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Satellite view of Baja California peninsula
The Baja California peninsula (Spanish: Península de Baja California, meaning Lower California peninsula) is a peninsula in western Mexicomarker. It extends some 1250 km (775 miles) from Mexicalimarker, Baja Californiamarker, in the north to Cabo San Lucasmarker, Baja California Surmarker, in the south, separating the Pacific Oceanmarker from the Gulf of Californiamarker (or "Sea of Cortés"). The total area of the Peninsula is 143,396 km2.


In the minds of European explorers California existed as an idea before it was discovered. The earliest known mention of the idea of California was in the 1510 romance novel Las Sergas de Esplandián by Spanish author Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo. The book described the Island of California as being west of the Indiesmarker, "very close to the side of the Terrestrial Paradise; and it is peopled by black women, without any man among them, for they live in the manner of Amazons."

Following Hernán Cortés conquest of Mexico, the lure of an earthly paradise as well as the search for the fabled Strait of Anián, helped motivate him to send several expeditions to the west coast of New Spain in the 1530s and early 1540s. The first expedition reached the Gulf of California and California, and proved the Island of California was in fact a peninsula. Nevertheless, the idea of the island persisted for well over a century and was included in many maps. The Spaniards gave the name "California" to the peninsula and to the lands north, including both Baja California and Alta Californiamarker, the region that became parts of the present-day U.S. states of Californiamarker, Nevadamarker, and others.


Photo of the marker
New Spain's province of California was divided into Alta Californiamarker and Baja California on May 19, 1773 near San Juan Bautista Creek by Fray Francisco Palóu. A marker is erected in the place where the dividing committee began the measurements for the province's partition. The marker is behind the Misión San Miguel Arcángel de la Frontera, near Ensenada, Baja Californiamarker.

Translated into English, the inscription on the marker reads:

San Juan Bautista Creek (Crespi, May 1 for the setting of the first international division line between Old or Lower California (Dominicans) and New or Upper California (Franciscans) five leagues to the north (Valley of the Medanos) being established by: Priest Francisco Palou on 19 August 1773 (Mojonera of Palou) in compliance with the instructions put forth on the April 7 1772 Concordato. Rosarito Historical Society, Baja California A.C. at The Mission, Baja California, on 20 May 1990. Fieldwork and research: Mario Reyes Meléndez. Monument donation: Christenson - Carrozo Family. Construction: Students of the School of Tourism at U.A.B.C.(Autonomous University of Baja California).


The whole peninsula of Baja California was a Spanish, then Mexican territory from 1804 until 1931.


  • 1532: Hernán Cortés sends three ships north along the coast of Mexicomarker in search of the Island of California. The three ships disappear without a trace.
  • 1533: Cortés sends a follow-up mission to search for the lost ships. Pilot Fortún Ximénez leads a mutiny and founds a settlement in the Bay of La Pazmarker before being killed.
  • 1539: Francisco de Ulloa explores both coasts.
  • 1690s–1700s: Spanish settlement in California
  • 1804: The Spanish colony of California is divided into Alta ("Upper") and Baja ("Lower") California.
  • 1847:The Battle of La Paz and the Siege of La Paz occurs, aswell as several other engagements.
  • 1850: after Alta Californiamarker annexed by the United States, Baja California is divided into northern and southern territories.
  • 1853: William Walker, with 45 men, captures the capital city of La Pazmarker and declares himself President of the Republic of Lower California. Mexico forces him to retreat a few months later.
  • 1930: Baja California is further divided into Northern and Southern territories.
  • 1952: The North Territory of Baja California becomes the 29th state of Mexico, Baja Californiamarker. The southern portion, below 28°N, remains a federally administered territory.
  • 1973: The 1700km (1060 miles) long Trans-Peninsular Highway (Mexican Federal Highway 1), is finished. It is the first paved road that spans the entire peninsula. The highway was built by the Mexican government to improve Baja's economy and increase tourism.
  • 1974: The South Territory of Baja California becomes the 31st state, Baja California Surmarker.
  • 1989: Baja Californiamarker elects Ernesto Ruffo Appel the first non PRI governor since 1929.

Political divisions

The peninsula is divided into two parts:

Geographic features

A series of mountain ranges runs the length of the peninsula, which are known as the Peninsular Ranges, and extend into Southern California.
  • The Sierra Juárezmarker is the northernmost range in Mexico.
  • The Sierra San Pedro Mártirmarker lies south of the Sierra Juárez, and is higher. The highest point is Cerro de la Encantada, 3096 m.
  • The volcanic complex of Tres Virgenesmarker lies in Baja California Sur, near the border with the state of Baja California.
  • The Sierra de la Giganta runs along the shore of the Gulf of California south of the Tres Virgenes complex.
  • At the south end of Baja California Sur, the Sierra de la Lagunamarker forms an isolated mountain range rising to 2406 m.
  • The Bahía de los Ángelesmarker is a bay located on the east side of the peninsula facing the Gulf of California.


The Baja California peninsula was once a part of the North American Plate, the tectonic plate of which mainland Mexico remains a part. About 5 million years ago, the East Pacific Rise began cutting into the margin of the North American Plate, initiating the separation of the peninsula from it. Thereafter, the East Pacific Rise continued to propagate northward, up through what is now the Gulf of California. The propagating tip of the spreading center is now located somewhere in the Salton Seamarker basin. The Baja California peninsula is now part of the Pacific Plate and is moving with it away from the East Pacific Rise in a north northwestward direction. It is an ongoing example of a type of crustal block known as a terrane.

Just up the coast from Santa Rosalia, Baja California Surmarker is a prominent area of volcanic activity. The arid climate of Baja California allows the dramatic volcanic features of the landscape to stand out clearly for the visitor.


The peninsula is home to several distinct ecoregions. Most of the peninsula is deserts and xeric shrublands, although pine-oak forests are found in the mountains at the northern and southern ends of the peninsula. The southern tip of the peninsula, which was formerly an island, has many species with affinities to tropical Mexico.

See also


  1. Baja Highway: Drive the Baja California Peninsula
  2. Barkenbus, Jack, The Trans-Peninsular Highway: A New Era for Baja California, Journal of Interamerican Studies and World Affairs, Vol. 16, No. 3. (Aug., 1974), pp. 259-273.
  3. Baja California, it is sometimes informally referred to as Baja California Norte, to distinguish it from both the Baja California peninsula, of which it forms the northern half, and Baja California Sur, the adjacent state that covers the southern half of the peninsula. While it is a well-established term for the northern half of the Baja California peninsula, however, its usage would not be correct, because Baja California Norte has never existed as a political designation for a state, territory, district or region.


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