March 4, 2023

Number 185 in a Series

Serina Watson of Winkelman, AZ, asked Cap’n Greg how the Sea of Cortés got its name. Good question, Serina. About 5.3 million years ago, just before Willie Nelson started first grade, a tectonic fault line shifted to form today’s Baja California and a long skinny body of water that is deeper than 9,800 feet in some places. Time eventually passed and the area was populated by Mayans, Olmecs, Aztecs and Keith Richards, who was learning the blues from Muddy Waters. The various civilizations thrived for centuries and built massive and complex cities until folks wearing funny clothes in Spain learned how to sail ships across the Atlantic. In 1519, Hernando (Hernán) Cortés, a spoiled rich kid with a really bad haircut, dropped anchor in what is now Cuba. His buddy, the King of Spain, had given him permission to claim the area and upgrade the religion of the natives. Hernando decided the best way to do that was to kill everyone who hadn’t already died of smallpox brought by his 600-man army. The conquistador horde killed thousands, and burned crops and villages all the way to Mexico City, where Hernando, fingers crossed behind his back, promised the Aztec ruler, Montezuma, that he’d take over City Hall and there would be a pollo in every pot. Soon after that, good old Monte got his ticket punched, and Cortés claimed all of Mexico for Spain. Looking for a better barber, he loaded up on mescal, took a wrong turn at Puerto Vallarta, and discovered the Baja Peninsula. Then he returned to Spain, and yada, yada, died. In 1539, an explorer named Francisco de Ulloa, higher than a kite on Tequila Sunrises, set sail to prove that California was an island, but instead determined it was actually an isthmus. He named the stretch of deep blue water between Baja and the Mexican mainland after the guy with the bad haircut. Thus, the Sea of Cortés. Thanks for asking, Serina.