The Magdalena Dunes

There are so many variations of sand and shape on Magdalena that—as with the Inuit snow—a special vocabulary is required. The interior dunes are white powder, accented by small flows of granular black, an endless undulation, restless and migratory. Black fingers of high tide probe into the rolling interior of the island, delineating these tiny topographies. These ocean rushes add an esoteric dimension to the sliding sands, slicing across dune bases, creating odd collapses


Pacific tides have flattened the western beaches of the island, packing and then stealing the sand away, swirling around the Boca, depositing these grains onto the bay side. With this cyclic pounding, the Pacific sand is ragged and sharp, exposing rivulets and patterns. Compared to the gentle eastern flats, this is the rough edge of the island, with aggressive and powerful surf attacking the steep angled beach. The largess of these tides supplies the Magdalena coyotes with a reliable food source, depositing a steady and varied flotsam.

A narrow finger of water paralleling the Baja coast, Magdalena Bay is a calm and quiet counterpoint to the nearby Pacific. Majestic Gray Whales congregate every winter, using these gentle waters for mating and birthing, riding the smooth interior tidal changes. A ubiquitous part of the Magdalena experience, these cetaceans lull visitors to sleep with their nocturnal exhalations.

Tiny mangrove estuaries provide both a rare steadiness to this transitory island as well as sanctuary for the shy wildlife. These minimalistic forests harbor yet another form of sand, with the tree roots morphing it into a loose mud, a gelatinous goop. Departing tides twist through the mangrove roots, leaving braided mud patterns as mute evidence of their passing.

The unremitting west wind swirls through the bayside dunes, piling them high above the water, creating delicate, intricate edge patterns. These steep-sided eastern dunes contain a metamorphic sand, mixing the interior flour with the grainier mix deposited by the incoming Pacific surges. Vast tidal flats intrude, offering a visual counterpoint to the rolling sand hills, introducing a dark, adherent sand to the island’s dialogue.

Every morning, a vast and luminous fog forms over the Pacific, rolling over Magdalena, enveloping the dunes. The light inside this watery vapor-due to the pellucid bay’s close proximity to the violent Pacific-is luxurious and eerie. This daily phenomenon lasts until midmorning, diffusing the harsh sunlight, dispensing a sere and lovely illumination to the dunes. As the fog disperses and the sun angles to the west, the sands are delineated, transformed into edged highlights and shadows.

Magdalena Island is a revelation, a microcosm of universal mutability. The shifting and shimmering sands continuously fulfilling their cycle from ocean to bay, the gentle cetaceans following their ancient and life-affirming patterns, the rushing tidal changes, these many natural flows constitute a paradigm, an intimate glimpse into the subtle beauty of hidden worlds

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Steve Mulligan,
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