Saturday, June 15, 2024

The great rocks of Big Nose Mountain, Jalisco

I was in the little town of El Limón, Jalisco, located 110 kilometers southwest of Guadalajara, with my friend Jorge Monroy, the muralist, gazing up at a steep hill looming high above us.

“This small mountain,” said Jorge, “is called El Narigón, the Big Nose, because it’s shaped like a long nose with a high, narrow bridge. It’s an important local landmark for all the towns around here. Because of El Narigón, people have to walk or drive a long way to get, for example, from here to Ejutla, which lies just 9 kilometers north of us.”

“See that rock up at the very peak?” chimed in Marcela Michel, who teaches yoga in El Limón. “We call that La Casa de Piedra, The Rock House, because there’s a huge shelter cave up there and that’s where we’ll be eating today.”

To me, the Rock House looked awfully high and awfully far away. “We’re going to hike way up there?” I asked, a bit surprised because Jorge had asked them to take us on “una caminata fácil,” an easy hike.

“Yes, we’re going to follow a circular route. We’ll go up ‘El Camino Feo’ (the ugly way) and come down via El Sendero de las Mil Piedras (The Path of a Thousand Rocks), finally arriving at El Tepame, The Acacia Grove.”

Spanish moss and a stranded rock.
Spanish moss and a stranded rock.

True to its name, the trail first took us through thorny scrub which, however, became less and less feo the higher we climbed, but also grew steeper and steeper. Fortunately, I had brought along two bottles of Electrolit, my favorite hydration choice by far, invented and made in Guadalajara.

After hours of climbing, panting and sweating, we began to catch glimpses of gorgeous landscape stretching off into the distance, and at the same time, the scrub gave way to oak, copal and papelillos, often called “tourist trees” because of their peeling red bark.

The Rock House turned out to be 928 meters above the spot where we started hiking. The “house” had been formed when one impossibly large rock fell over and leaned against another impossibly large rock, producing a convenient shelter which has served the local mountain climbers since time immemorial.

The last few hours of the climb I had been moving at a snail’s pace but, fortunately, most of the younger members of our group had sprinted on ahead to start cooking lunch, so when Jorge and I finally staggered into La Casa de Piedra, delicious smells told us that we had arrived just in time for a great meal of tacos and pico de gallo (rooster’s beak), a non-liquid, chopped salsa, which in this case included bits of mango.

Somehow those hardy chicos and chicas from El Limón had also managed to carry a two-gallon container of orange juice up there, to which they had added a bit of baking soda: the local version of Electrolit, and a lifesaver for Jorge and me, as we had nothing left to drink.

After eating and snoozing, Marcela led us to El Gran Mirador, the Great Lookout Point, which lies 200 meters south of the Rock House, insisting that we could not possibly start our descent until we had seen it.

El Tepame Meadow, a favorite picnic spot.
El Tepame Meadow, a favorite picnic spot.

Well, I’ve been to a lot of miradores in Mexico, and I must say this one ranks among the most dramatic, because you don’t realize you’ve come to it, as you emerge from a tunnel-like trail, until suddenly the horizon expands a thousand-fold and you find yourself teetering on the edge of a great rocky cliff overlooking a vast panorama. I could imagine Also Sprach Zarathustra playing in the background as the glorious view unveiled itself.

We now made our way west along a high, narrow ridge where the vegetation was quite curious. On the one hand, there were rocks covered with lichen, and oak trees dripping with Spanish moss, but at the same time there were plenty of acacias and cacti, which I would expect at lower altitudes.

During this part of our hike we came upon three or four more lookout points giving us great views both to the north and to the south. Then our path began to wind through a literal forest of huge white rocks. We were now on the Sendero de las Mil Piedras.

This scene was mind-boggling. In Jalisco, people go to the town of Tapalpa to gaze upon the local Piedrotas, Great Rocks … but there aren’t more than a handful of them to be seen.  I turned to my compañeros: “Your piedras make Tapalpa’s Great Rocks look like marbles. Wait till the rest of the world discovers this incredible sendero.”

We continued threading our way through countless magnificent monoliths until at last we came to El Tepame, a gorgeous flat meadow surrounded of course by still more giant rocks: a favorite place for local people to come for a picnic.

So long did we linger at El Tepame, sharing all the snacks we had left, that darkness overtook us on this last leg of our trek and we were soon making our way down the steep trail by the light of headlamps and flashlights.

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By this time my legs felt like rubber. “How much farther?” I would ask Marcela over and over, as we descended.

“Falta menos!” she would reply again and again. “There’s less to go than there was before,” scant comfort for my aching body which now wanted nothing more than to collapse into bed.

At last we reached El Limón, 12 hours after we had started, having covered 15 kilometers and having ascended and descended a vertical distance of over 1,000 meters.

The next day some of the local people were already talking about building a road up to El Tepame, from which visitors could then hike as far as they want along the Sendero de las Mil Piedras which, I think, surely deserves a place among the most beautiful trails in the world.

Check this hike out on Wikiloc under “Casa de Piedra.” And don’t forget your Electrolit: you may need several bottles if you’re over the hill!

The writer has lived near Guadalajara, Jalisco, for more than 30 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.

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