Sunset from Valle Tranquilo [Photo: Katie Gallagher] 

Baja Conservation Field Trip
– Thursday-to-Monday, November 8-12, 2018

Trip Description

Invasive plants are spreading across the U.S. Southwest and Baja. Are you interested in learning more about conservation efforts in rural Baja? Are you curious about how you can get involved? Now's your chance!

Tamarisk ramosissima, an invasive tree destructive to native ecology, grows in desert areas like this, wherever it can find groundwater [Photo: Copyright © 2010 Richard Zmasek]

The CNPS Mission is “To conserve California native plants and their natural habitats…” and you can contribute to their goals on this field trip. The tamarisk, an aggressively invasive tree that threatens to take over significant desert and riparian habitats in the California Floristic Province and elsewhere, is targeted for containment in Baja.

CNPS-SGM board member Katie Gallagher has spent the last three years on a research and land management project on a nature preserve near San Quintin, Baja California. She focuses on controlling tamarisk trees that have invaded near-pristine arroyo habitats. This year, she welcomes CNPS members and friends to join her!

We will begin our Baja adventure by contributing to local conservation through removing invasive tamarisk trees. Then we will play, explore, and learn! Explore native desert habitats including forests of cardon cacti and boojum trees; stand in one location to touch nine different cactus species; and hike and camp on one of the last intact sand dunes in western North America. Panoramic desert landscapes, colorful sunsets and nighttime stargazing, undimmed by city lights all belong to us on this field trip.


Thursday, Nov. 8: Travel Day to Valle Tranquilo 
6:00am: Meet at Eaton Canyon Nature Center parking lot to confirm carpooling and caravanning details. The drive will take approximately 6 hours, including the border crossing through San Ysidro to Tijuana. We stop for lunch and an ATM in Ensenada. Close to the end of our drive we stop in San Quintin for dinner. The tamarisk area is located in Valle Tranquilo, one hour from town at the end of a quiet, rural road. We will camp there and enjoy the beautiful views. A minimum of all-wheel drive is required for this day.

One of the most intact sand dune areas left in western North America, bordered by extinct volcanoes [Photo: Katie Gallagher]

Friday, Nov 9: San Quintin tamarisk control
We will work as teams of four to remove as many tamarisk as possible. We do this by cutting, then painting the tamarisk with the least amount of herbicide needed to control it. It won’t be all work that day, as we can enjoy seeing diverse desert flora, including nine different types of cactus. We’ll reward our hard work after dinner with a group campfire. No vehicles needed this day.

Saturday, Nov. 10: El Rosario tamarisk control and hiking
We will pack and move to the town of El Rosario, about a one-hour drive from our first campground. We’ll enjoy lunch at a restaurant in town, then set up camp close by in the midst of a large arroyo. We will do some additional tamarisk control close to the camp, while exploring other noteworthy desert plants. Boojum trees and cordon cactus thrive there along with other interesting species. A minimum of all-wheel drive is required for this day.

Sunday, Nov. 11: Punta Mazo hiking and exploring
We pack and depart El Rosario, then tour the San Quintin Botanic Garden, where we can enjoy more diversity of desert species and eat lunch. Afterward, we drive to Punta Mazo, where we will explore one of the most intact sand dunes left in western North America. We will drive on the beach to reach the campsite, so four-wheel drive vehicles are required for this part of the trip. All-wheel-drive folks will park at the start of the beach and will be shuttled 1.2 miles in the 4-wheel drive cars. We will camp that night at the base of an extinct volcano in the dunes and set up a campfire.

Monday, Nov 12: Travel Day
Our return home will be on participants’ desired schedules. Possible stops can be made along the way of the six-hour drive. We encourage morning departure to return home by late afternoon or evening on the Veteran’s Day holiday. Note: the Tijuana border crossing can be very slow, so an earlier departure is advised. If you don’t want to wait in the slow line, it is also possible to cross at Tecate, Mexico where the line is frequently much shorter. However, this involves an additional two-hour detour.

Detailed trip checklist

Activity level: Moderate. We will be walking several hours per day at a slow pace over scattered rocks and pebbles, loose sand, and varied desert vegetation; a few steep but short slopes.

Equipment needed for tamarisk removal: hand-held pruning clippers, lopping pruning sheers (long handled); leather gloves

Food: We will be stopping in towns along the way, so participants may purchase lunch on 4 of the 5 days and purchase dinner on 2 days. Participants are responsible to bring their own breakfast all 5 days and a minimum of 1 lunch and 3 dinners.

  Thu Fri Sat Sun Mon
Lunch Restaurant BYO Restaurant Restaurant Restaurant
Dinner Restaurant BYO BYO BYO Restaurant
Relaxing between boojum trees [Photo: Katie Gallagher]
Recommended water supplies: Daytime temperatures average in the high 80s in Nov., so bring a minimum of 1 gallon per person per day for both drinking and cooking/washing. Water jugs can be refilled at water stores in town.

Money and purchases: All the towns we pass through have water and groceries stores, where you can replenish your supplies. Dollars or pesos are recommended for food and water purchases. The group will stop in Ensenada on Thursday for peso withdrawals from an ATM. Gasoline stations typically take credit cards.

Cooking: Camp stoves are best for cooking. We’ll have a group campfire two of our nights. Firewood will be purchased in San Quintin.

Facilities: We will be camping each night in primitive campsites, so bring your own camping gear, food, and water. Burying your solid waste is an option, but we want to minimize the impact 20 people can have on a fragile desert ecosystem. We will provide a Luggable Loo for participants’ solid waste disposal.

Weather: Temperatures average in the high 80s to low 50s in November, so bring appropriate clothing and bedding. There are frequently cold winds in Punta Mazo (Sunday), so be sure to pack a windbreaker.

Sun protection and hats: These are essential because we will be hiking and camping in areas with no shade.

Carpooling: This will be organized as participants sign up. We seek to limit our number of vehicles and share the drive as much as possible. Parking for the weekend is available for carpoolers in the Eaton Canyon lot.

Travel maps: To download a set of Google travel maps, click here (3.3 MB). Also, click here for a kmz file. [Image: Map data © 2018 Google]
Vehicles: A minimum of all-wheel drive is required for the first 3-1/2 days and can be used to drive and park, 1.2 mile from Sunday night’s camping location on the dunes. 4-wheel drive is required for moving campers and gear on the dunes 1.2 miles to the campsite. We will organize a “camping gear-shuttle system”.

Paperwork required: You will need passport, together with international health insurance and car insurance. A signed CNPS Trip Release form will be signed on Thursday morning before leaving Eaton Canyon.

Telephone: International phone service is available along the Panamerican Highway. Cell service is limited in the more rural areas. We encourage those with walkie talkies to bring them so we can communicate while caravanning.

- Click here for a set of Google travel maps (3.3 MB).
- Click here for a kmz file (20 KB) containing geographic data for viewing with Google Earth.

Language: Fluency in Spanish is not required.

Recommended reading:

Plant Guide: Maritime Succulent Scrub Region, Northwest Baja California, Mexico, 2015; by Jim Riley, et al.

Baja California Plant Field Guide,3rd Ed., 2012 by Jon P. Rebman et al.

Southwest Desert Flora, for brief introduction to tamarisk plants: Click here.

To see color maps of migration of tamarisk from the US Southwest into Baja, see: Remote Sensing Time Series for Modeling Invasive Species Distribution: A Case Study of Tamarix spp. in the US and Mexico at: Click here.

Trip numbers and sign-up

This trip will be limited to 18 participants on a first come first serve basis. For more details and to RSVP, please contact Susan Flaming, CNPS-SGM Field Trip Coordinator, (626-833-3959).

Bienvenidos a Baja!

Cardon cactus in Baja [Photo: Katie Gallagher]