It was the middle on the night, a dark night, in the far north of Baja California Sur. We had driven the little Dodge D50 all day, passing through some of the most alien landscapes you could find without leaving Earth. Baja California was rock rich and dirt poor. What I mean to say is that the mountains there seemed to have been made from heaps of massive boulders without the dirt you would expect in between. There was a mountain called the Witch’s Rock Pile that looked as though a giant dump truck had simply dropped off a load of boulders. Its name implied that witchcraft created the odd heap of stones. The boulders range from car-size to house-size. And Witch’s Rock Pile was just an example. The desert of Baja California was extreme. Plants were far and few between, each one struggling for a niche.
We wrapped up the day of driving with a chill-out session at a local cantina in Guerrero Negro. Back then, it was a bit smaller and less known. We shook off the long trip, received verbal directions to the site, and set out. I had already put my pickup through some tough times so learning that it was a five-mile gravel road out to the lagoon made no difference. We jumped in and drove off into the darkness. The road had no lights, no reflectors, no anything. It was just gravel dropped in the desert. The good news is that they had dropped a whole lot of gravel. The road might have accommodated three to four cars side by side. I hit the gas and throttled off into the unknown, making my co-pilot grab the dash.
We arrived at the end of the road to find more darkness. A few twinkling lights of flashlights appeared here and there, but for the most part, everyone else was asleep. We had arrived late in the night. After finding a parking spot, yet another challenge in moonless night, we stepped out and headed for the water.
We had come to Baja California for one reason, and that reason was the gray whales. Scammon’s Lagoon served as place for them to give birth to their calves in safety, something still true today. The waters of the lagoon barely appeared different than the land in the inky night. We managed to find the waterline and peered across the bay. We saw nothing. That however, left our other senses to do the discovering. And there they were, the gray whales. The sounds came as soft pops followed by watery exhalations. The whales were sleeping too, floating on the surface, breathing loud enough for us to hear from the shore. Even without sight we knew we were witness to a large gathering. We stood there for a long time, listening.
The next day we viewed the whales from shore and by boat in the bright desert sunlight of Baja California. However, to this day, it is that dark night and the breathing whales that strikes me as the most mysterious and memorable.