Monday, July 5, 2010

Zacatlán Odyssey Part 8: Magnificent cascades of Tulimán

Las Cascadas de Tulimán plunge through a steep, narrow canyon. The main cascadas (falls) shown above are actually three distinct waterfalls. Taken together, they drop as much as 300 meters (984 feet) in a relatively short horizontal distance. Christopher, Mary Carmen and I visited these dramatic waterfalls toward the end of our 8 day visit to the Zacatlán area. The rising mist creates a lush environment on the canyon's vertical walls and narrow floor.

A view of the Tulimán canyon from high above. The canyon, or barranca, is typical of the many that cut through the landscape around Zacatlán. Las Cascadas de Tulimán are not far from the city, requiring a drive of only about 40 minutes. The eco-tourism park is operated by Ejido Tulimán. An ejido is a piece of property which is owned by the Mexican government but communally operated by low-income farmers who are often indigenous people. At Tulimán, the land is not much use for farming, being far to precipitous, but it has great potential for eco-tourism. The local people are working very hard to develop this aspect of the area for the benefit of their community.

Typical scene on the back roads to Tulimán. A couple of girls from the indigenous community herd their small flock of sheep along a dirt road. More and more, the local women are abandoning the traditional huipil and ankle-length black dress as the influence of modern civilization spreads deeper into the mountain recesses. Mary Carmen helped found the annual Festival of the Crown of Flowers to encourage people not to abandon their ancient culture.

Top of the main falls at Tulimán. Only my telephoto lens could get me close enough to capture this scene. The torrent of water pounded down the rocky precipice with a deafening roar.

The middle falls are even larger. I could have gotten a bit closer here, but the footing was very slippery from the spray, and I wasn't eager to take a tumble into this maelstrom.

The lower falls plunged down into a broad pool. The high, almost perpendicular walls of the canyon were narrowly separated by the foaming water. After swirling around the pool, the torrent roared off down the long canyon.

Fernando Navarro (left) takes a breather with Christopher. Fernando is a partner in the Ejido de Tulimán and the president of the group. When we arrived, the eco-tourist park was closed, but the local people immediately recognized Mary Carmen and soon Fernando joined us as our guide. Normally the entry fee is $20 pesos ($1.57 USD) but Fernando waived the fee when Mary Carmen explained that our visit would help publicize his community's project. Fernando was an excellent guide and showed us a variety of edible plants growing along the trails.

Vertical stone cliffs lined the upper parts of the deep canyon. According to Mary Carmen, the Spanish name for these rock formations is Marmol Negro (black marble). My friend Tom Holeman, who knows a great deal about geology, tells me that the scientific name in English is columnar basalt. Whatever the name, it forms a dramatic vertical drop high over the canyon floor.

The cool green forest rose high above us. Draped over the trees was Tillandsia usneoides, similar to the Spanish Moss found in the deep South of the United States. In the local Nahuatl language, the plant is known as paxtle (pronounced "pasht-lay"). This symbiotic plant is very common throughout the forests surrounding Zacatlán and in other areas of Mexico. Paxtle is used during the Three Kings Festival held each January 6 in Cajititlan near where I live. In a description by a visiting Franciscan missionary in 1586, the people created a "portal to Bethlehem" in front of the church door. The portal was built using poles covered with paxtle, and contained the figures of the Christ Child, Mary and Joseph.

An inviting trail winds along the side of the canyon. Even on a warm day, these trails would be cool, moist, and shady given the deep forest and the mist rising from the torrent below. The trails we hiked were clean and very well maintained for the most part.

A good place to watch your step. Christopher carefully picks his way down the slick, muddy, makeshift stairs which lead up to the triple falls viewpoint. This was the only part of the trail network that I thought could use some serious improvement, especially given the popularity of the viewpoint up above. No doubt Fernando has it on his list.

A group of attractive pine buildings surrounded the main parking lot. This one was built within the last year. Downstairs is an open-air space overlooking the canyon which probably functions as a makeshift restaurant when the park is open. Upstairs are several rooms set up for massage. The eco-tourist park has existed for about 4 years, but I'll bet the area has attracted tourists for far longer than that.

A rustic cabin sits up the hillside from the massage/restaurant. The cabins appear comfortable and are relatively inexpensive, renting for $200 pesos ($15.65 USD) per person. They come with hot water (notice the hot water heater on the right side) two beds, a shower, and a toilet. Lanterns are used instead of electric lights. To reserve a cabin, contact Fernando Navarro at (01152) 797-976-1833.

There are also accommodations for those looking for a shorter visit. These thatched-roof, open-sided structures are called palapas. I could almost smell steaks and burgers cooking on the brick and stone firepit. For those looking to work off all that lunch, there is a long zip-line available in the lower canyon.

Mary Carmen at rest (for once). Stools and tables in the picnic area were rustic and sometimes carved into whimsical shapes. Throughout our visit Mary Carmen was invaluable as a guide and resource. She opened doors that we didn't even know existed. Even today, she continues to energetically ferret out the answers to all the questions that I plague her with as I prepare these blog postings.

Further down the canyon, more cascades. After their dramatic drop at the triple falls, the water continues through long a series of smaller, but still beautiful cascades. This one can be found just before the main stream is joined by a smaller one coming out of a side canyon.

Not all cascades have to be large to be lovely. These mini-falls run just to the side of the larger cascade seen in the previous picture. As a photographer, I am always attracted to tiny vignettes like this.

Looking up the side canyon that joins the main barranca. The junction of the two streams occurs at a point where the canyon widens out considerably, which allows the afternoon sun to light up the area.

Near where the two streams meet, we found dramatic basalt formations. The rushing water has worn away all the soil. Only the bare, dramatically layered rock stands out. This is also columnar basalt, but geologic action has turned it on its side, and the water has used the cracks between the columns to cut down into the rock. This action has created a series of deep pools as the rock chute descends step by step toward the main Tulimán barranca. The junction of the two streams occurs at the waterfall seen on the upper right part of the photo.

Another view of the side canyon's now-horizontal basalt columns. I love clambering over rock formations, and I couldn't resist these. They formed irregular but easily walkable stairs up the hill and down the stream. Mary Carmen's photo caught me in the midst of my enjoyment. Photo by Mary Carmen Olvera Trejo

This completes Part 8 of my Zacatlán series. My last part will come next week when we will take a look at a family dynasty that has run a local clock factory for over 100 years. I call the posting "The House of Time". I hope you liked my posting on Las Cascadas de Tulimán. If you'd like to make a comment, please leave it in the Comments section below or email me directly. If you leave a question in the Comments section, PLEASE leave your email address so I can respond.

Hasta luego, Jim

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