Scammon’s Lagoon, or Laguna Ojo de Liebre is located about halfway along the Baja Peninsula. It is a shallow and salty piece of water that opens in to the Pacific Ocean. The lagoon is a popular spot with gray whales and tourists – it is very likely that former brings the latter! Strangely enough, the area is also home to an enormous saltworks plant, in fact it is the world’s largest commercial saltworks. These two sites may seem like quite the paradox, but Scammon’s Lagoon is where modern industrialization and Mother Nature meet.
Scammon’s Lagoon is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and lies in part of Mexico’s largest wildlife refuge. It is not just the magnificent gray whales that make their way to the lagoon each year for birthing season, but visitors will also be able to catch glimpses of the Californina sea lion, northern elephant seal, blue whale and a plethora of bird life. The harbor seal also calls Scammon’s Lagoon home during winter as the lagoon is an important habitat for their reproduction. This is probably the most common reason that foreign tourists head to the lagoon – the chance to see mama whales and seals frolicking with their young. Before arriving at Scammon’s Lagoon a fellow tourist told me you could practically reach out of the boat and touch them. Personally, I find this to be a little disturbing and makes me question the human desire to be part of the natural world (that, and the thought of upsetting a large mother whale whilst petting her calf seems a risky move). However, I was more interested in taking the scenery and finding a pleasant spot to camp than the idea of partaking in an organized whale watching tour. For anyone interested in tours, I believe they can be easily organized in the nearby town of Guerrero Negro and are probably incredibly fascinating and worthwhile.
The drive from Guerrero Negro to Scammon’s Lagoon is simple, the most stressful part of our journey was turning off the motorway in front of a parked Federale at the same moment that the indicators on our foreign vehicle chose to stop working. We held our breath, part expecting them to jump in their car and follow us, but all we got was a smile and a wave. Onwards down the dirt road we went. There has been a small crack-down on tourism in the area as visitors once posed a threat to the whales. We carried on along the bumpy dirt track until we arrived at some gates. A friendly guard took our details along with those of the car, I’m guessing just as a record of who is coming and going. At this point the road divides, but the simple hand painted sign of a whale and an arrow led us in the right direction. These signs are frequently placed along the road to direct you, along with plenty of ‘no trespassing’ signs that would appear to indicate the property of the saltworks. The road is terrible and there is a frequent need to veer on to the other side just to avoid the horrendous corrugated bumps. Speed does not appear to play a factor in comfort on these kind of roads – going slow not only takes a painfully long time but means that you feel every lumpy impact. On the other hand, speed will rattle your jaw, but you may just find that you begin to skim over the bumps in a mildly pleasant fashion, and at least you will get there faster.
Upon arrival at the lagoon there is a small hut and a sign to indicate the entrance fee of 80 pesos. I have heard that this is a one time fee and it does not matter on the number of nights you wish to stay. There was nobody in the hut or even in the vicinity, so we drove past and stopped to take in the view (and wait for someone to come and take our money). When it became clear that no one was on money collection duty we drove on to find a camping spot. The road carries along the side of the lagoon and there are many palapas that provide shelter against the blustery wind. The palapas were all occupied by large groups of locals and led me to believe that this place is more than just a hub for nature-loving foreign tourists. It is a place where families and friends come to enjoy each other’s company, eat, drink and play music. As by usual Mexican standards, we were greeted with waves and friendly faces as we drove by.
Scammon’s Lagoon is a beautiful spot, but terribly windy. If you are interested in wildlife it is well worth the visit on an organized tour. If you are after somewhere quiet and secluded to camp and spend the night, it may not be the place. For us, we managed to set up our own wind block and enjoy the evening looking out over the vast nature reserve. The morning offered warm sunshine and slightly less wind, and it was the perfect spot to enjoy a coffee and be at one with Mother Nature.