Wandering to the Sierra Gorda

Our campsite at Mineral de Pozos was near the town center, so we could walk to other local attractions.

February 21 – 25, 2019.

We didn’t have a plan after the city of Guanajuato except to head east before we started making our way back northwest to the US. I looked at my Mexico map and considered where we might go. There was the city of Querétaro. A few people had mentioned what a beautiful and vibrant place it is. But honestly we were pretty citied out and the only good camping site there was a bit over my price limit. Then there were these caves in the state of Hidalgo that several people had told us about. You access the caves by going under a waterfall. There are also hot springs and other water features. I was considering them but then I looked at the calendar and I feared it would take us several days to get there we’d end up there on the weekend. After many months of traveling through Mexico, we had learned that going to towns and cities on weekends was great because there is always so much more going on, but had learned to avoid popular natural attractions on Saturdays, Sundays, or holidays – especially those with water – because they were always so darn crowded.

I settled on heading to the Sierra Gorda, an ecological region with mountains, caves, waterfalls, and history. There was a waterfall tucked back into the hills that I thought we could get to in a very long day. Greg wanted to break the trip up into two days so we looked at the map to find a good stopping place on the way.

We had two route choices through the state of Guanajuato, North or south. The southern route took us through San Miguel Allende. It was supposed to be a very nice town but it just seemed a little too touristy for me and like I mentioned before we were a bit citied out. The northern route took us through a town I hadn’t heard of – Mineral de Pozos. Mineral de Pozos was once a Jesuit mining town. Today it is a Pueblo Mágico with Hacienda and mine ruins to explore. The northern route won out.

Mineral de Pozos was probably the quietest town we have visited in Mexico but it also, surprisingly, had lots to offer. We ended up staying 3 nights instead of one. While we were at the Plaza one of those days we saw some posters for other interesting places to visit in the state of Guanajuato. Most were in the other direction behind us but one, Arroyo Seco – a pictograph site, was on the way to the waterfall. I added an afternoon stop on our route.

You can only visit Arroyo Seco with a tour guide. Unfortunately, our tour guide knew little English so we were very fortunate that Yolanda was on our tour too. Yolanda, a history teacher at a University in Mexico City, spoke English and offered to translate a little bit for us. A lover of travel, Yolanda not only became our translator but gave us lots of ideas about where we should go next. She reminded me that we were passing by the third largest monolith in the world – Peña de Bernal. I looked at the map and rerouted to the monolith.

Peña de Bernal looms over the city of Bernal where we arrived on Sunday afternoon – a great day for walking around a city but a bad day for exploring a natural wonder. So we spent the night and hiked the monolith the next morning before hopping back into Ballena Blanca to finally drive up into the mountains of the Sierra Gorda and end our 5-day-wander to our waterfall, Cascada El Chuvejé.

*Click pics to enlarge and/or open into a slide show.

Today the quiet town of Mineral de Pozos is a Pueblo Magico, but once thrived as a mining town. Pozo is the word for well. The mines were made mostly of verticle shafts, like wells.

The Santa Bridiga was established by the Jesuits shortly after the Spanish conquest. It operated for 300 years.

The mine was heavily walled to repel attacks from indigenous peoples. One long fortification remains.

Staggered arches inside the fortification. This must have doubled as a storage area.

The Jesuits were well-educated, well-meaning people. Back in San Antonio we visited missions which helped the “Indios” survive in a hostile environment. Locals were taught new languages and skills. But mining? That just required forced labor.

The ore extraction was dangerous work, and ore processing even more so. Gold and silver were bonded with mercury. The mixture was heated in these ovens until mercury evaporated into the air, leaving the more precious metals behind. Mercury is toxic and causes a variety of neurological problems. Many natives considered mining a death sentence, and just ran away.

But casuistic logic allowed the Jesuits to justify forced labor in general and mining in particular.

According to one Jesuit jurist*, Indians were exempt from forced labor, just like free citizens of Spain. But without their mining efforts the regime might perish, and “The Indians themselves will be in peril with regard to their spiritual doctrine, government and temporal defense of their rights”. (See? You can justify anything.)
* Juan de Solórzano Pereia (Historical Approach to Casuistry, Carlo Ginsburg and Lucio Biasiori)

On day two in Mineral de Pozos we hiked to the ruins of another mine: El Triangulo.

There are remains of many buildings. This was a big operation.

El Triangulo also operated until around the 1910 revolution.

This mine prospered through the Porfirian Era.

The Porfirian Era was the controversial 31-year reign of Porfiro Diaz.

Initially elected, Diaz effectively became a dictator serving seven terms. There was much progress under his rule, but there was also brutal suppression of dissent.

Towns rich with resources, like Mineral de Pozos, loved Diaz’s support of industry, education, and public works. Poorer areas didn’t do as well.

Looking down into a Pozo, or mine shaft.

At El Triangulo walls have been put around some of the old shafts.

Porfiro Diaz was a strong proponent of practical education. He supported establishing schools to raise Mexico’s literacy rate. Mineral de Pozos has restored one of his model schools, where students learned geography and, of course, mining.

Courtyard in the restored model school, which now has community classes.

Mineral de Pozos has several shops which sell traditional instruments. We had to check them out. The sound from these beautifully carved drums is impressive, but Greg isn’t allowed to keep one in the van.

Shop owners were all eager to demonstrate how the instruments were played.

Instrument shopping and mine exploration are hard work. We needed to walk down the street to refuel. This place had great music and an English speaking owner who guided us through tasting several mezcals.

We are up on one side of Arroyo Seco, which means dry gulch. There are rock paintings here. We are facing the other side of the arroyo, which also has paintings but is not yet open to the public. There is also a very nice museum here.

Paintings at Arroyo Seco. Some of these are images of crosses and conquistadores. When the Spaniards arrived, this rough terrain was inhabited by wild nomadic people. It took a while to bring them under Spanish rule.

This appears to be a shaman on the left and a ballplayer on the right.

This painting is of a large bird. It is flying toward the right. One wing stretches above the body and one downward.

The rock formation on the left is natural. The large rock on the right was put in place by people. When you stand at a certain spot down in the arroyo at the summer solstice, the sun shines through the hole between these rocks.

These formations were called The Guardians by our guide.

Our unofficial tour guide and new friend, Yolanda.

Cactus and agave at Arroyo Seco.

The Pueblo Magico, Bernal. It’s a nice town at the base of El Peña, the third largest monolith in the world.

We climbed El Peña as high as the trail would take us. Here is the view of Bernal from the side of El Peña.

The waterfall El Cascada Chuvejé.

Downstream from El Chuvejé are several other scenic man-made water features.

Exploring waterfalls can be hard work. What better way to refuel than by having Carina make you supper? We were surprised by Carina’s flawless English until we learned that she grew up in Hendersonville, NC – only about an hour away from where we used to live in Greenville, SC. Her parents still live there where they run Taco Bus Cruz Linares, a food truck serving authentic Mexican food. I think we’re due for a hard day of exploration in Hendersonville.

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