By Gene Kira, December 4, 2002, as orginally published in Western Outdoor News.
The immortal Ray Cannon--Western Outdoor News' first "Baja editor"--always took pride in having coined the well-known term, "Midriff," to refer to the central portion of Mexico's Sea of Cortez, but another name that Ray created in 1961 never caught on: "Juanaloa."
Not that ol' Ray didn't give it his best shot. In the pages of Western Outdoor News, he referred mysteriously to Juanaloa as an area of Baja that was "described to the Cortez conquistadors by Indians as a Utopia with Amazons and all." According to some legends, Ray averred, Juanaloa was once inhabited by a tribe of very tall and shapely women (ruled by a beautiful chieftress named "Juana") who wore nothing but black pearl loin cloths, and captured men "for breeding purposes."
Well! Despite that intriguing "history," the name "Juanaloa" never really became popular, and if you travel around Baja today, only a very small handful of people will even be able to tell you where it is.
Even in Ray's mind, the exact location of Juanaloa seemed to change over the years, but two things are certain: it was located somewhere near Loreto, and it included what Ray Cannon considered to be the most beautiful and enchanting waters of the entire Sea of Cortez.
In 1962, Ray wrote: "How can I tell you about a place when I have never seen another to compare it with?... There are only about 30 persons, including a number of seagoing, freedom-loving vagabundos, within the imaginary bounds of more than 750-square-miles. There are two of the finest bays in the Cortez; 16 sizable islands; a broken shoreline of coves, beaches and prominent headlands; and a bench covered with vegetation extending back... to the foot of sheer-faced mountains that poke up to more than 4,000 feet.
"But this is only the lay of the land, which abounds in game: deer, bighorn sheep, mountain lion, ducks, geese, doves, quail, and numerous varmints, by a sea pulsating with great and small fishes, shellfish, and lobsters. The enormous abundances of these should provide enough incentive to stir the average outdoorsman. But there is far more to attract those who seek adventure in far-out places. Here, within a few hours from the border, is a new world to explore and to satisfy the deep longing to see the indescribable."
Such was the love of Ray Cannon for this area.
Then, as now, the gateway to this fantastic part of the Sea of Cortez was the historic mission town of Loreto, Baja California Sur, Mexico, which for three centuries has remained perhaps the most typically "Baja" town on the peninsula.
Caught on a narrow coastal shelf between the sheer, majestic heights of the Sierra de la Giganta (giganta, a female giant. Get it?) mountain range and the crystal blue of the Sea of Cortez, the visual impact of Loreto from the sea is stunningly beautiful and it does justice to the words of a promotional campaign from earlier times: "Where even the mountains swim."
Indeed, Loreto's mountains and islands do to seem to swim, especially in the hot afternoon mirages when they can seem to float away into the sky.
In Cannon's words, as he described the view southward from the rocks near Loreto's Puerto Escondido, with photographer Harry Merrick:
"We were happily paralyzed by the unearthly vista... Down between and around the islands, hundreds of sea birds were wheeling, plunging and diving into a silvery blanket formed by small fish jumping a couple of feet into the air to avoid their game fish predators.
"These, and multitudes of sea creatures moving quietly in the tequila-clear water nearby gave us an extra charge of the dynamic reality of the Sea.
"Mountains that had been sliced off in the catastrophic faulting of a few million years ago, had been reshaped by the handiwork of nature's rains and winds to resemble Tibetan temples... But this is just one notch in a whole region filled with such glorious vistas and exhilarating things to do in them."
Today, the historic, charming, and very friendly town of Loreto still shimmers in the midst of this world of natural beauty, and perhaps because of it, Loreto seems to have developed into one of Baja's most varied and eternally "new" tourist destinations. Here, not only sport fishing, but camping, scuba and snorkel diving, island picnics, back country tours, kayaking, mountain biking, and a host of other nature-related activities are easily available, all packaged in the comforts of a still half-sleepy Baja town that is just big enough to offer all the required services you might need. Loreto has paid more attention than any other Baja locale to the emerging ecotourism and back country sightseeing business. If there is such a thing as a "perfect" Baja town, Loreto comes very close to it.
A quick flight (or a long drive down Mex 1) to Loreto seems to take you back to an earlier era in a charming, small Mexican town with a good sprinkling of gringo interlopers, many of whom have become part of the local population. Stretched along the shore, behind its own malecon, Loreto fairly drips with Old World charm. Walk just a few blocks, and you'll find a dirt street, and an old, tree-shaded house that looks like Monet or Tennessee Williams might have lived there, and here too, there are plenty of pangas to take you fishing.
California's first mission town (dating from 1697) boasts two major sport fishing seasons--dorado in summer and yellowtail in winter--plus good runs of roosterfish and billfish, and a steady catch of bottom dwellers such as snappers, leopard grouper ("cabrilla"), and the usual mixed jacks. Loreto's island-filled fishing grounds extend about 80 miles north and south, from about Punta Pulpito in the north, down through a magnificent chain of islands and points, to about Punta San Marcial near Bahia Agua Verde to the south.
Yes, there are seasonal winter winds, and relatively rare hurricanes that bring spectacular tropical downpours about once per decade, but when it's perfect here, as it typically is, it's really, really heavenly. Loreto has Baja's most beautiful and accessible island seascapes, and its underwater flora and fauna are every bit as rich and varied as La Paz and Cabo Pulmo to the south.
In Ray Cannon's words: "This most idyllic sector of the Cortez produces a quiet, caressing contentment... Juanaloa is an arena for a week's exciting fishing, a month-long period of exploration, or a half-century of peaceful contemplation..."
And those words about enchanting "Juanaloa" are still as true today as when Ray wrote them, half a century ago.
Sport fishing is a major activity for Loreto, of course, with some activity all the time, but with major seasons centered in mid to late summer for dorado, and winter for yellowtail. The dorado season, centered on July, is usually very good. In fact, it's one of Baja's major fishing attractions. When it's really "lit up," it's spectacular. Paved launch ramps are available at the downtown marina, and 15 miles south at Puerto Escondido, and Loreto gets quite a bit of trailer boat traffic. In addition, several charter fishing operations operate in and near town, with English-speaking guides who will take you out in typical Mexican skiffs called "pangas."
(Related Loreto articles and reports may be found at Mexfish.com's main Loreto information page. See weekly fishing news, photos, and reports from the major sportfishing vacation areas of Mexico including the Loreto area in "Mexico Fishing News.")