Oct 062011
 

The small town of Tequila, the center of production of Mexico’s national drink, lies in the shadow of an imposing 2700-meter (8860-ft) volcano. Most visitors to the town visit the National Tequila Museum, take a distillery tour, and then sample one or two of the many world-famous brands of tequila made in the area.

The spine of Tequila Volcano

The spine of Tequila Volcano. Drawing by Mark Eager (Western Mexico, A Traveler’s Treasury); all rights reserved.

Tequila Volcano, which overlooks the rolling fields of blue agaves required to make the liquor, is the home of one of Mexico’s most distinctive geomorphosites. From the rim of its crater, the most arresting thing about the view is not the green, tree-covered crater itself but the giant monolith with almost vertical sides rising perpendicularly from the middle of the crater floor.

This well-preserved central spine, known locally as la tetilla (“the nipple”) is quite unusual. It represents the hardened lava which cooled in the central vent of the volcano and which, solid and unyielding, was later pushed upwards by tremendous subterranean pressure.

Few such good examples exist anywhere in the world. The example most often quoted in geography texts is the spine that was pushed up by Mont Pelée on the island of Martinique in the West Indies in October 1902, immediately prior to that volcano’s disastrous eruption which cost 32,000 lives.

How to get there

A cobblestone road begins near the railway station in the town of Tequila and winds up Tequila Volcano towards the short-wave communications tower on its rim. It is about 20 kilometers from the town to the rim. The hike or drive up to the rim affords glorious views over the surrounding countryside. As you gain altitude, so the vegetation changes, becoming luxuriant pine-oak forest well before you reach the rim. Looking across the crater, on a day when clouds slowly drift across and partially obscure the view, is like watching a silent movie of ancient Chinese landscape drawings.

Want to read more?

For a fuller description of a visit to Tequila Volcano and a climb up the volcanic spine, see John and Susy Pint’s Outdoors in Western Mexico (2nd edition 2011).

For a description of Tequila Volcano and the varied villages and sights in its vicinity, see chapters 9 and 10 of my “Western Mexico: A Traveler’s Treasury” (Sombrero Books, 2013), also available in a Kindle edition.

Mexico’s geomorphosites: The Piedras Bola (Stone Balls) of the Sierra de Ameca, Jalisco

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Sep 272011
 

The Sierra de Ameca is a range of hills a short distance west of Guadalajara. The area was important in colonial times for gold and silver mining. One of the mines is called Piedra Bola (Stone Ball). The landscape immediately around this mine is so distinctive and unusual that it featured on the cover of the August 1969 edition of National Geographic.

In the middle of the forest surrounding the Piedra Bola mine are about a hundred strange stone balls. They are almost perfectly spherical and range in diameter from about sixty centimeters to more than ten meters. These symmetrical boulders are unusually large. Nothing quite like them exists elsewhere in Mexico and few similar examples are known anywhere in the world.

Piedras Bola

Piedras Bola

Some are buried, others partly or fully exposed. In some places, erosion of the surrounding rocks has left a sphere perched precariously atop narrow columns of softer rock, seemingly ready to topple in the next strong wind. These “hoodoos” or earth pillars have been formed as a result of water erosion and they may survive for centuries until the processes of sub-aerial weathering and erosion finally cause them to fall.

Piedra Bola atop an earth pillar

Piedra Bola atop an earth pillar

How were the Piedras Bola formed?

This summary of the most likely explanation of the origin of the stone spheres is based on that offered by Dr. Robert Smith of the U.S. Geological Survey in the original National Geographic article.

During the Tertiary geological era, 10-12 million years ago, a local volcano erupted, causing a deluge of glassy fragments of molten lava and ash, together with large quantities of volcanic gas trapped in the mixture. The mixture was very hot, probably between 550 and 800̊C. The deluge of material partially filled an existing valley, burying the former surface.

As the mixture cooled down, the existing glassy fragments formed nuclei around which much of the remainder of the material crystallized. Spherical balls began to form, their size depending on how long the crystallization process continued uninterrupted. The longer the time, the bigger the ball…. The most perfect balls were formed near the previous ground level, inside the hot mass of ashes, where the cooling would have occurred more evenly than in the bulk of the matrix material. The crystallized material is a kind of rhyolite which has an identical chemical composition to the fragments of glassy obsidian also found in the area.

The remainder of the ashes cooled down and became a consolidated accumulation of ashes and glassy fragments or tuff, without clearly defined spheres. This tuff is weaker, and has a lower density than the stone balls within it. During succeeding millenia, the combined processes of physical and chemical weathering weakened the surrounding tuff, and water (rain and rivulets) then eroded away this loose material, exposing some of the rhyolitic boulders completely and others partially.  As these processes continue, so more of the boulders will be exhumed from beneath their cover of tuff, and be revealed to us.

Protected?

The Jalisco State government has developed a small park around the Piedras Bola, including decent trails, some signposts and an amphitheater. There are even (reportedly) two ziplines, though I haven’t yet had the dubious pleasure of seeing them for myself. Increasing the number of visitors to  geomorphosites is not a bad idea, but some basic education and protection is needed if these and other geomorphological sites are going to be preserved intact for future generations. In the case of the Piedras Bola, graffiti now mar many of the exposed stone spheres and some of the spheres have been dynamited, apparently in the mistaken belief that the center of the sphere contained gold.

picture of piedras bolaHow to get there:

The entrance road to the Piedras Bola (formerly only a hiking trail) begins from km. 13 of the paved road that crosses the mountains from Ahualulco to Ameca. For anyone who does not have time for the hike, but still wants to see what these extraordinary stone spheres look like, the locals have thoughtfully rolled one down the mountain and onto Ahualulco’s main plaza.

Want to read more?

For more images and details, see John Pint’s article, Las Piedras Bola: the great stone balls of Ahualulco, on MexConnect, together with his outstanding gallery of photos.

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

The extraordinary ecological recovery of Mexico’s Cabo Pulmo Marine Park

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Aug 152011
 

In an earlier post—Can Mexico’s Environmental Agency protect Mexico’s coastline? we took a critical look at proposals for a tourism mega-development near Cabo Pulmo on the eastern side of the Baja California Peninsula. Cabo Pulmo (see map), a village of about 120 people, is about an hour north of San José del Cabo, and on the edge of the Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park (CPNP).

Baja California Sur MapJacques Cousteau, the famous ocean explorer, once described the Sea of Cortés as being the “aquarium of the world.” The protected area at Cabo Pulmo, ideal for diving, kayaking and snorkeling, covers 71 sq. km of ocean with its highly complex marine ecosystem.

Cabo Pulmo is on the Tropic of Cancer, about as far north as coral usually grows. The water temperatures vary though the year from about 20 to 30 degrees C (68 to 86 degrees F).

The seven fingers of coral off Cabo Pulmo comprise the most northerly living reef in the eastern Pacific. The 25,000-year-old reef is the refuge for more than 220 kinds of fish, including numerous colorful tropical species. Divers and snorkelers regularly report seeing cabrila, grouper, jacks, dorado, wahoo, sergeant majors, angelfish, putterfish and grunts, some of them in large schools.

On my last visit to Cabo Pulmo in 2008, local fishermen and tourist guides regaled me with positive comments about the success of the National Marine Park, and the area’s recovery since the area was first protected in 1995. Ever since, I’ve wondered how much their positive take was due to wishful thinking, and how much was due to a genuine recovery in local ecosystems. My doubts have been answered by the publication of Large Recovery of Fish Biomass in a No-Take Marine Reserve in the Public Library of Science (PLoS) ONE journal. The article’s authors present compelling evidence, based on fieldwork, that the area has undergone a remarkable recovery.

Recovery of Cabo Pulmo Marine Park

Recovery of fish in the Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park (CPNP). Credit: Aburto-Oropeza et al (2011)

The graph above shows the changes in biomass for three distinct zones of the Sea of Cortés. The open access areas allow commercial fishing. The “core zones” are the central areas of other Marine Parks in the area, including those near Loreto, north of Cabo Pulmo. The CPNP is the Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park, where no fishing is allowed. Clearly, since the CPNP was established, the number and weight of fish inside the park boundaries really have increased rapidly.The total amount (biomass) of fish increased by a staggering 460% over 10 years.

The major reason for the success of the CPNP has been the strength of local residents in undertaking conservation initiatives, and their cooperative monitoring and enforcement of park regulations, sharing surveillance, fauna protection and ocean cleanliness efforts.

The Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park is perhaps the world’s best example of how local initiatives can lead to genuine (and hopefully permanent) environmental protection. The researchers describe it as “the most robust marine park in the world” and say that “The most striking result of the paper… is that fish communities at a depleted site can recover up to a level comparable to remote, pristine sites that have never been fished by humans.”

Here’s hoping that the residents of other parts of Mexico’s coastline threatened by fishing or tourism developments take similar actions and manage to achieve equally positive results for their areas.

Citation:

Aburto-Oropeza O, Erisman B, Galland GR, Mascareñas-Osorio I, Sala E, et al. (2011) Large Recovery of Fish Biomass in a No-Take Marine Reserve. Public Library of Science (PLoS) ONE 6(8): e23601. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0023601

Further reading:

For an exceptionally informative series of papers (in Spanish) on all aspects of tourism and sustainability in Cabo Pulmo, see Tourism and sustainability in Cabo Pulmo, published in 2008 (large pdf file).

Another valuable resource (also in Spanish) is Greenpeace Spain’s position paper entitled Cabo Cortés, destruyendo el paraíso (“Cabo Cortés: destroying paradise”) (pdf file)

How ecological is ecotourism in Mexico?

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Jun 162011
 

Ecotourism is often touted as one solution to many of the potential woes associated with conventional resort tourism. It should come as no surprise to find that Mexico has embraced ecotourism: Mexico’s biodiversity is phenomenal. It is one of the five most important countries in the world in terms of biodiversity:

To be ecologically successful, ecotourism probably has to be small-scale. Constructing the infrastructure necessary for large-scale coastal ecotourism projects often involves the destruction of highly productive (in ecological terms) wetlands, including tropical mangroves. These ecosystems play a vital role in helping preserve biodiversity and their destruction has serious long-term economic implications for fishing, port and marina access, coastline preservation and beach-based tourism.

Marine biodiversity

Mangroves (pictured on the right of the image) are especially vulnerable, with an undeserved reputation for being impenetrable thickets harboring noxious insects and reptiles. Mangroves sequester carbon and help reduce the organic content of water. Their roots bind unstable coasts, preventing erosion and acting as a natural barrier against hurricanes. They are important breeding, shelter and feeding places for fish, crustaceans and birds as well as being a source of charcoal, firewood, wood and roofing materials. They offer economic opportunities of fishing for shrimp, mollusk, fish and crustaceans.

In the year 2000, the total area of mangroves along Mexican coasts was estimated at 880,000 hectares (2.2 million acres), approximately two-thirds on the Atlantic and Caribbean coasts, and one-third on the Pacific. The annual loss of mangroves is estimated to be between 2.5% and 5% of this area. Even with the lower rate of loss, by 2025 mangroves will occupy only half of their 2000 area. In 2007 Mexico enacted federal legislation to protect existing mangroves.

The unique habitats of coral reefs are also at risk. Mexico has important zones of coral from the Baja California Peninsula and Sea of Cortés in the north to Cozumel Island and Chinchorro Bank in the south. The latter area is the northernmost extension of the Meso-American Barrier Reef system which is the world’s second largest reef system after Australia’s Barrier Reef. Marine pollution, overfishing and tourism have all hastened the decline of coral reefs,though many areas are now protected.

Even animal migrations are considered at risk. Some studies have shown that the number of tourists viewing the whale migrations off the coast of Baja California, for instance, is already having an adverse effect on the whales’ breeding habits.

– – –

This is an excerpt from chapter 19 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico. Buy your copy today, and learn more about Mexico’s fascinating geography. The more knowledge you acquire, the more pleasure you will derive from your next trip to Mexico!

Why Las Tuxtlas Biosphere Reserve is well worth a visit

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Jun 132011
 

In a recent post, we looked at an Enchanted Lake in southern Mexico, in the Sierra de las Tuxtlas, near Catemaco in the Gulf Coast state of Veracruz. In this post we take a look at the surrounding Las Tuxtlas Biosphere Reserve.

Tuxtlas biosphere reserve

Scenically, the entire Tuxtlas region is one of the most fabulously beautiful in all of Mexico. High temperatures combined with lots of rainfall result in luxuriant vegetation and boundless wildlife. Average monthly temperatures range from a pleasant 21 degrees C (70 degrees F) in January to a high of 28 degrees C (82 degrees F) in May, just before the rainy season kicks in. During the rainy season, from June to October, some 2000 mm (79 inches) of rain falls, often in late afternoon tropical deluges.

The jungle masking the lower slopes of the San Martín volcano gradually merges into tropical cloud forest at higher altitudes. Competing with the Silk Cotton (Kapok) and Ficus trees for light and sustenance are ground-hugging ferns. Overhead, the tangle of tree branches provides support for thousands of non-parasitic bromeliads (“air” plants) and orchids. More than 1300 species of flowering plants have been identified in this classic area for Neotropical ecology.

Bird-watchers are likely to spot the spectacular Keel-billed Toucan, or hear a Tody Motmot. Smaller birds include several species of hummingbird; look for the endemic Long-tailed Sabrewing. About half of all the bird species recorded in Mexico have been seen here, but birds are not the only wild animals inhabiting the jungle. Ocelots and tapirs are regularly seen and you may be lucky enough to see spider monkeys playing overhead in the canopy.

Clearance of the land for grazing and cultivation of the slopes to grow tobacco, bananas and sugar cane have reduced the original jungle to a relatively small number of isolated fragments. Fortuitously, this provides more varied habitats than the original vegetation, helping to enrich the area’s wildlife, further enhancing the region’s reputation as an ornithological and botanical paradise.

Fortunately an extensive area of this region was declared a Biosphere Reserve in 1998, ensuring that conservation programs now go hand-in-hand with human activities. The total area forming the Reserva de la Biósfera “Los Tuxtlas” is 155,122 hectares (380,000 acres).

Chapter 5 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico focuses on Mexico’s ecosystems and biodiversity.  Chapter 30 analyzes environmental issues and trends including current environmental threats and efforts to protect the environment.  Buy your copy today to have a handy reference guide to all major aspects of Mexico’s geography!

The nondescript city of Zitácuaro, Michoacán, is the unhappy star of a New Yorker article

 Mexico's geography in the Press  Comments Off on The nondescript city of Zitácuaro, Michoacán, is the unhappy star of a New Yorker article
Nov 132010
 

The city of Zitácuaro in the state of Michoacán had played an important part in Mexican history (hence its full official name of Heróica Zitácuaro) but was largely ignored by tourists until the early 1980s. Things changed, and tourists started coming, when the locations of the Monarch butterfly overwintering sites were first published. The Monarchs had been undertaking their amazing annual migration from Canada and the USA to the rugged mountains close to Zitácuaro for hundreds, possibly thousands of years, but it was only in the early 1980s when articles in newspapers and science journals first provided locational details.

The Monarch butterflies have since become one of the major ecotourist attractions in this part of Mexico. On a single day in February, more than 5,000 tourists enter the main Monarch reserve El Rosario, accessed from either Angangueo or Ocampo, about 40 minutes driving time from Zitácuaro. Hotels in this area have done well out of the annual November-March “butterfly season”. Indeed, the demand led to the construction of several new hotels in the area, some of them more than large enough to handle tourist groups arriving by the coachload.

In 1980, I began leading regular fieldtrips to Zitácuaro and its surrounds, the major attractions being wonderful scenery and an interesting mix of settlement types, covering everything from 4-hut hamlets to the medium-sized city of Zitácuaro, which had a population at the time of about 100,000.  Over the years, I’ve watched Zitácuaro grow into a much larger city. When the bypass was first built, and federal Highway 15 rerouted around the town instead of along Avenida Revolución, it was ignored by most motorists, who preferred to drive through the city, often stopping for gas or food before continuing their journey. Within a few years, services had begun to spring up, as if by magic, alongside the bypass. Today, the city has spread well beyond the confines of the bypass.

In recent years, violence related to drug trafficking has reached the city. This is perhaps somewhat surprising, given its location far from the USA border, and far from the traditional territories of the main drug cartels. But, as we saw in an earlier post (The geography of drug trafficking in Mexico),  Zitácuaro is very close to the edge of the “territories in dispute” immediately to the west of Mexico City. Violence in these areas is growing as rival groups seek to control the lucrative drug trade. The La Familia crime group is responsible for most drug-related violence in Michoacán.

An article in the New Yorker earlier this year described in detail how La Familia has increasingly threatened the rule of law in  Zitácuaro. The article serves as a good introduction to how an ordinary Mexican city – in this case Zitácuaro – can be dramatically changed by a committed and ruthless criminal group.

An overview of the geography of drug trafficking in Mexico forms part of chapter 20 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico. Buy your copy today!

Related post about drug cartels in Mexico:

The thorny issues of plant and animal trafficking and biopiracy in Mexico

 Excerpts from Geo-Mexico  Comments Off on The thorny issues of plant and animal trafficking and biopiracy in Mexico
Oct 282010
 

In several previous posts we examined the megadiversity of Mexico’s ecosystems which include more than 10% of all the world’s living species.

Mexico’s biodiversity is under pressure from several quarters.

Plant and animal trafficking

Selling wildlife by the roadside in Chihuahua state

Roadside entrepreneurs sell wildlife in Chihuahua state. Photo: Tony Burton; all rights reserved.

Plant and animal trafficking is the country’s third largest criminal activity after illegal drugs and arms smuggling. Favored items include cacti, live birds (some species sell for upwards of $100,000), spider monkeys, sea turtles, snakes and jaguars. Mexico is one of 175 nations that have signed the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) but this has had no discernible effect on the trafficking of flora and fauna.

Biopiracy

Mexico’s megadiversity presents both opportunities, for activities such as ecotourism, as well as challenges such as preventing biopiracy. In its simplest form, biopiracy occurs whenever a bioprospector takes biological material from a place and then acquires a patent or intellectual property rights on it, or one of its constituents, elsewhere. The best documented example of biopiracy in Mexico occurred in 1999 when a US patent was granted to Colorado-based company Pod-ners for the exclusive right to market Enola beans bred from Mexican yellow beans bought only five years previously. Mexico’s bean export business collapsed overnight as shippers were accused of patent infringement. Yellow bean production in Sinaloa fell by 62% in three years.

Mexican growers subsequently proved that the yellow beans they had been breeding for decades are genetically identical to Enola beans but the damage had been done. Subsequently, the patent was challenged by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture. In 2008 the US patent office finally reversed its decision and rejected any patent claims on yellow beans. While this case of biopiracy was thwarted, acts of biopiracy, by their very nature, are usually clandestine and there are certain to be other instances in the future.

This is an excerpt from chapter 30 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico. Buy your copy today, and learn more about Mexico’s fascinating geography. The more knowledge you acquire, the more pleasure you will derive from your next trip to Mexico!

The geography of Mexico’s caves

 Mexico's geography in the Press  Comments Off on The geography of Mexico’s caves
Oct 022010
 

For a fascinating overview of caves and caving in Mexico, see John Pint’s great article and image gallery (link below) on MexConnect. Pint is an accomplished caver and author who has explored caves on several continents. His writing is clear and authoritative, much of it based on his own first-hand experiences and investigations.

Caves have played an important part in Mexico’s history. The Maya on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, which is largely limestone, and now known to be riddled by amazing interconnected sinkholes and subterranean tunnels, viewed caves as entrances to an underworld. They revered some caves in particular, adorning them with lavish offerings.

Cacahuamilpa cave

The sinkholes of the Yucatán Peninsula are beautiful, but are not all that deep. In the state of Tamaulipas, El Zacatón is a sinkhole that is considered the deepest water-filled sinkhole in the world.

In the early days of tourism in Mexico, the Cacahuamilpa Caverns near Taxco (Guerrero) were a popular place to visit. The English traveler Mrs. Alec Tweedie recalls in Mexico as I saw it how she was deep underground in these caves when a telegram arrived bearing the sad news that Queen Victoria had passed away. (If only postal and telegraph services were that efficient today!)

In recent years, scientists have begun to unravel the mysteries of how strange forms of life can thrive deep underground, even in environments that are noxious to humans. The sulfur-loving organisms of the Cueva de la Villa Luz in the state of Tabasco are a much-studied example.

Pint also discusses lava caves, of which Mexico has some fine examples. One of the most visited lava caves in the world must be that which plays home to the La Gruta restaurant, close to the famous archaeological site of Teotihuacan.

And, finally, for one of the most spectacular caves imaginable, how about the Naica crystal caves?

Visit John Pint’s website for a selection of his writing, with many original articles, illustrated with great photographs, about individual caves in Mexico.

Sadly, we did not have room in Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico to delve beneath the surface into the wonders of Mexico’s caves.  Mexico’s landforms are discussed in chapter 3, which may be expanded in future editions, depending on the feedback from readers like you. If you have not yet read a copy, please ask your local library for a copy, or better yet, please consider purchaing your own copy via this website or amazon.com

Feedback from readers about any aspect of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico is welcomed.

Sep 152010
 

The remote Copper Canyon region in northern Mexico is the home of 50,000 Tarahumara Indians who have preserved much of their distinctive culture (language, dress, customs, beliefs) into this century, partly because of their extreme remoteness. Many live untouched by the trappings of modern civilization, moving between caves just below the canyon rim and warmer, winter shelters at lower altitude near the Urique River.

Modern hotels are encroaching on the Copper Canyon

Modern hotels are encroaching on the Copper Canyon, and changing the views in this wilderness region. Photo: Tony Burton; all rights reserved.

Their radically different lifestyle and extreme isolation beg many questions. Their ancestral homelands are already being invaded by marijuana-growers and trampled on by outside developers who have very different notions of property rights and very different customs.

Questions to think about:

  • Are the Tarahumara Indians really in any position to make informed decisions about their future?
  • Should we leave them entirely alone and let them decide entirely for themselves?
  • Should we offer education about what we would consider the benefits of the modern world?
  • Should we improve their access to health services and hospitals?
  • Should we encourage them to acquire computers and internet access?
  • Might these progressive elements destroy their existing lifestyle, break down their social and political structures and ultimately wipe them out?
  • What do YOU think? Now, imagine you were a Tarahumara Indian – would you think the same?
  • Who should decide the future of this region?

Previous Geo-Mexico posts related to the Copper Canyon:

Chapter 10 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico is devoted to Mexico’s indigenous peoples, including the Tarahumara Indians. If you have enjoyed this post, please suggest to your local library that they purchase a copy to enhance their collection.