May 112017
 

We rarely post straight links to other sites without detailed commentary but every rule has exceptions and this spectacular selection of 30 Google Earth images from The Atlantic more than deserves a close look:

Previous visually-stunning or visually-interesting posts on Geo-Mexico include:

Video of the Sea of Cortés (Gulf of California)

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Aug 232016
 

This PostandFly video explores the islands of San Jose, San Francisco and Espiritu Santo. The Sea of Cortés (Gulf of California) is the body of water that separates the Baja California Peninsula from the Mexican mainland. The Sea of Cortés is thought to be one of the most diverse seas on the planet, and is home to more than 5,000 species of micro-invertebrates. A large part of the Sea of Cortés is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Several rivers feed the Sea of Cortés, including the Colorado, Fuerte and Yaqui. The Sea of Cortés has more than 300 estuaries and other wetlands on its shores, of which the delta of the Colorado River is especially important. The vast reduction in the Colorado’s flow has negatively impacted wetlands and fisheries.

Previous Geo-Mexico posts on this area of Mexico include:

Jul 182016
 

The Montebello Lakes National Park (Parque Nacional Lagunas de Montebello) in Chiapas is a 6040-hectare expanse of rainforest, at elevations ranging from 1500 to 1800 metres (5000-6000 ft) above sea level, near the border with Guatemala. The park has 59 small and mid-sized lakes of varying colors. The variations in color include several tones of blue and green, due to differences in mineral content. About a quarter of the lakes are readily accessible by vehicle or on foot, and they are spectacular on a sunny day.

montebello-lakes-chiapas-gov

The park, which is an international RAMSAR wetland site, was the earliest national park to be established in Chiapas, and dates back to 1959. It was formally designated a UNESCO biosphere reserve in 2009.

This short (2 min, 20 sec) postandfly video gives a great overview of the park’s beauty:


Several of the lakes are used for swimming, canoeing, and kayaking. The largest is Lake Tziscao.

Additional attractions within the park include sinkholes (cenotes), caves (Grutas San Rafael del Arco) and two Maya ruins, the most important of which is Chinkultic, whose ruins date back to the third century. That site’s main pyramid, the Acropolis, affords an excellent view over the region.

The nearest city to the Montebello park is Comitán, an hour’s drive to the west. The picturesque city of San Cristóbal de las Casas, a very popular tourist city, is about three hour’s drive from the park in the same direction.

The protection of the lakes does face some issues. They are so close to the Guatemalan border that the area has been a regular staging post for central Americans entering Mexico illegally, hoping to eventually reach the USA.

In recent years, scientists have expressed concern that the lakes are losing their colors and becoming muddy and lifeless. They attribute this to untreated wastewater and agricultural runoff entering the lakes (via the Grande River which flows directly into the lakes) and deforestation of parts of the lake basins.

The Chiapas state Congress called for action in 2015, and has renewed its efforts this year. Proponents of action want a special commission to be set up to coordinate protection and recuperation efforts. Among those working to preserve this amazing treasure in southern Mexico are researchers from several major Mexican universities, including the National University (UNAM) and the Autonomous University of Chiapas.

Related posts:

Novelist Charles Fleming Embree, an honorary geographer

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May 302016
 

American author Charles Fleming Embree‘s A dream of a throne, the story of a Mexican revolt, published in 1900, is, I believe, the earliest novel in any language about the Lake Chapala area. It is an historical novel, set in the area during the nineteenth century, but Embree reveals an extraordinary depth of knowledge, not only of the history of this area, but also of its geography.

Embree was only 24 years of age when he and his wife Virginia, newly-weds at the time, arrived in Chapala in 1898. Embree had dropped out of Wabash College in his native Indiana, without completing his degree, to devote himself to his writing and his first book, a collections of stories entitled For the Love of Tonita, and other tales of the Mesas (1897) had proved successful.

The Embrees lived in Chapala for eight months in 1898, before traveling to other parts of Mexico, including Guanajauto, Xalapa, Cuernavaca and Oaxaca. Embree’s publishers described A dream of a throne as, “A powerful and highly dramatic romance, dealing with a popular Mexican uprising half a century ago. It is a novel of adventure and of war, and its strongly contrasted characters glow with life and realism. The writer’s thorough knowledge of Mexican life gives him a wealth of new material; and the descriptions of scenery at Lake Chapala are vivid, full of color, and alive with mountain air”.A Dream of a Throne by Charles F. Embree

The book is indeed a remarkable achievement. Despite only living at Lake Chapala for a few months, Embree acquired and demonstrates, from a geographical perspective, an extraordinarily accurate and astute knowledge of all his lakeside locales. The spelling of all place-names, with the exception of Ajicjic and Tuxcueco, is exactly as it is today. Details of clothing, habits and customs all ring true. Embree’s knowledge of the region’s nineteenth century history is equally impressive. As one small example, the story begins in the shadow of St. Michael’s hill in Chapala in May 1833, amidst fear of an epidemic of smallpox. In real life, the nearby city of Guadalajara suffered a cholera epidemic in the summer of 1833.

From a human geography perspective, this novel offers us one of the earliest descriptions of everyday indigenous life in the region. As Dr. Wolfgang Vogt of the University of Guadalajara has pointed out, even by the 1920s (twenty years after Embree’s novel), virtually no-one was observing or writing about this area from an indigenous point of view. Embree’s novel has particular value since it examines the conflicts between Indians and Spaniards, anticipating the themes explored by D. H. Lawrence when he visited Chapala for a couple of months in 1923 and penned the first draft of The Plumed Serpent.

All the action in Embree’s novel takes place on and around Lake Chapala. The major locales are Mezcala Island, Chapala, Ajijic and Tizapan. The following extracts have been chosen to highlight his depictions of the local landscapes. Lake Chapala was significantly larger in 1898 than it is today (see The eastern end of Mexico’s largest lake, Lake Chapala, is amputated):

Lake Chapala, showing area drained at start of 20th century. Map: Tony Burton. All rights reserved.

Lake Chapala, showing area drained at start of 20th century. Map: Tony Burton. All rights reserved.

Here is Embree’s description of Ajijic:

They were riding over a rough trail with cacti and stones about, and here and there a flock of goats. To the right was a seemingly endless chain of mountains, to the left, more distant, rose St. Michael, low and round (behind whose bulk lay Chapala and the water), and the larger head, called Angostura, lying between that town and Ajicjic on the lake’s edge. Between Angostura and the opposite mountain chain the road led, rising to a hill, to whose summit the little army came. They looked down on the lake and, nearer, small irregular fields, scores of them, checkering a level stretch from mountains to water. Out of these, Ajicjic’s church thrust up a single gleaming tower of white. Three o’clock found the troop sweeping into the barren plaza of that fishing village.

To this day Ajicjic can claim no more than some two thousand souls. It has, even yet, no railroad, no stage; rarely has a vehicle been seen in that primitive place other than the awkward oxcart. Its low, unplastered adobe walls stand close together. The streets are alleys of extreme narrowness wherein there is mud when it rains, dust when it is dry, rocks and swine forever. Nigh every alley twists and turns, is for a block no more than a gutter, for another block a public stable for burros. Yet one may find some better quarters. The plaza, though it is only a bare, brown waste, is wide. The open court before the church, though it too is bare and dirty, with lonely, crumbling walls and pillars about it, yet has in its center a weather-beaten cross that speaks of service to the Lord.

The troop filled the plaza. It was halted, and the inhabitants of the town, struck with amazement, either shut themselves up or gathered in silence round about. Groups of brown children, absolutely naked, sat down in the dirt, thumbs in mouth, to wonder in comfort. Rodrigo and Bonavidas began the inquiries, prefacing them with jocularly expressed friendship to certain storekeepers and a toss of tequila here and there down a willing throat. Boats? There hadn’t come but one boat to Ajicjic the blessed day. Ajicjic was losing importance in these times. On market days everybody went to the bigger market at Chapala, where the news was dispersed. And this one boat? It had come from Tizapan with a load of wood for the lime burners.

His landscape descriptions are equally adept:

The town of Tizapan lies at a short distance from the lake. The shore in that region is no such distinctly marked line of beach and rock as it is at Chapala. It is not even always easy to tell where the shore is. Between water and land there is a stretch of marsh for several hundred yards, watery, pierced by the spears of a million reeds that rise thick and green to a height of some feet. Here flock ducks in great numbers. The marsh is flat, bewildering, and dreary. Through its middle a stream, called the Tizapan River, cuts out more than one course, having formed a delta. The main course of this river, not over twenty yards at its widest part, usually much narrower, is navigable for canoas for half a mile to a point where the land is dry and from which the town lies yet another mile distant. The stream being crooked and the curves sharp, the progress from the open lake to the inner landing is usually made by poles. The lake approach to the town could be easily blocked by blocking the river. Only the one course is navigable. Nobody could cross the marshes. This fact was recognized more than a century ago.

The town itself is like the greater part of Mexican towns, narrow and crooked streets with the low houses (joined together) shutting those streets in and making them seem even narrower, and the central plaza of considerable size left vacant. That plaza is today filled with flowers and fruit and contains a bandstand. In former times it was bare. The mountains rise only a little way behind the town, jagged and huge. Before them is a stretch of rolling green fields. The river, coming from the peaks, dashes down through this pastoral scene with a vivacity that has laid bare a rough and rocky bed whereon the water boils till it passes through the town. At the time when the two small armies were approaching Tizapan, much of the summer green was still on field and mountain. The unclouded sun poured his light over an emerald gem of the lake’s border.

After their time in Mexico, the Embrees settled in Santa Ana, California. Embree published his second novel A Heart of Flame: the Story of a Master Passion in 1901, and supplied a steady stream of short stories to major magazines, including McClure’s, the San Francisco Argonaut and Sunset Magazine. Sadly, the couple had not long celebrated the birth of their only daughter Elinor in 1905 when Embree was taken seriously ill. He died on July 3, not yet 31 years old.

It is tragic that someone who had produced work of this magnitude, should have died so terribly young. In his short time in Chapala, Charles Embree had acquired an excellent historical and geographical knowledge of the region at a time when American travelers to the lake were few and far between. Geo-Mexico believes that Charles Fleming Embree full deserves to be declared an Honorary Geographer.

Note: The post is based on chapter 43 of Lake Chapala through the ages; an anthology of travellers’ tales (Sombrero Books, 2008) and on American novelist Charles Fleming Embree set his first novel at Lake Chapala” (MexConnect, 2009).

Related posts:

 

Dec 292015
 

This short PostandFly.com.mx video, by Enrique de la Cruz and Tarsicio Sañudo, shows the spectacular inland scenery of the state of Chiapas in southern Mexico. The highlights are views of the Sumidero Canyon (near Tuztla Gutierrez, the state capital) and then some magnificent shots of the Lagunas Montebello, near the border with Guatemala, and the river scenery of Agua Azul.

This video is apparently the start of a collaborative effort between PostandFly and photographic director Enrique de la Cruz to generate additional audiovisual resources utilizing new technologies such as drones. We will be keeping our eyes open in the New Year for more.

Want to learn more about Chiapas? A good starting point is our very own Chiapas Map and Index Page, which has links to articles about the geography of the indigenous Lacandon Indians, poverty and inequality, musical instruments, tourism, agriculture, tectonic hazards, and lots more.

Sadly, my one and only trip so far to the Lagunas Montebello was cut short by a vehicle malfunction. At least I was still able to make my way out of the park and back to civilization before nightfall! Presumably cell phones now work in the park, so such adventures are probably a thing of the past.

May you have lots of your own adventures in Mexico in 2016, and always return safely!

Happy New Year to all our readers!

Other video resources on this site:

Mexico’s scenery: spectacular aerial views

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Dec 102015
 

The award-winning video team at PostandFly.com.mx continue to produce some powerfully-evocative short videos focusing on Mexico’s extraordinary scenery.

Many of the individual clips in this video were filmed in Baja California Sur, with occasional forays into Chihuahua and central and southern Mexico:

For those that like to match names with places (that’s what makes you a geographer, right?), here is the list of places in order of their appearance in the video, with a few clues to act as “landmarks” along the way:

1Bacalar, Quintana Roo21Puerta del Cielo, Queretaro
2Isla Partida, Baja California Sur22Guerrero Negro, Baja California Sur
3Guerrero Negro, Baja California Sur23Playa Escondida, Nayarit
4Isla San José, Baja California Sur24Acapulco, Guerrero
5Bacalar, Quintana Roo25Isla San Francisquito, Baja California Sur
6San Ignacio, Baja California Sur26Isla Partida, Baja California Sur
7El Cielo, Tamaulipas27Basaseachi, Chihuahua [waterfall]
8Isla Partida, Baja California Sur28Xicotepec, Puebla
9Basaseachi, Chihuahua [waterfall]29Caleta y Caletilla, Acapulco, Guerrero
10Isla Coronado, Baja California Sur30Islas Marietas, Nayarit
11Isla Partida, Baja California Sur31Angel de la Independencia, Mexico City
12Basaseachi, Chihuahua [waterfall]32Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco
13Punta Colorada, Baja California Sur33Estrella de Puebla, Puebla
14Bacalar, Quintana Roo34Guadalajara, Jalisco
15Cholula, Puebla [church on hill]35Arco, Los Cabos, Baja California Sur [marine arch]
16Laguna ojo de liebre, Baja California Sur36Tlaxcala, Tlaxcala
17Laguna ojo de liebre, Baja California Sur37Taxco, Guerrero
18Loreto, Baja California Sur38Guerrero Negro, Baja California Sur
19Loreto, Baja California Sur39La Paz, Baja California Sur
20Tequila, Jalisco [railway track at 1:49]40Isla San Francisquito, Baja California Sur

Want to learn more about some of these places? Before resorting to Sr. Google, try our site search function.

Enjoy!

Other video resources on this site:

Sep 082011
 

Geotourism is geography tourism (as opposed to tourism geography!). It applies to any recreational (tourism) activity where one of the primary objectives is to visit some phenomenon of geographic importance. This could be a coral reef, mangrove swamp, volcano, mountain peak, cave or canyon, but it could just as easily be a sinkhole, waterfall, new town or sugar mill. Ideally, geotourism should be sustainable, ecologically-aware and culturally-sensitive.

Geotourism often involves visiting landforms that hold special value: geomorphosites. Mexico has an amazing diversity of geomorphosites, quite possibly the richest collection of any country in the world.

What exactly are geomorphosites?

Geomorphosites were first defined in 1993 by Mario Panniza. Essentially, they are landforms that have acquired, over time, a certain value. Once noticed and made accessible to people, the landforms acquire scientific, cultural, historical, aesthetic, and socio-economic value. [1]

Panniza subsequently defined geomorphosites as,”landforms that have acquired a scientific, cultural/historical, aesthetic and/or social/economic value due to human perception or exploitation.” [2]

Reynard and Panniza state that geomorphosites can vary in scale from a single geomorphological object (eg a sink hole) to a wider landscape (eg a mountain range) and that geomorphosites “may be modified, damaged, and even destroyed by the impacts of human activities.” [3]

The marine arch at Cabo San Lucas, an example of a geomorphosite

The marine arch at Cabo San Lucas, an example of a geomorphosite

The dominant additional value may be economic, ecological, aesthetic or cultural, and this provides a starting point for assessing whether or not a particular landform is a geomorphosite or not.

The science study (see first comment below!) of geomorphosites is still in its infancy. Several competing classifications have been proposed, and no definitive consensus has yet been reached on the best way to quantify the value of a particular example.

One set of criteria for assessing geomorphosites includes:

A. Economic value:

  • accessibility,
  • number of visitors,
  • inclusion in promotional literature

B. Scientific/ecological value:

  • palaeogeographical interest,
  • singularity,
  • integrity (state of conservation)
  • ecological interest

C. Aesthetic value:

  • the number and spacing of belvedere points (high points from which a view is possible over the surrounding landscape)
  • shape
  • altitude
  • color

D. Cultural value:

  • cultural legacy (writing, art etc),
  • historical and archaeological significance,
  • religious relevance,
  • artistic and cultural events

Mexico has literally thousands of geomorphosites. We have already described some of them, including:

and we plan to highlight many more in future posts, including:

  • Piedras Bola (Stone Balls) in Jalisco
  • Peña de Bernal, a monolith in Querétaro
  • Sumidero Canyon in Chiapas
  • the iconic marine-eroded arch at Cabo San Lucas (see photo)

The scientific study of geomorphosites should enable researchers to suggest ways to approach their management. Unlimited access to some geomorphosites may generate a healthy flow of admission fees but could also easily increase erosion and hasten the destruction of the very thing that the tourists are paying to see.

On your next trip to Mexico, make sure to visit one or more of the country’s super-numerous geomorphosites!

References:

[1] Comanescu and Nedelea, Area (2010) 42:4, 406-416.

[2] Panizza M. (2001) Geomorphosites : concepts, methods and example of geomorphological survey. Chinese Science Bulletin, 46: 4-6

[3] Reynard, E and Panizza, M. (2005 ) Geomorphosites: definition, assessment and mapping, Géomorphologie : relief, processus, environnement , 3/2005

Mexico’s Copper Canyon is one of the world’s most amazing natural wonders

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Aug 282010
 

The Copper Canyon, one of Mexico’s most amazing natural wonders The rugged ranges of the Western Sierra Madre in the state of Chihuahua conceal several massive canyons, giving rise to incomparable scenery. The Copper Canyon (Cañon del Cobre) region is the collective name given to this branching network of canyons, larger in many respects (see table) than the USA’s Grand Canyon.

How does Mexico’s Copper Canyon compare to the US Grand Canyon?

 Urique CanyonsUS Grand Canyon
Total length of rivers (km)540446
Depth (m)1250–18701480
Altitude of rim (m above sea level)2250–25402000–2760
Maximum width (km)415

Strictly speaking, the name Copper Canyon refers only to one small part of the extensive network of canyons which is more properly called by geographers the Urique Canyon system. As the table shows, the Urique Canyons are longer, deeper and narrower than their US rival.

Mexico's Copper Canyon

How was the Copper Canyon formed?

According to a local Tarahumara Indian legend, the canyons were formed when “a giant walked around and the ground cracked.” Geologists believe that a sequence of volcanic rocks varying in age from 30 to 135 million years were slowly uplifted to an average elevation of 2275 m (7500 ft) and then dissected by pre-existing rivers.

These antecedent rivers retained their courses, cutting down over 1400 m into the plateau surface, forming deep canyons and dividing the former continuous plateau into separate giant blocks. Centuries of erosion by the Urique river and its tributaries have resulted in the present-day landscape of structurally-guided plateau remnants, termed mesas, buttes and pinnacles, depending on their size.

Mexico’s top 13 natural wonders

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Aug 242010
 

According to the 1.5 million votes cast in a Televisión Azteca survey in 2007 (published in the always interesting glossy magazine mexicanísimo), the top 13 natural wonders in Mexico are (in no particular order):

  • The Copper Canyon region (Chihuahua)
  • The El Cielo Biosphere Reserve (Sierra Madre Occidental, Tamaulipas)
  • The Sumidero Canyon (Chiapas)
  • Cuatro Ciénegas oasis (Chihuahuan desert)
  • El Arrecifal coral reef ecological park (Veracruz)
  • El Pinacate desert (Sonora)
  • The Monarch Butterfly reserves (Michoacán)
  • The agave landscapes surrounding Tequila (Jalisco)
  • The Centla wetlands (Tabasco)
  • The Peña de Bernal monolith (Querétaro)
  • The Basalt Prisms of San Miguel Regla (Hidalgo)
  • The Sótano de las Golondrinas sinkhole (San Luis Potosí)
  • Xel-Há marine park (Quintana Roo)
Tarahumar woman and child, by waterfall in the Copper Canyon

Tarahumar woman and child, by waterfall in the Copper Canyon. Photo: Tony Burton. All rights reserved.

Also ranked highly were

  • Cerro de la Silla (Nuevo León)
  • Estero de Palo Verde (Colima)
  • Loltún caverns (Yucatán)
  • Mexcaltitán Island (Nayarit)

We will describe each of these geographical treasures in more detail in future posts.

How many of these places have you visited?

What other places do you think should be on this list?

If you have enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico.

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