Would you like to escape from urban noise, fumes and blight for an hour or so and commune with nature in the middle of nowhere?
There are many places near Guadalajara where you can do this, but not all of them are reachable by ordinary cars and doable in a couple of hours.
These are two reasons why you should head for Sheltered Spring next time you want to get away from it all.
This short, one-hour hike will not only give you a taste of the Primavera pine and oak forest, but will also acquaint you with the Primavera Caldera, which exploded 95,000 years ago and left its history on the canyon walls through which you will pass.
The hike starts at the southern end of Pinar de la Venta, a small community located eight kilometers west of Guadalajara on the highway to Nogales. I described this caminata in Chapter 18 of “Outdoors in Western Mexico,” but later heard that illustrator and cartoonist Jesús Moreno’s map to the place – charming as it is – was not always helpful for finding the spot. Hopefully, the Wikiloc link below will make it easy for you to drive and hike to this spring, known locally as La Atarjea Tapada. Even if you’ve been here before, you may want to make a new visit because the heavy rains of 2017 have eroded away great sections of the Dry River (Río Seco), revealing fascinating formations previously underground.
The hike begins at a bend in the Río Seco, newly dominated by gigantic chunks of pumice, a volcanic rock so light that it floats. Here, the river bed is a meter or two below where it was before the rains of 2017, exposing layers of sediment deposited at the bottom of the big lake which filled the Primavera Caldera for some 20,000 years. For a long distance you can now follow the contact point between the lake bottom and the giant pumice horizon created when huge blocks of pumice, floating on the lake’s surface, became so waterlogged that they sank.
The Río Seco continues south for 2.6 kilometers, but if you want to visit the Sheltered Spring, you must turn right (west) at N20.71207 W103.52171. This brings you into a slot canyon parallel to the Río Seco, leading directly to the Sheltered Spring. Along the way, you may spot Pine Pink orchids (Bletia purpurea), which bloom in December, electric-blue Dayflowers (also called Widow’s Tears), wild mint and Mala Mujer (Bad Woman), a member of the tomato family whose spiked leaves are highly irritating.
After a walk of about 45 minutes from your car, you’ll come to Sheltered Spring, a cave-like opening in a high, smooth, curving canyon wall, from whose ceiling delicious potable water drips all year round. Camera traps placed here by forest rangers reveal that a multitude of animals, including lynxes, peccaries and pumas, visit this little pool by night.
The Sheltered Spring was probably also the main source of water for native people who lived on the mesa directly above. If you are adventurous and in good shape, you may want to follow an old path up the steep cliff side and look for the foundations of some 20 ancient structures located among the pines and oaks covering the mesa.
How to get there
Follow Highway 15 out of Guadalajara west (toward Tepic and Nogales). Pass Rancho Contento and, 9.5 kms from the Periférico look for a large, rectangular arch, which is the entrance to Pinar de la Venta. Make a U turn at the next “retorno” and go back to the arch. Tell the guards you are going to park in the “tercera sección,” the undeveloped third section of Pinar, in order to hike in the “barranca.” Pinar is not a private community, so they have to let you in. The easiest way to find the driving route through Pinar de la Venta and the hiking route to your goal is to search for “Sheltered Spring 2017” at Wikiloc.com. Download the Wikiloc app to your smartphone and off you go. If this isn’t possible, you can use Google Maps to get to the parking spot. Just ask to go to Paseo de la Casuarina, Pinar de la Venta. At the bottom of the hill you will come to Retorno del Paseo de la Casuarina. Turn left here and drive to the edge of a big canyon. Here, the cobblestone road turns left and parallels the arroyo. Drive past four non-functioning electric power poles and park near a Semarnap survey marker showing the boundary of the Primavera Forest. Here you can scramble down into the arroyo heading south. Follow the main canyon about 350 meters and turn right. In a minute or two you will come to an arroyo which twists and turns but always takes you south. Sheltered Spring is a half hour walk from this point. Driving time from the Guadalajara Periférico to Paseo de la Casuarina: about 20 minutes.