By David Kier
In my first article on Baja books I talked about and showed the book covers of many that were written in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s.
Now, we shall see some examples of the books that may be more familiar to those travelers who began going to Baja California after Highway One was completed. Books that were published in the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s.
Previously, we discussed Tom Miller’s The Baja Book and the Auto Club guidebooks, both with beginnings before the 1980s but with revised editions continuing after the 80s. The following new books on the scene gave us fresh ideas of where to go and what to see and do.
One of the most detailed guides to Baja California was Walt Peterson’s 1987 The Baja Adventure Book, with revised editions in 1992 and 1998. Peterson provided location details, compass headings, and maps. I learned about some of the fascinating geologic and historic sites, such as the Las Pintas fossil grotto, the sea caves near Eréndira, and about El Volcán’s eruptions (Baja’s cold-water geyser). Peterson also used the highway kilometer markers for directions to sites, something I carried on doing in the new Baja Bound Road Guide, coming soon!
Lifelong Baja aficionado, Walt Wheelock and his La Siesta Press, was not yet done producing Baja travel books into the 1980s. There had been so many published, going back to 1965. In 1987, Walt was compelled to do one last guidebook. It was in 1975 and 1980, he had co-authored the Baja California Guidebook. Walt’s newest book was titled Baja Road Log. In it, he tributes his writing partner, author Howard Gulick (1910-1983). Howard was the man so many of us early Baja travelers respected greatly. In 1966, I was honored to meet Mr. Gulick, when I was just nine, but he was already one of my super-heroes! Wheelock and Gulick made great efforts to honor the peninsula. I met Walt in 1984 at a Mexico West Travel Club event, hosted by Tom and Shirley Miller. I asked Walt about publishing the highly detailed maps that Howard Gulick drew of Baja California. I had seen them in the 70s at a mutual friend of theirs home. The Lower California Guidebook had used abbreviated versions of those large maps. Walt also thought Howard’s large maps would be wonderful to publish, but in the days before the Internet, the cost to do so probably wouldn’t have enough customers to cover. Here is Walt’s last guidebook plus the back cover of the previous guidebook that Wheelock co-authored:
Many of the next generation of Baja books specialized in specific activities. Some of these books helped us to do many things while in Baja, including: Bike riding, motorcycle riding, surfing, camping, hunting, eating, even gold prospecting! Books are sized here relative to each other.
More guidebooks were made for the increasing larger numbers of visitors. Some of these had multiple, revised editions. Jack Williams produced many versions of his Magnificent Peninsula. They were very popular in the 80s and 90s. Lonely Planet and Moon Baja guidebooks can be easily found in large bookstores, published from the late 1980s to today.
Those seeking to find or learn the wonders of Baja’s unique plants and animals, were greatly aided by some of the following books. These were great when my kids were young and wanted to know about that lizard they just saw. I recommend all three books shown here that should be in your Baja vehicle to enrich your travels. The Baja Plant Field Guide (second edition pictured) is a fantastic resource and was greatly enlarged in 2012, for the 3rd edition.
Pilots had books to help them to find and land on Baja California’s many runways, most were unpaved and some barely safe to even attempt. Most of the remote runways have been ‘ditched’ by the military after the 1990s to prevent their use by drug runners. Arnold Senterfitt was the original master at photographing and drawing runways, with nineteen editions of his Airports of Baja California, from the 1960s to the mid-1990s. Air Baja! had color photos and nice runway diagrams. The 1988 edition of Harry Merrick’s Baja Traveler updated airport details from his 1974 edition. The many aerial photos of the hundreds of Baja runways were great to examine, even if you were not a pilot. Only Google Earth improves on what these books showed us.
The 1980s to 2000s gave us some excellent Baja adventure reading, the first that comes to mind are by my British friend, Graham Mackintosh, with four published books and several eBooks. See them all and other stories at Graham's website.
Friends to both Graham and I, was the team of Marvin and Aletha Patchen. Their Baja Adventures by Land Air Sea in 1981 was such an exciting read. They took us to many places in ways that we have only dreamed of doing.
Greg Niemann, another good friend, and author of several books had two excellent Baja books. The first was about his Baja Fever and the second became an important historic reference, Baja Legends.
Bernie Swaim, a retired police captain, authored three humorous books about living and traveling in Baja. In one, Bouncing Around Baja, there is even a chapter about me!
Last but not least, perhaps my favorite subject, Baja California history. Baja was the first California and as a native Californian I have always felt connected to the events that happened there. Be it ancient Native rock art, the abandoned mines, or the old Spanish missions, I had to know more!
Harry Crosby continued his research and writing into the 1990s and early 2000s with two excellent masterpieces, Antigua California, and Gateway to Alta California. Both books are incredible with historic facts and stories. Antigua California is about the Jesuits’ seventy years on the peninsula with infinite details, names, and dates, on 556 pages. Gateway to Alta California details the Spanish and Franciscan final leg of the 1769 overland journey from Loreto to San Diego. This leg was the 250+ miles from Junípero Serra’s first California mission, San Fernando de Velicatá (founded on that journey) to San Diego Bay, his next mission location. The diaries from members are used to exactly locate the route using ground-proofed GPS, shown on detailed maps. Crosby and his team physically traveled the route to confirm the locations described. Biographies of the members of the expedition are also provided and stories from their travels tell us of events that gave places their modern names. See my article about Valladares.
We are so fortunate having so many sources for Baja’s history, in books from the 1800s to today. The books mentioned here are from the past four decades. Seems to me a good indication that history in not yet out-of-fashion.
One book that, for me, is a real gold mine, was Gene Kira’s The Unforgettable Sea of Cortez which tells the story of Ray Cannon and how he came to be fascinated with the sea’s fishing wonders to write the wonderful book he is best known for in 1966, The Sea of Cortez. Gene Kira also details the history of resorts and people living along the sea from 1947 to 1977, during what he calls the ‘golden years’.
Baja California Missions, In the Footsteps of the Padres from David Burckhalter contains history of, and beautiful photography at, the eight intact mission churches. .
The Baja Catch by Neil Kelly and Gene Kira became the most popular of so many Baja fishing books beginning with its first edition in 1988. As we read above, Gene Kira would go on to write his own book about Ray Cannon, as well as a popular Baja-based novel, King of the Moon.
Last but not least, I need to include here one of my books, Baja California Land of Missions, first published in 2016 and since then updated with newer photos and driving directions. Demand has been such that it is now in its twelth printing. I am so proud that it has been so greatly welcomed as source of details about the twenty-seven missions, how they came to be founded, the missionaries who served them, and even a chapter explaing the so-called ‘lost missions’ (and where they are, or rumored to be). Thank you!
David Kier is a veteran Baja traveler, author of 'Baja California - Land Of Missions' and co-author of 'Old Missions of the Californias'. Visit the Old Missions website.