BAJA CALIFORNIA: A SHORT VISIT TO ONE OF THE MOST INTERESTING PLACES ON EARTH

by:Walt Peterson

Following its "discovery" by Europeans in late 1533 or early 1534, the peninsula now named Baja California was visited by a variety of explorers and missionaries, few of whom found much to admire. Jesuit Father Johann Jakob Baegert, who spent 17 years in Baja as a missionary in the mid-1700s, described the peninsula in harsh terms, "Everything concerning [Baja] California is of such little importance that it is hardly worth the trouble to take a pen and write about it. Of poor shrubs, useless thorn bushes and bare rocks, of piles of stone and sand, without water or wood...what shall or what can I report?" He further lamented: "The soil itself consists mostly of sand and fine gravel. For this reason I had the four walls of my cemetery filled in almost to the top with soil, to lessen the work of the grave diggers and to spare the iron tools."


 
Varios Baja Maps from 1597, 1650 & 1696 (click on map to enlarge)
map from 1597
1597
map from 1650
1650
map from 1696
1696


A LAND ACCURSED BY GOD?

polecatIn 1866, explorer J. Ross Browne published a description of the place that showed that its reputation had not improved with time, "All the vegetation visible to the eye seems to conspire against the intrusion of man. Every shrub is armed with thorns; the cactus, in all its varieties, solitary and erect, or in twisted masses, or snake-like undulations, tortures the traveler with piercing needles and remorseless fangs. Burrs with barbed thorns cover the ground; the very grass, wherever it grows, resents the touch with wasp-like stings that fester in the flesh; and poisonous weeds tempt the hungry animals with their verdure, producing craziness and death. Add to this the innumerable varieties of virulent reptiles and insects that infest those desolate regions in summer; the rattlesnakes, vipers, scorpions, tarantulas, centipedes, and sand-flies; the rabid polecats that creep around the campfire at night, producing hydrophobia by their bite; the scorching heat of the sun, and the utter absence of water, and you have a combination of horrors that might well justify the belief of the old Spaniards that the country was accursed by God." This scene of the unhappy campers "stampeded by a polecat" illustrated an 1869 magazine article by Browne.


You are probably wondering "Oh, my gosh! Why would anyone in their right mind want to visit such a place?"

READ ON!

 


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