Diving in the Desert

I have long held the stereotypical image in my head of Baja California being one long peninsula of dry, arid desert. That stereotype was shattered last spring, when I drove through emerald green fields and hiked through lush canyons on my trip to Mike's Sky Ranch. This weekend, that stereotype further crumbled with a visit to the oasis of Guadalupe Canyon.

The long, dry, hot and dusty drive there certainly fed the expectations of arid desolation. Upon arrival, however, I felt like we'd arrived at the beach. Groves of palm trees shaded the white sand underfoot. Pools, hot tubs and palapas dotted the landscape. The only thing missing was the ocean. Instead, boulder-strewn mountains rose up on either side. Far above, a long, thin finger of rock jutted out, vaguely resembling an outline of the Virgin of Guadalupe, hence the canyon's name.

Despite its remoteness, this hidden oasis serves as a desirable getaway for those in the know. Consequently, the weekend rate for a mostly primitive camp site can exceed $300 for holiday weekends. This visit, however, we took advantage of a free stay in exchange for four hours of work cleaning up the canyon. We hit the trail early on Saturday morning, five adults and four teenagers equipped with a bucket of paint, trash bagsand a bag of snorkeling gear. I carried the latter on my back.

In the canyon above the camp sites, several waterfalls feed swimming holes. We set up shop at the first of these. While the others started picking up beer bottles, soda cans and other trash, I donned my wetsuit and snorkeling gear and jumped in the water. Here I was, in the middle of the desert, working underwater like I do almost every day of the week. I spent the next couple of hours pulling trash out of the pool and clearing out an overabundance of swamp grass. While the others sweated in the heat, painting over graffiti and filling their trash bags, I got to work in the cool mountain spring water.

We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing in the hot tubs. From all I'd heard about Guadalupe Canyon, my expectations were high. But the lushness of the canyon and luxury of the mineral springs far exceeded them. I can't wait till I return with my Total Escape pals in December, when we'll have the added treat of a meteor shower to entertain us.

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