El Valle de los Cirios


Just south of San Quintin is the town of El Rosario. This very small town is well-known to RVers because it has the last Pemex station before the central desert of Baja and the longest fuel “gap” on the peninsula. The next gas or diesel isn’t for 223 miles!  Shortly after you leave El Rosario the scenery changes and civilization is left behind. The central desert, or el desierto central, is where you enter the “true” Baja. And where soon you will enter El Valle de los Cirios.

The change is dramatic.  This area is a southern extension of the Sonoran Desert, similar to the beautiful desert around Tucson.

But with some interesting differences. Wild and beautiful and empty of people and development. The Parque Nacional del Desierto Central is the second largest natural protected area in Mexico.

As you near the remote outpost of Cataviña you start seeing what look very much like Saguaros but are not. These are the mighty Cardón cacti (pachycereus pringlei). Also known as elephant cactus. Sort of like Saguaro but even bigger! These monsters are the tallest cacti on earth. They average 30 feet tall but specimens are known to reach 60 feet. They have more arms in general than the Saguaro and the arms tend to branch out from lower on the main trunk.

Slow growers, many of these plants are hundreds of years old. They stretch as far as the eye can see for many miles.

And all around the Cardón are the Cirios, (aka Boojum trees / fouquieria columnaris) which are crazy looking things related to the ocotillo but looking as if it came from a Dr. Seuss book. Sort of like an upside down giant carrot with little green leaves and funny little flowers at the top.

They grow straight up as much as 60 feet tall!   There are a few Cardón and Cirios in mainland Mexico but they are mostly endemic to Baja near the 29th parallel.

This area is called El Valle de Los Cirios (Valley of the Cirios). This desert landscape goes on for many miles but the zone around Cataviña has them growing amidst thousands of giant granite boulders. It makes for an incredible scene.

Oh, and the road is absolutely terrifying!  Narrow, windy, sometimes potholed, and mostly with no shoulder and a little drop off. Combine that with 18 wheeler trucks that blast down the road and it makes for some white knuckle moments. Good reason to keep driving days short.

So we stopped in the little wide spot town of Cataviña at Rancho Santa Ynez, where RV camping is allowed in a large flat open space. There is a tiny restaurant that serves simple decent food attached to the ranch house and not much else. Check out our review of the campground here.

This area is VERY dry and the extent of the RV facilities is one little lonely water spigot by a palm tree with a sign that says “cuida el agua” (take care of the water).

Words to live by.

As we explored the tiny town we ran across a place selling coconuts.  The guy is a transplant from Colima on the mainland, a place with lots of coconuts. He imports them to sell here.  The place is decorated with all sorts of flotsam and junk, very entertaining.  Love to find these weird little spots!

We went for a sunset drive out among the Cataviña boulder field and spotted a little structure propped up against a giant boulder. So we hiked out to it and found this sweet little painting inside, it was a tiny chapel. Love the little angel with Mexican flag wings.

Sunset didn’t disappoint.  The beautiful desert scene made for great foreground.

This section of road also is also where you cross over from the Pacific to the Sea of Cortez for the first time.  Our first stop on the Sea of Cortez is Bahia de Los Angeles. Stay tuned!

Hector and Brenda

8 thoughts on “El Valle de los Cirios

  1. Thanks for educating me on the Cardon cacti and the Cirios. What a sight they two must have been in the desert. Hector has captured the lighting on these giants perfectly. Looking forward to hearing more about this great adventure.

  2. WOW – Hector’s camera is getting a workout! Awesome photos and story telling.
    I recall being amazed by the El Valle de los Cirios (which was then translated to us Valley of the Candles). Amazing funny looking things. Altho we have the world’s largest cordon in San Felipe, I have not seen any cirios.

    • It is! The other translation for cirio is candles, which is probably why this desert was named so. You must send a photo of the world’s largest cordon, must be incredible.

  3. Wow, looks like Hector is in his element surrounded by all these new cacti species and desert scenery. The only time I saw a boojum tree was at a botanical garden.
    Be safe out there 🙂

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