Waterfalls In The Desert

by Bruce F. Barber


The San Felipe Desert is a living museum. Within its confines are an infinite variety of rocks, sands, lavas, seashells and plants. Although a part of the vast Sonora Desert, the northeastern sector of Baja California has been sub-divided and named separately because of its distinctly different features. Driving south from Mexicali, it is entered through a doorway as distinct as the Laguna Salada and Sierra Pinta.

Continuing southward, we come upon an arboretum as unique and interesting as Nature has created anywhere. The land is dotted with Bursage, Creosote Bush, Mesquite, Palo Triste, Palo Verde and the rapidly disappearing Palo Fiero (Ironwood). A closer look reveals Elephant Tree, several varieties of Cholla, Senita Cactus, Ocotillo and Smoke Tree.

Whereas a taller cactus is encountered and often mistaken for Southern Arizona and Northern Sonora's stately Saguaro, it is Cardon, the world's tallest cactus. In fact, one of the most beautiful stands in existence is found along Baja Sur's Magdelena Plain where they stand in heights exceeding seventy-five feet. In contrast, those found in and around San Felipe are limited to fifty feet in height.

Out of the way, and on private property, an easy place to see these magnificent plants is in The Valley of the Giants where╔ One day, while rambling around the desert searching for new roads to travel, I found a road I hadn't noticed before and followed it. Twisting and turning as most desert roads do, I saw branch roads to the right and left which seemed sufficiently less traveled to enable me to continue as I was.

Driving slowly, I observed every inch of the terrain until, ahead of me, the road turned sharply to the east. As I made that turn I came upon a stand of Cardon╔ hundreds of them that struck me with their beauty, their number and their presence.

Leaving my Bronco at the entrance, I started off on foot because I wanted to talk to them, to learn their age, to inspect their individual beauty, and to decipher the stories they might tell me.

I found several with trunks more than a meter in diameter; one with more than thirty branches, some dead, some dying and, I found young Cardon no more than an inch tall. From the living I learned their age. From the dead, their structure; from the dying a cause of death.I found my garden in the lee of a 5-miles long mountain range and that told me why the garden was there.

It is not a secret place, anyone can find it; many have before me. But, it is the kind of place that should be discovered the way I did: Searching for the Beauty of Baja! Yes, I love the desert. Although it is not for everyone, it is, to me, one of the most beautiful places on earth.

As I look upon it, I don't see a scorched, barren place overrun with cactus, rattlesnakes and scorpions. On the contrary, I see an unparalleled natural beauty overflowing with color. I see its history, for the desert is, in most cases, composed of mountains,valleys, hills, lakes and dunes and each tells of an epoch of land formation and change.

Crossing the desert inevitably involves crossing dry river beds. If you'd like to find something interesting , follow a dry riverbed upstream. The most visible things you'll see are its rocks. Notice their size and you'll learn something of the power of water. Notice the variety and you may wonder from whence each came.

I followed a riverbed one day╔ looking for gold, caves, pictographs and petroglyphs, petrified wood, and whatever else the land had to offer. As I walked, over mile after mile of dry sand, I rounded a curve, as I've done many times before, and there in front of me was a flowing river.

As sure as God made little green apples, it was a river! I'd found its lower terminus, the place where the stream disappeared beneath the sand. Following the stream to learn where it might lead, I saw tadpoles, tiny fish and miniature turtles.

I watched a bird feeding on bugs living on the water. Initially, this bird stood on a tall rock from where it could search for its meal. On sighting that meal, it leaped into the air to fly the one, two or three feet to where the bug rested on the surface. Still on the wing, it reached down, plucked its meal from the water, and flew to a nearby rock to feast and repeat its searching and feasting.

I saw droppings from cattle, coyotes and mountain lions. I saw an old pipeline some farmer had lain years earlier, now rusted and broken by the power of rampaging water. Because water in the desert is rare, I kept a watchful eye, and ear, for the possibility of other desert creatures seeking water for themselves. My risk was reduced by the fact that it was daytime but alert I was and aware of every sound. And that's how it was I was drawn to the falls.

I heard them before I saw them although at first I couldn't identify the noise. Was it wind? water? a motor? And then, suddenly, they were in front of me. Crystal clear, even silvery in the midday light. I couldn't believe my eyes. There were two of them, actually, one above the other . . . cascading over two huge rocks.

They weren't large, but they were beautiful. And, according to the wear on the rocks, they'd been there for many a year. I waded into the stream to stand beneath them, letting the water spill upon my head. It was cool; refreshing. I drank: The water was pure and sweet.

I laid on the sand alongside the stream and rested my now-aching legs. I was in a Garden of Eden. I was at peace with the world and that world was a place of incomparable beauty. I had found something more precious than gold, more interesting than pictographs, more wonderful than petrified wood. For I found-in a place I love so much-waterfalls in the desert!