Baja California, officially Free and Sovereign State of Baja California, is the northernmost and westernmost of the 31 states which, with the Federal District, comprise the 32 Federal Entities of Mexico. Before becoming a state in 1953, the area was known as the North Territory of Baja California. It has an area of , or 3.57% of the land mass of Mexico and comprises the northern half of the Baja California peninsula, north of the 28th parallel. The state is bordered on the west by the Pacific Ocean, on the east by Sonora, the U.S. State of Arizona, and the Gulf of California (also known as the Sea of Cortez), and on the south by Baja California Sur. Its northern limit is the U.S. state of California.
The state has a population of 2,844,469 (2005 census), and estimated 3,165,776 (June 2009) much more than the sparsely populated Baja California Sur to the south, and similar to San Diego County, California on its north. Over 75% of the population lives in the capital city, Mexicali, in Ensenada, or in Tijuana. Other important cities include San Felipe, Rosarito and Tecate. The population of the state is composed of Mestizos, mostly immigrants from other parts of Mexico, and, as with most northern Mexican states, a large population of Mexicans of European ancestry, and also a large minority group of East Asian, Middle Eastern and indigenous descent. Additionally, there is a large immigrant population from the United States due to its proximity to San Diego and the cheaper cost of living compared to San Diego. There is also a significant population from Central America. Many immigrants moved to Baja California for a better quality of life and the number of higher paying jobs in comparison to the rest of Mexico and Latin America.
Baja California is the twelfth largest state by area in Mexico. Its geography ranges from beaches to forests and deserts. The backbone of the state is the Sierra de Baja California, where the Picacho del Diablo, the highest point of the peninsula, is located. This mountain range effectively divides the weather patterns in the state. In the northwest, the weather is semi-dry and mediterranean. In the narrow center, the weather changes to be more humid due to altitude. It is in this area where a few valleys can be found, such as the Valle de Guadalupe, the major wine producing area in Mexico. To the east of the mountain range, the Sonoran Desert dominates the landscape. In the south, the weather becomes drier and gives way to the Vizcaino Desert. The state is also home to numerous islands off both of its shores. In fact, the westernmost point in Mexico, the Guadalupe Island, is part of Baja California. The Coronado, Todos Santos and Cedros Islands are also on the Pacific Shore. On the Gulf of California, the biggest island is the Angel de la Guarda, separated from the peninsula by the deep and narrow Canal de Ballenas.
The first people came to the peninsula at least 11,000 years ago. At that time two main native groups are thought to have been present on the peninsula. In the south were the Cochimí. In the north were several groups belonging to the Yuman language family, including the Kiliwa, Paipai, Kumeyaay, Cocopa, and Quechan. These peoples were diverse in their adaptations to the region. The Cochimí of the peninsula's Central Desert were generalized hunter-gatherers who moved frequently; however, the Cochimí on Cedros Island off the west coast had developed a strongly maritime economy. The Kiliwa, Paipai, and Kumeyaay in the better-watered northwest were also hunter-gatherers, but that region supported denser populations and a more sedentary lifestyle. The Cocopa and Quechan of northeastern Baja California practiced agriculture in the floodplain of the lower Colorado River.
Europeans reached the present state of Baja California in 1539, when Francisco de Ulloa reconnoitered its east coast on the Gulf of California and explored the peninsula's west coast at least as far north as Cedros Island. Hernando de Alarcón returned to the east coast and ascended the lower Colorado River in 1540, and Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo (or João Rodrigues Cabrilho ) completed the reconnaissance of the west coast in 1542. Sebastián Vizcaíno again surveyed the west coast in 1602, but outside visitors during the following century were few.
The Jesuits founded a permanent mission colony on the peninsula at Loreto in 1697. During the following decades, they gradually extended their sway throughout the present state of Baja California Sur. In 1751–1753, the Croatian Jesuit mission-explorer Ferdinand Konščak made overland explorations northward into the state of Baja California. Jesuit missions were subsequently established among the Cochimí at Santa Gertrudis (1752), San Borja (1762), and Santa María (1767).
After the expulsion of the Jesuits in 1768, the short-lived Franciscan administration (1768–1773) resulted in one new mission at San Fernando Velicatá. More importantly, the 1769 expedition to settle Alta California under Gaspar de Portolà and Junípero Serra resulted in the first overland exploration of the northwestern portion of the state.
The Dominicans took over management of the Baja California missions from the Franciscans in 1773. They established a chain of new missions among the northern Cochimí and western Yumans, first on the coast and subsequently inland, extending from El Rosario (1774) to Descanso (1817), just south of Tijuana.
Nineteenth and twentieth centuries