Each winter, gray whale mothers travel thousands of miles from their icy arctic feeding grounds to the warm placid bays along the Baja Peninsula to give birth. Enjoying intimate encounters with the playful and curious calves is the focus of many visitors’ trips to Baja—and for good reason. It is one of very few places in the world where the whales actually want to interact with us as much as we want to with them!

But after 10 days sailing around the Baja peninsula with National Geographic Expeditions, I learned that this area is about so much more than just whales (although they are spectacular). I found that the beauty of Baja is in the details. At first glance, this desert region appears to be nothing more than sand, wind, and cacti. But when you slow down and look deeper, Baja will reveal her wonderful treasures. Hidden among the shifting sand dunes, you’ll find coyote tracks, and perhaps hear a member of the pack howling in the distance. Stoop down and you’ll see scores of water droplets collecting on the tiny leaves of succulents, like the crystal balls of a hundred fortune tellers. Look to the skies and you may spot an endemic yellow-footed gull riding the thermals. In Baja, nothing is as it seems at first glance. Even the color of the sands—something my eyes thought they knew—changes from beige to rust to cadmium red as the sun dips below the horizon.

Baja is humble. She doesn’t boast or brag about her bounty. Instead, she challenges us to change our perspective—to look beyond the obvious, and reexamine what we thought we knew.