Mexico / Baja California  / Breakpoints / Cataviña
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Sunday, July 23, 2017

Cataviña

When you ask a Baja expert for the most beautiful landscapes of the peninsula, he or she will not hesitate and certainly put the region around Cataviña on top of the list.

For a real enthusiast traveling southwards, El Rosario, a small town near the coast where the road turns from the coast to the inland, marks the beginning of the exciting part of Baja. Following the route, you will soon understand why: it is a lonely landscape, there are no beaches or blue sea nor fields or meadows, but as a compensation you will find strange stone formations and the most bizarre plants you can imagine.

Cataviña is situated amid the central desert of Baja California, the so-called Desierto Central. An accumulation of a few houses, a small food store, supplemented by the comfortable La Pinta hotel (with its own little gas station), a small, very simple motel and camping facilities on nearby Rancho Isabel. To get to the next towns, you have to drive fairly long distances: to El Rosario to the north 76 miles (122 km), and Guerrero Negro to the south 221 miles (356 km). In former times the world ended here, and the only – slow – means of transportation were mules and very robust wagons. It was not until 1970 that the transpeninsular highway (MEX-1), the traffic axis of Baja California, with an asphalt surface throughout, first allowed people to reach Cataviña comfortably.

The whole region is protected under the name Parque Natural del Desierto Central de Baja California. The exotic vegetation culminates here and makes the Desierto Central a choice place for people with botanical interest. Cirio or Boojum trees, which look like giant carrots with short lateral sprouts and which are said to reach an age of 400 years, grow here as well as huge cardón cacti. Either plant can be up to 60 ft tall and can be found only on the peninsula. They surmount an arrangement of many other strange-looking desert plants such as the bizarre white-stemmed torote or elephant trees, the ocotillos with their thin, whip-like, upward twigs, the modest creosote bushes, the jojoba shrubs, the chollas, opuntias, senitas and dozens of other cacti. In the dry riverbeds, the arroyos, the endemic Mexican blue palm and the Mexican fan palm or skyduster palm are found besides the imported tamarisk. In spring and summer, short showers suffice to cast a spell on the scorched earth, transforming it into a many-colored sea of flowers so that the word “desert” seems completely out of place.

But that‘s not all. The vegetation is integrated in enormous, salmon-colored granite rocks, the remains of an intrusive rock body that has been exposed, cleft and rounded by weathering. The whole landscape makes the impression as if having been shaped by the hands of a giant. Whether short or long, expeditions or walks through this natural rock garden, the Cataviña Boulder Field, are a real delight; for instance, a walk round the town with a visit of the ruins of the Rancho Hernandez and the cave paintings of the Cueva Pintada. Excursions of several hours should, however, only be made with a guide and start early. Major excursions are further not recommended in the months from May to September, because the heat is unbearable then. Sunrise and sunset are of an incomparable beauty and exhibit a panorama of the most unreal colors in the mostly cloudless desert sky.