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Giant stone balls, majestic ruins & millions of cosmos flowers

The mines of El Amparo were among Mexico’s most successful and the ruins of that grandiose enterprise are well worth a visit.

pg8aRecently I returned to El Amparo to check out another curiosity there: several giant stone balls, similar to the Piedras Bola of Ahualulco that were said to be lying about in the area. Large, naturally formed stone balls are called megaspherulites and those of Ahualulco gained international fame back in 1969 when they appeared on the cover of National Geographic Magazine.

The usual way to reach El Amparo is from the town of Etzatlán, located 65 kilometers northwest of Guadalajara, but I recently learned you could also get there from Ahualulco – if you had four-wheel drive. By chance I had bumped into the owner of a Jeep who was interested in testing the mettle of his metal.

“Let’s go look for the giant stone balls of Amparo on Sunday,” I proposed, “along what I hope will be a very scenic route.”

Pedro Muñoz and Arturo Ortega were game for adventure and off we went. Curiously, ten kilometers from Ahualulco, we found a sort of balneario at a little rancho called Tiro Patria, including picnic tables set up next to a stream with a picturesque waterhole. This spot might be a godsend for sweaty cyclists coming the other way, after pedaling 22 kilometers from Etzatlán.

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pg8bAfter crossing that same stream numerous times, we gained elevation and soon had a great view of the old Transformer Building and crushing mills at Las Jiménez. Once we passed Las Jiménez, we came to a giant stone ball stuck in the embankment on the side of the road. This ball has an approximated diameter of 2.5 meters and, explained geologist Chris Lloyd, it did not roll here from anywhere but was formed in situ as evidenced by the layer of volcanic ash it was poking out of. While various individuals in the past theorized that the Bolas were formed by a process of crystalization inside the slowly cooling pyroclastic flow, Lloyd’s examination of several broken balls revealed no signs of crystal growth as seen in geodes and other spherulites. “I’m still looking for a good explanation of their formation,” commented the Canadian geologist.

pg8cOur mission on this visit was to check rumors that there were more giant balls down in an arroyo off the side of the camino. The first of these we found just below the level of the road, with a diameter of about 2.6 meters. Then, down the arroyo we clambered, slipping and sliding on the moss and slime-covered rocks. After 26 meters we found another stone ball, this one free standing, easy to measure and home to a tiny scorpion we surprised under a thin layer of moss. La Bola del Alacrancito had a diameter of 2.1 meters. Twenty-four meters beyond and below it, we found one last ball, 2.9 meters in diameter.

Having completed our mission, we rolled up the road to the “ghost town” of Amparo where there are a sufficient number of flesh-and-blood inhabitants to merit a brand-new school. All around this pueblito lie the extensive ruins of pg8dbuildings owned by the Amparo Mining Company, now covered with vines and full of weeds. We visited the Casa del Rayo where the miners received their salaries, and the Company Store where most of their hard-earned cash eventually ended up, frequently leaving them in debt for the rest of their years, until a slow death caused by acute silicosis freed their immortal souls from their worn-out bodies.

Pondering these matters, we drove on towards Etzatlán, enjoying, on one side of the road, a spectacular view of Jalisco’s Valles region, and on the other, hill after hill covered with a golden carpet of Sulfur Cosmos flowers as far as the eye could see.

If you are interested in the rich, complex and sometimes tragic history of this place, just Google “Amparo mine.” As for the Piedras Bola, see “The Great Stone Balls of Ahualulco,” chapter one of “Outdoors in Western Mexico 2.”

How to get there

At Wikiloc.com, look for “Amparo Bicycle Loop.” To do the whole route in a motor vehicle, you need four-wheel drive, but any high-clearance camioneta will get you from Etzatlán to Amparo and back. Driving time from Guadalajara to Etzatlán is about an hour and ten minutes. From Etzatlán to Amparo will take you another hour.

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