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Although Baja is well known for its lengthy stretches of desert, chaparral and cactus, avid hikers and campers are often surprised to learn about a refreshingly different, somewhat lesser known area in the northwest. The Parque Nacional Sierra San Pedro de Mártir offers visitors a rare taste within Baja: snow-capped mountains, incredible hiking through pine and oak forests, high mountain meadows, black tailed deer, desert bighorn sheep and a brilliant night sky full of stars. This gorgeous national park also hosts an extremely special attraction: the national observatory of Mexico!
After an extensive and lengthy search to find the ideal location, in 1975 the Mexican National Astronomical Observatory (founded in 1878!) chose to relocate their impressive telescopes to a remote ridge in the Sierra San Pedro de Mártir overlooking the San Felipe desert. At an elevation of 9,285 feet, this observatory (called the OAN) is now known internationally as one of the best sites on Earth from which to view the heavenly bodies thanks to extremely low light pollution and relative humidity, low atmospheric pollution, generally clear skies and relatively little radio interference.
The same things which make this observatory an incredible place to stargaze also make it a fun challenge for Baja adventurers to reach. Although scientists and locals work hard to maintain it, the dirt road which leads to it from the Transpeninsular Highway can be difficult to traverse - especially in winter due to snow and rain. Four wheel drive vehicles are highly recommended. Travelers and campers are also strongly encouraged to bring their own food, gasoline, water and car repair tools. The OAN provides shelter only to their professional visitors; others must fend for themselves, largely because the OAN generates their own electricity at the observatory site, hauls in their fuel from Ensenada and pumps all water from a well 5 miles away from living quarters. They have very little to spare!
A little planning can easily take care of these necessities, however, and anyone experiencing the stunning vistas from the observatory - which extend east toward the Gulf of California and west all the way to the magnificent Pacific Ocean - will surely feel that their efforts to reach this lovely white and blue dome have been more than worthwhile. If the day is clear enough, it is even possible to see the Mexican mainland!
Inspired to take a journey to this unique, woodsy part of Baja California? From Ensenada, simply take Transpeninsular Highway 1 south approximately 87 miles until you reach the town of San Telmo de Abajo. Watch for the sign (about 32 miles south of San Vicente), exit and take the road east for about 48 miles until you reach the entrance of the Parque Nacional Sierra de San Pedro de Martir. Parking at the end of the San Telmo de Abajo road is a little over one mile from the observatory itself.
"High Atop the Baja, The National Observatory of Mexico," by M. Moreno-Corral, R. Costero and W. Schuster. Mercury (Astronomical Society of the Pacific); January/February 1994; p.29 AstroSSP.UNAM.MX; Cited on July 15, 2007
"Parque Nacional Sierra San Pedro de Mártir," by John Noble. Lonely Planet: Mexico; Published 2006. p.280
"Baja Park Beckons Climbers, Solace Seekers and Astronomers," by Sandra Dibble. San Diego Union-Tribune, August 21, 2005. SignOnSandiego.Com; Cited on July 17, 2007
"Sierra San Pedro Mártir",Author unknown. Wikipedia.org; Wikipedia.Org: Sierra San Pedro Martir; Cited on July 17, 2007
"Bahias de San Quentín",Author unknown. DiscoverBajaCalifornia.Com; DiscoverBajaCalifornia.Com; Cited on July 17, 2007