At times, it can seem as if all of southern Baja is just an agglomeration of condo developments, resort hotels, golf courses and shopping malls. But it doesn’t take long to escape the overdevelopment. Drivers took us on two excursions out of town, one into the desert and one to a lush oasis. Both proved thoroughly memorable.
Our drive to Rancho Las Calabazas took us through deeply undulating uninhabited desert, the dirt road sometimes topping hills that gave us panoramic views in every direction. Some of the cacti and palo chino trees lining our route were in flower, and our driver pointed out unexpected streaks of green running across the landscape, indicating the presence of an underground river. We saw a surprising amount of wildlife from our vehicle as well, including roadrunners, blue-and-white scrub jays and desert iguanas. But I’ll never forget rounding a bend to discover a bobcat leaping up to snatch a dove from the air. After we arrived at the ranch, owner Alfonso Sandez showed us an impressive collection of marine fossils he’d found on his land over the years, and his daughter, Estela, gave us samples of the superb cheese she makes using a traditional wooden press.
Another excursion took us into the Sierra de la Laguna nature reserve, part of which encompasses the Santa Rita Hot Springs. The road there followed a ridge above a magnificent oasis on the valley floor, studded with palms and islets of reed, straight out of an Arabian folktale. The area now functions mostly as a park, the main attraction of which is a series of lily pad-speckled freshwater pools connected by waterfalls and surrounded by massive boulders, palm trees and mountains. The “hike” described in our itinerary was more like light rock climbing, but the sensational scenery, which we had entirely to ourselves, made it well worth the effort.