La Presa de la Tortuga is a small body of water located 20 kilometers west of Guadalajara and accessible from Highway 70. Last Sunday, my friend Rodrigo Orozco suggested we go for a hike in the wooded area west of this lake.
The drive from the Tala highway to the lake took no more than a couple of minutes along a dirt road in good condition.
We parked under the shade of a big guamuchil tree offering a great view of the lake, where we could see coots and ducks swimming about with egrets on the shore.
Here we were situated right next to the dam with a little path leading down to its base. While most dams I’ve seen are rather ugly structures, this one had a good look, with its spillover flowing in great wide sheets of water.
Below us we found both a canal and a stream flowing west through what must once have been a beautiful forest, still populated by hundreds of graceful weeping willows. Because it is now the dry season, we could wander about these woods with no difficulty, but it was obvious that during the rains most of the area becomes marshy. Nevertheless, even though it was midday, we spotted a kingfisher and could hear many other birds off in the distance. This wetland and the lake might be great for birdwatching during the rainy season.
Curiously, it was here that we spotted the tallest clethra trees we’ve ever seen anywhere. This tree, Clethra rosei, is endemic to the Primavera Forest where it never gets anywhere as tall as the ones we found growing in this little wetland, which, with a bit of care, could be transformed into a pleasant park.
Since Laguna La Tortuga is oriented east-west, I mentioned it later that day to my neighbor, geologist-birdwatcher Chris Lloyd. “Maybe this dam would be a good vantage point for viewing the Blood Moon Eclipse tonight, in the eastern sky,” I suggested. “Especially if we can see it reflected on the surface of this beautiful lake.
Since Chris was interested in photographing the eclipse from a place not badly affected by Guadalajara’s glow, we decided to head for Tortuga Lake after sunset. But instead of driving to the dam, we decided to aim for the northwest corner of the lake, from which we expected to have a magnificent view of the eastern sky.
“No problem,” said Chris, “I go birding here and I know another way to get there.”That corner of the lake, however, cannot be reached by the route I had taken earlier in the day.
We turned off Highway 70 onto a series of dirt roads. Then, suddenly, the headlights revealed a river in front of us.
"No problem,” said Chris. It’s not deep.”
Fortunately, Chris has a big truck. Into the river we plunged, eventually emerging again on our dirt road. Onward we drove, this way and that, and suddenly, once again, our headlights revealed … whatever it was, it resembled a swamp much more than a road.
Apparently the short but rather violent storms that characterized the last rainy season had created havoc in these parts and we ended up watching the eclipse on the sandy bank of the river we had crossed instead of on the shore of Lake Tortuga.
There we sat in camping chairs, each of us peering through a camera mounted on a tripod. As we waited for the celestial event to take place, Chris explained his plan to take a series of shots throughout the eclipse and then arrange them along a curve, to produce a panoramic view of the event.
Photographing the whole thing turned out to be a rather tricky business. Keeping the ever-dimming moon in focus was one problem. Capturing anything at all once it was eclipsed was another. And then to make matters worse, during the final hour of the event, the moon was straight above our heads. What an effective way to put a crick in your neck!
Those four hours of moon watching were also characterized by ever dropping temperatures. “Hmm, think I’d better put on another layer,” each of us would mumble time and again.
Although my photos of the Blood Moon Eclipse were a fizzle, Chris’ turned out dramatically and I am grateful he offered them to accompany this article.
If you want to visit la Presa de la Tortuga and the woods beneath the dam, just search for “N20.72308 W103.63838” in Google Maps and don’t worry, you won’t end up in the river! Driving time from Guadalajara: 30 minutes. From Ajijic, add an hour.