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.
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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