Friday, May 18, 2012

The Lehi Landing Site in Baja California Sur—Part II

When Baja California Theorists begin talking about their proposed site for the Land of Promise, perhaps we should actually take a further look at the area--for as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.

The interesting thing about Baja California and Baja California Sur, both north and south states of the Baja Peninsula, is that the vast majority of the space is desert. Not desert like Los Angeles Basin was before water was brought in, or the Salt Lake Valley before the pioneers reclaimed it, but a part of the Sonora Desert, one of the driest and largest in North America. The Peninsula is a very arid desert without moisture sufficient to grow anything more than xeric plants--those adapted to an extremely dry climate--namely cactus and desert shrub.

Much of the land below 3,000 feet is covered by chaparral consisting of chamise, manzanita, laurel sumac, sage, and other plants, giving way at lower elevations to a coastal scrub of agave, cliff spurge, buckeye, buckwheat, and bladderpod. Plants in the Cape region are closely related to those of the nearest areas on the mainland, with complex communities of cacti,  yuccas, and various shrubs and trees like palo blanco and palo verde at low elevations. Between these northern and southern areas, many familiar desert plants are found, including ocotillo, ironwood, creosote bush, mesquite, agave, and various cacti, including the infamous jumping cholla.

The entire Peninsula is part of the Sonora desert a North American desert which covers large parts of the Southwestern United States in Arizona, California, Northwest Mexico and Baja California and Baja Califonria Sur. It is one of the largest and hottest deserts in North America, with an area of 120,000 square miles. The western portion of the United States-Mexico border passes through the Sonoran Desert. As for the fauna, the natural or indigenous animals of any size are the Meams Coyote and the Desert Bighorn sheep. There is also the Collared Peccary, but most fauna are turtles, spiders, lizards, snakes, rabbits squirrels, mice and numerous desert birds.

This is important, because during a Nephite-Lamanite battle in the Land of Zarahemla, which the Lamanites were soundly routed by a smaller Nephite force, the Lamanites crossed the Sidon River and fled "until they  had reached the wilderness, which was called Hermounts; and it was that part of the wilderness which was infested by wild and ravenous beasts" (Alma 2:37). In the proposed area of the Baja model, this would place the battle and wilderness somewhere around the area from La Poza Grande to San Juanico along the west coast in Baja California Sur.

The two largest animals in the Sonora Desert of Baja are the Desert Bighhorn sheep and the Meams Coyote, the latter being the only predator on the Peninsula, about the size of a lean German Shepard, which generally preys on small mammals, and are opportunistic predators, hunting small rodents; in packs, they may take down a young deer. Coyotes also eat fruits, vegetables, and fish. Coyotes are not particularly aggressive, and rely on stealth rather than outright attack

It is really difficult to image the "wild and ravenous beasts" that attacked the fleeing Lamanites and killed so many  mentioned in Alma would have been coyotes; however, coyotes are the only predator natural to the Peninsula according to the fauna listed by the Sierra Institute of the Humboldt State University.

Left: El Jarrial Ranch lands--cactus and desert; Right: driving some cattle across the ranch filled with desert cacti and shurb

Inland from some of the beach areas, there are ranching communities. But they do not look like ranches we are familiar with in the Western United States. Along the Peninsula, these ranchers describe their ranching as, "Filled with travel over bumpy, dusty dirt roads with nothing but cactus, rocks and sun for miles around. The sight of a cow or goat nibbling desert brush is a sign that you have reached "civilization" in the form of the ranch. [It is so dry here that] there is a saying in Baja that we hear everywhere and have never felt to be more true: agua es vida" [water is life]. The main summer crop on many of these ranches is not wheat, barley, corn, etc., but onion.

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