A 75-minute drive north of bustling Guadalajara can bring you to a charming oasis bubbling with thermal activity, the closest thing to a geyser park that the state of Jalisco can offer.
My first visit to this extraordinary place on the Patitos (Little Ducks) river many years ago would be difficult for me to forget. I had been lured into the San Cristóbal canyon by botanist Miguel Cházaro who had promised to take me to “a cold river in the middle of which there is an amazing, underwater, singing geyser.”
Naturally, we first went off to other parts of the river to collect plants that Miguel needed. This took up most of the day and the sun was about to set when we finally parked near the hot springs.
Miguel lost no time. Under his pants he was already wearing his swimming trunks. In a flash he had removed the pants, jumped out of the car and right into the river, shouting “¡Aquí está! Here it is! The singing geyser!”
Yes, I could hear it and yes, it was truly singing, although wailing might better describe the sound I heard. But there I was, rummaging in my knapsack for my own swim suit, when our driver announced, “Sorry, amigos, the sun is setting and we only have a few minutes of daylight left to find our way back to the highway. We have to leave right now!”
So I never had a chance to enjoy the hot-and-cold river experience nor did I suspect that there were plenty more geysers sputtering away along the shores of the Río Patitos.
Years later, I stumbled upon a video on Facebook showing shaded swimming pools and several geysers alongside a familiar-looking river. The place in the video was called Parque Ecológico los Hervores, but I recognized it right away: it was that same lonely spot that Miguel Cházaro so loved, now landscaped and transformed into a water park (balneario).
It was easy to find a few friends ready to drop everything to check out a natural spa they had never heard of before.
A 50-kilometer drive through the spectacularly beautiful Santiago river canyon at the north end of Guadalajara brought us to the ecological park. Alongside the river we found what almost seemed like a botanical garden, with plenty of shade trees around three warm-to-hot pools, the whole area decorated with curious rock sculptures. Next to one of them stood the sculptor — and owner of the place — Don Roberto Castro.
Don Roberto told us he had been working on his thermal park for six years. “In the past people knew about this place,” he said. “They knew it was special, but it was very difficult to get here and once they arrived, it was all rough and rocky, with no shade of any kind. So I bought this land, brought in dirt, planted trees and then constructed that wall over there to stop the river from washing everything away during the rainy season.
“And while working on the wall I uncovered several new geysers. Actually, I’ve found a total of 14 of them so far! Bueno, I was on Facebook at that time and I saw how people were posting anything there, even a plate of enchiladas, so I started uploading videos of these geysers and that drew a lot of attention to this place . . . people started coming on the weekends.”
As he spoke, my eye wandered to the curious stone statues all around us. There was a bird here, a crocodile there, a voluptuous goddess of sorts and even a stone motorcycle worthy of Fred Flintstone.
“As for the sculptures,” continued Don Roberto, “I worked as a landscaper in Palm Springs, in the U.S.A. and I learned that little touches could transform a garden into something beautiful.”
We then took a tour of the place, starting with three swimming pools fed by hot springs. “Pick the one with the temperature you prefer,” said Don Roberto. All the pools were coated with green algae, but the water was perfectly clean and constantly circulating.
Alongside the river, geysers seemed to be hissing everywhere. Eventually we came to a natural “hot pot” where guests like to boil eggs. The water temperature was 80 C (176 Fahrenheit).
As for Miguel Cházaro’s singing geyser, I found it had been given a sort of face lift. How Don Roberto had done it, considering the temperatures involved, I don’t know, but somehow he had attached a vertical pipe to the underwater geyser and now it was spraying several meters high into the air as a “proper geyser” should.
I visited Don Roberto’s park several times after that and spent one great night camping there, occasionally running out of my tent to jump into the delightful hot pool and gaze at the stars.
After a lapse of two years I headed back to the Río Patitos with some friends. My attempts to call Don Roberto had failed and I wondered whether the place was still open for business.
We drove through the staggeringly beautiful canyon and when we reached the parque, we found the gates wide open, but Don Roberto nowhere to be seen.
We parked and started walking toward what had once been the singing geyser. To our surprise, the spurting pipe was gone but bubbles surfacing in the river indicated that the geyser was right there where it should be — but, sad to say, it was no longer singing!
Just beyond this point, we found a big, beautiful blue footbridge spanning the river, a bridge that had not been there two years ago. Of course we crossed it and found ourselves at the edge of a large swimming hole.
As the water was just the perfect temperature for bathing, we all jumped in and were soon congregated at the far end of the pool, where a sort of rocky knob, covered with colorful minerals, protruded from the water. Squirting out of the top of it was a geyser I had never seen before. Soon our feet discovered other little springs of hot water underfoot.
After an hour or so, the owner of the new swimming hole appeared, Don Cuco Sandoval, who told us he had designed and built the bridge, “which took every centavo I’ve got.” Nevertheless, he charged us only 20 pesos for using the bridge and happily splashing in his delightful pool for hours. It was definitely a bargain.
Upon returning to our cars, we found Don Roberto waiting for us. He reported that he had not responded to my calls and texts because he had dropped his cell phone into one of his pools! Fortunately, it was not one of the really hot ones and he still had hope that the phone might dry out and come back to life.
As for the once-singing geyser, Don Roberto reported that local people had objected to his piping it to the surface. They missed its singing which they thought had been bringing them good luck and had requested that he return it to its natural state. He complied, but maybe he should have consulted the geyser, because so far it has yet to warble a single note.
Time, however, heals all and perhaps some future generation will once again hear the age-old voice of the Patitos river wailing to the moon.
If you’d like to drive to this thermal area, just ask Google maps to take you to “Campamento Huixtlán.” That isn’t the right name for the place, but it will bring you directly to Parque Ecológico Los Hervores.
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.