Ever wish you could fly?
Visitors to the Punta Banda Peninsula in Baja California might be tempted to take a plane ride in order to better view the dramatic topography.
A five-mile ridge of mountains and hills rise from sea level to 2,000 feet. On one side, steep cliffs rise above barking sea lions and crashing Pacific waves. On the other side lies Todos Santos Bay; a five-mile spit of beach bisects bay from estuary and marshland, and there are several small pueblos nestled between hills and marsh.
While you might decide to hop on the ultralight that offers rides on the beach, getting up into the hills is my favorite way to enjoy the view. I have been hiking this area for the past several years, but recently I met Pedee Gill, who introduced me to a new way to explore: on horseback.
Two hundred years ago, there were no towns here, but some of the Punta Banda peninsula was part of a 40,000-acre ranch called Ramajal. As I learned recently, the ranch house built in the early 1800s still stands.
In the 1950s, Victoria Faust, a silent-movie actress, purchased the ranch for use as a summer home—a Mexican getaway for herself and her Hollywood friends. After Victoria passed away about ten years ago, her grandson, Miguel Vazquez Faust, inherited the adobe ranch house (notice the narrow, wild-west-esque, gun-sighting window in the center).
Miguel is in the process of restoring the ranch. He and his business partner, Pedee Gill, now offer horseback riding trips from the ranch, up into the Punta Banda hills.
When our group arrived on a sunny morning in May, the ranch was a lively place. A pair of horses was breeding in one coral, as ranch hands saddled up horses for our ride.
When Sophia, the mare in heat, was taken out to be saddled, her beautiful Arabian mate put on quite a show. Eyes wild, he began whinnying and running circles, tail held high. In the distance, the sun sparkled off the Punta Banda estuary.
Setting off on horseback, we followed a gently sloping trail up between two hills. Winter to early spring is generally the blooming season in Baja. In Punta Banda, after the rains begin, the brown slopes transform into green meadows painted impressionistically with wildflowers. Purples and yellows dominate, sometimes covering entire hillsides. Although by mid-May the grass was dying back, we were lucky to find plenty of bushes and flowers still in bloom.
The vegetation in this area is Coastal Sage Scrub, dominated by bushes such as Chamise, the fragrant Broom Baccharis (Hierba del Pasmo), Lemonade Berry (Hiedra), which has edible, red berries and small pink and red flowers, Jojoba, and various varieties of sage, including White Sage and Sage Brush, with purple flowers.
Wildflowers include the bright yellow California Encilio (Incienso), which is a type of sunflower, Arroyo Lupine (Garbancillo), which has stalks of purple flowers with white centers, scarlet Bush Snapdragons, and Monkey Flowers in a lovely shade of pale orange.
At the top of the trail we came to a meadow, at an elevation of around 1000 feet, with sweeping views of the farmland, town, and estuary directly below. To the north we could see across the spit to Todos Santos Bay and Island. If you ride a bit further, at the other end of the plateau and up another hill you will be rewarded with a 180-degree view of the ocean and the hills, all the way to the tip of the peninsula, near La Bufadora.
From this high vantage you can also see some of the south-facing slopes of the Punta Banda peninsula, which lead to rocky Pacific cliffs. Cacti, including Barrel Cactus (Biznaga), Hedgehog Cactus (Pitaya), and varieties of Cholla, grow more abundantly on this side. You’ll also find lots of Agaves (the plant used to make tequila), and succulents like Dudleya (Siempreviva). Even though you’re not flying, you’ll often find yourself eye-level with those who do—hawks and ravens—catching downdrafts as they hunt rabbits and lizards for lunch.
These horseback riding excursions start at only $35 per person, and are customized for each person or group. They have horses suitable for beginners as well as those for more experienced riders. If you’d like to have a picnic at the ranch or in the hills, Pedee and Miguel will be happy to arrange that, too. “Anything is possible!” said Pedee.
Horseback riding trips in the Punta Banda hills are arranged by appointment. For more information, email Pedee Gill at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at 619-270-1280 (U.S) or 646-154-2533 (MEX).