Monday, June 29, 2009

Barranca Yerba Buena Part 3 - The Upper Falls

Upper falls of Barranca Yerba Buena drop vertically from the plateau above. On our first hike into the Barranca (see Part 1), we explored the the lower canyon and penetrated the entrance of the inner gorge. On our second, we explored the length of the inner gorge and made it to the reddish sandstone cul de sac that supposedly ended the canyon and culminated in a beautiful high falls (see Part 2). However, when we examined the Google satellite maps and some photos by some previous Mexican hikers, it appeared that there might be yet another high cascade. This final cascade was out of view from far below in the cul de sac, and was possibly around a bend of the canyon. Frankly, I had some doubts about its existence, thinking that perhaps the two photos left on Google by the previous hikers had been of the same falls from different angles. Google satellite photos are notoriously tricky to interpret, and the last section of the Barranca showed little more than deep shadow. For there to be another falls above meant that the drop from the plateau was much sharper and deeper than we had imagined. Another Barranca mystery to be solved!

We set off through a remote ranch on the high plateau south of the Barranca. (Right to Left) Norm, Bob, and Tom move past an adobe outbuilding. Larry is behind me and I, of course, am once again behind the camera. To reach the Barranca from the top, we had to drive completely around the mountains into which the Barranca cuts. At the end of a very long dirt road, we found the reservoir from which the stream flows which creates the falls and runs at the base of the Barranca. The road dead-ended at the gate of a farm, apparently with no one about. A sign on the gate said "private property" in Spanish, which gave us pause. If we wanted to reach the top of the Barranca, there was no other way but to climb the gate. Reasoning that it is easier to seek forgiveness than to gain permission, and hoping there were no trigger-happy farmers with shotguns about, we collectively took a deep breath and climbed over. Ultimately we had to scale a half dozen more fences along the way.

The only one standing guard was this fellow. As we made our way from meadow to meadow, we encountered a small herd of cattle. The cows were apparently the harem of this strikingly handsome bull, which appears to be a Brahman. He wasn't overly aggressive, but he obviously didn't care for our passage through the middle of his herd. He seemed somewhat relieved when we finally passed on.

Kniphofia uvaria, a flower that looks like skyrockets exploding. We passed by this group of wildly colorful flowers in the yard of another outbuilding. Kniphofia is also known as Torch Lily and Red Hot Poker, for obvious reasons. It originated in South Africa and has spread to many areas of the world including, remarkably, this remote ranch in the mountains of Jalisco, Mexico. I identified this flower with the help of my expert on Mexican wildflowers, Ron Parsons.

The top of the plateau is rolling, wooded farm and ranch country. The curving line of green trees in the photo above follows the line of the creek which flows from the reservoir to the falls. Rather than following the creek, we took a path which promised to take us around the lip of the chasm. We hoped to see the falls from above. It was a cool, gray day, perfect for hiking and for photographs. We hoped the dark clouds would not turn into a daytime rainstorm, and we were lucky.

We could hear the falls before we could see them. Then, finally, the trees along the edge of the gorge opened up and there they were--the mysterious upper falls. These were clearly not the falls we had approached from below on our 2nd hike; they were on the opposite side of the canyon, for one thing. The drop from the lip of the falls to the pool below is at least 100 feet, and possibly more.

The lip of the upper falls. I took this telephoto shot of where the stream emerges from the dense woods and abruptly plunges almost vertically to the pool below. I wouldn't have wanted to come blindly stumbling through the woods and along the creek looking for this spot and suddenly find myself in mid-air. That's how abruptly the drop occurs.

Water turns to mist on its way down the sheer rock face. This small section of the middle of the falls gives an idea of the almost 90 degree drop of the falls. You would have a fair amount of time to consider your folly if you slipped on the edge of this falls. At least until the sudden stop.

Bob and Tom compare notes on the route. Both of them are retired doctors. Tom was a dermatologist, and Bob was a veterinarian. Bob grew up as a cowboy on remote ranches and is a storehouse of fascinating and hilarious cowboy stories right out of the Old West. Not surprisingly, he is also very good with animals, as you will see later.

Kapok trees and their flowers are found throughout the mountains of Jalisco. Because the fruit of the Kapok floats, some believe that the Kapok ended up in Latin America by floating across the Atlantic from Africa. The Kapok has a multitude of uses, from the easily carved wood, to the oil of the seeds used for food and medicine, to the silky material around its bloom which was stuffed into World War II life jackets.

The mouth of a cave loomed beside the trail. When one of my fellow hikers stepped inside, he encountered a live bat, which promptly fled. We have found a number of similar caves on our hikes into the Barranca, all of which showed evidence of human use. Humans have been hiking through these canyons for thousands of years. There is every reason to believe that some proto-Indian sat at the mouth of this cave admiring the Barranca in some past millenium, just as were were admiring it now.
View of the lower canyon, looking north. While the lower canyon looks relatively shallow from this angle, it is not. Eventually, the canyon ends just before the highway that bypasses the small farm town of Citala. Looking across the valley, you can see a long green escarpment passing across the upper part of the picture from right to left. On the sheer edge of this steep escarpment is Windy Point, the lookout point from which I first spotted Barranca Yerba Buena.

Windy Point, a little closer. If you look at where the light green ridge in the background drops down behind the dark green escarpment, and move your eye just slightly to the left, you will see a lone tree sticking up above the others at the edge of the cliff. This is Windy Point, at the extreme range of my telephoto. You are looking due north, from the plateau at the mouth of the inner gorge of Barranca Yerba Buena. For a look in exactly the opposite direction from Windy Point, click here.

Below the escarpment, sunlight plays across the countryside above Atontonilco. The clouds opened up across the valley and sent golden beams down to lighten up the foothills at the base of the escarpment below Windy Point. Atontonilco is probably even smaller than Citala. The smoke you can see in the lower right quarter of the photo is probably from a farmer burning the weeds off his recently harvested field.

The illusion of a rope. At first glance, this seemed to be a rather well-braided hemp rope looped around a branch. It is actually a vine. Someone in our party remarked that this was probably how humans figured out how to braid a rope. Nature shows the way. I found the vine to be enormously strong when I tried to break through one while doing a little bushwhacking off-trail.

Celery Man gains a fan. Our trail down the lip of the gorge ended in a farmer's field surrounded by rough walls made of volcanic stone. While we were enjoying the view and considering our return hike, this little burro came up to investigate. He was wearing a crude wooden saddle, but his owner was no where in sight. At first he was a little skittish about our attempts to pet him. Then Bob pulled out a small package of celery he had brought, along with some peanut butter, as part of his lunch. "I'll bet this guy has never tasted celery before," said Bob with a twinkle in his eye. The burro was immediately interested and the expression on his face was of one who has died and discovered himself in heaven. He thought the celery was the best thing since, well, celery. After a bit, running low on celery, Bob decided to dip it in peanut butter. The burro was entranced, although he had the same difficulty getting the substance off the roof of his mouth that humans do. When we moved up the field to leave, he looked very distressed and came galloping after us, obviously thinking "where's that guy going with my celery and peanut butter!" And that's how Bob became "Celery Man".

This concludes my three part series on Barranca Yerba Buena. There are still mysteries to be solved, however. We never discovered whether it is possible to get down into the gorge at the base of the upper falls. We found a way from the reservoir along top of the falls down to the eastern side of plateau overlooking the Barranca, but we never found a way down from there into the outer canyon or the inner gorge. Those explorations will have to wait for future hikes in this wonderful rugged canyon. Stay tuned!

Hasta luego! Jim


  1. I really enjoyed your photos and your excellent narrative. Together, they have given me a virtual journey and encouraged me to add this area to my list of "places that I want to visit". Thank you.

  2. WOW, What a great site. WOnderful photos AND interesting mini stories too.

    Keep up the good work,

    ANother gret site about life at Lake Chapala is It also has articles, photos, and even videos about living at Lake Chapala Ajijic Mexico.


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