Highway 70 could be called “the adventurous way” to travel from Guadalajara to Puerto Vallarta.
This road takes you past the legendary mining town of Guachinango with its shimmering church covered with a million shards of broken porcelain plates, past Atenguillo, famed for its rustic raicilla distilleries hidden in the hills.
The highway then passes near Talpa with its celebrated maple forest, which has been around since the Pleistocene, through Mascota, renowned for its majestic casonas (mansions) with walls a meter thick, and on past San Sebastián del Oeste, the gorgeous mountain village “forgotten by time,” finally arriving at Puerto Vallarta, six hours distant.
There are so many picturesque towns along this route through western Jalisco that most travelers whiz right by a true jewel of natural beauty and surely the most bizarre little mountain I’ve seen anywhere in the world: La Campana (“the bell”).
The local people call it “The Bell” because that’s what it looks like when you glimpse it — for all of two seconds — as you zoom around one of a hundred curves on the ever-twisting highway approaching Mascota.
This spot is a two-hour drive from Guadalajara and at this point your stomach is probably growling and you can almost smell the tantalizing aromas awaiting you at the excellent Navidad restaurant in Mascota. What could I ever say to convince you to pull off the highway onto a little dirt road barely visible among the tall pine trees?
Well, if you drive down that road only 20 meters, step out of your car and gaze upward, I know you’re going to be hooked. With only a bit of imagination you might swear you were looking at a very bizarre sculpture of a giant puma battling a gargantuan hammerhead shark.
“Well, well, that definitely does look interesting,” is the reaction I have heard from every soul I have coaxed into stopping here. No matter how loudly their stomachs were growling, they would inevitably ask, “How long do I have to walk to go see it?”
When I tell them it’s only five minutes to the base of La Campana, believe it or not, curiosity always wins out over hunger, and off we go to visit what I call “The Psychedelic Bell.”
After that short walk, you suddenly step out of the forest on bare volcanic rock. As you walk up the smooth, undulating surface, you come upon one after another strange, sweeping shapes you’d swear must have been sculpted by Antonio Gaudí or Salvador Dalí. Who else would put frozen waves of rock on top of a mountain? Of course, instead of breaking waves, you may see something quite different.
Whatever the case, please watch your step. There are no guard rails or rangers here to protect you and a false step could be fatal. It’s not a hike for small children unless you’re carrying them in your backpack.
After soaking up this semi-psychedelic view, feast your eyes on the panorama below stretching into the distance. No matter how you felt when you started up the mountain, by the time you reach the top, you will surely be inundated with good vibrations! The length of this walk, by the way, is only 428 meters from your car to the peak of the hill.
I first stumbled upon La Campana some 30 years ago. Seeing so many smooth, clean, sweeping, baby-pink surfaces, I couldn’t help but wonder how long they would remain in that pristine state. But every time I have returned, including very recently, I have found the mountain free of trash and the wave-like formations entirely free of graffiti.
Credit for this must surely go to the local landowner, Tino López, whom we first met years ago when we stepped out of our cars and were hailed by a friendly voice — in English, mind you:
“Welcome! Do you want to visit La Campana?”
Don Tino then showed us the short and easy route to the base of the mountain, which we continue to use today. “My house is close by,” he reminded us before leaving. “Just tell people to shout my name when they arrive, and I’ll be glad to guide them.”
Another reason why La Campana is in such good condition — and the surrounding forest free of wildfires — is because the local headquarters of Conafor, the National Forestry Commission, is located only a few meters above the spot where you parked your car and the rangers are always vigilant.
If you are interested in camping, there’s a nice flat area — no facilities of any kind — 500 meters east of the gate (at N20.37170 W104.59058). But a high-clearance vehicle may be needed to reach the spot. In the rainy season you’ll find a small brook next to your tent.
One advantage of camping is that you could visit La Campana both early and late in the day, when the light gives it very different looks. And don’t be surprised if you scare up a deer or two as you hike from the campsite to the peak.
If you’d like to visit “The Psychedelic Bell,” ask Google Maps to take you to “La Campana, Atenguillo, Jalisco.” Upon arriving, you will see a sign saying Puerto La Campana. Continue past the sign and make a very sharp right turn onto an easy-to-miss dirt road.
A few meters from the highway you can park in front of an iron gate. Just a few meters past the gate, look for the start of a trail on your right. Walk east uphill and you will soon be on an ever-more-obvious path that takes you directly to the base of the little mountain.
If you go up there with children, be sure to keep them tightly in hand because a strong gust of wind could blow a child right over the edge.
Enjoy the good vibrations!
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.