Baja California Sur
Baja California Sur is the second-smallest state in Mexico, located on a narrow peninsula that broke away from the mainland as a result of tectonic activity about two million years ago. On my recent visit there, I attended a writing workshop in Todos Santos, a charming little town populated with funky gringos and local fishermen. It's a palm-lined oasis ringed with high desert and spring-filled mountains that sustain an abundance of flora and fauna, including more than 125 plant species that are not found anywhere else in the world. I am eager to return to visit Sierra de la Laguna, a unique biosphere in the mountains that is home to both the only dry jungle and the only pine-oak forest in Baja.
Though my time was largely occupied with the workshop, I was able to get away one afternoon for a hike in the hills just outside Todos Santos, overlooking the small beach where the fishermen launch their boats. Gray and humpback whales both arrive in the area in late winter and could be seen breaching far out to sea. The Small-Leaf Elephant Tree (Bursera microphylla), above, has an aromatic resin that smells like turpentine. Locals use the bark for tanning and dyeing and make a tea from the twigs to treat stomach ailments.
At this time of year, not a great deal was in bloom, though there were a few intense splashes of color from small wildflowers. The tiny flowers of the Small-Seed Sandmat (Euphorbia polycarpa) spread out against the dry, dusty ground like a living carpet.
Bird-life was plentiful and exciting. I saw iridescent hummingbirds, California quail, the exquisite gilded flicker (a kind of woodpecker with golden feathers underneath), bright yellow hooded orioles and the small Mexican eagle. The graceful white-winged dove (Zenaida asiatica) has a pale wing patch that appears as a brilliant crescent in flight.
The gray thrasher (Toxostoma cinereum) is endemic to the Baja California peninsula. It lives in desert scrub, feeding on insects, spiders and scorpions, as well as on the fruits of cacti and other plants.