Isla Partida to Isla Angel de la Guarda, April 7th 2006.

In the morning the sky was clear and blue, there was no wind and the sea was calm. This is the kind of weather I prefer to find in Baja. We launched and decided to explore the south end of Isla Partida instead of taking the shortest route around the north end. Going this way took us past some spectacular basalt formations and a few caves. The basalt was fractured in hexagonal columns, but the columns looked like they had been extruded in different curvy directions. In some places the columns had stuck out into the weather and been worn down into soft looking bumps by wind and waves. We started our crossing towards Isla Angel de la Guarda without exploring the northwest side of Isla Partida despite a nice looking cove there.

The crossing this morning was only 8 miles which we quickly put behind us. With our GPS units we could tell that we were getting set to the east by around a mile an hour. The tide was supposed to be going our way, but between islands it is difficult to predict what the current will really do. After our crossing we landed on Isla Angel de la Guarda for a rest break and then started paddling up the east shore. My original float plan for this trip had us doing a long day and camping as soon as we made here. However, breaking the crossing up the way we did meant that we had time to go a few more miles on this day. I told my friends about the beautiful white sand beach at Punta Cerro Prieto near Punta Vibora. The beaches on both sides are yellow sand, but for some reason the sand between two rocky points is a beautiful white with electric blue water lapping on it. I convinced them to go an extra few miles to find this nice campsite.

As we approached the beach we saw what looked like a tent behind the dunes. I landed and went to check it out, finding two tents, a table and a lot of other camping gear. We set up our camp closer to the water. I had forgotten that although the beach is white sand, the first berm above the water is made out of gravel. I love camping on gravel because it does not follow you into your tent and your sleeping bag like sand does. Some people like camping on sand, so everyone was happy and this beautiful beach turned out to be a very nice place to camp.

While we were still setting up camp, someone came hiking over from the next point west. I figured it was our neighbors in the tents behind the beach. However, it turned out to be someone completely different. Not only that but Don Fleming recognized him! Our visitor was John Weed, a kayak guide/instructor from the San Francisco Bay area. He was one of the kayakers on a well publicized northern California expedition done by Paul McHugh, San Francisco Chronicle Outdoors Writer. Another kayaker on that trip was Bo Barnes. Bo had recently given a talk about that trip so the name John Weed sounded familiar to all of us.

John Weed is a very interesting person and he enthralled us for hours talking about kayaking and Baja until we were late to start cooking dinner. To save on rent when it is not the kayaking season in the Bay Area, he often comes down and spends his winters living on the islands in the Gulfo de California out of his kayak. I had come on this trip looking for a valley where it might be possible to live for a while. What I found was someone who lived here for months! How does he do it? He was glad to show us. He has a high-tech device in his kayak that makes it all possible: A hand pumped water desalinator. He explained how he used to be dependant on water that he carried like we were. But that limits how long you can stay and often makes you head back in unsafe weather conditions to get more fresh water. He says that having a desalinator gives him incredible peace of mind. He can sit out any weather for any length of time until it is safe to paddle again. He is also an incredibly fast paddler who used to win kayak races in the Bay Area. So he can zip between the islands in incredibly short times. Two years ago I paddled across the Gulfo de California to the Mexican mainland and back. This was a once-in-a-lifetime event for me. But John Weed was considering paddling over to the mainland in a day or two just to check his email. He can go there any time he feels like it. He has me thinking about getting a desalinator of my own and really doing the romantic ideal of living on a desert island. We explained our Quest to find the Valley of the Palms to John Weed, and he knew right where it was. He offered to join us to go visit it the next day and be our local guide.

Then we met Larry, one of our neighbors on the other side of the dunes. Larry and Thomas are anthropologists studying cairns and other remains left behind by the Indians who lived on these islands long ago. I asked Lary what the Indians did for water, and he says that the climate was a little wetter back then. It turns out that Thomas Bowen (who we never got to talk to) has published a book about the local Indians, “Unknown Island, Seri Indians, Europeans, and San Esteban Island in the Gulf of California” University of New Mexico Press. I exclaimed that I loved Isla San Esteban and had to get a copy of that book! Larry warned me that it was a small academic printing of only a few thousand books. It would be difficult to find a copy and it was probably dry reading. But when I got home I ran to a computer and looked it up on Several used copies were available and I ordered myself one. I cannot wait to start reading it!

Larry pointed out cairns, piles of rocks, on all the nearby hills. These, he says, were put there by the native Seri Indians. I always thought that they were put there by bored Mexican panga fishermen when the weather pinned them to a beach. But once Larry pointed them out to us we saw them everywhere. He says that there are cairns on top of hills miles inland and he suspects that no panga fisherman has ever been THAT bored. These cairns were especially easy to see silhouetted against the evening sky and every hill seemed to have a binary code of bumps on it. One theory is that they were put there as location identifying markers.

All text and images Copyright © 2006 by Mike Higgins / contact