This 11,600 hectare area was further established under Mexican law by a Presidential Decree in 1994 which establishes core areas and buffer zones, uses permitted, restricted and not permitted in the Biosphere.  Since there are about 96 ranches and 124 families living in the area depending on farming and cattle grazing (one of the leading causes in the world of Tropical Dry Forest destruction), the restrictions hold the destructive nature of these activities at bay in this very delicate bio-system, limiting these activities to those already grandfathered.  Although the Sierra de Laguna has the protection of the Mexican state and federal governments, the inclusion to the UNESCO system has meant meaningful international funding for study, conservation, protection and reclamation.  Nationally, at least a half a dozen government agencies are involved with the study, maintenance and regulation of the area.  This is excellent, as many of our native species have little to no research done.  Internationally, it is surprising how many agencies, wildlife advocate groups and university studies conduct research, wildlife counts and treatises in the area, including the National Cancer Institute from the US, which has extracted samples of some 225 species of indigenous plants for medical study.   

OK, ready to go?  Well you have several options.  In general, by car, you can approach the Sierra Laguna from either the Pacific or the Sea of Cortez side, and from several points of entry.  The best manner to decide where you wish to go is to study your Google Earth map carefully.  The degrees of difficulty vary enormously.  By auto, you will be limited as to how much of the Biosphere you can see.  Available maps?   Let me just giggle a little!  No, Dorothy you are not in Kansas anymore!  You can try the main office of SEMARNAT at 1045 Ocampo, La Paz, BCS, CONANP – Comision Nacional de Areas Naturales Protegias (same address),  CONABIO (Mexico City) or CIBNOR in La Paz.  They may have maps, but whether any are available for sale or handout is uncertain.  Hey, the worst that can happen, if you follow a road, is to turn around and go back the same way you came in!  (By the way, pick up a permit at the SEMARNAT office.  The cost is about 20 pesos per person.  You can also pay this fee any manned gate entrance into the reserve.)  Or, check the internet, there are jeep tours available through some excursion companies.

 If you are hiking, especially for the first time, I highly suggest getting a guide.  Maps are not readily available, and the trails have little to no signage.  It would be very easy to get lost in the myriad of canyons and peaks.   You can ask the locals in some neighbouring towns such as Pescadero or San Bartolome.  The local people will know of competent people willing to guide.  OR, there are several eco-adventure companies that offer guided hiking excursions.  Some even offer mule of horseback trips!  With a horse or mule, you will be able to go further than a car, with a bit less exertion than hiking.

 With any guide or company, make sure they are well experienced and this is not there maiden trip guiding.  And always remember to be prepared.  Bring plenty of fresh water.  Since cattle graze in the Sierra, the chance of getting painful parasites from even crystal clear mountain streams strongly exists.   

Try Baja Sierra Adventures at www.bajasierraadventures.com, Baja Wild at www.bajawild.com or Edgardo Cortés Nares and Josey Hastings at edgardo_josey@earthfoot.org, or Cuco and Pilar Moyron of Rancho Pilar just south of Pescadero, ask the locals how to contact them.  Most companies and guides will work with you to design a trip to where you wish to go, and for durations lasting from a few hours to a couple of weeks.  Enjoy! 




 

OFF THE BEATEN PATH  
Every Sunday, dirt roads throughout Baja beckon me.  My trusty grandson, Gabriel and I find some of the most secluded, beautiful places in Baja…Allow us share our experiences with you.  If you have a great spot off the beaten path, let me know, we’d love to check it out and share.
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Sierra de la Laguna - A Baja Forest
Despite a real appreciation of some of the world’s most beautiful beaches and the vibrant sub-tropical desert around us, from time to time, I have an uncontrollable ¨hankering¨ to sit among a stand of REAL pine trees, walk through a meadow or sit below a tree tall enough that I won’t hit my head upon when I approach it.  Don’t you?  Well, guess what?  Our beautiful Baja offers this option to you too.  And there is world class hiking too.

 The Baja Peninsula was shaped by ancient volcanoes, separation from the mainland continent some 65 to 100 million years ago, the rising and receding of seawater, and classic plate tectonics along the San Andreas fault and the Pacific Plate that still is lifting our mountain ranges on an average of 3 to 5 cm.s every year.  (That is about 1-1/4 to nearly 2 inches a year!)  Just north of Los Cabos and south of La Paz, the mountain range of the Sierra de Laguna lifts up to majestic, rugged peaks reaching 6824 ft above sea level at El Picacho.  This peak is ranked 28th in North America for height, but has earned a place on the list of the world’s most desolate and least accessible peaks.  The trek is rigorous and not for your typical couch potato, but experienced hikers and climbers regularly reach the summit.  The views from the peak are worth the tubes of Ben Gay, where on a clear day, you can see both oceans!  And being difficult to access, you get the privilege of a pristine environment to explore.












 

Between the peak at 2080mt.s above sea level and the lower reaches of the mountains at about 250 mt.s above sea level, this area has changing climates that sustain differing ecosystem habitats completely distinct and unique from one another.  Going from lower elevations to higher, the area supports matorrals scrubs (low growing shrubs, chapparal and cacti), Low deciduous and semi-deciduous forest growth, Evergreen oaks, Pine and evergreen oaks, natural pasture (meadow) and Pine vegetation and with highest of all ecosystems being  the gallery forests.  This rich mixture of ecosystems will allow any forest experience you desire, right here in Baja.  One can find running creeks, waterfalls, some hot springs, dry arroyos that occasionally will spurt forth pools of water only to have them disappear underground again, meadows, an ancient dry lagoon on the mountain top, cacti and palm oasis’s, oaks, and those glorious pine trees.  Missing a little of this from home?  Try this adventure. But first, let me tell you a little more the Sierra de Laguna…

The Sierra de Laguna has been called an ¨island in the sky¨ because of its unique topography that has created an oasis of life separated by two deserts.  The entire Sierra de Laguna ecosystem is considered a Tropical Dry Deciduous Forest with areas in a semi-desert condition, particularly on the lower western slopes.  The affect of the high peaks and the unique weather system between two oceans and a very narrow peninsula has created a ¨rain and cloud catcher¨ over the peaks.  The added rainfall, particularly at the peaks and on the east side of the Sierra occurs, mainly in our rainy season’s of late summer/early fall and January.  On average, the 303 mm of rainfall (almost 12 inches – for comparison, the average annual rainfall in Los Angeles is between 12 and 15 inches of rain per year) feeds the biodiversity of the area and beyond to the oceans, where water appears from the ground in Ojos de Agua and springs.  The quantity of water found in the agricultural areas around Todos Santos is an example of the added benefit that the Sierras deliver.

To give you an example of how unique this environment is, the nearest pine trees to the Sierra Laguna is 1800 km.s away by land on the Baja Peninsula, or 500 km.s away if you cross the Gulf of California to Sinoloa.  It is surmised that the origins of the pines were from the mainland groves, but due to the isolation and millions of years of separation and evolution, the pine trees found in the Sierra Laguna have evolved into separate species with completely different characteristics than those of the mainland cousins.  Over 900 species of plants exist in the biosphere, with over 18% or 165 species being completely endemic (peculiar to a particular locality or region).Tropical Dry Forests are, unlike the popular belief, are much more prevalent in the Tropics than the preconceived image of a rain forest. It may come as a surprise that for over 75% of the tropics, annual drought is a way of life. There are many different kinds of tropical habitats worldwide that experience dry seasons, with names like tropical dry forest, tropical deciduous forest, thorn forest, spiny desert, savannah, cerrado, and caatinga.  These dry forest areas of the tropics often have higher soil quality than tropical wet forest areas, making them better for agriculture and extremely attractive to human and livestock use.  As a result, the Tropical Dry Forests are experiencing a faster and higher degree of degradation worldwide than that of wet forests or rain forests.  We should be thankful that in 1994, UNESCO named the Sierra de Laguna part of the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve system. 


























































La sierra de la laguna