La Paz & Espiritu Santo Island

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A long time before the first humans appeared on a beach in the Baja California peninsula, a cataclysm shook the part of the globe where we now live. Water levels came and went, mountains rose skyward and subsided, water flooded, and at the end of a certain amount of time pieces of land, miniscule in the overall scheme of things, sat alone in the middle of a turquoise sea. Then in recent history a pair of these islands acquired names: Isla Espiritu Santo and Isla Partida.
These islands are two only in that a narrow channel of water which can be waded across at low tide. They stretch twenty miles along their north-south axis, and are a mere six miles across at their widest point. Hikers can easily cross in an hour. Located only twenty miles from the metropolis of La Paz, Baja California Sur, Islas Espiritu Santo and Partida draw tourists and residents alike, because they offer many outdoor activities.

The islands are mostly layers of black lava and volcanic ash. On the eastern side of Isla Partida steep and rocky cliffs drop sheer into the water. Within a half mile of the eastern shore, the water’s depth is 50 fathoms. The broken cliffs are a geology at there best, with obvious signs of faulting and “major inconformities”.Only one or two rocky beaches on the north side of the beach can be used to land a skiff, and only the indentation between the two islands is an acceptable anchorage for cruising boats.

On the western side of the islands, the layered geology is equally interesting. Look for places where the layers of softer ash have been cut by rivers and filled in by subsequent lava flows, or where a softer layer has eroded beneath a harder, pinkish colors over the rocky cliffs. While the study of the island geology is an attraction to some, boating, fishing, camping, hiking, snorkeling, scuba diving, and the study of natural history draws others.
The gently inclined western shore of both islands is like the fingers of a spread hand, a series of rocky points separated by deep, shallow bays. The fine-grained and coralline beach sand is a white. The water is a beautiful turquoise as clear as the the mind can imagine. Winter water temperatures may drop to 68 degrees, but from July through October it climbs to over 80. Reef fish abound along the rocky shores leading away from the head of each bay. Angelfish, wrasse, Moorish idols, the chameleon-like trumpetfish, groupers, red snappers, parriot fish and more, large and small, drab and brightdart or drift, according to their natures.Sealion calfs play over the shallow reefs and the rainbow wrasse will nibble on your legs.Many of the angel fish also change colors as they mature. The parrotfish, named for its horny beak-like mouth and brilliant colors, is blue-green, even inside of its mouth.

Beaches on the south and southeastern end of Isla Espiritu Santo is excellent for shell collectors. Do you want to make your own puka-shell necklace? Scooch along the lower tide line on the tiny south beach of Bonanza Bay and you should find enough shells (it takes about 150 of them) in a couple of hours. Search the beaches thoroughly in February and March to find an unbroken paper nautilus shell.Brightly colored rock faces of Espritu SantosEach beach is backed by a canyon, steep on Isla Partida, and gentle in inclination at the southern end of Isla Espiritu Santo.Behind the southern beaches are mangrove swamps in which brackish water rises and falls with the tide.
Brown pelicans nest on Isla Espiritu Santo and on the rocky islets off shore in the late winter and early spring, the nests untidy bowls of rough twigs looking hardly comfortable for the hatchlings.

Beaches backed by steep arroyos are great for hiker.Here on one small pair of islands is a microcosm of the desert peninsula as a whole.The arroyos are waterless except for a few weeks or days after summer rains.However, permanent water in the well hand-chipped through rock in the lower section of the canyon in Candelero Bay, and the giant zalate (wild fig) trees, palo de arco, and Miguelito vine, show the presence of year-round underground water; and caves further up canyon attest to the strength of falling water over time.Farther up the canyon, typical desert growth takes over, all the scrubby, hardy, thornful plants which have adapted their habits to long seasons of drought.
Embudo canyon, at the northern tip of Isla Partida, ends abruptly at the edge of a volcanic fault cliff.Below the cliff lies a dry lake large enough to accommodate an airstrip.The gently sloping bowl grows waist high grass in the rainy season and the ground later is littered with the droppings of feral goats and black jackrabbits, the only two mammals of any size living on the islands.These jackrabbits are found nowhere else in the world, and one wonders why a dark-coated jackrabbit has evolved in a hot climate, where you’d think a lighter coat would be more efficient. Snakes and lizards and dozens of small insects inhabit the islands. Beyond the north point of the islands lies Los Islotes, a jewel with its own facets. Observe the sea lion colony from a boat; or snorkle towards shore until the young sea lions and the females swim out from the rocks greet you.
Rock bluff on the south end of Espiritu Santos island out beyond the arms of the bay schools of porpoise play and feed, and in their seasons other cetaceans: orcas, California Gray whales, fin and sei whales, sperm and humpbacks, and the giant of them all, the blue whale, which migrates into the Sea of Cortez in February and March.
A visit of a day is not enough in which to find all the treasures this pair of small island has to offer. Wherever your interests lie, you will find something to draw you back again and again to this fascinating place on earth and only a few hours north of La Paz.

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