I saw an osprey sitting atop a high cardon, perhaps its favorite perch. I watched it with my binoculars for ten minutes; it seemed content with my presence. It was quality time, in my mind.
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I found a rock cairn that had tumbled over, and I decided to rebuild it. It was in a good place, and the rocks were easy to stack. After that, I scrambled back down to the salt flats, back to where I started. I kept my distance from everyone and jumped in the water. It was cool and refreshing, and beautiful. The high salinity of the water here keeps one more buoyant. Either this is true, or it’s all in my head. I’m fine with it, and it felt good to soak in the ocean before I had to return to the boat, and get ready for work. Consider this day seized.

The End of the Earth.

In Steinbeck’s day, Cabo San Lucas was a sleepy, tired little village, with a “sad cantina, full of sad men, waiting for something to happen. They’ve been waiting for perhaps generations.” This is roughly quoted from “The Log From The Sea of Cortez.” My how things have changed. Now it’s a Disney land of tourism, you might call it “Little America,” or perhaps I’m a bit cynical. If you want a Mexican city, go to La Paz. What San Lucas does have going for it, is its physical beauty, if you can see past the condominiums. The arch at the southern tip is beautiful. The sightseeing boats, including ours, are a nuisance, but it is possible to take an alluring picture here. I offer this as my proof.
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Posted by Rhombus 15:38 Archived in Mexico Tagged mountains hiking mexico deserts baja photography Comments (0)

Tying The Knot

On Knot Tying, Practical and Fancywork, and Sailing Through Stormy Seas

sunny 75 °F

The captain sugarcoated the weather report as sweetly as he could: “Well, It’s going to be shitty, and the next day is going to be worse.” The captain has a way with words all his own. The report called for sustained winds of forty knots out of the north/north east, the direction we were heading directly into.

We knew it was coming, we knew we HAD to go through it (there was no protection to hide in), and we knew it was going to be rough. We prepared for war, lashing and tying down everything we could, so we wouldn’t lose anything. I really enjoy this part of my job. As a deckhand, it’s my duty to secure everything and make sure we don’t lose anything overboard in heavy seas. It’s a great opportunity to practice the ancient and practical seafarer’s skill of tying knots.

Tying knots is a great skill to have, and a sailor’s dependence on that ability is probably greater than any other occupation. This was probably truer in the days of clipper ships, and three mast schooners, but is still applicable today. The practice of tying knots is a language and an art form all its own. While I’ve always had an interest in knots, I didn’t really start tying good knots until I became a deckhand.
Clove Hitch, Daisey Chain and Modified True Lover's Knot -Tied By the Author
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In truth, there are really only about seven knots I use on a daily basis. On my breaks, I’ve been perusing through the “knot bible”, that is, The Ashley Book of Knots by Clifford Ashley, to try to learn more. I’ve found I really enjoy thumbing through Ashley’s book until I find a knot that looks interesting. I’ll grab my line, and attempt to follow the diagrams to tie it. Ashley’s book is filled with diagrams and sketches for thousands of knots. He gives a brief description of the knot, what it’s used for, and where it originated, if it’s known. It’s a very interesting book. If I ever have a home again, this book will be on my shelf.
Fancy Work - Monkey's Fist, Plaited Sennit -Knots by Sheryl Bale
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To be sure, the diagrams aren’t that easy to follow, and the text font is in clearly from the 1940’s but that‘s its charm; it‘s old fashioned. Knot tying isn’t easy, and it takes a lot of practice to get it right. Following the diagrams in this book can be very frustrating, like following a single line of spaghetti on full plate of pasta. Tying knots is akin to any learned skill. For the common man, it takes patience and practice. The results of your hard work can be beautifully decorative knots in sequence, or simply the satisfaction of tying the correct knot for the job you are working on. It’s funny to say, but tying a good knot makes me feel proud, and definitely more manly. You might see me beat my chest like an upland gorilla, roaring with pleasure after tying a good knot.
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Check out www.animated-knots.com this is a good online source for learning knots.

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The storm was all it was predicted to be, and a little bit more. We left San Jose del Cabo at about noon, and started the trip north. The wind had picked up, and the seas were building. The odd part of storms down here was that the sun was shining bright, and the sky was deep blue. It was beautiful. When I picture heading into a storm, I think of big brooding clouds and lashing rain or what have you. It was strange to see blue skies and sun.
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We watched a pod of humpback whales frolic in the water for about an hour before we turned into the brunt of it and started the long slog north. It was kind of exciting, like the beginning of a road trip into the unknown. The crew came together for our evening meal, bantering and friendly as the big dysfunctional family we are. We watched the waves sweep by the windows, and wondered what the night would hold. My friend Ame and I stepped out on the aft portion of our boat to watch a glorious sunset over the Sierra de la Giganta mountain range. It was the last light of peace we were to have for 12 hours.
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In adversity, you find out a lot about yourself. I learned something that I had suspected: I don’t suffer from seasickness. To be sure, the ship was pitching bow to stern; this is an easier motion to handle than a swaying motion (a side to side motion) of a ship. I felt fortunate, as a lot of our guests and crew suffered through a very long night. I was sitting in the crew lounge, chewing the fat with the chief engineer when my deck partner walked in and noticed streaks of vomit on the window behind me. That was kind of the theme of the night.

I have a twisted point of view on seasickness. I find it hilarious. When everyone around you is puking, it always makes me laugh. We all vomit in our own special way. Some people sound like sea lions, some hack and strain only to produce a tiny ball of bile, others make a long drawn out gurgling sound. I like the people who try to vomit with dignity. Ha! It’s like trying to quiet down a freight train. I wasn’t there to see it, but up in the pilothouse the watch officer and two of the on duty deckhands all started puking at the same time. In between bouts, they realized how funny the situation was, and started laughing their asses off. Had I been there, I’d have done the same.

Working in this storm, was also the most fun I’ve ever had as a deckhand. The captain tasked us with making some final securing measures up on the bow, and lido deck (the lido deck is where we store our zodiac inflatable boats, kayaks, and crane). He told us to put on clothes that can get soaked, and to work in pairs. We geared up, and headed out to the bow. The boat was pitching steeply as we pounded our way up and down the big swells. Our momentum caused us to jog a little along the decks as we made our way up to the bow.

I felt exhilarated, and got a little bump of adrenaline as big walls of white spray flew over the bow and soaked us in salt water. It felt great, and I was drenched in water, except for my underwear, which I was somewhat proud of. We worked in tandem, and secured the last of our loose items. We were all whooping, and hollering as the big waves washed us down again and again. It was awesome! I love being out in the elements, especially potentially dangerous ones. It makes me feel jubilant, at one with the world, and damn glad to be alive.

The night became one task after another. I waltzed a 94-year-old woman down from her cabin to the dining room for dinner. She was a real trooper that one. I helped the engineer close all the vent covers outside on the upper deck. I made my engine rounds. I eventually ended my shift, and hung out for a while in the crew lounge. I contemplated if I wanted to have a cold beer after such a day, but decided against it.

At about 9 pm, I went to bed, and didn’t sleep that well. I was comfortable in my bunk, but there are many things that go bump in the night on a heaving ship. The seas got even bigger around 3:30 am, and I felt my stomach drop out as we went straight down a massive wave. I sleep in the aft of the ship, towards the back. Usually this is the most stable part of the boat, and to feel your stomach drop out from back there, there must have been some good waves. So I had a fitful night lost somewhere between awake and sleep.

At 6 am, we at last reached our destination, Ensenada Grande on the west side of Isla Partida. We were happy to set the anchor in the relatively calm water, finally out of the punishing swells. When I started my shift at seven, I took stock of the whole ship, and decided we faired very well. Nobody was hurt, and only a couple of minor items had been forgotten in our securing tasks.

The whole ship seemed like it was in a hangover. Everyone was quiet and subdued. We were all tired, fatigued from our personal battles of the night, and mostly due to lack of sleep. Even my deck partner Paully, who is usually a bundle of hilarious, manic energy, was quiet and laid back. Everyone compared their stories of the night, and I really didn’t have much to say or to complain about. I was fine, though a little tired. It was nothing a good double shot Americano couldn’t fix.

We spent the whole day in that cove, relishing the beautiful views and calm seas once again with a newfound appreciation for peace.

Posted by Rhombus 11:12 Archived in Mexico Tagged whales deserts sunsets oceans ships photography storms knots Comments (5)

Baja Visions

Looking Closer At What Makes Up This Great Peninsula

sunny 74 °F

Sunrise.
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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?
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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.
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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.
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The Birds of San Carlos
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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Sally
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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
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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.
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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.
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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
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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.
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Posted by Rhombus 20:45 Archived in Mexico Tagged cactus whales deserts oceans photography dunes Comments (0)

Climbing High Into The Baja Islands

On Pelicans, Magic Lighting of Puerto Los Gatos, The Heights of Isla Santa Catalina, and Whales

sunny 72 °F

On Pelicans
When considering the birds of the Baja Peninsula, the one that comes first to my mind is the Brown Pelican. They are quite prevalent and found all around the Gulf of California. The pelican is an interesting bird to watch, and I see these birds everyday. The pelican is a large bird, perhaps three feet long from head to foot with a long wingspan to accommodate such girth. The pelican has a brown goose like body, but beefed up and far bigger. Its neck and head are white compared to the brown of it’s body. Its bill is also quite imposing, and very pronounced and heavy. Picture a “dunce“ cap connected to the face of a bird. While swimming, they often have it tucked comfortably on its chest, probably for support of the monstrous thing.
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Underneath its heavy bill is a thin expandable gullet like skin sack. Talk about a double chin, this thing is amazing. While feeding, the pelican snaps at a fish catching it and a lot of salt water in the sack, then it drains the water and eats the fish. I don’t know how much it can expand, but it looks as though they could slam a quart of water in about a second.
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I love watching the pelican skim over the surface of the water. All birds try to conserve their energy, and the pelican will pump its wings for five strokes to give it lift up off the water, then arc its wings in glide position and soar over the water, slowly falling lower until it pumps again. This is how they cross the water, often in a single file group.

Its feeding behavior is quite impressive. It will fly above the water, anywhere from 3 feet up to 15 feet high. When it spots fish, it straightens its body into an arrow bill first diving fast and straight into the water bill first. The fish rarely stands a chance against such an attack. It is impressive to watch, and on my list of photographs I want to take.

On a darker note, this amazing feeding behavior is also its downfall. The big pelican doesn’t have eyelids or protection for its eyes. Every time it dives into the water, it does a little bit of damage to the eye. Over time, the bird goes blind. A blind pelican is more or less a dead pelican. It’s somewhat sad really, to watch the birds snapping at fish they can’t see.

What I’ve been contemplating lately are the piles of pelican bones I find in the rocks of the desert islands around the region. One of our naturalists informed me that the pelicans go for “one more dive.” Think about that. I don’t know if pelicans have much of a thought process, they might not ever know what they are doing; they are just doing what they’ve always done when they make that final dive. They might even think they are still over water, who knows? It’s a sad affair, but a good death.

A Magical Two Hours at Puerto Los Gatos
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I woke up out of a sound sleep kind of groggy, but hungry and wondering where we were. To my delight and surprise, we had anchored at Puerto Los Gatos, a beautiful bay surrounded by the majestic Sierra de la Giganta mountain range that runs along the eastern side of the Baja Peninsula.

Our ship has visited this PLG before, but I had to work during that visit. My tongue was hanging out on that visit. I longed to hike around in the foothills and up to the sharp desert peaks of the surrounding mountains. It’s just so damn beautiful here. The mountains recede in layers to the distant horizon a different shade of purple gray with each jagged layer.

I grabbed my daypack that I keep handy, put on my sandals and caught the next shuttle to the shore. I didn’t have a lot of time, and I didn’t have a plan. I just started hiking, and figured to get up on a nearby ridge. Walking across the low areas around the creek was a cactus maze. I had to back track at each dead end, as the cactus and thorns were impassable. Finally, I reached the incline of the ridge, and started up. The ground opened up, and I was able to zigzag my way up to the top of the ridge. Success!
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This was where the whole landscape opened up in a beautiful display of cacti and flowers that led to the distant rolling hills and eventually distant mountain peaks. It was breath taking, and one of the more magical hours I’ve had in 2011. Everywhere I turned, there was another dramatic view, and an easy composition to make with my camera. Puerto los Gatos had the most flowers in bloom of any place I’ve visited so far. This makes sense, as it has been the only place with running water. After awhile, I found my rhythm for photography waning, and I put my camera away. It was time to simply sit and take it all in. I let my senses take over, and I didn’t try to focus on anything, but to take it as a whole.
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“Sometimes one has a feeling of fullness, of warm wholeness, wherein every sight and object and odor and experience seems to key into a gigantic whole.” John Steinbeck from “The Log From The Sea of Cortez.”
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Hiking High Onto Isla Santa Catalina
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I finally made it through ten days of night shift. My reward was 18 hours of freedom, and an afternoon at Isla de la Catalina. I’ve written about some of the virtues of Catalina before, about the giant barrel cactus, and the rattle less rattlesnake. This time I mostly want to show you more of the desert beauty that makes up this island. I decided I wanted to hike up high to a nearby high point, which would have elephante rock as my backdrop. Elephante is the elephant looking rock at the point of land near where we anchor. Not only is it very picturesque, but it also has great snorkeling to be had along its underwater ledge rock.

To my knowledge, I was the only person on the whole island. Everyone else had gone snorkeling, but I opted to go hiking instead. I was well ahead and away from the crowds, indeed, nobody else had the inclination to head up into the high country. I love the desert high country. The vistas to I saw were spectacular and I really enjoy climbing straight up the loose gravelly hillsides covered in cactus and shrubs.

My foresight was correct, and I had increasingly elevated views of elephante. I really wanted to show case some of the giant barrel cactus along with the elephant rock. To me, nothing would say Catalina better than this composition. I also was hoping to see the rattlesnake, but it remained unseen.

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The hike was pleasant, peaceful, and perfect. I could also add placid, peak ridden, and parrot free, but that’s just silly. Anyway, the views from the top of the highest point were gorgeous. Almost all of Isla Santa Catalina opened up. From my high point, I saw that a ridgeline led from it to a number of other high points. To the south, I could see the rugged peninsula. I couldn’t see the eastern end of the island, however. To do that, I would’ve had to climb up the high distant ridges, something I wanted to do, but didn’t have time for. As it was, I slipped and fell a few times as I scrambled down to a hidden cove for a refreshing swim in the surging sea. What a great way to end a hike. Too bad, I had to retrace my steps and climb back up the steep cactus covered ridge before slipping and stumbling back down to the drop off area. In the process, I managed to slice my toe open on a sharp rock, but oddly enough, there wasn’t any pain. It just bled a lot. Ah well. So it goes.
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More Whale Sightings
Recently we’ve been getting into some great whale watching. Three days ago, I spent all morning watching humpback whales breeching and fin slapping the water. Whale watching is terrific pastime, especially when you are supposed to be working. The ship was fairly far south, down by the tip of the Baja Peninsula near a place called the “Gorda Banks.” I hadn’t seen humpbacks in a long time, and to see them launching themselves out of the water was a great reintroduction to these magnificent mammals. There were mobius rays going airborne as well, launching themselves completely out of the water with gusto.
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Yesterday, Gray whales surrounded the ship for most of the day. There were five different whale mom and calf pairs making feeding runs by the ship, and in their other favorite spots around upper Magdalena bay. The ship was anchored all day, and our naturalists were giving zodiac tours around the bay to see the whales. I was lucky enough to get aboard when I finished my shift, and I was excited to get to see the Grays from up close. We followed two sets of mother and calves, getting within twenty feet of the surfacing pair. We aren’t there to harass the whales; they were quite indifferent to our boat, which we kept at a safe distance away. What’s really cool about the Gray whale is their curiosity. Sometimes, the whales will approach one of the zodiacs, doing a spy hop to more or less check us out and see what we were. At times, they’ll even approach the boat, allowing people to touch them. Two of my friends were lucky enough to touch a whale yesterday, and I can imagine the experience would be another of my all time great life moments. It is completely dependant on the whale, if they want to come visit you, they will. There is nothing one can do to influence a whale to come close.
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As it was, we watched whales up close for two hours. I’m looking forward to our next visit to “Mag bay” and perhaps, if the stars align, I’ll be able to meet a whale up close and personal.

Onward!

Posted by Rhombus 00:18 Archived in Mexico Tagged birds mexico whales deserts oceans baja photography Comments (2)

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