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Reading Baja: 5 Classic Books about the Baja California Peninsula

Books about the Baja California peninsula (and ones that utilize it as a setting) have been appearing regularly for hundreds of years, from landmarks like Francisco Clavijero’s Historia de la Antigua o Baja California to 20th century standards such as The Pearl and Sea of Cortez.

Literary offerings from Steinbeck and others of similar prestige have always been easy to find, but for too long acquiring the important regional works of lesser known authors was a daunting task, requiring wit, wisdom and the patience to scan the shelves of innumerable bookstores.

Luckily, the internet shopping age has brought many of the classics of Baja California literature back to light, and made them readily accessible to a new generation of readers. Here are five favorites – some famous, some relatively obscure – all available through Amazon and other online booksellers.

books about the Baja California peninsulaHistoria de Baja California by Pablo L. Martinez

“The origin of the word California, or rather when and how it was applied as a name to the peninsula, appears to be obscure, speaking from a purely historical point of view. It is not known, of course, whether Fortún Jiménez, the discoverer, or some other person among those who went with him, gave it a name. On the other hand, we have seen that when Cortez went there he called it Santa Cruz and nothing else.”

There is a reason Pablo L. Martinez is honored at the Jardín de los Cabeños Ilustres in San José del Cabo (he was born in nearby Santa Anita), and at the Rotonda de los Sudcalifornianos Ilustres in La Paz. His Historia de Baja California is the most complete and exhaustively researched book every written about “old Baja,” from the language and customs of indigenous tribes to the building of Spanish missions and the political movements of the first half of the 20th century. First published in 1956 (the English edition followed in 1960), this is an essential resource for anyone interested in the history and development of the Baja California peninsula. Unlike other Baja histories, which often rely on legends and lore, Martinez’s magnum opus is based on archival records, first-person accounts, and the documented finds of other noted historians. His companion volume, Guía Familiar de Baja California, 1700 – 1900, is the bible of Baja genealogists, tracing as it does the histories of the peninsula’s pioneer families.

books about the Baja California peninsula

The Journey of the Flame by Antonio de Fierro Blanco

“‘Shut up, Bonehead!’ whispered his mate. ‘They’ll think you locoed by the sun, and souse a bucket of water over your thick skull. It’s Don Juan Obrigon – Juan Colorado. Or perhaps you’ve heard him called Red John.’

“‘Or The Flame,’ suggested an aged Indian politely. ‘When I handled a bowstring, he once destroyed the warriors of a wild tribe by fire, which sprang from the earth at his command. They perished in flame while he rode on, not even looking back to see whether any survived to chase him.’”

Looking for “The Great Baja Novel?” Written under the rather florid pen name Antonio de Fierro Blanco, this picaresque tale is actually the work of wealthy American businessman Walter Nordhoff, who fell in love with Baja California while managing an enormous ranch his father owned on the peninsula. Although he is perhaps best known as a father himself – of Charles Nordhoff, who co-authored The Bounty Trilogy (including Mutiny on the Bounty) with James Norman Hall – Walter was a brilliant writer in his own right, as evidenced by The Journey of the Flame. The hero of the novel is an extraordinarily vital red-headed centenarian named Don Juan Obrigon, who recounts an adventure from his boyhood, when he accompanied the Spanish viceroy to California on an epic journey by burro from San José del Cabo to San Francisco. This incredible journey, which takes place in the year 1810, includes stops at many of the peninsula’s most notable towns, with each layover an occasion for Nordhoff to showcase his vast knowledge of the language and local customs of 19th century Baja Califonia residents. First published in 1933, this book is justly considered a masterpiece of California literature, and it has inspired generations of readers to set off on their own Baja adventures.

books about the Baja California peninsula

Explorations in Lower California by J. Ross Browne and Spencer Murray

“At Cape St. Lucas we were told that San Jose was the great place for mules; at San Jose, it was Triunfo that offered the peculiar advantages; at Triunfo, La Paz was the chief market; at La Paz we were recommended to defer our purchases till our arrival at Todos Santos; and here we found but few mules, and none in good condition.”

Ross Browne’s peripatetic career included a stint as a confidential agent (read: spy) for the U.S. Treasury Department, and it has been speculated that the purpose of his 1866 trip to Baja California wasn’t merely to evaluate an option on land grant for the Lower California Company of New York, but to evaluate the suitability of the peninsula for annexation by the United States. México would have had something to say about that, of course, but considering that the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo – in which the U.S. was ceded all or parts of present day California, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming and Colorado for cash considerations – was signed only 18 years earlier, it wasn’t exactly a far-fetched idea. Browne’s account of his travels in Lower California includes occasionally poetic, and often dryly humorous descriptions of life and the political climate in places like Cabo San Lucas, San José del Cabo, Todos Santos and La Paz. But his blunt opinions make it clear what he really thinks of the region’s long-term outlook. The best edition of this historical account includes commentary from Spencer Murray a century later, in 1966. Murray was an early promoter of Baja California, and his books Cruising the Sea of Cortez and Power-Boating the West Coast of Mexico helped popularize the peninsula as a tourist destination.

books about the Baja California peninsula

Sea of Cortez: A Leisurely Journal of Travel and Research by John Steinbeck and Edward F. Ricketts

“The real picture of how it had been there and how we had been there was in our minds, bright with sun and wet with sea water and blue or burned, and the whole crusted over with exploring thought. Here was no service to science, no naming of animals, but rather – we simply liked it. We liked it very much. The brown Indians and the gardens of the sea, and the beer and the work, they were all one thing and we were that one thing too.”

The Log from the Sea of Cortez is probably the best known book ever written about Baja California, although it actually only an abridged version of an earlier work – Sea of Cortez. The Log keeps Steinbeck’s narrative observations, but jettisons most of the notes on specimen collecting and marine biology that were the prime motivators of the six-week expedition undertaken by Steinbeck and his friend Ed Ricketts – the inspiration for the character Doc in Cannery Row – aboard the Western Flyer in 1940. Literature lovers will want to read the original, while casual readers can content themselves with Steinbeck’s musings on boats, beer and Baja as it was just before the U.S. and Mexican entry into World War II. Equal parts travelogue, scientific journal and philosophical treatise, Sea of Cortez offers keen insights into the sea itself – “ferocious with life” in Steinbeck’s memorable phrase – as well as light-hearted ruminations on such things as the faithlessness of the Hansen Sea-Cow outboard motor, the beauty and maddening elusiveness of Sally Lightfoot crabs, and the sad state of Cabo San Lucas following a devastating storm (the latter sure to evoke a sense of retroactive déjà vu in those who experienced the wrath of Hurricane Odile in 2014).

books about the Baja California peninsula

The Unforgettable Sea of Cortez: Baja California’s Golden Age 1947 – 1977, The Life and Writings of Ray Cannon by Gene S. Kira

“Many of the early entrepreneurs of the modern age were airplane pilots of the World War II era who established fly-in fishing resorts on the shores of the Sea of Cortez. The very first pioneers of this group included Abelardo L. ‘Rod’ Rodriguez of Rancho Las Cruces, Ed Tabor of the Flying Sportsmen Lodge, Herb Tansey of Rancho Buena Vista, and Luis Cóppola Bonillas of the Hotel Los Arcos in La Paz. Whether by coincidence or by historical imperative, all four of these former pilots opened their businesses within a few months of each other between 1950 and 1952.”

Despite its surfeit of subtitles – the book might more concisely be called A Celebration of Ray Cannon – this lovingly crafted biography will have special appeal for those who traveled to Baja before the days of paved roads and luxury resorts. Few did more to promote and popularize Baja California in the 1950s and 60s than Cannon, a former Hollywood actor and director whose second act as a columnist for the Western Outdoor News and best-selling author of The Sea of Cortez helped usher in the peninsula’s golden age of tourism. Cannon was a lifelong fisherman – his other notable book was How to Fish the Pacific Coast – and his tales of extraordinary catches south of the border were hugely influential in the success of some of the early fly-in fishing resorts. Kira, himself an accomplished writer on Baja subjects, stitches together a colorful narrative, interspersed with passages from some of Cannon’s old columns, and accompanied by a treasure trove of old photographs that were donated by Cannon’s wife Carla Laemmle. Although Cannon’s own The Sea of Cortez is more properly considered a classic Baja California book, Kira’s historical perspective on Cannon and the peninsula’s development as a whole make this volume a better introduction to one of the region’s most fascinating eras.

 

 

Baja.com is a comprehensive online source of first-hand travel information for the Baja California Peninsula, supported by a full-service tour operator staffed by Baja locals (our “Baja Travel Savants”). We offer Baja travelers expert advice about localrestaurants,  hotels  and vacation rentals, as well as guides, maps and articles about events, sports and activities. We provide bilingual customer support, information and sales seven days a week, 365 days a year.  For more information, please call toll-free (US/CAN) 855-BAJA-411 or email us at info@baja.com.

 

Destination Viewing: New TV Travel Series Showcases Baja California Sur

We’re ready for our close-up, Mr. DeMille.

Eight months after Hurricane Odile made landfall in Los Cabos and rampaged up the center of Baja California Sur, the peninsula’s southernmost state has not only recovered, but is ready for a star turn in a highly anticipated new entertainment venture.

DBS1

Destination Baja Sur will showcase the beauty of the peninsula’s southernmost state, and be the most widely distributed travel and adventure show on television when it premieres in January 2016.

Destination Baja Sur – a Bill Boyce hosted television series showcasing the region’s many charms – begins shooting on May 28, and will premiere in January 2016.

The documentary/reality driven Destination Baja Sur will be the most widely distributed travel and adventure show on television, airing multiple times per week on several channels across the U.S. and Canada.

In total, the 13 season one episodes are expected to be shown 336 times during the calendar year, each reaching up to 128 million homes on NBC Sports, World Fishing Network, and the Pursuit Channel.

The half-hour show will also be seen internationally on Wild TV Africa, and Apple TV offers world-wide exposure: all the tech behemoth’s devices can access the series via iTunes, including MacBooks, iPhones, iPads and iPods.

Marine biologist, expert angler, and long-time Baja resident Bill Boyce has signed on to serve as host and executive producer for Destination Baja Sur. The award-winning face of several previous outdoor adventure series, Boyce will share his knowledge and passion during all 13 season one episodes, introducing viewers to the people and places of Baja California Sur – from small fishing villages to upscale resort areas…from historical monuments in Loreto and La Paz to 5-star accommodations and boisterous nightlife in Los Cabos.

The show’s presence on several high-profile platforms promises a staggering amount of publicity for the state, not only in terms of original content, but also exposure to an enormous international pool of viewers who know little about the region.

If the series simply achieves its stated goal – to inspire viewers to travel throughout Baja California Sur – it will markedly increase already rising tourism numbers (Mexico has the biggest spike in travelers worldwide last year), and act as a de facto marketing vehicle for Baja Sur based businesses: most notably, those that have signed up to sponsor the show.

Few know the promotional benefits of such exposure as well as Chef Brian Solomon, who saw business at his restaurant on the Cabo San Lucas Marina, Solomon’s Landing, increase 35% after it was featured on Guy Fieri’s Food Network show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives several years ago. Solomon is now an associate producer on Destination Baja Sur.

“This is real, it’s happening, and it’s a tremendous opportunity,” Solomon said when addressing Los Cabos media members at a recent press conference about the show.

Sponsorship is available on multiple levels, from integrated placement and pop-up branding to commercials at the beginning and end of each episode. But time is running out, as production and shooting begin on May 28. For more information, call (661) 202-0080, email boyceimage@msn.com, or visit www.destinationbajasur.com. In Cabo San Lucas, email Enrique Rivera at marketing@ solomonslandingrestaurant.com.

 

Baja.com is a comprehensive online source of first-hand travel information for the Baja California Peninsula, supported by a full-service tour operator staffed by Baja locals (our “Baja Travel Savants”). We offer Baja travelers expert advice about localrestaurants,  hotels  and vacation rentals, as well as guides, maps and articles about events, sports and activities. We provide bilingual customer support, information and sales seven days a week, 365 days a year.  For more information, please call toll-free (US/CAN) 855-BAJA-411 or email us at info@baja.com.

 

The Baja Renaissance

By Jim Pickell, CEO Baja.com

2012 marks the end of the Mayan calendar for Baja’s indigenous neighbors. This timely transition neatly marks the blossoming a new era for Baja California. The region is undergoing an explosion of creativity and innovation. This is Baja’s Renaissance, being led by a diverse and eclectic group of Baja denizens, collaborating with pilgrims from the international community, many discovering and rediscovering this Mecca. Baja has a renewed lease on life, and there’s a tantalizing possibility that this one will not be fueled by an unsustainable bubble of cruisers and spring-breakers, but rather led by visionaries and philosophers, poets and professionals, artists and scientists, with the only common thread being their efforts to weave the Baja lifestyle into their vision.

Approximately 7.5 million people around the world Google the word “Baja” each month. What are they searching for?  Baja is experiencing a renewed interest in its landscape, artisans, its environment, its lifestyle and how its citizens achieve wellness. It’s touching the entire peninsula. The interest in Baja is reminiscent of the Arabic folktale, “The Man Who Became Rich through a Dream”. The protagonist traveled on a worldwide quest, on the faith of a dream, searching for riches. Imprisoned, broke and penniless, a sympathetic policeman gives him money to return to his home. It was there he discovered a great treasure, one that had always been buried beneath the fountain in his own garden

Look to the city many would perceive to be the least suspecting candidate, Tijuana. The world’s busiest border shapes the views of more visitors than any other region. Artistic murals are now being installed over the graffiti. Much like the flower became a symbol of peace in times of war; could this gateway one day reflect what Baja has to offer? Within Tijuana proper, restaurants the likes of Mision 19 have captured international acclaim as Mexican food is becoming one of the world’s favorites. Right beneath our palettes, Tijuana is becoming to food what Seattle was to grunge music, with rivals in other Baja regions. The city now boasts its first LEED certified building, drawing international attention with its “bridges and skylights, a vast airy central chamber, and an aluminum skin to filter out ultraviolet rays.”  And the Business Innovation and Technology Center launched several months ago, promising a steady stream of thought leaders.

The world is taking note. At the other end of the peninsula, San Jose del Cabo hosting the G20 this summer, a landmark event for Baja. While it may be a political ploy to send the message that the coast is indeed clear. The fact is, it just may work since the coast is clear. But behind any smoke and mirrors, something real is happening and it’s a people’s movement. California, long viewed as forward-looking in protecting the environment, is now finding itself struggling to duplicate the groundbreaking success that Baja California Sur achieved in recovering the sensitive marine zone at the Cabo Pulmo Marine Park. There are efforts in both Tijuana and Los Cabos to develop some of the leading stem cell centers in the world, promising the fountain of youth that many have believed could be found in Baja for decades. Out of necessity, Baja is home to among the most advanced drip irrigation in the world. And among the next generation, many “entrepreneurs by necessity”, there are new concepts surfacing in marine biology, LEED certified development, organic farming, experiential travel, voluntourism, nomadic schools, agrotourism, medical tourism, and yes, even novel ways of making us love fresh roasted Mexican grown, organic coffee.

Baja is a lifestyle brand but it’s so much more. Baja living is the caveman diet of life. And this is what attracts these creative forces. At its core it’s about simplicity and authenticity, reminding travelers why they travel in the first place. People who can think out of the box have learned what Baja has to offer beyond the all-inclusive resorts and beneath the sandy surface and that’s the draw. Baja has long been the benefactor of the worldwide brain drain of creativity, an exodus of artists that have left their homes for Baja. Charles Stewart of Todos Santos (may he rest in peace) was one of the founding fathers of this movement in 1985. Now Baja California is becoming a gastronomical geo-center for foodies and wine connoisseurs around the world. Anthony Bourdain recently referred to Baja as “the new Tuscany” at a recent speaking engagement. Almost 90% of Mexican wine, many vintages and varietals winning awards around the world, come from the Guadalupe Valley and surrounding region, an area still untainted by the commercialism found in other wine regions. In Los Cabos, artwalks and organic markets are now common place, with the once little known Flora Farms becoming an epicenter. “[T]here’s some awesome shit going on down there right now. They got tired of waiting for the Americans to come back and just started making really great, really creative food. . . . Something amazing’s happening” said Anthony.

 Ultimately a big component to the direction this takes comes down to tourism. Contrary to assumptions one may draw from US headlines, Mexico was recently ranked the 10th most traveled country in the world. It’s also the second most rapidly growing country in Latin America, even while weaning off its GDP’s dependence on oil. And as impressive as Mexico’s rise through the ranks, Baja is one of its fastest growing regions in Mexico, whether defined by tourism or industrialization. Did you know Ensenada  boasts the highest preponderance of advanced academic degrees… in all of Latin America? Historically Baja California has been more integrated with the United States than just about any region in Central America. And while there’s no dispute that travel from the US has declined in recent years, the rest of the world is largely ignoring the US media. Travel from Canada grew over 50% in the last five years. More rapid growth is being experienced from Asia. And visitors love what they are discovering and the more adventurous stay.

Not only do Baja Californians make incredibly kind hosts, Baja has a plethora to offer, both natural and manmade. Baja California is home to a World Heritage site, the Gulf of California, which contains 39% of the world’s species of marine mammals and a third of the world’s marine cetacean. Baja is home of the Picacho del Diablo, a 10,154 foot mountain that’s a challenging climb; the oldest cave painting ever discovered on this continent; Catavina national park that rivals any in the world. There’s a plethora of wildlife, pristine natural wonders, one-third of the world’s whale species, endless sunshine and warm and mesmerizing, crystal clear waters, making Baja one of the best locations for sea kayaking, scuba diving and whale watching in the world.

Baja has a chain of missions that could keep any archaeologist occupied for a lifetime. The 1000 mile drive from the northern- to its southern-most tips, done right, is arguably the best road trip on the planet. From the Vendimia wine harvest in the Guadalupe Valley, to the Baja 1000, to the Todos Santos Film Festival, Baja has among the most unique and interesting ways to spend your time in the world, whether measured with a barometer of culture, gastronomy, history or merely a scale of pure bliss.  It’s exhausting just trying to describe what you can do and see in Baja. And yes, you can do absolutely nothing and literally witness the hands on your watch stop moving as we all have experienced, the double edged sword of time which takes on a different meaning in Baja.

While there are those lamenting about the continuing “crisis,” there’s an undeniable flurry of innovation at work within the region.  The most novel are worrying about “becoming too big,” as they struggle with not only how growth affect s their own goals, but also the region as a whole. In the foreground, Baja has quietly become increasingly prominent on the world stage, as a symbol of what the future might hold for us all, in ways that could not have been predicted even a decade ago. It’s Baja’s time.

About Baja.com
Baja.com is a comprehensive online source of first-hand travel advice to Baja California, Mexico, supported by a full service travel agency. The site offers travelers expert advice about local restaurants, hotels and vacation rentals, as well as guides, maps, and articles about day trips, surfing, snorkeling, diving, fishing, kayaking, art galleries, whale watching, eco-tours, shopping, attractions, local events and news. Travelers can book directly online or utilize Baja.com’s state-of-the-art contact center, which provides bilingual customer support, expert information and sales 7 days a week, 365 days a year. To access the information and receive newsletters and invitations to special events, register at Baja.com. You can call us at 855-BAJA-411 or email us at info@Baja.com.

Baja.com represents a team of local bloggers, regional travel experts, photographers, artists, Baja aficionados and marketing and technology gurus. The only common thread among the group, as each member of our team will tell you, we are all fanatics about Baja.

 At Baja.com we’re always looking for meaningful way to harness and accelerate this creative energy that surrounds us in Baja. Consistent with our commitment to the region, we have created several programs to stimulate and support change agents within Baja. The first is called the “Baja Ambassadors”, a group of unique and diverse individuals who are positioned to shape the next decade of Baja. Among this group are people like Tim Means who worked with the World Heritage Foundation to repurchase the now protected Espiritu Islands; Luis Palacios, a young, energetic, Harvard-educated, marketing director for Baja California Sur’s Board of Tourism; Serge Dedina, the Executive Director of Wildcoast, sponsor of what was called the “best ocean campaign in human history” widely credited with saving the grey whale; and Andrea Tomba, an offroad racer and guide who symbolizes and embraces the Baja lifestyle. On another front we are collaborating with the Board of Tourism on a program we call “Baja Scribes”. This is designed to encourage top writers to visit Baja to create original content about Baja and help educate the world. Finally we are working with many non-profit organizations in accordance with our own commitment, including by giving a significant portion of our revenues to local charities and are committed to becoming a carbon neutral company by purchasing carbon credits. Our mission is to have a large impact with a light footprint and to continue to fuel the Baja Renaissance in any way we can. If you have an interest in these programs, please contact us.