Punta Cerro Prieto to Palm Valley, April 8th 2006.

In the morning we broke camp at the usual 5:00 AM in order to be ready to launch at 8:00. The last time I had paddled down this coastline I had cut across a large bight and didn’t get to see the shore up close. Since we were not in a hurry we meandered along the coastline for half of the day. This took us past the old Clam Packing Plant where John Weed and some Mexican panga fishermen were camping. John joined us for the day and regaled us with more stories while we paddled north.

On some of the maps there is a small island on the coastline here, and I hoped to see it. But the island never appeared. There is another group of islands on the other side of Isla Angel de la Guarda that also doesn’t exist. I have an hypothesis that these islands were water stains dripped on the first map of the area ever drawn at INEGI. Cartographers have been diligently copying them from map to map ever since. Because I have always used these difficult to find Mexican topographic maps I have names for many of the features that are unnamed on lower resolution maps. John uses the fishing maps and did not know what we were talking about when we asked him about some places by name, like a nearby sandy spit named Punta Arena.

John told us that the first and largest Palm Valley could easily be found because there was a small palm tree growing right down close to the water. We found such a palm tree early in the day while we were approaching Point Arena, miles before I expected to see any palms. We landed and John declared this the wrong beach, it must be a new palm tree that only recently became established. We called this “False Palm Beach”. A few miles later we found the true Palm Beach, or at least the one John was looking for. This beach did not look like the description that I had from Ed Gillette. Ed told me that from the water you can see palm trees sticking up over the ridge. This was not true on John’s Palm Beach. John tells me that there are 5 different arroyos in this area that have palm trees in them! This is his favorite one. He gave me GPS co-ordinates for two other ones.

We changed into hiking clothes and went for a long walk up John’s Palm Valley. Eventually we did come across adult desert palm trees and declared the Quest a success. We took our pictures posing in front of several different palm trees, including a classic set of two palm trees leaning away from each other. We also found a rattlesnake at one place in the valley! So the prediction of finding snakes in Viper Valley also came true! John told us a story about a friend of his who was camping in this valley and found one of these snakes near his camp. He killed it, skinned it and photographed it. We were all as horrified as John was to hear that this guy had killed a rare, endangered and protected animal on the island. When John objected the guy said that he had to kill it because it was near his camp. This is so old-school we all had to shake our heads. My reaction to the possibility of snakes in my camp is to sleep in a tent that zipps shut so they cannot join me in my sleeping bag. I don’t feel the need to kill every one near by to make myself safe. We badgered our snake for a few minutes to try and get some good photographs but it never shook its rattle at us. Perhaps she never got very upset with us (John ID’ed her as female). Another theory is that the old-school Mexican panga fishermen have been killing every rattlesnake they find and selecting the survivors for the ones that don’t rattle and are thus harder to find. John kept asking us to put our hands down near the snake so he would have them in the frame of the picture for size comparison. None of us took him up on the suggestion.

In a long walk, several miles and several hundred feet of climbing, we saw only a half a dozen palm trees in this valley. John took us to a place he called the “Color Room” where several valleys came together and the canyon walls were made out of minerals that were all different colors. Then we headed back down the valley to set up camp for the evening. We invited John to join us for dinner, but he declined. He pulled another bit of technology out of his kayak, a stove called a Jet Boil. He says this is the best camping stove ever because it boils water in seconds. It runs off butane canisters, but it works so fast that one canister lasts him for weeks. The stove and the small pot snap together and there is a finned aluminum heat sink on the bottom of the pot to speed up heat transfer. He cooked himself a macaroni dinner, ate it, packed up his kayak and was ready to leave before we had started eating our dinner. He headed back down to his camp in the evening, looking forward to paddling by moonlight.

All text and images Copyright © 2006 by Mike Higgins / contact