Friday, December 26, 2014

Windy Point Part 2: Pioneering a trail to Matty's Point

The view looking west from Windy Point. Just below, the ground drops off into a deep ravine that runs back into the face of the plateau's 1000 foot escarpment. Matty's Point (center-right of the photo) was the goal of our hike. The mirador (viewpoint) extends out from a broad, rolling plateau covered with small cattle ranches. The escarpment runs along the south side of the plateau.  In order to reach Matty's Point, we had to find a way around this ravine and through the thick, sticker-filled acacia brush and spiny cactus that cover much of the plateau. In the photo's background, Cerro Garcia rises to 9000+ feet. To the left (south) the long valley at the bottom of the escarpment extends all the way to the dry lakes at the base of the Tapalpa Plateau.

The search for a trail

My fellow hikers (left to right) were Chuck, Gary, Jerry, and Matty, Chuck's dog. Above, Chuck checks his GPS while Gary and Jerry view the cloud bank sweeping in from the north over Cerro Garcia. Fortunately, the area where we were hiking remained relatively clear and sunny. The Lake Chapala area is full of micro-climates. One place may be bone dry, but a few miles away a heavy rain can be falling. The country here consists of a series of grassy meadows separated by thick brush. To move from one meadow to another, we had to locate paths through the brush created by cattle in search of fresh grass. In other words, we had to think like a cow.

A rustic gate opens the way through an old dry-stone wall. Until we found this gate, we hadn't encountered any man-made trails, only a maze of cattle-paths. Just beyond the gate, a clear path led off toward what I hoped was a route across the ravine. Notice the colorful lichens on the stone wall. Lichens are some of the hardiest and longest living organisms in nature. They can be found everywhere from icy Arctic tundra to the hottest deserts, and from high alpine meadows to sea level environments.

Patches of lovely little nettles dotted the grass at our feet. Nettle is the English name for a genus that includes many species, some with stinging leaves and some without. We didn't handle these so I can't attest to their stinging qualities. They grew in small clumps here and there throughout the meadows.

Half-buried volcanic boulders covered some of the open areas. This area is very volcanic and people have been using the hot springs along the shores of Lake Chapala since far back in pre-hispanic times. To avoid a twisted ankle, one should step carefully in an area like this.

Jaw bone of a cow. We found many such remains scattered through the meadows. When a cow dies om these remote pastures, no effort is made to remove the body. Animals and insects feed on the carcass, leaving only a scattering of sun-whitened bones.

Soon, we glimpsed a presa (dammed pond) through a grove of oak trees. Presa in Spanish also means prisoner, which makes sense because building a dam imprisons the water. The appearance of the presa was good news, because they are often created by damming a stream at the head of an arroyo. Of course, we now had to find our way across the presa.

Viewed from atop the dam, the presa proved to be considerably larger than if first appeared. The trail continued across the top of an earthen dam. This provided us with a convenient bridge across the ravine. I took this shot from about half way across the dam. Local ranchers create presas to ensure that their cattle have a year-round supply of water. Once across the ravine, a short climb led us to the top of the ridge. From there, we made our way out to the mirador at the end. I took it upon myself to dub the mirador "Matty's Point" in honor of our always-enthusiastic hiking companion.

The view from Matty's Point 

Looking west from Matty's Point down the valley toward the Tapalpa Plateau. The dry lakes can be seen running along the base of the Tapalpa Plateau. The lakes fill with water during the rainy season, but even then are usually only a few inches deep. During the dry season, their surfaces are absolutely flat and covered with a spiderweb of cracks. Driving out into the middle of one of these dry lakes reminded me of visits to Death Valley in California. The Tapalpa Plateau is named for a very picturesque town of the same name which is on Mexico's list of Magic Pueblos. They are so designated because of their special scenic or historical qualities.

The valley below is a checkerboard of small fields separated by lines of trees. Maiz (corn), mallow, and sugar cane are the main crops raised here. When the corn is harvested, the farmers turn their horses and cattle loose in the fields to feed on the dry stalks. While tractors and other mechanized equipment  are increasingly prevalent, you can still find farmers using old-fashioned horse-pulled plows.

Looking east across the ravine to Windy Point. The heavily wooded slopes don't appear to be unusually steep. However, the sheer cliffs below them are out of view behind the bush in the foreground. The blue ridges of the Sierra del Tigre appear on the upper right. Line after line of these ridges continue all the way to the Pacific Coast.

At the end of Matty's Point, we found this large Gringo Tree. We hikers call it that because its bark turns pink and peels, just like Gringos do. It is more generally called Madrone and its formal name is Arbutus menziesii. Wikipedia claims that the Madrone's range is from British Colombia to Santa Barbara, California with some rare stands in northern Baja, Mexico. However, they are plentiful in the mountains of western Mexico, more than a thousand miles to the south of Baja. 

The return hike

We followed a rutted cow path back down from Matty's Point. As long as we could find paths like this one, the hiking would be relatively easy. The day continued to shift from blue skies to overcast, and then back again. 

This spikey maguey had thread-like fibers hanging off the edges of every narrow leaf. The fibers of the maguey have been used by indigenous people for centuries to make twine, fabric, sandals, etc.

An old weathered stump functioned as a natural flower pot. My eye caught this little vignette as I passed through a grassy meadow. The center of the stump has rotted away and a tiny flowering plant has taken root. Little jewel-like creations are everywhere if you bother to pay attention.

Grasshopper love. We found these two rather elegant grasshoppers mating on a large rock. They didn't seem to mind, or even notice, my photographic efforts.

Matty takes a dip. Chuck's dog is a mixed breed, what I like to call "100% Mexican dog." She also seems to be a natural water dog and is drawn to every puddle and pool along the trails we hike. Unfortunately, she had recently been attacked by another dog and still had stitches on her belly. Chuck was quite upset about her jump into the water because of the possibility of infection. However, she has since recovered fully, so his fears proved unfounded.

The ruins of an old stone structure were partly obscured by brush. We could see the remains of a window in the wall. The ruin apparently had once been a small cottage. This remote and beautiful spot may have once been the home of a vaquero (cowboy) and his family.

Looking out through the cottage window. There was no mortar holding the stones together. Either none was used, or perhaps the builder used mud which has since washed away. In other parts of the wall, we could still see a row of holes where rafters had supported a ceiling. Now, the cottage was overgrown and forgotten.

A bovine line of battle. These cattle were behaving in a very unusual way. Normally, brahmans are very placid and a little shy. When this small herd spotted us passing by, they formed up, horns forward, and advanced like a line of medieval knights. It was a rather intimidating display.

My hiking companions hustle out of the area. Once we got over our surprise at the aggressiveness of the brahmans, we decided that discretion was better than valor. Above, Chuck, Gary, Jerry and Matty are putting some distance between themselves and the advancing cattle. After a few minutes, the cattle stopped, seemingly satisfied that they had protected their turf.

White flowers and buds of the Morning Glory tree. The formal name is Ipomoea. A wide variety of Morning Glory species can be found throughout the mountains of Western Mexico. They grow as trees, bushes, and flowering vines. I found this one at the trailhead, growing right next to our cars. This, and the other plant and flower identifications are courtesy of my friend Ron Parsons. His website "Wildflowers and plants of Western Mexico" is a goldmine of information.

View of the North Shore across Lake Chapala. I took this shot as we began to descend from the plateau. The South Shore can be seen in the foreground. There is a lot more arable land on this side of the lake. For most of its length, the North Shore contains only a narrow strip of land between the base of the mountains and the edge of the Lake. Most of the Lake's population lives along this narrow North Shore strip. At this point, Lake Chapala is about 12 miles wide.

This concludes my two-part posting on the newly discovered (by us, at least) Windy Point Trail to Matty's Point. I hope you have enjoyed the adventure. If so, please leave your thoughts in the Comments section below, or email me directly. If you leave a question in the Comments section, PLEASE leave your email address so that I can respond.

Hasta luego, Jim


  1. I enjoyed the mix of hiking logistics, and natural or cultural elements encountered. And, as always, the pics. Thanks, Jim!

  2. Can't wait to take this hike Jim! Thoroughly enjoyed reading about your adventure!


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