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Baja California peninsula
Baja peninsula (mexico) 250m.jpg
Satellite image of the Baja California Peninsula
Geography
Location North America
Adjacent bodies of water
Area 143,390 km2 (55,360 sq mi)
Administration
Mexico
Demographics
Population 4,085,695 (2015)

The Baja California peninsula (English: Lower California Peninsula, Spanish: Península de Baja California) is a peninsula in Northwestern Mexico. It separates the Pacific Ocean from the Gulf of California. The peninsula extends 1,247 km (775 miles) from Mexicali, Baja California in the north to Cabo San Lucas, Baja California Sur in the south. It ranges from 40 km (25 miles) at its narrowest to 320 km (199 miles) at its widest point and has approximately 3,000 km (1,864 miles) of coastline and approximately 65 islands. The total area of the Baja California Peninsula is 143,390 km2 (55,360 sq mi), roughly the same area as the country of Nepal.

The peninsula is separated from mainland Mexico by the Gulf of California and the Colorado River. There are four main desert areas on the peninsula: the San Felipe Desert, the Central Coast Desert, the Vizcaíno Desert and the Magdalena Plain Desert.

History

See also: Origin of the name California

The land of California existed as a myth among European explorers before it was discovered. The earliest known mention of the idea of California was in the 1510 romance novel Las Sergas de Esplandián by Spanish author Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo. The book described the Island of California as being west of the Indies, "very close to the side of the Terrestrial Paradise; and it is peopled by black women, without any man among them, for they live in the manner of Amazons".

Following Hernán Cortés's conquest of Mexico, the lure of an earthly paradise as well as the search for the fabled Strait of Anián, helped motivate him to send several expeditions to the west coast of New Spain in the 1530s and early 1540s. In 1539, explorer Francisco de Ulloa proved that Baja California was a peninsula rather than an island. Nevertheless, the idea of the island persisted for well over a century and was included in many maps. The water separating the island, now called "Gulf of California" was sometimes called the "Red Sea". The Spaniards gave the name Las Californias to the peninsula and lands to the north, including both Baja California and Alta California, the region that became parts of the present-day U.S. states of California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, and parts of Colorado and Wyoming.

Geology

See also: Peninsular Ranges

The Baja California Peninsula was once a part of the North American Plate, the tectonic plate of which mainland Mexico remains a part. About 12 to 15 million years ago the East Pacific Rise began cutting into the margin of the North American Plate, initiating the separation of the peninsula from it. Spreading within the Gulf of California consists of short oblique rifts or ridge segments connected by long northwest trending transform faults, which together comprise the Gulf of California Rift Zone. The north end of the rift zone is located in the Brawley seismic zone in the Salton Sea basin between the Imperial Fault and the San Andreas Fault. The Baja California Peninsula is now part of the Pacific Plate and is moving with it away from the East Pacific Rise in a north northwestward direction.

Along the coast north of Santa Rosalia, Baja California Sur is a prominent volcanic activity area.

Volcanoes of the peninsula and adjacent islands include:

  • Volcanoes of east-central Baja California
  • Cerro Prieto
  • The San Quintín Volcanic Field
  • Isla San Luis
  • Jaraguay volcanic field
  • Coronado
  • Guadalupe
  • San Borja volcanic field
  • El Aguajito
  • Tres Vírgenes
  • Isla Tortuga
  • Comondú-La Purísima

Researchers from Scripps Institution of Oceanography have found a 2,000-year-old layer of non-decomposed roots, or peat, up to 4 metres (13 ft) under the desert mangroves. The peat layer acts like a sponge for stored atmospheric carbon, a record of sea-level-rise is also recorded in the peat layer.

The desert mangroves restricted to rocky inlets on the rugged coast of Baja California have been growing over their own root remains over thousands of years to compensate for sea-level rise, accumulating a thick layer of peat below their roots. However, mangroves in flat coastal floodplains have accumulated a thinner peat layer.

Geography

See also: :Category:Natural history of Baja California Sur and :Category: Geography of Baja California
LDEF over payload bay
Baja California as seen in April 1984, from the bay of a Space Shuttle (STS-41-C)

The Peninsular Ranges form the backbone of the peninsula. They are an uplifted and eroded Jurassic to Cretaceous batholith, part of the same original batholith chain which formed much of the Sierra Nevada mountains in U.S. California. This chain was formed primarily as a result of the subduction of the Farallon Plate millions of years ago all along the margin of North America.

  • The Sierra de Juárez is the northernmost range in Mexico.
  • The Sierra San Pedro Mártir runs south of the Sierra Juarez and includes the peninsula's highest peak, the Picacho del Diablo.
  • The Sierra de San Borja runs south of the Sierra San Pedro Martir.
  • The volcanic complex of Tres Virgenes lies in Baja California Sur, near the border with the state of Baja California, forming the ranges south of the Sierra de San Borja.
  • The Sierra de la Giganta runs along the shore of the Gulf of California south of the Tres Virgenes complex.
  • At the south end of Baja California Sur, the Sierra de la Laguna forms an isolated mountain range rising to 2,090 metres (6,860 ft)
  • Another isolated range, the Sierra Vizcaino, juts out into the Pacific between Punta Eugenia and Punta Abreojos.

The two most prominent capes along the Pacific coastline of the peninsula are Punta Eugenia, located about halfway up the coast, and Cabo San Lazaro, located about a quarter of the way north from Cabo San Lucas.

The Bahia Sebastian Vizcaino, the largest bay in Baja, lies along the Pacific coast halfway up the peninsula. The large island of Isla Cedros is situated between the bay and the Pacific, just north of Punta Eugenia. Onshore southeast of the bay is the Desierto de Vizcaino, an extensive desert lying between the Sierra Vizcaino to the west, and the Tres Virgenes range which runs along the Gulf of California to the east.

The largest bays along the coastline of the Gulf are Bahia de La Paz where the city of La Paz is located, and Bahia Concepcion. The Bahía de los Ángeles is a small bay located west of the Canal de las Ballenas which separates the Baja California peninsula from the large island of Angel de la Guarda in the Gulf of California.

Ecoregions

See also: Category:Flora of Baja California and Category:Flora of Baja California Sur

The peninsula is home to several distinct ecoregions. Most of the peninsula is deserts and xeric shrublands, although pine-oak forests are found in the mountains at the northern and southern ends of the peninsula. The southern tip of the peninsula, which was formerly an island, has many species with affinities to tropical Mexico.

  • California chaparral and woodlands, which covers the Mediterranean climate northwestern corner of the peninsula, as well as Cedros and Guadalupe islands.
  • Sierra Juarez and San Pedro Martir pine-oak forests in the upper reaches of the Sierra Juárez and Sierra San Pedro Mártir ranges in the northern peninsula.
  • The Sonoran Desert extends into the northeastern portion of the state, east of the Sierra Juárez and Sierra San Pedro Mártir ranges.
  • The Baja California Desert extends west of the Peninsular Ranges along the Pacific side of the peninsula for most of its length, and includes the El Vizcaíno Desert and El Vizcaíno Biosphere Reserve.
  • The Gulf of California xeric scrub extends along the Gulf of California side of the peninsula for most of its length.
  • San Lucan xeric scrub lies in the lowlands of the peninsula's southern tip.
  • Sierra de la Laguna dry forests are found on the lower slopes of the Sierra de la Laguna.
  • Sierra de la Laguna pine-oak forests are found at higher elevations in the Sierra de la Laguna.
  • The Bahía de los Ángeles Biosphere Reserve

Tourism

The peninsula is known colloquially as Baja by American and Canadian tourists, and is known for its natural environment. It draws ecotourists who go whale watching for migrating California gray whales as well as tourists that arrive to the resorts on the southern tip of the Peninsula. Its location between the North Pacific and Gulf of California give it a reputation for sports fishing. Since 1967, the peninsula has hosted the Baja 1000, an off road race that begins in Ensenada and ends in La Paz.

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