By Greg Niemann
Some months ago, Baja enthusiast and fellow author David Kier (Baja California: Land of Missions) threw out this tickler via the Baja Nomad Forum:
“Who were the Baja Book Authors who inspired you to travel south?”
He added: “…perhaps it is time to remember those explorers, travelers, and authors if you are at an age where it was books and paper maps that gave you a clue as to what great adventures could be found just south of our border.”
He continued: “Vote for the one you got information or inspiration from.”
The results in, I was pleasantly surprised to have been named and found myself among some great company. While I had been visiting Baja California all my life, several of the other finalists definitely inspired me to further explore the fascinating peninsula.
We are just a few of the hundreds of writers who have covered or written about Baja California over the years.
It is difficult not highlighting such classic guide books as Gerhard & Gulick’s Lower California Guidebook, or any of Harry W. Crosby’s books which are of incredible importance to Baja California historians.
I was inspired also by Marvin and Aletha Patchen (Baja Adventures), and The Baja Feeling by Ben Hunter.
Likewise, you might consider the outstanding contributions of Cliff Cross, Joe Cummings, Fred Hoctor, Fred and Gloria Jones, Fernando Jordon, Joseph Wood Krutch, Max Miller, Choral Pepper, Gary Graham, and Walt Wheelock to name a few.
I am familiar with the works of those also cited in the Baja Nomad poll and here are some brief sketches of those so honored:
#1 Gene S. Kira
When it comes to fishing books, The Baja Catch by Gene Kira and Neil Kelly (1988) is a must. The large format book is organized well and includes maps of all the hot spots. From my campsite I could look out over a reef, read about what kind of fish are there, and wade out and catch them. Very impressive fishing guide which we dog-eared from extensive use.
Kira’s solo novel King of the Moon about a small Baja fishing village coping with difficult times is a classic story.
Following his novel, Kira emerged with the epic book about Ray Cannon in The Unforgettable Sea of Cortez. The year 2000 winner of the Outdoor Writers Association of California (OWAC) Book of the Year honors, it is massive in size and scope.
Kira also gave me research and marketing advice and I appreciated when he later wrote:
“Greg Niemann’s Baja Legends brings to life the lore and mystique that makes Baja California the place we love. This vivid old timer’s story book must be considered required reading for all who fancy themselves as ‘Baja experts.’”
#2 Ray Cannon
Ray Cannon was probably more responsible for increasing tourism in Baja than any other person during his prolific years as a writer for Western Outdoor News. Originally invited to Baja in 1947 to write about fishing potential by the governor who later became Mexican President Abelardo L. Rodriguez, Cannon fell in love with the land and spent most of his remaining years there.
His regular fishing column inspired generations of aficionados and led to his landmark book, The Sea of Cortez published by Sunset Books in 1966. The former Hollywood actor/director/writer had also written How To Fish the Pacific Coast.
#2 Erle Stanley Gardner
Beginning in the 1930s, Erle Stanley Gardner wrote the popular Perry Mason mystery series. By the 1950s and ‘60s, Gardner was extremely successful with radio and television shows. But he developed a love for Baja California and wrote the Land of Shorter Shadows about Baja in 1948.
His appetite for the remoteness of Baja not whetted, he organized numerous trips into the interior of the peninsula, traveling by airplane, helicopter, experimental motorcycles and even by horses and mules. During the height of his popularity, he penned six more Baja-related books: Hunting The Desert Whale (1960), Hovering Over Baja (1961), The Hidden Heart of Baja (1964), Off The Beaten Track In Baja (1967), Mexico’s Magic Square (1968) and Host With The Big Hat (1969).
He was the first outsider to view numerous cave paintings even having one, the Gardner Cave, named after him. On some trips, Gardner brought in archeologists to validate the significance of their finds.
Due to his own popularity, Gardner’s romps through Baja California brought enormous attention to a previously neglected region. After he died in 1970, his ashes were scattered over his beloved Baja countryside.
#2 David Brackney (AAA)
The Automobile Club of Southern California has been publishing wonderful guides and maps since 1927, and I never made a trip south without their most current map and guide. Brackney’s Baja California, published by Wilderness Press (July, 2001) is a 500-page paperback that is way more comprehensive than earlier versions.
#2 Graham Mackintosh
In an age when all of the world’s continents had been explored, there are those would-be adventurers who might decry that it’s all been done. Not Graham Mackintosh. Born in London of an Irish mother and Scottish father, Mackintosh with the flaming bright red hair was a teacher looking for adventure. So, he decided to walk around the rugged and inhospitable coastline of Baja California.
As Mackintosh even said, “I had never done anything adventurous in my life. I wasn’t fit. I knew nothing about the desert. I couldn’t speak Spanish. I had no money. With my red hair and fair skin, I was probably the last person in the world to go traipsing around a sun-baked wilderness.”
But he did it anyway and survived to write Into a Desert Place (1988). The book won several awards in England and a legion of fans among Baja buffs. Mackintosh followed up his magnum opus with Journey With a Baja Burro, (Sunbelt, 2000), Nearer My Dog To Thee, (2003) and Marooned With Very Little Beer (2008), both by Baja Detour Press. His adventures have made him one of the most popular modern Baja authors.
Graham is still romping and kayaking around Baja and I really appreciate his earlier comments about my Baja Legends:
“What an amazing book of Baja lore and legends, and what a wonderful resource it will be…A comprehensive account of Baja legends, old and new. Easily the most complete and well-researched book of its kind.”
#3 Tom Miller
Tom Miller, who held numerous saltwater fishing records, had a trailer home near Ensenada before building a palm-thatched hideaway south of La Paz. For three decades he covered all of Baja which resulted in over 1,000 articles for outdoor publications and his weekly column in Western Outdoor News.
His original book, prominent because of the maps overlaid on NASA space photos, was The Baja Book (1973.) The Baja Book II came out in 1982 and The Baja Book III in 1989, becoming an indispensable Baja guide.
My personal favorite Tom Miller book is his 1982 Anglers Guide to Baja California, a practical, easy-to-follow guide highlighting where the fish are, what kind of fish, and how-to-catch-‘em. I referred to it often on my trips into the remote regions of the peninsula.
Known as “Mr. Baja” to hundreds of thousands through his books, articles, radio and television work, Miller also wrote Eating Your Way Through Baja in 1986.
The former Shirley Miller (Mrs. Baja) was a columnist for Western Outdoor News, co-author of The Baja Book, and founder of Mexico West Travel Club. A long-time friend, in proofing Baja Legends she made numerous suggestions. Later, she added: “If I didn’t already know so much about the Baja California peninsula, I would definitely use it as a bible for any upcoming trip.”
#3 Walt Peterson
Walt Peterson was deservedly singled out in the poll for his The Baja Adventure Book (Wilderness Press, 1987). The large format paperback has it all: adventure activities, how to get there (including topographical maps, charts and detailed information. I always kept mine in the front seat and was rewarded by being led to many an adventure I never knew existed.
I wish I had room for brief sketches on so many other authors and contributors who have inspired me. No question, Baja is an inspiring kind of place.
Greg Niemann, a long-time Baja writer, is the author of Baja Fever, Baja Legends, Palm Springs Legends, Las Vegas Legends, and Big Brown: The Untold Story of UPS. Visit www.gregniemann.com.