LIFE LIST

En­joy the best of Baja when you mix pad­dles with boots.

Backpacker - - Contents - By Laura Lancaster

ISLA DEL CAR­MEN, MEX­ICO Ex­plore the best of Baja on this float-and-hike ad­ven­ture through the Sea of Cortez.

AT FIRST, I’M SURE

it’s a trick of the light. But there re­ally is a clus­ter of shells em­bed­ded in the white rock 10 feet above our heads. The sight of fos­silized sea life is a wel­come dis­trac­tion from our cur­rent predica­ment: Our hik­ing party is tem­po­rar­ily ma­rooned on an 8-foot-high rock shelf, trapped here by the ad­vanc­ing tide. Our guide ex­plains that we’re stand­ing on an an­cient seabed, com­pressed by time and up­lifted by tec­tonic plates to re­veal the ocean floor hang­ing in the sky.

We’ve been travers­ing the bluffs of Isla del Car­men, a 20-mile-long is­land in the Sea of Cortez, hunt­ing for fos­sils like im­prints of trilo­bites and co­ral out­lines. As I scan the wall for shells, I hear happy shouts and turn around to spot the rest of our group in a flotilla of red and yel­low kayaks, bob­bing in the aqua­ma­rine surf and wav­ing their pad­dles.

The same tide that washed in dur­ing our hike is pro­pelling them to­ward an early lunch on a white-sand beach. My group waves back, even as we’re a lit­tle dis­ap­pointed to see them. Their ap­pear­ance con­firms what we feared: We’re fall­ing be­hind in an im­promptu race.

Our party kicked off a three­day ad­ven­ture through Mex­ico’s Loreto Bay Na­tional Marine Park yes­ter­day. We’re be­gin­ners when it comes to pad­dling, so we hired a guide to help us nav­i­gate the 6 miles from our launch just south of Loreto to the south­ern tip of Isla del Car­men. There, we camped on a car­doon cac­tus­fringed beach called El Faro be­fore break­ing into two groups to race to an­other beach, 3 miles away. Half of us chose to fol­low the shore in sea kayaks, while the oth­ers opted to trace the sea cliffs on foot. I’m a hiker and, though I knew I’d be at a dis­tinct dis­ad­van­tage on land, I chose to ex­plore the is­land’s unique ge­o­log­i­cal his­tory up close. Low tide re­vealed long stretches of flat vol­canic rock, its inky black frag­ments frozen in place and pock­marked with tide pools teem­ing with starfish and crabs that scut­tled off side­ways when we got too close. The waves licked our an­kles as we trot­ted around out­crop­pings, then came on fast, push­ing us up to our cur­rent 8-foot sea shelf.

Now, sur­rounded by translu­cent blue-green wa­ter on three sides and a sheer rock face on the fourth, be­ing out on the kayaks is start­ing to look pretty good. But then our guide scram­bles part­way down the shelf and jumps the last few feet into the wa­ter. I no­tice that th­ese aren’t the vi­o­lent tides I’m used to out on the Pa­cific Coast, so I fol­low and hop into the waist-high wa­ter, which is al­most as warm as the 70°F De­cem­ber air. It’s so clear I can see puffer­fish, sting

rays, and huge schools of blue­and yel­low-striped dam­selfish go­ing about their day in the world be­low.

We ar­rive at the beach sec­ond, but by that point, I’m no longer hur­ry­ing.

DO IT Head to back­packer.com/ baja-ad­ven­ture-guide to find an itin­er­ary. Note: The Sea of Cortez is begin­ner-friendly on calm days, but check con­di­tions. (Pack wa­ter; Isla del Car­men is dry.) PER­MIT Re­quired (~$2/per­son per day); ob­tain at the CONANP of­fice in La Paz or Loreto. GUIDE Aven­turas Baja (aven­turas­baja .com) charges $1,295 for this trip (in­cludes food and gear). CON­TACT bit.do/loreto-bay-np

Kayak­ers make camp on the south­ern tip of Isla del Car­men.

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