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The Sierra de la Laguna Park: Jewel of South Baja
Views of South Baja's proud wilderness.Click thumbnail to view full-size
A Hidden "Island in the Sky."
The Sierra de la Laguna
If the Cape region of South Baja had a decent rainfall, it would blossom into another Amazon. It is far from being a desert region, in fact, the term “Arid Tropical Forest” was coined for the area by Shreve and Wiggins in 1964.
The Sierra de la Laguna, or “Mountains of the Lagoon” are surrounded by peaks rising to more than more than 7000 feet, running south from below La Paz almost down to San Jose del Cabo, in fact it is the run-off from these mountains that feeds the river, estuary and the underground aquifers. Before heavy inroads by agriculture, tourism, housing and gold courses, etc., the estuary in San Jose was substantial enough to allow sailing ships to anchor in it and must have been a wondrous place indeed.
The mountains here are volcanic in origin and consists of granite blocks tilted towards the east, forming a gradual slope on the eastern side and a steeper rise on the west below Todos Santos.
Access to the lovely park and small lake at the top is both arduous and time-consuming, it calls for a day’s journey each way, at least, with camping at the top. Ask your guide to show you the house built by Oscar Cano, real estate developer from Los Cabos. The property was abandoned in the late 1990's after Cano's death and permission to add to the development could not be obtained,due to the area becoming a reserve and National Biosphere. People have stayed in the shell previously, but I don't know the situation today.
Upon reaching the summit meadows, cactus and other desert plants are replaced with a semi-deciduous forest, followed by pine and oaks. There is no road up to this hidden paradise and I hope there never will be. Access is by climbing up the gradually rising arroyos on the east side slopes; guides are available from several points. The park area is surrounded by the summits of the Victoria, San Lorenzo and San Lazaro mountains; it was declared a protected wilderness in 1994. The stands of Holm Oak give the feel that one is in the Spanish mountains of Andalucia. Carpenter birds, eagles, falcons and owls make their homes there. Among the mammals are fox, deer, hares, racoons, rabbits and even coyote and wildcats.
There are no facilities for campers, but there is an area set aside for this, or you can pretty well camp where you like (as of 2003). Perhaps the best route up the mountains on the west side is a path starting at La Burrera, a few miles south of Todos Santos. You are facing a hike of 6 to 8 hours, depending on your degree of fitness (please read that again!). You can sometimes find potable water on this route and always on the eastern routes…needs boiling. The mountains you see to the north of the park are the “Picacho” peaks which have attracted mountaineers. Do go with a guide as it’s not hard to get lost in the hundreds of square miles of rock-filled canyons and scrub covered slopes inhabited by rattlers and other nasties. (Several people have died up there like this; others have taken up to a week to return or be found).
Ask in Santiago on the east side where to approach the route up and get a guide.
A touchingly worded sign in the area reads “The Sierra de la Laguna is waiting for your visit, please don’t make harm to her”
Among other dictates of common sense sadly missing in too many visitors, who think they can get away with anything because there are no security cameras recording them, are: don’t make fires, don’t use caustic soaps and shampoos in the springs, do take all your rubbish with you and don’t bother or remove the plants and wildlife. There may be more eyes recording your behaviour up there than you might think, as local Mexican farmers love the wild sierras and want to protect them, especially from Gringos. People have been regularly arrested for hunting and damaging trees, etc. There’s so few areas like this left on the planet that are absolutely pristine and free for all. Unless it is appreciated, Mexico will begin to charge for entry, on top of guide fees and expenses, and put security in place which will have to be paid for. The ex. Governor of South Baja, Leonel Cota, lives at the foot of the mountains in Santiago, when he is back from his political duties on the mainland as president of the PRD party - since 2005; he is well aware of the fragility of the area and has said he will take steps to put restrictions in place soon if there are more abuses.