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Original Issue

Winter haven at land's end

On Baja California's sun-seared coast a new hotel and promise of a mixed bag of game are now attracting both hunters and anglers

Below the Mexican border town of Tijuana, the ragged mountains and scorched mesas of the great peninsula of Baja California stretch southward for 750 miles and finally end abruptly in curving beaches that are forever scoured by eddies and tides of the Pacific. Though for over 40 years the land has been courted by sportsmen, it still remains a spectacular wilderness, a stronghold of timelessness and isolation. Today there is still no railroad nor any good motor road down Baja California, but now by air from the border the traveler can reach the town of La Paz near the peninsula tip in four hours. And beyond La Paz, it is now only 20 minutes more by air to the end of the peninsula, where a new, small hotel called Las Cruces Palmilla overlooks the scalloped coast pictured on the opposite page.

In the rough, sere hills of Baja California the visitor can exhaust himself thoroughly hunting deer or, in contrast, he can bag dove or quail with ease. At Las Cruces Palmilla the fisherman has only to look at the roving strings of pelicans over the shallows and see billfish breaking out of the deep water to know the value of the place.

Las Cruces Palmilla was designed and is managed by a onetime high-living, hard-flying test pilot named Abelardo Rodriguez, who operates his present business on the premise that a hotel must suit its guests, and the guests, equally, must suit the hotel. Any visitor who sullies the easy life at Las Cruces Palmilla with too much big-city high pressure may find himself persona non grata and a candidate for the unofficial "drop dead" list. "To me," Rodriguez has said, "a hotel must be more than a business. It should be a way of life."

Holiday hunters, Charles Jones, president of Richfield Oil (left), and C. R. Smith, head of American Airlines (right), set out after doves with their host, Abelardo Rodriguez.

Las Cruces Palmilla, a hotel of Spanish colonial design, sits on a rocky head at the broad junction of the Pacific and Gulf of California.

In front of the hotel a sun area and pool beckon to guests who do not care to test themselves in the surf along the natural beach just beyond.

In the spangled light of early evening, Mrs. William Cooper of Palos Verdes, Calif. wades out into the Pacific surf at the foot of the hotel.

A bounty of billfish

At Las Cruces Palmilla, hunters are amazed at the abundance of game in the seemingly barren land. In the hills just behind the hotel, the hunter need only kick at the clumps of mesquite to flush coveys of quail (the kicker, however, should be well shod, for the brush also supports rattlers). In the blue Pacific, the skin-diver quite often comes upon the rare large, golden cabrilla that by its sheer brilliance can shame all the smaller, multicolored fish that flirt with the rocks and the rolling sea. Of all the game that lies just barely hidden in the dry hills or below the water surface, it is the abundance of billfish, like the thrashing Pacific sailfish pictured opposite, that draws visitors to the land's end of Baja California.

The billfish grounds extending from La Paz past Las Cruces Palmilla are particularly good for casual anglers and out-and-out duffers. On a fair day, a man who misses three straight strikes can be sure that before the boat heads back toward the hills he will see another bill, and another and another, poke through the water's surface to whack at the bait. By and large, apart from some slackening off in late fall and early winter, there is good action off Las Cruces the year round. Biologists cannot wholly explain the constancy and abundance of fish off the end of the peninsula, but they have some of the answers. The large tides in the Gulf of California and eddies curling off ocean currents keep the water moving. The force of the earth's rotation and the winds blowing seaward tend to remove warmer surface water and promote upwelling of rich, cold water that in turn promotes all kinds of marine life that culminates, for the sportsman at least, in a rich harvest of jumping fish.

As their skipper heads his boat back toward port, three contented fishermen from Las Cruces Palmilla bask in the low winter sun that glances off the flat Pacific.