Sunday, November 30, 2014

Discovering Loreto - the short history of a long past

My bias that I live in a special place is clearly apparent from the contents of this Blog, and I have described many of the attributes that make me think that way, but last weekend I attended a lecture that gave me a new appreciation of another aspect of what makes this part of the world the special place it is.

Following the recent successful fundraising event that I wrote about in:, Eco-Alianza launched a new series of lectures they are calling Discover Loreto, to highlight what is special about this place, and how best we who live here can preserve this unique beauty and  environment for the future to enjoy.  The first Guest Lecturer was Markes E. Johnson, Professor Emeritus of Geology from Williams College, Williamstown MA who has published many books including "Discovering the Geology of Baja California, Six Hikes on the southern Gulf Coast" and his most recent, "Off-Trail Adventures in Baja California, Exploring Landscapes and Geology on Gulf Shores and Islands" which was the focus of his lively and engaging presentation. 

Professor Johnson has been travelling and studying in the Baja extensively for over fifteen years, often accompanied by graduate students, and he has made some significant geological discoveries during that time.  He has been a frequent visitor to the marine park around Loreto and has studied the off-shore Islands here in some detail, as well as numerous other significant points of interest in and around the Sea of Cortez. 

In his introductory remarks Professor Johnson made the point that most of the historical record of the Sea of Cortez can be traced back to two events, both of which took place in 1940.  The first being the voyage of the Western Flyer, a 75' fishing boat the John Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts chartered from Monterey Bay California to collect marine biological samples in the Sea of Cortez.   This eventually became the book "The Log from the Sea of Cortez" about the 6 week expedition they embarked on to collect biological samples up and down the east and west coasts, visiting the Islands with stops in Puerto Escondido (just south of Loreto Bay) and re-provisioning in the town of Loreto.  About the town of La Paz, where they had seen a new Hotel under construction, they made the prescient observation  (considering this was almost 75 years ago):

"Probably the airplanes will bring the weekenders from Los Angeles before long, and the beautiful bedraggled old town will bloom with Floridian ugliness."  

Within 6 months of that expedition, there was a second historic journey of exploration undertaken by the E.W. Scripps, a 104' schooner that did the most extensive study up until then of the topography, geology and oceanography of the Sea of Cortez and later published "E.W. Scripps Cruise to the Gulf of California" which charted vast areas, often for the first time.  Although the volume of research that has been done about this part of the world has increased dramatically since, what struck me the most about Professor Johnson's comments was how recent that history has been.

Considering that these first explorations were made only about 75 years ago and the Transpeninsular Highway was opened about 40 years ago, giving road access to a 1000 mile cross section of the Baja from Tijuana to Los Cabos, the development that has taken place in the Baja during such a relatively short period of time is staggering!  Furthermore, if one considers that this Loreto Bay Development has risen from "chalk on sand" to a community of over 600 homes accommodating thousands of people within a period of less than ten years, one can only speculate what changes the next five or ten years will bring!  

So while much of the more geological content of the lecture was over my head, technically speaking, what made the biggest impression on me was how recent the discovery and exploration of the Baja Peninsula has been - and how much more of it is still to be done.  In a place where we are surrounded by man made history, such as the Mission Church in the center of town and the San Javier Mission  nearby in the mountains, it is apparent that man has only just scratched the surface (literally and figuratively!) of much of the natural history that abounds in this part of the world.

I also think it is worth noting that Professor Johnson expressed his surprise at the size of the standing room crowd that came out to listen to his lecture - commenting that the approximately 125 in attendance here was a far larger turn out than he had just had for the same sort of event that was just  recently held in La Paz (with a population 10 times the size of Loreto).  Well represented within this group were Loreto Bay Residents along with ex-pats from town and a number of Mexican Loretanos, for whom live translation of the English presentation was provided by Hugo Maldonado, one of the Eco Alianza executives.

This turnout, and the support by donations that were collected during the evening, is evidence to me of a high level of interest among many people here in Loreto to learn more about this beautiful place, and for many of us to become more involved in appreciating and preserving it for our own enjoyment now and that of others in the future.  In a world that is shrinking due to technology, along with the few small unspoiled parts that still remain, it is worthwhile to be reminded of the good fortune we have to be able to live in one of those special places that has largely escaped the exploitation that has damaged so much of the remaining natural world elsewhere.

Appreciating the fascinating geological history of where we live, while realizing how recently most of that exploration has been done and the level of local interest there is now among the residents of this beautiful place is one more reason to be grateful for the opportunity to be "Living Loreto"!