At first glance, the countryside of Baja California is nothing but flat desert with an army of small shrubs penetrated by Cardones cactus.
However, inland it turns out to be much, much, more. Down near where the peninsula ends is a very small mountain range not very long and not very high. But from a distance you can’t possibly know from the flat endless desert that there are ever-changing layers of desert habitats above you – everything from cactus and elephant tree, to live oaks and pinion pines.
We were blessed with the opportunity to examine each and every one of these layers in close and sweaty detail as we marched our way up through them to a base camp up at around seven thousand feet. A valley we entered at the top seemed innocent and peaceful from a distance as we stood under the canopy of pinion pines. We arrived at base camp, which was just across the valley after about ten minutes. The camp was on the edge of the forest in a small batch of magnificently large pinions, which were surrounded by rather large prickly pear cacti covered with large red fruits.
However we slowly began to realize that the fields we perceived to be so untouched were actually nothing more than small fields of surface beauty hiding the tiers beneath them. The fields were filled with small scraps of every sort of trash imaginable – every thing from wads of toilet paper mindlessly thrown about, to water bottles, to the water bottle labels, candy wrappers of every kind and size, tin and aluminum cans, even clothes.
The next day we embarked on our day hike up to one of the highest points on the mountain range. This hike was as magnificent as the last one however nowhere near as much up hill and as hot as the day before.
The hike was very short but with strong rewards, after peaking the actual peak we descended a fairly short distance to small rock outcropping. At the top of this we could identify both the Pacific Ocean and the sea of Cortes on the Atlantic side. Looking out we could see the beach were we had learned to surf and the area of our hotel in Todos Santos.
That night we all asked the question why was this whole area so violated with trash? A couple of weeks before 600 local teens had hiked to this area and our guide explained that apparently to the young generations in Baja, trash is not a water bottle or plastic wrapper. Trash to them is thought of as bagfuls. Trash is only considered trash in large quantities. So to them, a wrapper or water bottle is no more than what it is. Part of that attitude may come from eons of humans discarding biodegradable waste, but now with plastics and such that which is discarded is trash and old habits die hard.
On our decent we decided we would all take a bag that we would fill with the trash we walked past. At the end of our trek we all pilled together our collections to create at least a square yard of trash. At second glance, we had helped the area return to a more pristine state and it felt awesome to play a part in being a steward of the natural environment.