The morning after we reached Queretaro, we had planned to explore the Sierra Gorda biosphere reserve area. Uriel chalked an itinerary to visit Pinal de Amoles, a small town located high in the Sierra Gorda range, at an elevation of about 7900 feet. Once a mining town mostly covered by the biosphere, it is now becoming a hub for ecotourism.
Queretaro is located about 150 km from Pinal de Amoles, a good 3-hour journey along winding roads that gradually climb higher and higher into the sky, or so it seems. The highest point of these roads, is called La Puerta del Cielo, supposed to be very like the door to Heaven. From there the descent begins towards Pinal de Amoles where the views of the majestic mountains against the red roof of the houses are said to be quite magical. The rooftops are often said to be shrouded in a “sea of mist”. The wooded hills, the majestic mountains, the many limestone canyons, flowing rivers, semiarid deserts, and towering waterfalls all add to the richness of the Sierra Gorda’s biodiversity.
Uriel picked us up around 9 am after breakfast. He felt a little under the weather as he was affected by seasonal allergies. Despite this, he decided to proceed with the plan. As we drove along the highway initially, the weather was very pleasant. But once we started climbing, there was a distinct change. The weather became briskly cooler and the beautiful vistas that drew our attention became heavily obscured by rolling fog and mist. Visibility became limited and the drive became slower.
Our first stop was at the Plaza Frey Felipe Galindo, a memorial to one of the Franciscan friars involved in building missions here. The Sierra Gorda being a treasure trove of metals, the missions worked to evangelize the natives in hopes of gaining access to the gold, silver, and iron mined here. Five Franciscan missions were built here, in all. These missions are part of the UNESCO heritage sites and draw many visitors. But our main focus for the day was to enjoy the natural beauty of the area.
Regardless of how one views the history of this area, the vistas from this plaza’s lookout were amazing. And we spent some time, indulging in this luxury. It was the last place we were warm in for the rest of the day.
Later that morning, we stopped for an early lunch at a small eatery called La Cabana. This forms a part of the local economy built on the backs of the indigenous women of the Sierra Gorda. Everything from the structure of the eatery to the food served inside was their handiwork. A low roofed, one-room building, with the public dining on the right and the kitchen on the left formed the entire structure. Three women were working when we reached. They had tacos, mostly with meat but were able to make some for us with cactus. While the aromas of the cooking assailed our nostrils, it was the warmth and the shelter from the cold that we desperately sought. Eventually, our tacos and coffee were served and we appreciated the warmth of both thoroughly. The attached toilet had sand and ash boxes thus making it waterless and very efficient.
As we stepped back on the road, the mist remained thick. Uriel continued to be congested with bouts of sneezing as he waited for his antihistamines to work. But he was excited to take us to the next place, Cascada El Chuveje. Situated among lush greenery and moss-covered rocks, El Chuveje falls about 100 feet down the canyon, forming a large pool, itself about 90 feet across. The walk from the entrance to the falls takes about 20 minutes and is easy to navigate. The verdant beauty of the surroundings appears straight out of a fairy tale book. After spending some time enjoying this timeless beauty, we walked back to the entrance, where we enjoyed elote. We made use of the toilet facilities, paying 5 Mexican pesos for a bucket of water and a square of toilet paper.
Back on the road, Uriel took us next to see the famous Escanel Rivera as it wound its way through limestone rock forming the amazing Canon de la Angostura. The walk here was longer, we were much colder but the beauty of the area kept us going. The walk along the river is made interesting by the many small ladders and bridges we had to cross. The endpoint of the 40-minute (one way) journey was the natural rock bridge called the Puente de Dios or the Bridge of the Gods. The falls here originate from the ceiling of the cave and fall 100 feet below. Although the day we chose was too cold to be swimming, in balmier weather, this would have been a perfect location to swim and relax! Perfect for a hike and a picnic!
By this time, we were much hungrier and the day was starting to turn to dusk. Uriel was charged with the task of finding a restaurant that served a vegetarian dinner. He took us back to Pinal de Amoles. Where we dined in a small restaurant called El Sabor de casa. There were perhaps about 5 to 7 tables in all, occupied by Mexicans who drove in for the weekend from Mexico City and other places. They were loud, jovial, and talking nineteen to the dozen. Although we couldn’t fully understand what they were saying, it felt good to be surrounded by such conviviality. In fact, the owner’s son and friends were getting ready to play in a Huapango contest. the folk music that is very popular in this area. Perhaps if there hadn’t been a contest that day, we might have been lucky enough to have them perform for us. Our plates finally arrived and carried three potato pattycakes, a slice of panela cheese, fresh-cut tomatoes, and a side of cooked cactus. As simple as it was, the food was ambrosial to hungry mouths.
I had come across the Sierra Gorda Biosphere while first researching places to visit for the trip. It seemed so unique, diverse and so rich that it deserved a visit, even for a day. And I was thrilled when Uriel offered to take us there as part of the itinerary.
If I were to go back, I would:
- dress warmly and in layers. The elevation and natural climatic conditions mean a much cooler temperature. While we enjoyed our time there, we would have done more so, had we been warmer.
- carry swim clothes and water shoes. The Canon de la Angostura and the two waterfalls are great for swimming, if the weather is right. Plus the long walk in the canyon would be much easily completed with water shoes. We carried swim clothes and beach towels but the water was too cold to swim.
The Sierra Gorda is one area of Mexico that is not to be missed. There are many adventures to be had, here, like we did and others including ziplining, canyoning, camping, hiking, etc. And the Franciscan missions are a huge cultural attraction.
So be sure to stop by here on your next trip to Queretaro!