Sustainability and Sense of Place in the Sonoran Desert/Vizcaino

Subregion OutlineEdit


The vizcaino region of the sonoran desert encompass the middle region of the baha peninsula.

A. History/CultureEdit

Misión San Ignacio KadakaamánEdit

Mission San Ignacio

Misión de San Ignacio de Kada-Kaaman is a catholic church in the city of San Ignacio Mexico found in an oasis in the middle of the desert. The Oasis was called Kadakaaman by the Cochimi, which meant “Arroyo del Carrizal” or “Stream of the Reeds” (Tendencia). The Oasis was initially discovered by missionare Francisco Maria Piccolo in 1716, who decided that from the resource rich area and the indegenous people that needed to convert, he would establish the city of San Ignacio (ISDC). Later in 1728, missionare Juan Luyando arrived at San Ignacio to found the church which was finished until 1786.

Before the sedentary towns were built, Baja California was full of indigenous people such as the Cochimi. The Cochimi survived in the harsh conditions of the desert by constantly being on the movie looking for places with resources. Their focus was on hunting and gathering rather than any type of agriculture, so the people lived in small sustainable groups. When the missionaries came, a lot changed with their change of life. Due to the extremely rich land of the Oasis, San Ignacio quickly became an important place for agriculture that could produce enough to feed the entire region (Destinos Mexico).

While there were some benefits from the arrival of the missionaries, it also meant that the Cochimi’s way of life would be completely altered. The missionaries focused on trying to convert the indegenous people, sometimes resulting in violence (Munoz Rendon). The Cochimi were also forced to relocate in certain towns to help with managing the fields. Soon, the diseases that the Europeans brought with them started to take a toll in the Cochimi people, and with the slow decline of their population, they went extinct by the 19th century. [1] [2] [3] [4]

Catavina Pinturas RupestresEdit

Pinturas Rupestres

The pinturas rupestres de Catavina are several thousand year old cave paintings found in the desert Valle de los Cirios. The town of Cavatina is very small, but is a huge tourist attraction though to its famous ancient cave paintings.

The Catavina cave paintings are believed to originate from the ancient tribe of the Cochimi over 3,000 years ago (Diaz, 2019). The road to the paintings from Catavina is pretty straightforward, just follow a marked path up a small hill where a cave can be found on top. The cave measures about 3 meters long with a giant rock on top covering the cave. Several paintings can be found of shapes like squares, triangles, and striped rectangles drawn in colors of black, ochre, whites, yellows, and oranges (Destinos Mexico).

As mentioned before, the cave paintings are believed to be made by a now extinct indigenous tribe known as the Cochimi. The Cochimi were known to be hunter gatherers who knew little of agriculture due to having to survive in the harsh conditions of the desert. When missionaries from Europe came to convert the tribe, they had little success but caused many casualties due to disease. The Cochimi tribe ceased to exist in the 19th century (Simkin, 2020). [5] [6] [7] [8]

B. Geology/ClimateEdit

Tres VirgenesEdit

Tres Virgenes

Tres Vírgenes is a  apart of a volcanic ridge that extends from Baja California towards the Guaymas Basin, and consists of three volcanos, El Viejo, El Azufre, and La Vírgen. The last eruption of these volcanos was radiocarbon dated to be during the Pleistocene period, which was about 2,580,000 to 11,700 years ago, leaving the surrounding area covered in pumice stone.

Despite the obvious dangers of living near volcano's, the ash left behind from eruptions deposits potassium and phosphorus into the soil making for a very fertile soil to grow plants. [9] [10]

Bahía de los ÁngelesEdit

View of Bahia de los Angeles from Mikes Mountain

Bahia de Los Angeles is a coastal bay located alongside the Sea of Cortez. The Bay is dotted with mountains and has a total of 16 islands, all of which vary in size from less than 0.01 miles to more than 3.1 miles. The island was formed 10 million years ago by volcanic upheavals that caused the sea level to rise and the peak of mountains to become isolated. Some of the most well-known islands are the Angel de la Guardia and Ventana.

The metamorphic basement of the Bay is composed of mafic schists and Paleozoic metapelites. Its granite basement is made of pyroclastic rocks and in part of the volcanoclastic rocks, mainly of the Sierra Las Animas. The oldest volcanic rocks found in the sierra las Animas are andesitic spills from the Early Miocene with deposits of sandstones and conglomerates.

The Bay’s modern looks was achieved approximately 10 000 years ago. However, some of the thousands of miles of coves and coastal cliffs have not been altered or change and remain the same as they were hundreds of years ago. [11] [12] [13]

C. BiodiversityEdit

El Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve

California Gray Whale

The Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve is located at the center of the Baja Peninsula, among the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean. The reserve became a national biosphere by 1988 and was declared a world heritage site in 1993.  It has one of the greatest wildlife refuges in Mexico and Latin America, with a landmass covering at least 2.5 million hectares.

Most of the animals and plants in this region are considered endemic species and have been forced to adapt to the extreme condition of the desert. Some of the terrestrial animals found in reserve include coyotes, hares, rodents, pumas, and mule dears.  The reserve is also home to many endangered species such as the Desert Bighorn Sheep and the pronghorn antelope, which, unfortunately, have suffered from overhunting. Around the area, you can also find the last inhabitants of Antilocapra Americana Peninsularis, which is an endemic species of antelopes.

The Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve is the birthplace of the California Gray Whale. During winter, hundreds of gray whales migrate down from the Bering Sea to the lagoons of San Ignacio and Magdalena bay to mate and nurse the newborn whale calves. Other aquatic animals found in these waters are sea turtles, marine seals, and sea lions. [14] [15]

Isla NatividadEdit

Isla Natividad

Isla Natividad is an island located approximately 4 miles to the west of Punta Eugenia in Baja California Sur. Despite being a region considerably drier than the rest of the nearby islands, it is full of life and has diverse wildlife. Natividad is home to 81 species of plants, which include the Agave sebastiana, Cochemiea pondii, and Eschscholzia ramosa. The Agave Sebastiana is and endemic plant in this area, it is  ultra-rare on the trade and has a diminutive size along with rosettes that can grow for decades before flowering.

In the island you can also find a large population of the Aspidoscelis tigris multiscutat, which a is a species of lizard that can easily be recognized by its blotched coloration and elongated body.  Another common species in the island is the Peromyscus maniculatus dorsalis, also known as the north American deer mouse. The deer mouse is the most abundant mammal in the region and often confused with the Mus musculus, a type of exotic house mouse. Unfortunately, the deer mouse is likely to become an endangered species in future and has recently been added to list of “Threatened under the Mexican laws”.

Natividad island is home to one of the densest kelp forests in Baja California. Even though the ecosystem of kelp is in good shape, the red abalone is constantly being extracted and commercially exploited. To solve the problem the Before-After-Control-Impact came up with a project that will find ways to help recover the red abalone inside the reserve and possibly create a spillover effect near the fishing grounds. If the project is successful, it can become a fisheries management strategy not only for the kelp forest in Natividad island but also for the rest of Mexico. [16] [17]

D. Water/Land UseEdit

Laguna ChapalaEdit

Lago de Chapala

Laguna Chapala, is a now dried up body of water in the seemingly middle of nowhere. There is not much interest in it, nor travel or works written about it, but one interesting issue with this lake is that it is a prime example of receding waters over many years as the Earth climbs through its heating phase.

Through explorations and monitoring of this lake, scientists believe that the lake used to extend a much larger surface area than it currently is up to a maximum surface area when rainfall produces a rising water level during winter months.

Another interesting finding about this obscure lake is that there have been some indications that there were human settlements around this lake. Currently the city of Chapala is just a small truck stop in the middle of a highway. [18]

Coco's CornerEdit

Coco's corner

Every year, thousands of adventure seekers from around the globe travel past Coco’s Corner making it one of the most frequented roadside stops on the entire peninsula. tourists describe it as a haphazard assemblage of broken trucks and appliances, but despite the initial impressions tourists find a feeling of connection with nature being in the middle of nowhere and connection to humanity

This interesting spot is being encroached upon by highway interstate construction, and soon may disappear if such construction brings the pollution of noise and cities to this quiet desert town.

Places like Cocos corner eventually disappear when enough traffic makes its way into the area. While many people want to visit and experience the silence of nature, ultimately the more people visit the less the area is an oasis and becomes polluted with noise. Once the highway reaches Cocos corner, they will no longer be the oasis away from society, and become another trash ridden side of the road abandoned area. [19]


  1. “Misión de San Ignacio de Kada-Kaaman”. Destinos México.
  2. “MISIÓN SAN IGNACIO KADDÁ-KAAMÁN”. Instituto Sudcaliforniano De Cultura.
  3. Munoz Rendon, Joaquin. (2002). Misión de San Ignacio Kadakaaman. Mediateca INAH.
  5. Diaz, Domenica. (2019, September 26). Descubre Cataviña, un paraíso del ecoturismo en el desierto de Baja California. Travel and Leisure.
  6. “Pinturas Rupestres de Cataviña”. Destinos México.
  7. Simkin, John. (2020, January). Cochimi. Spartacus Educational.
  8. “Cataviña, Baja California”. Turimexico.
  9. Global Volcanism Program: Tres Vírgenes. Smithsonian Institution | Global Volcanism Program. (n.d.).
  10. F, C. (n.d.). Take Online Courses. | Take Online Courses. Earn College Credit. Research Schools, Degrees & Careers.
  11. Danemann, Gustavo D, Exequiel Ezcurra. Bahia De Los Angeles Recursos Naturales y Comunidad . 2007,
  12. “Bahia De Los Angeles Travel Information. Baja, Mexico.” Ensenada México. Baja California,
  13. “Information for Bahia De Los Angeles, Baja California Mexico.” Silver Shark Adventures,
  14. “Map of the Vizcaino Biosphere.” Baja Ecotours | The Vizcaino Biosphere,
  15. “Home.”,
  16. Unique Plants and Animals of the Baja California Pacific Islands.
  17. COBI. Marine Reserves Pilot Project at Isla Natividad . 2002.
  18. Davis, Loren. (2003). Geoarchaeology and geochronology of Pluvial Lake Chapala, Baja California, Mexico. Geoarchaeology. 18. 205 - 223. 10.1002/gea.10058.
  19. 14th, C. N. J., & Christophe NoelChristophe Noel is a journalist from Prescott. (2014, July 13). Destinations: Coco's Corner, Baja, Mexico. Expedition Portal.