bout 5 million years ago, the Sea
of Cortez, the body of water that separates the peninsula from mainland Mexico,
did not exist, and the land mass of today's peninsula was firmly attached to the
mainland. However, a giant fault had formed in the earth's crust. Running
roughly northwest/southeast, it joined the famous San Andreas Fault, which runs
north across Alta (our) California. Driven by tectonic forces still not fully
understood, the land mass west of the fault split off from the mainland. Moving
at a rate of about 0.25 inch per year, the southern tip of the new peninsula left
the mainland at the approximate location of today's Puerto Vallarta, and by about
3 million years ago, Baja was a well defined peninsula and the Cortez a prominent
body of water.
Baja Sur as taken by astronaut L. Gordon Cooper from the Gemini 5 spacecraft Photo Courtesy NASA
oday, at 800 miles long, Baja is one
of the longest peninsulas in the world, exceeded only by the Malay, Antarctic,
and Kamchatka peninsulas. The peninsula is also very narrow, averaging less than
70 miles in width, the narrowest part being the 26 miles from the western shore
of the bay near La Paz to the Pacific, and the greatest being 144 miles at the
latitude of Guerrero Negro. From the perspective of an astronaut, Baja is thus
one of the most striking geological features on earth. Land area is 55,634 square
miles, and the shoreline on both coasts totals 1,980 miles, excluding the
interiors of enclosed bays.
aja's mountains are not exceptionally
tall, the double peak called Picacho del Diablo (Devil's Peak), the highest,
being only 10,154 feet and 10,152 feet. A series of mountain ranges form a
largely unbroken barrier up to 2,000 feet in altitude, with about half the length
of the peninsula blocked up to 3,000 feet. The western slopes of the Sierra de
Juárez and Sierra San Pedro Mártir, extending south about 160 miles from
the border, are fairly gentle and descend to coastal plains along the Pacific.
Most of the eastern slopes, however, are steep escarpments, plunging down to
sweltering lowlands along the Río Colorado and the Cortez. A series of mountain
ranges runs south to the vicinity of La Paz. The central part of the Cape region
is occupied by two rugged mountain ranges, the Sierra de la Victoria and the
Sierra de la Laguna.