Baja California, a peninsula about 850 miles long in the extreme northwestern part of the Republic of Mexico, extending southward from the boundary with California and separated from the mainland of Mexico by the Gulf of California. Physiographically, it is formed by a fault-block mountain with a steep escarpment facing east and a gentle slope toward the Pacific. The southern tip of the peninsula and the extreme north have a climate similar to that of the Mexican mainland and receive summer rains totaling 10-25 inches per year, but the rest of the peninsula is extremely arid, with virtually no surface water. Today, it is divided into two states: Baja California, which became a state in 1952, with a population of about 1.6 million in 1990, and Baja California Sur, which became a state in 1974, with a population of approximately 375,000 in 1990.
Occupied since pre-Columbian times by simple hunting and gathering societies, the peninsula was discovered by the Spaniards in the early 1530s and explored by Fortún Jiménez de Bertadoña in 1534, Hernán Cortés in 1535, and Francisco de Ulloa in 1539. The Jesuits established the mission of Loreto in 1697, and by the time they were expelled in 1767, they operated 19 missions and associated settlements for some 6,000 Indians. Through the nineteenth century, Baja California was characterized by scattered settlements that focused on stock raising and by a limited agriculture based on well irrigation. In 1888, it was divided into two territories.
In the early twentieth century, railway connections to California and irrigation from the Colorado River began to transform northern Baja California, and in 1948 it was connected to the rest of Mexico by railroad. The northern irrigated valleys became centers for producing wine grapes, olives, vegetables (especially tomatoes), wheat, and barley. The region became Mexico's major wine producer after an expansion of vineyard plantings in the 1970s. Tijuana has gained great importance as a tourist center, drawing many North Americans since the Prohibition era and World War II, and still offers a race course, gambling, and a flavor of the exotic to the more than 30 million tourists who cross the border each year.
Baja California Sur has followed a different economic course. After centuries of isolation, it was linked to the mainland by ferry service in 1924, and in 1973 a paved highway from south of Ensenada to La Paz was completed. Resorts have been developed at San José del Cabo, Cabo San Lucas, and outside La Paz.
Pablo Martínez, A History of Lower California (1960).
Robert Cooper West, ed., Handbook of Middle American Indians, vol. 1 (1964), pp. 55-56, 369-370.
Adrián Valadés, Historia de la Baja California: 1850–1880 (1974).
Jorge L. Tamayo, Geografía moderna de Mexico, 9th ed. (1980), pp. 49-50, 58-59, 378-379.
Robert Cooper West and John P. Augelli, Middle America: Its Lands and Peoples, 3d ed. (1989), pp. 245, 359-360.
Enciso Lizárra, Sayra Selene. Mapas, planos y diseños de Baja California, siglos XVIII y XIX. La Paz, Baja California Sur: Instituto Sudcaliforniano de Cultura, 2006.
Kopinak, K. "Maquiladora Industrialization of the Baja California Peninsula: The Coexistence of Thick and Thin Globalization with Economic Regionalism." International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 27, no. 2 (2003): 319-336.
Laylander, Don, and Moore, Jerry D., eds. The Prehistory of Baja California: Advances in the Archaeology of the Forgotten Peninsula. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2006.
Pesenti C. and Dean, K. S. "Development Challenges on the Baja California Peninsula: The Escalera Náutica." Journal of Environment and Development, 12, no.4 (2003): 445-454.
John J. Winberry
Baja California (peninsula, Mexico)
Baja California (Span.: bä´hä kälēfōr´nyä) or Lower California, peninsula, c.760 mi (1,220 km) long and from 30 to 150 mi (48–241 km) wide, NW Mexico, separating the Gulf of California from the Pacific Ocean. The peninsula is divided at lat. 28° N into the state of Baja California in the north, and the state of Baja California Sur in the south. Except for two large coastal plains on the Pacific side, the peninsula consists largely of rugged mountain ranges averaging 5,000 ft (1,524 m), with one peak, San Pedro Martir, more than 10,000 ft (3,048 m) high. The land is generally desolate and arid. The only naturally cultivable areas are isolated mountain valleys. However, irrigation systems on the Colorado River have made possible the development of a rich farming area around Mexicali, and the region is a leading national producer of cotton and wheat. There are fisheries and fish canneries at Ensenada, which is also developing as a resort. Wealthy Mexicans, who have bought large estates and established resort ranches on the scenic coasts, have done much to stir tourist interest in regions other than the border towns and to open up hitherto inaccessible areas. Hunting and deep-sea fishing are favorite sports. Baja California Sur is not economically prosperous, although tourism is developing rapidly, particularly around Los Cabos. The peninsula and surrounding waters are a paradise also for naturalists and archaeologists, offering unparalleled opportunities for the study of marine life, plants and animals, and archaeological artifacts. Since 1962 remarkable mural paintings have been discovered in many caves there. Perhaps the most important development for the northern state is the growth of U.S.- and foreign-owned factories (maquiladoras) in the border areas. A large, rapidly expanding population and low labor costs have led to the opening of many maquiladoras in Baja California.
The coasts were first explored by Francisco de Ulloa and other Spaniards in the 1530s. Attempts to colonize the interior were largely unsuccessful. U.S. forces occupied (1847–48) Baja California during the Mexican War, and William Walker attempted (1853–54) to wrest it from Mexico in his first disastrous filibustering expedition. In 1911 the area was the scene of an abortive uprising against Porfirio Díaz—the so-called desert revolution led by Ricardo Flores Magón, a liberal anarchist, who was a precursor of Francisco Madero and Emiliano Zapata.
See J. Steinbeck, The Log from the Sea of Cortez (1951); H. Crosby, Last of the Californias (1981); D. Polk, The Island of California (1991).
Baja California (state, Mexico)
Baja California (Span.: bä´hä kälēfōr´nyä), state (1990 pop. 1,660,855), 27,628 sq mi (71,576 sq km), NW Mexico, on the Baja California peninsula. Mexicali is the capital. A rapidly growing state, Baja California is a center of development for maquiladoras, foreign-owned assembly plants that produce finished goods for export to the United States. The plants are centered around Mexicali and Tijuana. Mexicali also serves as the center of a rich cotton producing area, while Tijuana is a noted tourist center and point of entry from the United States. Ensenada is the state's most important port and is also a manufacturing, fishing, and tourist center. Baja California became a state in 1952.
Baja California Sur
Baja California Sur (Span.: bä´hä kälēfōr´nyä sŏŏr), state (1990 pop. 317,764), 27,571 sq mi (71,428 sq km), NW Mexico, on the S Baja California peninsula. La Paz is the capital. Most of the area is lightly populated and has little arable land. Some cotton is grown commercially, and there is significant salt mining in the desert region in the northern portion of the state. Tourism, the economic mainstay, is centered at Los Cabos, an international beach resort area and sport fishing destination at the southern end of the state. Baja California Sur was made a state in 1974.