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Chubascos in Baja



By Gene Kira, Oct. 1, 2001, as published in Western Outdoor News:

As destructive and dangerous to human life as hurricanes certainly are, it is ironic that these tropical maelstroms can also be thought of as powerful sources of creation and abundance for the parched desert and warm coastal waters of Baja California's many world class sportfishing destinations.

Two of the most destructive hurricanes to hit Baja in recent memory occurred in 1959 and 1976.

In early September of 1959, an unnamed storm known in the records only as "#10" caused the entire section of Loreto that once lined the arroyo south of town to disappear, and three-dozen people were reported killed or missing in the ranchos and coastal areas.

The storm continued north to Mulege, where it sent a flash flood down the river, turning the El Sombrerito hill beneath the town lighthouse into a temporary island, and silting-in the riverbed enough to wipe out its population of giant black snook to the present day.

Then, in 1976, horrendous Hurricane Liza caused a dam to break near La Paz, and the resulting flood of mud and boulders cut right through the city, completely erasing a wide swath of streets and houses, and killing an unknown number of people estimated in the thousands (only last year, another tragic car wreck was discovered buried in the flood path, with the remains of a human body in it).

In East Cape's coastal village of La Ribera, Hurricane Liza tore the roofs off the town and left parents clutching their children in the ruins of buildings as the sea rolled inland, wiping out crops and threatening to starve the local population. Bobby and Cha Cha Van Wormer's Hotel Punta Colorada also had its roofs disappear, and they began rebuilding as they helped to distribute $1,500 that had been collected for victims by Pat Snyder's Hurricane Relief Fund in the pages of Western Outdoor News.

These great Baja storms, whether correctly called hurricanes, huracanes in Spanish, or more colloquially, chubascos, are the great engines of change for the desert landscape. If you drive or walk through the remote arroyos leading to the beaches of southern Baja, you frequently come across signs of erosion that could only have been caused by floods of almost Biblical proportions, floods much, much higher and greater than have occurred within the time span of our own short memories.

Two striking examples of this massive earth scarring occur in the canyons leading toward the beach of San Juanico south of Bahia Concepcion, and the approach to the remote fish camp of Punta Rompiente near Turtle Bay. To extrapolate this type of flooding over the southern half of Baja California is to realize that much of what we see today was created not by the gradual erosion of winds and scant desert rains, but by the infrequent cataclysms of hurricanes.

On a more immediate Baja timetable, the torrential rains of storms such as last week's Hurricane Juliette serve to recharge the always-hungry desert aquifer, and fill the remote tinajas, or seasonal water holes in the deep arroyos, bringing forth brief life to a world of ephemeral plants, insects and other humble creatures that all have their place in the grand plan we call Nature; in a few weeks, the tinder-dry mountains and cliffs will burst forth with a deep mantle of green plants that are seen at no other time. Amid the destruction, come beauty and life renewed.

And for us whose vision is often turned towards the sea, those boulder tumbling torrents charging down every arroyo will bring the finely ground minerals, the remains of billions of insects and nameless animals, and the composted mulch of thousands of tons of plants, all rushing into the coffee brown sea, where they will create a life-giving richness also seen at no other time.

In a few weeks, the plankton will grow thick all around southern Baja, there will be a massive bloom of life, and for those of us with a rod in the hand and a gleam in the eye, the fishing will explode in a mini-replay of the spectre of creation itself.

(Related Baja California, Mexico, articles and reports may be found at's main Baja California information page. See weekly fishing news, photos, and reports from the major sportfishing vacation areas of Mexico including the Baja California area in "Mexico Fishing News.")