The waters along Baja's Pacific coast are similar to those of Alta (our) California, being characterized by ocean swells, heavy surge, and upwellings of nutrient-laden deep water. Because of the vast size of the Pacific, distant weather patterns can produce heavy surf for weeks at a time. The southerly sweep of the California Current keeps water temperatures lower than would otherwise be expected, normally ranging between 50 and 75 degrees, gradually warming as the water moves south.

To many scientists, the Cortez is one of the most interesting bodies of water on earth. Over 600 miles long, having an area of almost 60,000 square miles, and with deep basins in its central and southern portions, one more than 14,000 feet in depth. The largest tidal range in the world, up to 31 feet, occurs at its north end, and low tides uncover mud flats up to 3 miles wide. Tidal currents form huge whirlpools and rips in the "Midriff" region of the central Cortez, and velocities of over 6 knots have been recorded. Large swells do not build up as they do in the ocean and there is little horizontal surge. Variations in water temperature also are extreme, inshore surface waters reaching 91 degrees in the south during summer and 47 degrees in the north during winter.

Stunning coastal beauty just south of Ensenada.
Photo by Walt Peterson
Baja lays claim to only two permanent rivers, the Río Colorado and the Río Mulegé, but both claims are tenuous. The Colorado is a "Baja river" only in the sense that it forms the boundary between the Mexican states of Baja California [Norte] and Sonora. Draining 260,000 square miles of the western US along its 1,450-mile course, the mighty Colorado cut the Grand Canyon out of rock over the millenniums, and deposited vast amounts of silt and mud into the upper Cortez. However, it has now been dammed and utilized for human purposes to the point that it is now a mere trickle of its former self by the time it reaches the Cortez.

The Chamber of Commerce of Mulegé would have you believe that a river courses through the town, but the "Río Mulegé" is actually a brackish arm of the Cortez, although it does receive small amounts of fresh water from springs above a dam. Other than these, Baja has no rivers, and there are only about six small streams that reach salt water on a more or less permanent basis.

There are only two sizable lakes in Baja. Laguna Salada, in the lowlands south of Mexicali, receives widely varying amounts of water from the Río Colorado from year to year; in 1987, the lake was 60 miles long, but in recent years, the drought prevalent in the Southwest has reduced it to perhaps 20. Laguna Hanson, in the Sierra de Juárez, is less than a mile across and is shallow and muddy. There are a number of ponds so small that they are not even graced with names.

by:Walt Peterson ©

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