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Land’s End is the great divider: it divides land from sea, sea from sky, and the Sea of Cortés from the Pacific Ocean. It is also the great “final”: the final jutting tip at the southernmost point of the Baja California peninsula, the last bit of uninterrupted coastline stretching down from the Arctic recesses of northern Alaska.
More importantly for modern day residents, the half-mile Land’s End headland and its evocatively shaped granitic monument El Arco (The Arch) are emblematic, symbols of the region in the same sort of way that the Golden Gate Bridge is a symbol for San Francisco, or the Gateway Arch for St. Louis.
Land’s End is also the ultimate view. Hotels and restaurants vie with one another for the best vantages and sunset views of this magnificent natural promontory. Activities providers, meanwhile, compete to offer the best and most exhaustive tours of Land’s End, from its gorgeous beaches and colorful flora and fauna to geographic oddities like El Arco, Neptune’s Finger (a granite pinnacle that rises from water), the Window to the Pacific (a vertical keyhole crack that allows one to look from the Sea of Cortés to the Pacific Ocean), and the Pirate’s Cave (a small spade-shaped cavity reputed to hide long buried treasure).
Age of Land's End?
Scientific estimates for the oldest granitic monuments at Land’s End suggest an almost mind-blowing antiquity. According to The Atlas of Coastal Ecosystems in the Western Gulf of California, the Cretaceous Period granite that forms El Arco is equivalent in age to that found at subsurface volcanic sites at Las Tres Virgenes in the municipality of Mulegé: approximately 84 million years old. Dinosaurs were still roaming the earth when The Arch was born!
For a geological time lapse perspective, what we now call Baja California was born amid cooling magma in the distant mists of the Mesozoic Era, between 135 and 225 million years ago. For millions of years afterward, plate tectonics, continental drift, subduction and other forces acted upon the coastline, finally resulting in a peninsular break from the Mexican mainland.
This fracture occurred from the top down–at the terminus of the Colorado River–beginning about 12 million years ago. As recently as five million years ago, present day Los Cabos was still connected to the continental massif, at what is now the state of Jalisco. The mouth of the Gulf of California finally opened three million years ago, and approximately 1.8 million years ago, in the early stages of the Pleistocene Epoch, the peninsula achieved what we consider its present position…although it continues to move away from the mainland at a stately pace of about six centimeters per year.
First Human Life on Land's End?
The first human inhabitants of the Capes Region, the Pericúes, arrived from Melanesia some 15 to 30,000 years ago, presumably on floating watercraft of some kind (it would have been a long swim otherwise). These hunter gatherers ranged throughout El Sur–the uppermost limits of their territory were the islands north of La Paz–foraging for food on both land and sea. Since they have been culturally extinct for some 250 years now, very little is remembered of their language; but it is known that they referred to the place now called Cabo San Lucas as Yenekamú. It is also known that Cerro del Vigía, the high point of the Land’s End headland, was considered by the Pericú to be a sacred place, a kind of sun temple.
Others have been drawn to Land’s End for less pious purposes. During the heyday of the Manila–Acapulco Galleon Trade (when Spanish merchants bartered Mexican silver for Asian silks and spices), English and Dutch pirates used Land’s End as concealment while they lay in wait for these seagoing treasure ships. Lover’s Beach, another of Land’s End’s most famous features, was so named because it was appropriated for business purposes in the 1920s by a prostitute named Doña Chepa (sometimes familiarly known as Doña Chepita).
The Five Beaches of Land's End...
Nowadays, Land’s End is most visited for its picturesque golden sand beaches and its many spectacular dive sites. There are a total of five beaches at Land’s End, the first three of which comprise what are known as the Cannery Beaches (after the long abandoned Productos Marinos cannery, the most important commercial enterprise in Cabo San Lucas before the days of tourism): Playa Coral Negro, El Balcón (or Balcony Beach), and Playa Escondida (Hidden Beach). Far more famous are Playa del Amor and its less romantically named alter ego, Playa del Divorcio. Lover’s Beach is the romantic picnic spot non pareil, with stunning views of the coastline from the Marina to Punta Ballena. Divorce Beach is, if possible, even more beautiful, with long rolling Pacific waves crashing majestically onto the shore. Beware these waves, however: rogue waves and strong rip currents make swimming off Divorce Beach extremely dangerous.
Swimming, kayaking, snorkeling and diving are all world-class, by contrast, on the Sea of Cortés side. The newest and most exciting dive site is a shipwreck that had long been buried, but was uncovered again by the furious force of Hurricane Odile in 2014. That was the SS Harry Lundeberg, a merchant vessel under Panamanian registry ferrying gypsum plaster from Isla San Marcos, supposedly steered to her rocky doom on February 8, 1954 by a mate who had suffered crippling gambling losses en route.
But new is a relative word where Land’s End is concerned.
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Michael L. Mattos, Jill Enticknap and Chris Sands