Project Dragonfly: Baja California Mexico - Ryan Pennesi Photography
Photo Credit: Jessie Schrauger

Photo Credit: Jessie Schrauger

As part of a graduate school program through the University of Miami Ohio, called "Project Dragonfly", I recently had the once in a lifetime opportunity to travel to remote parts of Baja California, Mexico. My partner Danielle and I had the fortuity to both do this program and went on the Baja IV (the 50th group to take the same journey) trip together! Here we are standing on the edge of a picturesque canyon just outside of Rancho San Gregorio. We stayed 3 nights at the Ranch, located on the western slope of the peninsular ranges on the Baja California peninsula. 

Rancho San Gregorio

The Ranch is located in the Sonoran Desert, which at first glance was a  harsh environment, devoid of much wildlife.  But in fact, the region is teeming with life! We learned about desert plants, insects, mammals and birds. We studied the adaptations of flora and fauna of the area. For example, many of the mammals (kangaroo rats, bobcats, grey foxes, etc) have adapted to a nocturnal foraging/hunting strategy  when the temperatures are less intense. The graduate school group also adapted for the environment, nearly tripling our water and electrolyte intake, applying sunscreen frequently, wearing light, full coverage clothing, and avoiding prolonged mid-day exposure to the direct sun. We learned about the history of Ranches of the region, which were typically associated with natural water springs, offering an invaluable resource for  travelers, livestock, and growing crops. We learned that if you look at a desert landscape and see a dense pocket of vegetation (usually Palm trees), there is a good chance that it is an oasis of sorts associated with a spring or rain-water collection area. The region has a rich local human history, tradition, and culture. Our "in-country partners" was the term given to our guides, who grew up in the area, spoke the language and were very knowledgeable about their people's way of life--both past (indigenous) and present (ranchers). Rafael Galvan Villavicencio is the owner and caretaker of Rancho San Gregorio. He is also a very reputable doctor and holistic healer, many of his patients travel vast distances for his consults. Rafael taught us about the edible and healing properties of many of the desert plants--which have the natural ability to cure ailments and treat symptoms.                    

The giant Cardon cactus is one of the dominant plants of many of the deserts of the region.

A scorpion's exoskeleton glows in the presence of a blacklight.


Bahia De los Angeles

Next we traveled to the Vermillion Sea institute in Bahia de los Angeles where we slept on cots overlooking a bay of the Sea of Cortez. We learned about statistical analysis and collecting biological data. Our group studied the marine life including fin whales, sea turtles, shorebirds, starfish, whale sharks, and many more! As a class we investigated the islands of the sea and discovered pockets dense with plant and animal life. The desert surrounding the ocean is nutrient poor, but the waters of the sea are nutrient rich, hence: "ocean-powered islands". As debris and nutrients are deposited on the islands, mostly from currents and weather events (also from birds feces), plant and animal life takes hold. An absolute highlight for me was snorkeling with whale sharks and learning how to identify individuals based on their body patterns. 

Bahia de los Angeles and the Sea of Cortez as seen from a mountain overlook shortly after an early morning thunderstorm passed through.

The Spiny Chuckwalla (Sauromalus hispidus). According to the IUCN red list, this species is Near Threatened (NT) due to climate change and severe weather (droughts). These lizards are found only on islands in the Gulf of California.

Swimming with a Whale shark

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