Scrambling up the red rocks of the hill, I watch as the rubble loosened by my sandals tumbles down the steep cliffside to the ocean below. I look out from the ridge-top down to my right side at an isolated beach, blue water glistening in the lagoon and waterbirds occupying the shores.
I continue up the ridge, past the caves and up and down the steep rock faces until I make it to the top of the hill. Here, a large cross marks the highest point, which can be seen from the field station, and everywhere else in the town. Looking out at the whole landscape, from the sharp mountain peaks and seemingly endless Gulf to the right, it is easy to see the continuity. The only thing differentiating the mountain peaks from the volcanic islands bursting up from the sea is the ocean, which will only continue to rise over time. Are these tall mountains the future islands of the Gulf of California?
As part of my work, I have the pleasure of going out on boat rides with various groups. I explored the waters teeming with wildlife alongside students from Cochise College in Arizona. We saw a large pod of dolphins and several babies, only a few weeks old, jumping out passed the surface. A huge flock of seagulls and other waterbirds swarms in a feeding frenzy over a school of sardines. Dozens of juvenile sea lions play in the water as we watch how they glide through the water, yet stumble about on land.
The highlight was a humpback whale, spotted spraying water through its blowhole on the horizon. We raced towards it, keeping our eyes carefully fixed for signs of movement. At last, we caught up to the giant animal as it breached the surface twice, then swam back under with a splash of its tail. It repeated this pattern until we had taken enough photos of the black beast to identify the individual based on the shape of its fin. Like a thumbprint, scientists use the patterns of their tails and fins to track individual whales over time. It was amazing to encounter such a large animal up close, being able to hear the blow hole as the whale came up to breathe.
Unfortunately, my first whale encounter would also be my last. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, restrictions escalated quickly and the first case was reported in the nearby city of Hermosillo. With bus services shut down and faced with an uncertain future, I chose to go back with the students studying abroad to Arizona.
After rushed goodbyes and a celebration involving flan and beers, I set off on a nine hour drive across the border into Arizona, where I barely made it in time for my flight home. So many people commute daily across this border to go to Cochise college; the landscape was indistinguishable from Sonora, Mexico to Arizona. Both sides had thousands of organ pipe and saguaro Cactii and beautiful red hills. I will truly miss these breathtaking landscapes.