Baja California peninsula

Coordinates: 28°00′N 113°30′W / 28.000°N 113.500°W / 28.000; -113.500
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California peninsula
Satellite image of the Baja California peninsula
LocationNorthern Mexico
Coordinates28°00′N 113°30′W / 28.000°N 113.500°W / 28.000; -113.500
Adjacent to
Area143,390 km2 (55,360 sq mi)
Population4,567,467 (2020)

The Baja California peninsula (Spanish: Península de Baja California, lit.'Lower California peninsula') is a peninsula in northwestern Mexico. It separates the Gulf of California from the Pacific Ocean. The peninsula extends from Mexicali, Baja California, in the north to Cabo San Lucas, Baja California Sur, in the south.

With a length of 1,247 km (775 miles), its width ranges from 40 km (25 miles) at its narrowest to 320 km (200 miles) at its widest point and has approximately 3,000 km (1,900 miles) of coastline and approximately 65 islands. The total area of the Baja California peninsula is 143,390 km2 (55,360 sq mi).

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.


The name 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".[1] The water separating the island, now called "Gulf of California" was sometimes called the "Red Sea".[2] 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.[citation needed]

Following Hernán Cortés's conquest of Mexico, the search for the fabled Strait of Anián connecting the Atlantic to the Pacific 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.[3] Abraham Ortelius showed it as an extensive peninsula in his Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, published in Antwerpen in 1589, and on the map Maris Pacifici from 1589. Nevertheless, in the first half of the 17th century, the idea of California as an island spread again, it persisted well into the 18th century, and it was included in many erroneous maps that did not have the knowledge of the Spanish sailors about the Pacific coast of North America.[4] It is believed to have originated with Carmelite friar Antonio Ascension, who around 1620 drew a map of California depicting it as an island, supposedly on a misconception of reports by Spanish navigators Juan de Fuca and Martin d'Aquilar.[5] A copy of this map was sent to Spain and was seized by the Dutch on its way and then reproduced in the Netherlands, and eventually found its way to Henry Briggs in London who widely disseminated this misinformation. The first printed map showing California as an island was published by Briggs in 1622 (this map was also included in Hakluytus Posthumus by Samuel Purchas, 1625), where it was written that it was sometimes supposed to be a peninsula, but had since been shown by the Dutch to be an island. The idea was warmly accepted by cartographers and presented even in c. 1720 on Carte Nouveelle de la Mer du Sud, published in Amsterdam by Andries and Hendrik de Leth [nl].[6] Garcia and Jorge opined in 2023 that a reason for such a mistake could have originated in the secret in which the Spaniards held their cartography from other European powers' eyes.[7]

The final blow to the notion of California as an island was struck by an influential map created by Italian Jesuit priest Eusebio Kino during his mission in the Pimería Alta. It was titled Paso por tierra a la California y sus confinantes nuevas Naciones y Misiones nuevas de la Compañía de JHS [Jesús] en la América Septentrional ("Overland Passage to California and its Contiguous New Nations and New Missions of the Society of Jesus in Northern America").[8] Originally, in 1695, it depicted California as a peninsula but based on the presence of blue abalone shells (most likely Haliotis fulgens) from the Pacific coast in the Pimería Alta, the information from natives, and his own travels and sightings, Eusebio Kino redrew the map in 1701.[9] The map was printed in 1707 in Hamburg and Leipzig and became one of the best-known maps of northern New Spain. A notable colleague of Eusebio Kino who accompanied him on one of his major travels (in 1694) and acted as the intermediary in the publication of this map and dissemination of Kino's knowledge in Europe was Carniolan priest Marcus Antonius Kappus [es].[10]


Political divisions[edit]

Mexico in 1854, with Baja California Territory in gray (left)

The province of the Californias was united until 1804, in the Spanish colonial Viceroyalty of New Spain, when it was divided into Alta (upper) and Baja (lower) California.

The two Californias division was kept after Mexican independence in 1821. The Spanish Baja California Province became Mexican Baja California Territory, and remained a separate territory until 1836. In 1836, the Siete Leyes constitutional reforms reunited both Californias in the Departamento de las Californias. After 1848, the Baja California peninsula again became a Mexican territory when Alta California was ceded to the United States (see 1854 map).

In 1931, Baja California Territory was divided into northern and southern territories. In 1952, the "Territory of Baja California Norte" became the 29th State of Mexico as Baja California. In 1974, the "Territory of Baja California Sur" became the 31st state as Baja California Sur.

Baja California[edit]

Isla Partida, which is part of the San Lorenzo Marine Archipelago National Park

The northern part is the state of Baja California. It is sometimes informally referred to as Baja California Norte, to distinguish it from both the Baja California peninsula and the adjacent state Baja California Sur. The citizens of Baja California are named bajacalifornianos ("Lower Californians" in English). Mexicali is the capital.

Baja California Sur[edit]

Port of Cabo San Lucas

The southern part, below 28° north, is the state of Baja California Sur. The citizens of Baja California Sur are named sudcalifornianos ("South Californians" in English). La Paz is its capital.


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,[14] 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.[14] 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:[15]

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.[16]


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 de San Pedro Mártir runs south of the Sierra de Juárez and includes the peninsula's highest peak, the Picacho del Diablo.
  • The Sierra de San Borja runs south of the Sierra de San Pedro Mártir.
  • The volcanic complex of Tres Vírgenes 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 Vírgenes 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 climate of Baja California peninsula is predominantly a hot desert climate, with the northern parts featuring a Mediterranean climate, and contains some dots of Mediterranean and hot semi arid climate along all of the peninsula.

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

The Sebastián Vizcaíno Bay, the largest bay in Baja, lies along the Pacific coast halfway up the peninsula. The large Cedros Island 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 Isla Ángel de la Guarda in the Gulf of California.


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.


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.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ "Spain's Fantastic Vision and the Mythic Creation of California" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2017-05-25. Retrieved 2017-01-31.
  2. ^ "California as Island? The Valk Map in the USC Chronicle | USC Libraries". Retrieved 2021-04-04.
  3. ^ "Gulf of California". Encyclopaedia Britannica. 30 August 2023.
  4. ^ Jennings, Ken (March 19, 2018). ""For Centuries, Europeans Thought California Was an Island"". Condé Nast Traveler.
  5. ^ Toley, R. V. (1980). The Mapping of America. p. 110.
  6. ^ Nabergoj, Tomaž (2009). "Marko Anton Kappus (1657–1717): misijonar, ki je odkrival Ameriko" [Marcus Antonius Kappus (1657–1717): The Missionary Who Was Discovering the America]. Vigenjc: Glasilo Kovaškega muzeja v Kropi: Rodbina Kappus pl. Pilchstein [Vigenjc: Newsletter of the Blacksmith Museum in Kropa: The Kappus von Pilchstein family] (in Slovenian). Vol. IX. Museums of the Municipality of Radovljica. p. 29–30. ISSN 1580-6529. Retrieved 2023-10-13.
  7. ^ a b Presidio. Soldados del Rey. Garcia Ruiz, Jorge L. (2023) ISBN 979-8378355877
  8. ^ Kino, Eusebio (1701). "Paso por tierra a la California y sus confinantes nuevas Naciones y Misiones nuevas de la Compañía de JHS [Jesús] en la América Septentrional. Descubierto, andado y demarcado por el Padre Eusebio Francisco Kino, jesuita, desde el año de 1698 hasta el de 1701".
  9. ^ Hans, Bertsch (2010). "Las Conchas Azules (The Blue Shells): Father Kino, abalones, and the Island of California" (PDF). The Nautilus. 124 (4): 188–191.
  10. ^ Stanonik, Janez (2007). "Marcus Antonius Kappus: a Reevaluation". Acta neophilologica. 40 (1/2): 61-74. COBISS 35705186.
  11. ^ a b Schmal, John P. (2019-09-14). "Indigenous Baja California: The Rarest of the Rare". Indigenous Mexico. Retrieved 2022-12-17.
  12. ^ Von der Porten, Edward (2019). Ghost Galleon: The Discovery and Archaeology of the San Juanillo on Shores of Baja California. Texas A&M University Press. p. 208.
  13. ^ Barkenbus, Jack, "The Trans-Peninsular Highway: A New Era for Baja California", Journal of Interamerican Studies and World Affairs, Vol. 16, No. 3. (Aug., 1974), pp. 259–273.
  14. ^ a b Alles, David L. "Geology of the Salton Trough" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 2012-03-02. Retrieved 2016-12-18.
  15. ^ "Global Volcanism Program | Volcanoes of the World | Volcanoes of México and Central America | México". Archived from the original on 2010-06-14. Retrieved 2010-01-10. Volcanoes of México and Central America
  16. ^ "New Study Shows Desert Mangroves Are Major Source of Carbon Storage | Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego". 2016-03-28. Archived from the original on 2016-04-09. Retrieved 2016-03-30.


Further reading[edit]

  • MacDonald, Gregory (2019). Isle of the Amazons In the Vermilion Sea. Kansas City, MO: 39 West Press. ISBN 978-1-946358-14-1. An anthology of writings that describe Baja California, and the Gulf of California, from sources dated from the mid-sixteenth century to present.

External links[edit]