Thursday, June 26, 2008

Desert Series #4 - The Magdalena Plains

The fourth and final sub-region of the Sonoran Desert that encompasses land area on the Baja California Peninsula is the Magdalena Plains.

The other three segments were described in these previous blog entries:
Desert Series #1 - The Vizcaino Desert
Desert Series #2 - The San Felipe Desert
Desert Series #3 - Gulf Coast Deserts.

The Magdalena Plains sub-region lies south of the Vizcaino Desert(a designated Biosphere Reserve) and is the souternmost region of the Sonoran Desert. Located along the coastal plains and in the foothills this area receives less than 3 inches of rain a year, almost exclusively in the summer months from tropical storms.

The primary plant endemic to this area is the creeping devil (Stenocereus eruca) cacti, which literally grows along the desert floor. Thornscrub and other tropical plants, trees and shrubs can be found in the rocky inland foothills.

Author of Viva La Baja! Relocation Guide to the Baja California Peninsula, available to order at

Monday, June 16, 2008

Desert Series #3 - Gulf Coast Deserts

The Gulf Coast section of the Sonoran Desert extends from Bahia Los Angeles along the Sea of Cortez to the tip of the Peninsula (San Jose del Cabo). The further south you travel in Baja the hotter (generally speaking)it gets, with temperatures on the Sea of Cortez side approximately 10 degrees higher than the Pacific Coast. Summertime temperatures in the Gulf Coast Desert region often rise above 100F. Sizzling hot.

The mountain ranges on the Peninsula create a rain shadow effect on the Sea of Cortez side protecting it from winter rains. Much of the moisture found in this area comes from tropical storms during hurricane season. These tropical storms, or chubascos as they are also called, can have winds reaching speeds of up to 200 kph.

Cardon cacti are prevalent on the Gulf Coast often in large tracts. They are less dominant in desert forests north as they can not survive the winter frosts. Other trees in the Gulf Coast Desert include palo verde, ocotillo, ironwood and elephant trees. There are few small shrubs in this region as there shallow root systems and lack of water storage don't survive the long droughts that can last several years.

Molly, author of Viva La Baja! Relocation Guide to the Baja California Peninsula

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Desert Series #2 - The San Felipe Desert

The other primary desert region in the Baja California Peninsula (in addition to the Vizcaino Desert) is the San Felipe Desert. According to Brittanica Encyclopedia Online, "Areas with a mean annual precipitation of 10 in. (250 mm) or less are generally considered deserts". They take up one-third of the Earth's land surface.

The San Felipe Desert is located in the northeastern portion of the Sonoran Desert. The Sonoran Desert is approximately 120,000 square miles and covers area in Arizona, California, Baja and Sonora, Mexico. This eastern desert area is drier than the Vizcaino region to the west and vegetation is sparse.

Over 140 species of cacti can be found in the Sonoran Desert, with an abundance of Cardon Cacti in the San Felipe desert region. Cardon Cacti are the largest cacti species (growing up to 70 ft high and weighing up to 25 tons) and have been estimated to live over 300 years. A previous blog entry describing the difference between Cardon Cacti and the similar-looking Saguaro Cacti can be found here: Cardon Cacti & Saguaro Cacti - One in the Same?

A popular tourist attraction in San Felipe is the natural Cardon Cacti reserve with many specimens to oogle and awe over. One of these was transported to Seville, Spain in 1992 for an exhibit in the World's Fair. Here is a fun read of the trials and tribulations transporting a giant cacti across the world, complete with original photos: The Cardon of '92.

The tourist town (with many relocated expats) of San Felipe is one of many in Baja where the desert - San Felipe region of the larger Sonoran Desert - truly does meet the sea (Sea of Cortez), unlike anywhere else in the world.

Molly, author of Viva La Baja! Relocation Guide to the Baja California Peninsula