By Graham Mackintosh
Exactly 43-years ago, on a visit from England, I hitched the length of the Baja peninsula and fell totally under its spell. When I arrived in Bahía de los Ángeles and gazed out at the beautiful bay with its many islands I was blown away with its beauty. My feelings haven’t changed since.
Every season in Bahía holds its delights, but it’s hard to beat spring when the desert is graced with floral color as it was this year.
I traveled with my four Baja bears, gifts of the universe whilst social distancing on remote beaches and islands during the pandemic. And smiling Paddy, my first bear, was coming home, I found him on the beach there in the bay two-years-ago on my birthday.
Leaving my home in La Misión, just north of Ensenada, at 9:30 AM, I drove south and east over the mountains on Highway 3, almost 120-miles, joining Highway 5 north of San Felipe.
I chose to go that way because the new, wide-open Highway 3 “bypass,” beginning a couple of miles up the Tecate road from the coast and Highway 1, completely skirts Ensenada with all its traffic and construction delays!
I was not stopped at the military checkpoint near Ojos Negros, and had just a quick couple of friendly questions at the one approaching the San Felipe-Mexicali road.
Apart from San Felipe, there was little traffic and barely a stop sign the whole route! Highway 5 south of San Felipe offers wonderful views of the coast and the Enchanted Islands.
I was soon back on Highway 1… and then on the sideroad to LA Bay. Highway 1 was in great shape. The road to LA Bay starts in decent shape but beware, especially from around km 20 to past the San Borja turn… there were numerous crumbling patches and potholes you do not want to hit at speed. And watch out for oncoming traffic avoiding these potentially damaging potholes and throwing up stones! I arrived in Bahía de los Ángeles at 5:00 PM.
Thanks to my friends, fellow Discover Baja members Mike and Cindy Essary, I had use of their beachside residence at Angelitos a mile south of town.
Wind can be a big factor in Bahía de los Ángeles. Some days are gorgeously calm and blue… and others wild and dangerous. There are now usually very accurate, informative long-range weather forecasts on sites such as windfinder.com and windy.com.
I planned to enjoy a lot of hiking and photographing, and when the wind allowed… kayaking on my Cobra Fish N’ Dive sit-on-top. Most days I hiked to the summit of nearby Cerro Angelitos, “Red Mountain,” easily visible from town, to enjoy breathtaking views of the bay and the islands. I liked to linger on top with my thoughts and memories.
Soaking up the rays one day… I was joined by a friendly basking collared lizard. Seemed we were both enjoying the sun and working on our spots!
The desert was in gorgeous bloom… yellow Baja California suncups waved in profusion… as did brittlebush, lupines and the tiny white flowers of Crypthantha maritima. With the aid of 3 fine plant field guides I was able to identify most of the flowers.
With the sun sinking behind “Mike’s Mountain,” the tall mountain rising above the pueblo of Bahía de los Ángeles, the wind became stronger, and the clouds streamed more from the west. I paid my final respects to the cross on the summit and headed down to prepare for the night.
Rain and storms in Southern California are often associated with clouds pouring over the mountains above town… and potentially strong, dangerous, west winds, blowing offshore from the desert. With forecasts showing gusts over 30 mph, I weighed down the kayak and made sure nothing could blow away.
As forecast, a strong west wind rattled the house overnight, then eased towards dawn. I woke to a calm, sunny LA Bay morning.
I paddled across the bay to the sandspit and lighthouse less than a mile in front of town. It makes a perfect stop for a kayaker. The sandspit creates a sheltered bay within a bay and is a great place to birdwatch.
When the wind picked up from the east, we ran back with it. I had to put the bears in their “wetsuit.” It was getting a little choppy. Close to shore, vultures were taking an interest in us, perhaps thinking they might have easy pickings if we capsized.
On a flat, calm morning with all forecasts suggesting just a moderate breeze in the afternoon, I paddled a couple of miles over to Isla Ventana… and enjoyed pulling the kayak ashore and peeking through “the window!” After exploring Ventana, and paddling around a few more islands, we came back with the breeze from the north. Even though the wind did half the work, I looked back with satisfaction on a ten-mile trip, losing a little weight and getting a little fitter.
Next morning, I was content to enjoy a relaxing coastal “cruise”… there were many loons in the bay and lots of birds close to shore… great blue herons, reddish egrets, ospreys, mergansers, terns, grebes, cormorants and pelicans.
Night paddles can be amazing. A calm, moonless night offered the perfect opportunity to enjoy the bioluminescence so often seen in these waters. I paddled slowly south into the dark silence, heading towards the dramatic constellation Scorpio. The moving kayak was glowing, and I was sending back galaxies of green with each paddle stroke.
A brilliant Milky Way reflected in the sea. Fish were leaving sudden flashes of light beneath the kayak… and shooting stars streaked above. It was mesmerizing.
I was surprised by a huge splash nearby… then wingbeats… a pelican fishing at night by bioluminescence! Satellites appeared towards dawn. I paddled back towards the lights of town to see the welcome glow of another splendid Bahia sunrise adding color as we watched and heard the town coming alive.
During a day of strong winds, I followed the route of the 120-year-old mine railway from Red Mountain up towards the higher mountains inland. For a long stretch, it runs as straight as a knife slash into the desert. Photographing wildflowers was more challenging in the breeze. Fortunately, there were many cacti and sturdy trees and shrubs in bloom.
One lovely Saturday morning… I took a quick pre-breakfast dash up Red Mountain, contemplating views from old Indian “sleeping circles” and reveling in the changing light and meditative grandeur on top. The route of the mine railway I hiked the previous day was clearly visible below.
Spring was in the air and so were many orange-and-black blister beetles (Lytta magister)… others were happily working on the next generation while dining on the yellow flowers of brittlebush.
Fresh air, sunshine, exercise, peace, photography… it was how I rode out Covid, and my idea of a great wholesome “vacation.”
The day before I left was a calm, blue-sky 80F day. I was on full rattlesnake alert, enjoying an unhurried hike along the side of Red Mountain. The blister beetle lovefest was coming to an end… just a few love bugs were left on the brittlebush. It was comical to see them hooked up and trying to head in different directions.
Other bugs were more conspicuous on the flowers… beetles and many small bees and flies. With camo yellow spiders eager to grab lunch, they had to be careful.
I didn’t want to leave. Bahía de los Ángeles at this time of year is a joy to experience and photograph. Looking forward to returning in a week or two.