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The Baja California peninsula (English: Lower California Peninsula, Spanish: Península de Baja California) is a peninsula in northwestern Mexico. Its land mass separates the Pacific Ocean from the Gulf of California. The Peninsula extends 1,247 kilometres (775 mi) from Mexicali, Baja California in the north to Cabo San Lucas, Baja California Sur in the south. It ranges for 40 kilometres (25 mi) at its narrowest to 320 kilometres (200 mi) at its widest point and has approximately 3,000 kilometres (1,900 mi) of coastline and approximately 65 islands. The total area of the Baja California Peninsula is 143,390 square kilometres (55,360 sq mi).
The peninsula is separated from mainland Mexico by the Gulf of California and the Colorado River. There are four main desert areas on the peninsula: the San Felipe Desert, the Central Coast Desert, the Vizcaíno Desert and the Magdalena Plain Desert.
The land of California existed as a myth among European explorers 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 Indies, "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. Its 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 Las Californias to the peninsula and lands to the north, including both Baja California and Alta California, the region that became parts of the present-day U.S. states of California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, and parts of Colorado and Wyoming.
Baja California's northern border with Alta California was precisely set on August 19, 1773, near San Juan Bautista Creek by Fray Francisco Palóu. A marker stands on the line formerly dividing the two countries. The marker is behind the Misión San Miguel Arcángel de la Frontera, near Ensenada, Baja California.
Later, under the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, this international border was shifted further north to San Diego Bay, adjusting it to the claim of Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo and the "sea-to-sea" claims of Sir Francis Drake and of the former colony of South Carolina.
Translated into English, the inscription on the marker reads:
San Juan Bautista Creek: Juan Crespí, 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 Médanos) being established by: Priest Francisco Palóu 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: . Monument donation: Mario Reyes Coronado De Villasari & family . Construction: Students of the School of Tourism at U.A.B.C.(Autonomous University of Baja California).
The two Californias division was kept after Mexican independence in 1821. The Spanish Baja California Province became Mexican Baja California Territory, and remained a separate territory until 1836. In 1836, the Siete Leyes constitutional reforms reunited both Californias in the Departamento de las Californias. After 1848, the Baja California Peninsula again became a Mexican territory when Alta California was ceded to the United States (see 1854 map).
In 1931 Baja California Territory was divided into northern and southern territories. In 1952, the "North Territory of Baja California" became the 29th State of Mexico as Baja California. In 1974, the "South Territory of Baja California" became the 31st state as Baja California Sur.
The peninsula is divided into two states (Estados):
The Baja California peninsula was once a part of the North American Plate, the tectonic plate of which mainland Mexico remains a part. About 12 to 15 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. Spreading within the Gulf of California consists of short oblique rifts or ridge segments connected by long northwest trending transform faults, which together comprise the Gulf of California Rift Zone. The north end of the rift zone is located in the Brawley seismic zone in the Salton Sea basin between the Cerro Prieto Fault and the San Andreas Fault. 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.
Volcanoes of the peninsula and adjacent islands include:
The Peninsular Ranges form the backbone of the peninsula. They are an uplifted and eroded Jurassic to Cretaceous batholith, part of the same original batholith chain which formed much of the Sierra Nevada mountains in U.S. California. This chain was formed primarily as a result of the subduction of the Farallon Plate millions of years ago all along the margin of North America.
The two most prominent capes along the Pacific coastline of the peninsula are Punta Eugenia, located about halfway up the coast, and Cabo San Lazaro, located about a quarter of the way north from Cabo San Lucas.
The Bahia Sebastian Vizcaino, the largest bay in Baja, lies along the Pacific coast halfway up the peninsula. The large island of Isla Cedros is situated between the bay and the Pacific, just north of Punta Eugenia. Onshore southeast of the bay is the Desierto de Vizcaino, an extensive desert lying between the Sierra Vizcaino to the west, and the Tres Virgenes range which runs along the Gulf of California to the east.
The largest bays along the coastline of the Gulf are Bahia de La Paz where the city of La Paz is located, and Bahia Concepcion. The Bahía de los Ángeles is a small bay located west of the Canal de las Ballenas which separates the Baja peninsula from the large island of Angel de la Guarda in the Gulf of California.
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.
The Peninsula is known colloquially as Baja by American and Canadian tourists, and is renowned for its natural beauty and pristine environment. It draws ecotourists who go whale watching for migrating California Gray Whales as well as tourists that arrive to the Baja California Gold Coast and resorts on the southern tip of the Peninsula. Its location between the North Pacific and Gulf of California give it a reputation for good sports fishing.
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