Friday, December 20, 2013

Part 2 of our Waterfall HIke and Corn Fiesta: The Upper Falls to Raul's Place

The Upper Falls of Barranca Yerba Buena plunges more than a hundred feet into the gorge. This photo was taken through the thick foliage on the return trail along the east face of the cliffs that line the inner gorge. In the first part of this 2-part series, I took you from the trailhead on the west plateau, up into the bluffs overlooking the gorge, and finally to the top of the waterfall. In this installment, we'll make our way back from the falls, along the cliffs of the east face of the gorge, down onto the east plateau, and finally down to the little pueblo of Citala where we'll meet our fiesta hosts, Raul and Geronima. So, tighten up your bootlaces and let's go!

The country above the Upper Falls

The area above and to the south of the Upper Falls is semi-arid ranch country. The pitayo cactus in the foreground is silhouetted against gathering clouds that yielded a downpour in the later afternoon--fortunately after we had reached our destination. This rolling country extends for several miles to the south and is covered with cactus, dry-country brush, and pasture land. Eventually, the ground rises again in another of the broad staircase plateaus that lead up to the high ridges of the Sierra del Tigre. A few miles to the southwest is Concepción de Buenas Aires, a picturesque little ranching town founded in 1869 on lands donated by the owner of Hacienda Toluquilla.

Lluvia de Oro (Rain of Gold) is technically known at Tecoma stans. Another name is Yellow Trumpet bush, because the little flowers look like golden trumpets. I consulted with my flower expert Ron Parsons who publishes a website called Wildflowers and Plants of Central Mexico.  Ron wasn't real sure on this one because I didn't take a closeup shot, but this is his educated guess. The plants flower in September and October and cover big swatches of the mountainside with yellow. The color gives the illusion of yellowing autumn leaves, but is actually a flowering rather than a dying process. One thing I really love about where I live in Mexico is that there is something blooming during every season. I live my life surrounded by brilliant natural colors.

Looking north, from the inner gorge out through the outer canyon. The outer canyon is a naturaly-carved trench dividing the west (left) and east (right) plateaus. Beyond the plateaus lies the valley, with Citala at the mouth of the canyon. Lake Chapala lies parallel to the mountains in the distance but on the opposite side. Raul's farm, where we originally met him, is on the east plateau. The outer canyon is not as deep as the inner gorge, and its walls are not as steep. However, the sloping walls you see above are covered with loose scree (rock debris) and thick brush, presenting a difficult challenge to those who attempt to climb out to the plateaus above. The base of the outer canyon has a year-round stream fed by the inner gorge falls, but the presence of water means that the canyon bottom is thickly jungled. Those wishing to traverse it, particularly after a rainy summer, will need to cut their way through. Coming south along this canyon was our original route to find the falls. For a look at it, click here.

Nopal cactus grows in front of a pink flower that may be Salvia. Again, the shot was not close enough for Ron to be sure. Both of us are sure about the nopal, however. Since archaic times, this has been one of the most useful plants in Mexico. The flat paddle-like leaves can be eaten, after the thorns are removed, of course. They can be grilled, boiled, sauteed, or just eaten raw. Nopal is not only tasty, but extremely nutritious and healthful, with a very positive effect on cholesterol and on diabetes. In addition, a fruit called a tuna grows on the tips of the paddles. It is sweet and juicy and is about the size of an elongated golf ball. The beauty of nopal as a food source is that it is plentiful and available to anyone. There are 114 known species of nopal in Mexico.

The trail to the east plateau

High tension power lines run along the top of the bluffs and cross the inner gorge at this point. The ubiquitous presence of electrical and telephone lines in Mexico is the bane of my photographic work. I don't know how many perfectly framed shots have been spoiled by such lines crossing through the middle. In this case, I decided to incorporate the lines as part of the story. The towers form one of our landmarks in finding the gorge. I have sometimes wondered about the sweat and struggle it took to erect these towers in such a rugged spot. The first task would have been to clear a broad swath through the jungle, following the direction of the line. In the years since the towers were built, the jungle has partially returned.

Clumps of white Asters grew on large bushes beside the trail. The genus Astereae was once part of a larger genus with as many as 600 species., but in the 1990s Astereae was split off as its own genus. It now contains only 180 species, still a respectable number. Astereae are the North American version of Asters. Like Lluvia de Oro, these flowers flourish during our fall season.

The cliffs on the west side of the inner gorge are every bit as steep as those on the east. Our trail to the head of the Upper Falls took us along the tops of these cliffs, from right to left. In many places they drop off nearly vertically for hundreds of feet. The vegetation you see at the bottom are the tops of tall trees, and the gorge walls extend above the photo for a considerable distance.

Larry hacks his way through. Given ample rain, vegetation in this area grows at an amazing rate. A clear, well-traveled trail can disappear in a short time. The vines and creepers seem to be growing before your eyes as they cross the trail, ready to entangle the feet of the unwary.

Morning Glories, closed for the day. Morning Glory flowers open and shut each day, hence the name. These either closed early, because of the dimming afternoon light, or perhaps they never opened for business in the first place. At this time of the year, the trail along the eastern gorge cliffs is perpetually in shade.

Tomas inspects  a trailside cave. Thinking to kid him, I said "watch out for bats." Just then, several flew out past his head. Tomas was unfazed. He is an experienced hiker who has backpacked the length of the Mexico-to-Canada Pacific Crest Trail. The cave is only about 2 m (6 ft) high and 3 m (12 ft) deep, but it would work fine to shelter a passerby for the night, or against a summer shower like the one we could feel approaching. A few pieces of modern refuse showed recent use. We had previously found another, similar cave about half-way up the outer canyon. Given that the area has been inhabited for 8,000-10,000 years, the caves have no doubt been in use since Neolithic times.

Tomas and other hikers pick their way down a steep trail leading to the east plateau. Above are Tomas, Jim B, Gary, and Chuck. The trail here is moist and slippery and the slope is quite steep. Hiking sticks are very useful in terrain like this, although Tomas seems not to have brought his along.

The great vistas from the east plateau

The view from the east plateau, looking west down the valley. The outer canyon is out of sight behind the vegetation in the foreground. The moutains to the right are those that border Lake Chapala. In the distance you can see the blue escarpment of the Tapalpa Plateau. The long white object you see in the center is plastic sheeting used for green houses. (Photo by Chuck Boyd)

Cerro Garcia rises majestically up from the valley. At 3000 m (9,000 ft) Cerro (Mt.) Garcia is the highest peak directly overlooking Lake Chapala. Here you are looking at its south face. The north face is one most residents and visitors at Lake Chapala see as they look across the lake toward the South Shore. Earlier this year, I joined a small group that climbed Cerro Garcia.

Raul, Geronima and the Corn Fiesta

Raul, taking his ease at the Upper Falls overlook. This Mexican farmer almost defines the term "laid back." He speaks no English, but his easy-going smile and gentle manner communicate volumes about who he is. He tills a farm up on the east plateau,  growing maiz (corn) and frijol (beans). Along with his wife, Geronima, he maintains a small but cozy home in Citala with an orchard in the back. The first few Corn Harvest Fiestas were held at the rustic shelter next to his east plateau fields. However, for the sake of convenience, we held last year's event in his backyard orchard. It was so pleasant that we decided to do it there again this year. For the story of our first meeting with Raul and our first Fiesta, click here.  

Geronima, Raul's wife and our hostess. Like Raul, she speaks only Spanish, but she is warm, motherly, and full of quiet humor. Here, at our first Fiesta, she is explaining the process for making one of the scrumptious Mexican dishes she prepares for these events. Between the food the hikers bring, and that which Geronima prepares, there is always a huge feast with far more than we could ever eat.

Geronima opens her present while Raul looks on. This year, we gave her a lovely crystal and silver pitcher. We traditionally give Raul his favorite tequila, Centenario. Unfortunately, my camera batteries went dead when we reached the east plateau and I had failed to bring a spare set. Fortunately, Chuck got this, the only usable shot any of our cameras captured. Photos or not, we had our usual great time and were invited to come back soon. (Photo by Chuck Boyd)

This completes Part 2 of my two-part series on this years Corn Fiesta and Waterfall Hike. I hope you enjoyed it and, if so, that you leave a comment either by using 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

1 comment:

  1. We are planning a trip to Ajijic Feb 24-Mar 3 to investigate real estate for a move. Since hiking is a big part of our lives, we would love the opportunity to check out the hiking group that meets at Dona's. Do you still meet on Tuesdays and is it possible for potential expats to join along? Any info would be appreciated.
    Rick and Kathy Irwin


If your comment involves a question, please leave your email address so I can answer you. Thanks, Jim