I stopped for the night at Catavina, an oasis town set among massive boulder fields about 100 miles from El Rosario. My campsite at Rancho Santa Ynez was surrounded by Cardon cacti and oasis palms. I slept under a night sky that seemed especially enormous, the kind you only get in desert locales far from any source of light pollution - the Sahara, Patagonia, Gobi Desert. I awoke to a bright, cold, windy dawn and a uniquely strong sense of freedom.
"The Real Baja" - now I understand! From El Rosario the Transpeninsular winds up and down hills and through arroyos in an increasingly perfect desert landscape. This is the desert of dreams: tall cacti, boulder fields, weird plants you thought only existed in Dr. Seuss, and no sign of human habitation as far as the eye can see. Baja California's central desert is climatically and botanically an extension of the Sonora Desert, so many parts look similar to southern Arizona. The cacti, however, are not Saguaros but a related species known as Cardon, the largest cacti in the world. Weirder, though, are the Boojum trees, called Cirio (wax candle) in Spanish, many of which look like 40-foot-tall green upside-down carrots with little wings of branches and little leaves growing directly out of the trunk. Something's wrong; tree roots are growing skyward! Boojum are native only to Baja with the greatest concentration in the Desierto Central National Park. And then there's Ocotillo, spindly and phantomlike but with bright orange flowers.