Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Geologist’s delight: see 3 types of volcano in 1 day in Guadalajara

One day a geologist casually mentioned to me that people living in Guadalajara are lucky because in one day they could easily visit three of the major types of volcanoes.

They could, for example, go to the top of Cerro del Cuatro, the tallest “hill” in Guadalajara (1,860 meters high) to have a look at a scoria volcano, also known as a cinder cone.

This is the most common type of volcano on our planet, conical in shape, with very steep slopes and composed of lightweight volcanic rock filled with holes, commonly called tezontle in Mexico.

The second type of volcano they could visit is a stratovolcano such as El Volcan de Tequila (Tequila Volcano), located only an hour’s drive from Guadalajara. Stratovolcanoes feature the classic Mount Fuji-type profile and are famous for their explosive eruptions.

This one is no longer active, however, and conveniently has a cobblestone road leading up to microwave towers at the top.

Río Caliente in Primavera Forest, Jalisco
Río Caliente, the hot river which runs through the Primavera Forest, is exceptionally rich in minerals.

The third major type of volcano is the caldera, which is a huge, bowl-shaped hole in the ground left after a volcanic explosion. Such an explosion occurred in western Mexico 95,000 years ago, ejecting 40 cubic kilometers of pumice and ash (locally known as jal) into the air, creating the Primavera Caldera — and, by the way, giving the name Jalisco to the area where the jal fell back down to Earth.

The idea of visiting three types of volcanoes in one day intrigued me. “I wonder if it would be possible for someone to do all three on foot?” I asked myself.

I had only to mention this crazy idea to Mexican ultrarunner Sergio Vidal, who specializes in runs of more than 100 kilometers.

“I’m going to do it,” he replied without hesitation. “Let’s start working on the route.”

The first thing we did was to substitute another scoria volcano for el Cerro del Cuatro. “I love running,” Vidal said, “but I prefer the great outdoors to city streets.”

Fortunately, there happened to be another scoria volcano just southwest of Guadalajara called El Cerro de Mazatepec.

Hiking inside the crater of Tequila Volcano
Hiking inside the crater of Tequila Volcano.

Vidal and three other Mexican long-distance runners decided that they would run up and down El Cerro De Mazatepec, then cross the Primavera Caldera (now called the Primavera Forest) and finally run to the top of Tequila Volcano, not via the cobblestone road but straight up its steep and weedy south flank.

This they accomplished in December of 2016, completing the 120-kilometer run, which they called the “Trivolcano,” in 35 hours, without bothering to stop and sleep as they had originally planned.

If you are an ultrarunner, you might be interested in trying to break that record, but if you are an ordinary mortal, here are volcanic vistas near Guadalajara, all of which can be visited by car — or on foot, if you insist.

Cerro del Cuatro (scoria cone)

I have viewed Guadalajara from several lookout points outside its municipal boundaries and, in my opinion, none of them offer a view of the city as good as the one from the top of El Cerro del Cuatro, especially during a thunderstorm. So be patient as you negotiate the rather unsightly streets on the Cerro’s steep flanks.

Once you make it all the way to the top, a delightful little park awaits you, with rolling hills covered with green, where volunteers have been planting trees every year for a long, long time. You’ll have a hard time believing that you are still in the city!

Cerro del Cuatro, Jalisco
A bicycle trail atop Cerro del Cuatro reveals the red tezontle or scoria rock of a typical cinder-cone volcano.

A long arroyo (brook) cuts through all this, making it a favorite for downhill bicycle riders to prove their skills. Scratch around in the arroyo and you’ll come up with a handful of red tezontle or scoria rocks, proof that you are indeed standing on top of a cinder cone.

To reach the top of the hill and the antennas, from which you can enjoy that great view, ask Google Maps to take you to Estación Transmisora SPR, Jalisco.

The Primavera Caldera

This caldera was a big hole filled with water for 10,000 or 20,000 years, but then magma pushed the bottom up and the water out, giving us the pine- and oak-covered hills of Bosque la Primavera, a protected area and home to deer, foxes, ringtails, coatis and even a few pumas.

It also has fumaroles and a hot river (Río Caliente) to remind you that it’s a volcano and far from dead. The Primavera Forest is located immediately west of Guadalajara and nearly matches the city in size. To bathe in the hot river, ask Google Maps to take you to Pilitas Río Caliente, Jalisco.

While splashing in one of the hot pools, notice the pumice rocks all around you. These are light enough to float on water and came from that explosion here 95,000 years ago.

Planting trees in El Cerro del Cuatro, Jalisco
Volunteers plant trees in the city park atop El Cerro del Cuatro.

Tequila Volcano (stratovolcano)

El Volcán de Tequila, located near Tequila, Jalisco, erupted 200,000 years ago, spewing out great rivers of lava, many of which cooled into the numerous deposits of obsidian that the state is known for. A cobblestone road takes you from Tequila town, ever upward through ecosystem after ecosystem, to the antennas at the top.

From here, you can hike into the volcano’s absolutely gorgeous crater and perhaps even climb the great vertical plug that protrudes from it, peaking at 2,920 meters above sea level and offering an impressive view of blue-green seas of agaves in every direction. See this article for more info and directions.

The volcanic domes of Ahuisculco

The Selva Negra Nature Reserve, located 32 kilometers southwest of Guadalajara, is the site of extensive deposits of obsidian that did not come from Tequila Volcano but oozed out of domes and dikes like toothpaste squeezed from a tube.

This may be the biggest single source of obsidian in Mexico, but it was not born of a classic volcano. Because the obsidian is pure and of very high quality, the pre-Hispanic people loved it and established hundreds of mines and workshops here, meaning that everywhere you go you will come upon great heaps of broken or discarded knives, arrowheads and other artifacts.

Selva Negra Nature Reserve
A path through Ahuisculco’s Selva Negra Nature Reserve is marked by rows of broken or discarded pre-Hispanic artifacts made of obsidian.

This forest forms an animal corridor between two other protected areas of Jalisco and is under the management of a foundation created by the Guadalajara rock band Maná. If you have a high-clearance vehicle, you can get here by inputting H7JF+JV Ahuisculco, Jalisco, in Google Maps.

Take a break and enjoy a volcanic vista!

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.

Río Caliente in Primavera Forest, Jalisco
The source of Río Caliente is a narrow canyon where water literally boils out of the ground.
Tequila Volcano, Jalisco
Tequila Volcano is a landmark in Jalisco and can easily be identified by the volcanic plug that rises from its crater.


Cerro del Cuatro in greater Guadalajara.
At 1860 meters above sea level, the heavily populated Cerro del Cuatro is the highest point in greater Guadalajara.


Guadalajara ultramarathon runner Sergio Vidal
The Guadalajara area has 3 volcanoes near enough to each other that ultrarunner Sergio Vidal ran the 120-kilometer Trivolcano challenge in 35 hours.
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