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Diving in Cabo San Lucas - Part 2

Updated on April 28, 2010

Where Desert Meets Reef

For those willing to stage a desert adventure through staggeringly beautiful and powerful scenery that seems like it would be far more at home in Southern Arizona than at the tip of one of the world's longest peninsulas, a 65-mile drive northeast from Cabo San Lucas turns up Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park, home to the only living coral reef on North America's western coast. Cabo San Lucas dive operators can organize the trip, but it's easy enough to rent a car and arrange diving and equipment rental yourself in Cabo Pulmo. Along the way, branching cacti called c-rdones tower to heights of up to 60 feet, and hardy desert plants form the backbone for a landscape of bright flowers and muted terrain. Clear views of the nearby Sierra de la Laguna range hint at the southern peninsula's layout — desert bisected by towering mountains, an ecosystem with coyotes, serpents, bobcats, mule deer, kangaroo rats, and birds.

With only a few dive operators, Cabo Pulmo is a tranquil village with little of the hype that characterizes Los Cabos. The region's prize jewel is Bah'a Pulmo, a pool of turquoise that sparkles seductively offshore.
Most of Cabo Pulmo's sites are shallow drift dives along the reef, suitable for beginning to intermediate divers. Descending onto one of the eight hard coral fingers that comprise Cabo Pulmo Reef, it's easy to see why scientists call the Sea of Cortez a fish trap. With an estimated 3,000 species of fish and invertebrates, the sea contains just about every reef fish imaginable and more than a few you wouldn't think up yourself. Many of the fish are endemic, the evolutionary by-products of the peninsula's unique geologic history. Their eclectic heritage reaches far back into the memory of the Pacific and even claims progenitors from the Caribbean.
Back at the peninsula's tip, the falling sun sets fire to the Friars, the granite stacks that stand sentry over Bah'a San Lucas. According to the world atlas, these rocks are the only bits of terra firma you'll see for quite some time should you be moved to hire a schooner and chase the southern horizon. In fact, it'll be just you, water, and the occasional whale until you stumble upon the continent of Antarctica. It's no wonder the rocks are revered here, carefully named like respected residents. They are place markers, symbols of beginnings and endings, and — if you know how to look at them — historians. Stare closely at the rocks in Baja and you'll often find pale granite infused with dark patches. Those black bits are the birthmarks of the peninsula. Geologists explain that millions of years ago, during the region's turbulent formation, iron-laden, older stones called xenoliths fell into the hot magma. When the fiery soup cooled, the xenoliths retained their sooty color, creating the contrasts visible today.
As solid as they are, the rocks seem a fitting metaphor for southern Baja's diving. Beauty looms in the contrasts, in the unlikely encounters between deep and shallow, tropical and temperate, small and large — and in their extraordinary fusion.
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