The Nacapule Canyon
The Sierra el Aguaje is the result of roughly 100 million years of volcanic activity, covering the earth with layers of ash and lava, then squeezing it together, twisting, folding and pushing up this range of low mountains. Deposition was followed by erosion. Flowing water gradually carved deep canyons separating the mountains. Some water soaked into the ground, following and filling the layers of porous ash, between layers of impervious lava.
In times more recent past this region was much wetter than it is now and was blanketed in a tropical deciduous forest. As the climate changed, rainfall diminished and the forest receded southward to be replaced with desert vegetation. Despite the desert climate, a few refuges remain. Deep canyons, shaded most of the day and cut so deep as to expose the groundwater can still be found. Here the floor is choked with a great variety of trees and shrubs and draped in vines. Outside of these canyons, such a forest is to be found hundreds of kilometres to the south.
The Nacapule Canyon, near San Carlos, Sonora, is the most famous of these pockets of tropical deciduous forest. Under the protection of CEDES, the Sonoran Commission of Ecology and Sustainable Development, the canyon is now a tourist attraction. It is easily accessible by automobile, and has clean, well-kept trails. Much of the original vegetation is gone now, but more due to the scouring effects of Hurricane Jimena than from the tramplings of visitors. It still is a stunning sight, with vertical cliffs and strangely eroded rocks. The fig tree, from which the canyon gets its name is still there, though some of it was swept away by the hurricane’s floodwaters.
As you hike up the canyon it splits in two. Both routes are worth following. The path to the right follows a small stream past pools of clear water shaded by palms and rock cliffs, and ends in an impressive cave. You can hike out further, which will take you right out of the canyon to a view of the surrounding hills across a broad valley.
The left (or more straight-ahead) route takes you up a rope ladder to a series of pools. Careful searching will yield a glimpse of a frog found nowhere else. Imagine the improbability of finding a frog in the middle of the desert. This route ends for most people in a vertical (usually dry) waterfall above a pool of dark water. The more nimble among us may want to continue, up and out of the canyon to more views of the surrounding desert.
This is not a big hike, but is definitely worth the time to get there, and the twenty peso entry fee. Be sure to bring water and expect to take out with you everything you bring in, and maybe a bit more.