El Golfo de Santa Clara

El Golfo de Santa Clara sits solidly in the middle of nowhere. This barrenness is in fact the primary reason for visiting. Only 65 miles from the border town of San Luis, along the Alto Golfo de California y Delta del Rio Colorado is a vast expanse of sandy desert. Once a relatively lush riparian area, the creation of the Hoover Dam and subsequent agricultural diversions of the Colorado River staunched the flow of freshwater into the region leaving sandy dunes and great flats of dry river delta. El Golfo de Santa Clara (commonly also spelled El Gulfo de Santa Clara) and the surrounding regions have fallen into favor with ATV enthusiasts. Traditionally a poor fishing village, during spring and summer weekends the region becomes inundated with crowds trying their luck against the dunes. Unfortunately for some, alcohol swings luck to the side of the dunes, and proper medical care is a long travel away. Getting to El Golfo de Santa Clara requires a sturdy vehicle to make it along the graded but poorly kept roads. Once in the town proper, most venture to the beach for adventures. Travel along the beach will require 4-wheel drive and knowledge of driving on sand. Pay special attention to the tides, which are massive in the northern Sea of Cortez. Driving is easiest on the moist sand after the tide has moved out, but it is easy to find oneself trapped in a bay or estuary by an advancing tide. Must Sea’s The Lighthouse A favorite destination is the lighthouse, about 28 miles along the beach from town. Besides a poplar spot to watch the ATV shenanigans, there is a small coquina reef, which is a lithified mix of sand and shells. Along here, shell collecting can be outstanding, particularly after strong storms at sea. Grunion Runs The Alto Golfo de California region is home to the only known diurnal grunion-spawning event. The Gulf Grunion, Leuresthes sardina spawns January through May. For those unfamiliar with what a grunion run is, it is a sight indeed. Tens of thousands of fish may suddenly beach themselves during the second highest of the high tides in a series. They perform a rapid courtship wherein males wrap themselves around shimmying and upright females as they deposit sperm and eggs in the sand. Just as soon as they are done, they flop themselves back to the sea, and new couples ride in on the waves to have their turn. Two weeks later, the eggs hatch and the returning high tide carries the hatchlings out to sea. Marine Life There is interesting marine life in the far northern Sea of Cortez, but it can be difficult to observe. Scuba diving and snorkeling are poor here, owing to the strong tides and sandy bottoms. Stingrays and jellyfish are common, but provide minimal hazard to swimmers if simple precautions are taken. These include dragging ones feet so as not to step on a stingray, and keeping an eye out for the distinctive blue float on the Pacific man-o-war, Physalia pacifica. This species can cause very painful, but rarely dangerous stings. Sand dollars are common here, as are many other sand loving organisms including bivalves and snails. Once a favored habitat for the Totoaba and Vaquita, these are now both severely endangered due to massive over fishing.