Sunday, June 28, 2009

Barranca Yerba Buena Part 2 - The Inner Gorge

White water cascades through green trees in the inner gorge. Our initial exploration (see Part 1) of Barranca Yerba Buena whetted our appetites for further exploration. The outer canyon with its progressively larger waterfalls and multiple mysteries drew us back for another attempt to reach the end of the canyon. We had heard from local Mexicans that there would be at least one--maybe more--very large falls further up the canyon. On our last visit we had reached the inner gorge but we turned back close to the end, having run out of time.

The hiking team for second attempt. Left to right: Chris, Bob, Becca, Larry, Tom. I, of course, am on the camera. Because our original hike up the outer canyon had consumed so much time, we decided to see if we could bypass it this time and drop directly down to the entrance of the inner gorge. To do this, we examined Google satellite maps and found some farm roads that follow along the rim of the inner canyon on the west side. The entrance to the road is on the south side of the Citala highway near the Kilometer 16 sign. We followed the rough farm road up the sloping plateau until Bob's low-slung van couldn't go any further, then parked in a field. We were still unsure of our way because satellite maps are notorious for making a stone wall appear like a viable road. Our route was good, however, and we found the new bulldozer road that we hoped would take us down into the canyon.

Entrance of the inner gorge from the "dozer" road. On our first expedition, Chris had become separated and ventured up this road from the canyon bottom, thinking the rest of our party might have headed that way. Now we were moving in the reverse direction. As you can see, the walls of the inner gorge are very steep. The next picture was taken from near the top of the hill you see on the left. Although the bulldozer road looks level in the picture above, it is actually extremely steep. Only an ATV or a dirt motorcycle could have made it back up, unless you were in possession of a bulldozer. I noted on the way down that the return trip would likely be tough in the hot afternoon sun. I wasn't wrong.

The bulldozer road, from across the canyon. This picture was actually taken on our third expedition into the canyon, but I include it here to give a sense of the terrain we crossed.
The drop into the canyon may look gradual, but it was not. Behind the plateau from which the dozer road snakes down you can see the farm town of Citala and the countryside beyond

The base of the inner gorge was thickly canopied with multiple layers of vegetation. This gave it a cool, shady aspect that was refreshing. So was the rushing brown stream at our feet.

One mystery solved. On our previous hike, we had followed a metal water pipe, discovering by trial and error that if we stayed within 50 feet on either side, we would generally find the path. We wondered about the source of the water flowing through this pipe, assuming it would be the reservoir on the plateau above the end of the canyon. However, the pipe ended not too far into the inner gorge at this small stone and concrete cistern. The cistern itself was fed by the multiple plastic pipes you can see above. But where did they come from?

Not the proverbial ladder to success. The plastic pipes extended up the cliff face in various directions to the springs above. I climbed the rickety, hand-hewn ladder to a point where one of its two supports had rotted and broken and several handholds were missing. Another example of the rustic maintenance methods one finds in rural Mexico. Since the muddy and probably polluted water in the stream flows ultimately through Citala, the purpose of these pipes has to be drinking water from (hopefully) unpolluted springs. The mystery of the pipe and its purpose was solved.

Large moth hides in a crevice. Along the trail we had to squeeze around several precipitous rocky outcrops. Under one of these, right where you needed to put your hand for support, we found this large and beautifully marked moth. The moth took no heed of us as all six hikers passed very closely one by one.

Rough water at the head of a cascade. The water roared and pulsed through a narrow gap in the rocks and then plunged down a 20 foot cascade to a large pool below. I suggested to Tom that he should slide down the falls for the unusual experience and great photography it would provide. To my disappointment, he declined.

Another log crossing. This log bridge was further up the canyon than the one seen in Part 1. Tom, on the left, watches closely as Bob gingerly sidles across. This canyon has more thrills than an amusement park.

Milkweed flower at the canyon bottom. Formally known as Asclepias, possibly of the fascicularis species. Milkweed is widespread around the world. It has been used by native peoples as a source of poison for hunting and war arrows. Milkweed is a common folk remedy for warts, and was used as a source of insulating fibre during World War II. Both the Germans and the US tried to find a way to use it as a source of rubber, but neither was particularly successful. This particular variety was very pretty, a good enough purpose for me.

Bob tries the footbridge. This was the terminal point of our last attempt to reach the end of the canyon. To say that it looked "iffy" doesn't do its precariousness justice. It was right up Bob's alley. I decided that, as a photographer, my best place was on solid ground recording Bob's potential misadventure. He did all right, though.

Our goal almost in sight. Through the trees, past the small waterfall, we could see naked sandstone cliff walls and hear the roar of a much bigger cascade. We still weren't certain, because the many twists and turns of the canyon had fooled us before.

Tom reaches the head of the canyon. Tom was in the lead, and I took this shot to give some scale and perspective to the overwhelming height and sheerness of the sandstone canyon walls.

The "cascada grande" at last. We had finally reached one of the really big waterfalls that the local Mexicans had promised. The canyon appeared to stop here, but we couldn't see much of the top, and so couldn't be sure there wasn't another level.

Top of the waterfall. With my telephoto, I was able to capture this shot of the point where the brown water shoots over the lip and cascades down almost vertically. Although the spraying water looks white here, you can see brown droplets caught in mid-air near the top.

In its long drop, the water almost turns to mist. This shot captures part of the mid-section of the falls as the water smashed into tiny droplets on its roaring drop to the bottom.

Brown mist drifts down into the pool at the bottom. The constant moisture from the falls has promoted the growth of ferns in this semi-desert system. The water has returned to its usual cafe con leche color.

Moss grows on the rock walls beside the cascade's pool. The vivid greenness of this moss against the reddish rock caught my eye. Since this was the dry season, I wondered how wet it must get down here when the rains come. Perhaps we shall see on another trip.

Erosion has created sharp edges and grooves in the walls above the cascade pool. I have always been interested in the effect of erosion on rock, what it takes and what it leaves behind.

Small plants find a livelihood in the crevices created in the rock by erosion. The action by the plant roots themselves contributes to the cycle of erosion. Life is tenacious, and will nearly always find a way.

A small cave, high up on the cliff face. I spotted this cave behind a ledge part way up the canyon wall. It didn't look very deep, but from my angle, I couldn't be sure. Without ropes and some very serious rock climbing, there was no way to tell.

Tom, Bob, and Larry compare notes at the waterfall's base. You can see the scale of the falls with something to compare it to, in this case my hiking companions. The top of the waterfall is out of sight, so you don't really get the full scale comparison, but this does pretty well. The extraordinary aspect of this canyon is the amount of water that flows through it, even at the hottest time of the year in a part of the Lake Chapala area I expected to find drier than the proverbial bone.

Lovers in the canyon. While leaning against this tree below the falls, I suddenly noticed this large heart with the initials of lovers inside. Some romantic had appreciated the beauty of this place and inscribed a message to his (or her) loved one. I was amused that the language and symbols of love appear to be identical in Mexico and north of the border. I also took it as a statement of love for the place, a feeling I certainly shared.

This concludes Part 2 of my series on Barranca Yerba Buena. In the next and final part, we explore the rim of the inner gorge and discover a second huge waterfall further into the gorge.
I hope you can join us in about a week for the final adventure. I always appreciate comments, which you can leave in the section below or email to me directly. Also, feel free to send a link to this blog to family or friends you think might enjoy it.

Hasta luego, Jim


  1. Oh man alive! What a great adventure! LOVE the photos of the falls.

    This is a really nice posting from beginning to end.

    And it's a cliffhanger! I'm eager for the next installment.

  2. wow, what a great adventure, the pictures were awesome, it must have been an unbelieveable experience, where are the pictures of you guy's having your reward, at the end of your journey?

  3. Congratulations Jim. This looks like one of the most interesting hikes around. Your pictures and commentary are just awesome. I hope we get to do this one again later in the fall.

  4. Hi Jim,
    Tony & I will be coming for our first trip to Ajijic in Feb 2011. Your hikes seem amazing - is the Tuesday group still leaving regularly from Dona's donuts? We would love to "talk" with you about hiking - and fishing(??) while we are in Mexico. Thanks Barbara Vellturo

  5. Amazing waterfall! Wow. Love the vivid imagery from the hike. What a beautiful canyon.


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