Exploring Baja and finding a Blue Palm ‘paradise’ near San Felipe
By David Kier, author of The Old Missions of Baja & Alta California 1697-1834
The Blue Fan Palm ‘Erythea (Brahea) armata’ is endemic to Baja California and is found in canyons and slopes near arroyos with water from the area of San Ignacio north to the border with California. Often they grow alongside their green leaf cousin the Mexican Fan Palm. The Blue Fan Palm (in Spanish: Palma Azul or Palma Ceniza) stand out with their gray-blue leaves and can be seen growing out of rocky cliff sides high above the sandy desert in many places.
One canyon near San Felipe stands out as a Blue Palm ‘paradise’ with the blues growing both in the arroyo sand and high up the cliff face. Apparently the ones up high are feeding on water trapped inside boulders after rain or along a fault with spring water. The canyon is El Berrendo located along the east slope of the Sierra San Pedro Martir, draining into Valle Chico between Agua Caliente Canyon and Matomi Canyon. Some maps also spell the canyon ‘Herrendo’ or ‘Verrenda’.
Getting to Berrendo Canyon is best done with a four wheel drive or off road vehicle. The 51 dirt miles is mostly a good graded road. However, the final 3 miles is in a deep sand arroyo and may require lowering tire air pressure to improve flotation. Bring an electric air pump for the return trip. Make sure to top your fuel tank in San Felipe before leaving town and going with a companion vehicle would be a good idea in this remote region.
How to get to Berrendo Canyon:
There are several roads into (or out of) Valle Chico allowing one to make a loop trip or see some of the other area sites. By far, the fastest and easiest road is from just north of San Felipe and comes down Valle Chico, described below. Other roads can be used from near the sulfur mine (25 miles south of San Felipe) or up Arroyo Matomi, 10 miles north of Puertecitos.
Leave Highway 5 about five miles north of San Felipe where a sign may point the way to ‘El Saltito’ and ‘Morelia’. A large self-storage facility is at the junction. Go west about 4.5 miles and junction with the original Ensenada-San Felipe road (turn right). In just under 9 more miles is a fork where you will go left (south) and enter Valle Chico. Some rock hounding in this region may produce fossils to photograph (collecting of fossils is not legal by non-Mexicans).
About 19 miles beyond the fork, traveling mostly south, the road bends west to a junction where you turn left (south). If passed the road goes 1.3 more miles to the foot of the sierra, by Rancho Algodon. The correct road goes south and passes through the nearly abandoned ejido farm of ‘Plan Nacional Agrario’ in about 8 miles (often also called ‘Agua Caliente’ after the nearby canyon with hot springs).
A left or south turn is made in the ejido for the road south to Berrendo and Matomi. 5.6 miles south of Plan Nacional Agrario is a fork. Most traffic goes left to Matomi Canyon (11.7 miles), continue straight ahead on a lesser road that passes a ranch corral ‘Carricitos’. Continue south 1.4 miles from Carricitos and turn right in the white sand arroyo of Berrendo. The road ahead goes 6.4 miles and ends a mile from Rancho El Parral.
The drive up Arroyo el Berrendo is only 3 miles to where boulders force you to park. This may be the only part of the drive where four wheel drive needs to be used. The road ends at some large boulders. Look up at the high canyon walls and see the blue palms. A short walk will bring into the blue palms along a running stream. About a mile walk up the canyon is a grotto. Giant boulders, running water, pools and blue palms create the grotto. 2012 visitors reported a fence was erected across the arroyo before the end of the road. If unlocked, please close gates after passing, as they are used to control livestock.
GPS DATA (WGS84):
Leave Hwy. 5: 31º05.89’, -114º53.56’
Turn left into Valle Chico: 31º01.69’, -115º05.79’
Turn left near Algodon: 30º47.03’, -115º09.99’
Turn left in Plan Nacional Agrario: 30º40.34’, -115º08.09’
Go straight near Carricitos: 30º35.68’, -115º07.02’
Turn right in Arroyo el Berrendo: 30º34.49’, -115º06.76’
End of Road: 30º32.59’, -115º07.96’
The Grotto: 30º32.11’, -115º08.15’
David Kier is author the The Old Missions of Baja & Alta California 1697-1834, that covers the histories and interesting facts around the 48 missions — starting with the first mission established in Loreto in 1697 — founded in Baja during this time period.
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