Friday, May 8, 2009

Lake Chapala's south shore treasures Part 3: Windy Point

The stunning view from Windy Point. We discovered Windy Point through our friends Denis and Julika, with whom we had shared our previous south shore treasure hunts. They, in turn, discovered it through John Pint who writes for the Guadalajara Reporter, the English-language newspaper in the area. According to Pint, Windy Point is also called Mirador del Valle (Valley Lookout), but since we started calling it Windy Point at our adventure's beginning, I'll stick with the name. We went seeking the view, but also to see the hawks, vultures, and other birds soaring on the afternoon updrafts that pour up the sheer cliffs of the 2000 foot south-facing escarpment. The altitude of Windy point is 6775 feet or 2065 meters.

The south shore town of Tuxcueca basks in late afternoon sunshine. Tuxcueca lies due south from the north shore town of Chapala across the broad middle of Lake Chapala (click the link for a Google map of the area). The town of Tuxcueca fringes a small bay. The haze you can see over the Lake comes from the many wildfires burning on both shores. The slopes behind the town, thickly covered with brush, rise gradually to a high, broad plateau. The plateau, running east to west along the crest of the ridges, contains numerous small cattle ranches. When you travel across the plateau heading south, you come to an abrupt and very sheer escarpment which drops off to a lovely farming valley below.

Denis and Julika, transfixed by the soaring birds. These two are quite an adventurous pair. Denis was born in Great Britain, and Julika is originally from Germany. They have traveled over a good deal of Mexico and to a number of other countries. Although most expats in the Lake Chapala area are either Americans or Canadians, there is a small but significant contingent of Europeans. The overall mix creates a fascinating expat community.

Raven soars effortlessly in the powerful afternoon updrafts. As far as we could tell, the ravens, black vultures, and other birds we saw were not hunting. The only explanation that made sense of their soaring was for the simple fun of it. Unfortunately, I found it extremely difficult to get close-up shots of the birds as they soared. Some were too far away for any detail. Those that came close zipped by me so fast that I couldn't catch the shot. This was the only half-way decent shot I could get.

Another drama unfolded around us--fire! As the winter ended and the weather got increasingly hot and dry, I began to wonder if  there would be wildfires in the mountains. A few days before this trip, I smelled wood smoke all night. This photo was taken from Windy point looking west along the ridge. It was far enough away that we didn't feel threatened, but the land all around us was also tinder dry. It appears that many of these fires are of human origin. Small farmers still use slash and burn techniques to clear land, and sometimes these get seriously out of hand. 

The plateau was relatively open, except for occasional barbed wire. You can see how brown and dry the land is, except for some evergreen trees and cactus. In a few weeks, when the rains start, this land will turn emerald  green. Walking through this area was relatively easy, and provided some ideas for future hikes along the escarpment rim.

Not waiting for the rains. This tree has already started to bloom, despite the lack of water. The blooms occur on the very tip ends of the branches, before any leaves sprout, creating a very odd effect.

The edge of the escarpment from across a ravine. You can see where the flat plateau at the upper right of the photo drops off sheer cliffs into heavily wooded ravines.

A fellow photographer at the edge. Jay Koppelman is one of the area's finest young photographers, a true artist whose work has repeatedly graced the covers of local magazines. For a look at some of his beautiful work, click here. Jay and I have become friends through our common interest in photographing the wonders of Mexico. Above, Jay stands at the edge of the Windy Point precipice, looking down at Atotonilco, a small farming town in the valley below.

Atotonilco, the view from above. Atotonilco is a small town of 380 people which hugs the base of the escarpment. The patch-work pattern of the farmers' field spreads out to the east, south and west. Most of the population is probably related through family.

Citala lies on the far side of the valley. Citala is several miles south of Atotonilco, across the patch-work of fields. Citala has about 1475 people. As I studied Citala, I became increasingly intrigued by the landscape immediately to the southeast of the town (upper left).

A mysterious gorge opens up on the edge of Citala. As a hiker, I am always on the lookout for new turf to investigate. This gorge appears to be long and deep with sheer cliffs and an unknown end. Just the sort of thing our Tuesday hiking group might like to check out.

Larry, our intrepid driver. I can truthfully say that this particular adventure might not have occurred without Larry. He is the owner of a high-clearance 4-wheel-drive vehicle and without his vehicle, we would not have had enough passenger space for all of us to come. It didn't take any arm-twisting to get him to come, since Larry is the adventurous type to begin with, and the jaunt appealed to his nature. Here he is sitting at the edge of the Windy Point drop-off, enjoying an orange.

The plateau is high-desert country. Cactus abounds, particularly Nopal, or prickly-pear cactus, with its needled leaves shaped like flat paddles. The Nopal pictured is in the late stages of blooming. The flowers grow out of the ends of fruits which are about the size and shape of a small hen's egg. The blooms have wilted or fallen off the buds in the background and the immediate foreground, while the one in the middle still displays its delicate flower. Nopal has long history as a useful plant. The flat paddles can be eaten, as well as the fruits, although one must be careful to clean off the spines. The plant is a source of proteins, vitamins, and minerals. Nopal has historically been used to treat diabetes, stomach problems, fatigue, shortness of breath, prostate enlargement, and liver disease, and hangovers.

Veronica adjusts her camera. Veronica is Jay's Mexican girlfriend. She is very sweet, but a little shy because her English is still a work in progress. Since my Spanish is in about the same condition (actually not as good as her English) we have found something in common as we puzzle out strange words in each other's language. A few months ago, Veronica invited Carole and I to her birthday party, the first Mexican party we had attended. It turned out to be loads fun, despite the language barriers. Her family made us feel very welcome.

Long shadows gather as the sun heads toward the western horizon. I took this telephoto shot at the extreme range of my camera. In the tan field at the lower right, you can just make out what appear to be horses. These fields are probably growing corn, wheat, hay, and truck-farm products like beans. The fields are not large by American or Canadian agribusiness standards, but are considerably larger than many I see on the north shore.
Fire over the Lake. A plume of smoke rises from wildfires on the far side of the mountains on the north shore of Lake Chapala. I took this shot as we returned across the plateau toward Tuxcueca. The field in the foreground is extremely rocky, similar to many at this level. This land is probably only good for pasture, as plowing would be a very difficult proposition. The rocks are volcanic basalt, a product of the vulcanism all around the Lake, and around Jalisco State in general.

This completes Part 3 of our investigation of the treasures of the south shore of Lake Chapala. I hope you have enjoyed it. Please feel free to comment below or directly to my email in the comments section. Also, feel free to share the link to my blog with friends or relatives who may be interested. The more the merrier!

Hasta luego! Jim 


  1. Jim-An excellent post! I enjoyed both your great photos and your interesting narrative. Reading your blog has given me a whole new perspective on how it is possible to be retired and enjoy travel. It's a good place to stop and virtually visit. Thank you. I will return and follow your further adventures. Enjoy!

  2. I like the photo with the long shadows and the fields! Nice!

  3. Enjoy traveling by blog with you Jim, the bird is a Raven.

  4. Hi there, I'm so happy and grateful for the photos of Atotonilco and citala as I was raised there. My Mon was born in Atotonilco and so were most of my relatives. So thanks for sharing such a view.


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