Monday, June 17, 2024

Adversity leads to a better way up Guadalajara’s beautiful Cerro del Colli

Every year near the end of the rainy season, I do my best to urge people who live in Guadalajara to head for El Cerro del Colli — their nearest portal to the Primavera Forest — to spend a day tiptoeing through the “colliflowers” that grow in profusion all up and down this steep hill at the west end of town.

According to geologists, it is actually a volcanic plug, created after the Primavera Caldera’s last explosion about 25,000 years ago.

How long does it take to get from the city to the Primavera Forest?

I could say “a tenth of a second,” but I’d be exaggerating the voyage’s length, because it is literally only one step from city to woods.

For many years, ordinary families, hard-core hikers or someone simply out for a stroll needed only to get themselves to the far end of Calle San Gregorio at the western edge of the city. Then taking that one step, they would find themselves in another world.

Cerro del Colli, Jalisco
Colli offers dramatic views of the city of Guadalajara. The highest point on the hill is over one mile above sea level.

The contrast was staggering: there you were, one minute, in the middle of Zeta gas trucks, barking dogs, screaming babies, blaring radios and racing car engines. Then you began walking up a steeply inclined path.

A few minutes later, you found yourself in the middle of a shady oak forest so quiet that you could actually hear the chirping of birds and the rustle of leaves blown by the wind: nature’s own symphony!

All of this I described in my Outdoors in Western Mexico books, as well as in frequent articles. Recently, however, I was disappointed to discover that locals had decided to fence off the trailhead and forbid access to the forest from this convenient point.

Why was that? A local homeowner told my friends and me that unsavory characters had begun to use the trail for unsavory deeds.

Shutting down access to the forest was a simple way to get rid of a problem, but other solutions might have been possible.

Imagine someone who lives at the edge of Yellowstone or Banff Park putting up a fence and saying, “Sorry, we won’t let anyone through because we’ve seen some unsavory characters using this entrance.” While this is unlikely to happen to a park owned by the public, it’s more than possible if the government doesn’t bother to purchase the land that it has declared a “protected area.”

Rodrigo Orozco
“This papelillo may be known as the tourist tree, but I am not a tourist,” says tarantula expert Rodrigo Orozco.

In point of fact, according to the newspaper El Diario, more than 80% of Jalisco’s famed Bosque La Primavera is privately owned.

In 1980, the government declared all 30,500 hectares a wildlife refuge, imposing a long list of restrictions on what the owners of the land would be allowed to do.

This has resulted in a sort of war between the general public, which greatly loves the forest, and the people who live there, many of whom want or need to make either a living or a profit off the land — or both.

In the case of Cerro del Colli, the easternmost extension of the Bosque, the landowner happens to be an ejido (a cooperative of farmers and ranchers) whose members were perhaps quite happy to see the trailhead blocked.

The problem might have been resolved by setting up an official entrance to el Cerro del Colli and manning it with a couple of park rangers. Their presence might discourage unsavory characters from making an appearance.

Or the ejido might have begun charging an entrance fee, as is done in other parts of this same forest, and managing the area in a responsible way.

The dayflower or widow’s tears blooms only for one day.

None of these things happened, so I began searching for an alternative route to the top. My first attempt was via what was once a decent footpath up the south side of Colli, leading to a huge white cross.

I am sure that on a certain feast day, year after year, this path was crowded with pious families — everyone from abuelitas (grandmas) to toddlers barely able to walk: a long line slowly heading for a wide clearing at the foot of the cross for some sort of ceremony.

These days, however, I doubt if that ceremony is taking place at all, and if it does, I doubt that few parishioners will be present because the path has been devastated by the short and violent rainstorms that have become the new normal in Western Mexico.

Getting up the hill is now a struggle and a pain, and getting back down is like trying to dance on ball bearings.

So, I am happy to describe here a new and pleasant route up the northern side of Cerro del Colli, quite close to Guadalajara’s Akron Stadium, home of the ever-popular Chivas soccer team.

You’ll find this trail on under the name “Stadium to Colli Volcano.”

Cerro del Colli, Jalisco
Hikers following one of the many trails that crisscross Cerro del Colli.

From your parking spot at the end of the aptly named Avenida del Bosque, walk only 3.3 kilometers to reach the top of the volcano, but as soon as you begin to gain a bit of altitude, you will begin to reap the benefits of your endeavor.

Along the way, you may come upon the Mexican national flower waving in the breeze. This is the dahlia, which is actually the flower of an edible tuber that the Aztecs used to grow.

Yes, if you’re ever lost in the woods and starving, look for dahlias!

If you see the dahlia on Colli, you will almost surely also spot the beautiful blue dayflower, so called because its bloom never lasts more than a day.

Along with the dahlias and dayflowers, you are likely to find bright red Pitcairnias. These are the flowers of a curious, ground-dwelling bromeliad.

Colli is also home to a wide variety of trees such as pochotes (silk-cotton trees), whose trunks are covered with spikes, and the curious papelillo, a Bursera with paper-thin bark forever peeling off the trunk and branches.

Mexican dahlia
Mexico’s national flower, the dahlia, grows from an edible tuber that tastes much like a potato.

The bark could be of several colors. If it happens to be red, it’s popularly called a tourist tree in honor of all those foreigners who get sunburned at Mexico’s wonderful beaches!

Higher up the hill, you will come to madroños (strawberry trees), egg-cone pines, clethras, mesquites and several species of oak whose height and size may surprise you.

Wander about and you will find gorgeous meadows, rolling hills, chunky deposits of lava rubble and, topping it all off, the peak of Cerro del Colli, 1,976 meters above sea level.

This spot is just a bit over a mile high, and from here you can see the city of Guadalajara stretching off into the distance. Enjoy the view!

The writer has lived near Guadalajara, Jalisco, for 31 years and is the author of A Guide to West Mexico’s Guachimontones and Surrounding Area and co-author of Outdoors in Western Mexico. More of his writing can be found on his website.

Cerro del Colli, Jalisco
A hiker stops to take a rest among the wildflowers.


Pitcairnias are the flowers of a ground-dwelling bromeliad.


Cerro del Colli, Jalisco
Crossing a meadow on Colli Volcano, located less than a minute from the city streets of Guadalajara.


Cabezona flower
Cabezona or toad’s herb (Eryngium carlinae) is said to be good for treating kidney diseases and diabetes mellitus.


Cerro del Colli, Jalisco
The eastern entrance to Cerro del Colli, shown here, is now closed to the public.


butterfly mist flowers
This flower is called cielitos in Spanish and butterfly mist in English. And, yes, it is attractive to butterflies and bees.


montanoa flowers
Montanoa is a member of the sunflower family.


Cerro del Colli, Jalisco
View from the cross on the south side of Colli. The trail up to this point has deteriorated greatly.
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