The Stunning Colima Countryside

2014 February 2014 Nature Suzanne A. Marshall

By Suzanne A. Marshall from the February 2014 Edition

When friends invited us on a daytrip to explore the local countryside in Colima, we couldn’t resist. We’ve loved road trips all our lives and have been known to hop in our car and drive to San Francisco from central Alberta, staying in small towns and bed & breakfasts along the way. For us it is truly the way to ‘feel’ the area and get to know how people really live. There are so many wonderful hidden places to explore and lovely people to meet.

So off we went one morning with a loosely scheduled destination to see Colima National Park. We simply headed east out of Manzanillo. The countryside was remarkably green and lush for January and I assume the extra rainfall this winter was the reason. We passed large tracts of land newly planted with peppers and vegetables. What stood out for me were the endless fields of tall sugar cane, one of Mexico’s most important crops. There were miles and miles of mature fields of sugar cane everywhere, as well as the odd large truck loaded down with the harvest. What was especially beautiful to me were the stalks of fluffy ‘pampas-type grass’ [ED: Cortaderia selloana Pampas grass] shooting out of the sugar cane for as far as the eye could see.

With the brilliant sunlight and the breezes blowing it was amazing and turned out to be even more so when we returned home later into the sunset. I wanted to stop the car, jump the fences and cut a bunch of stalks to display in some lovely urn on our terrace or in the condo.

Sugar Cane ‘pampas’ plumesSugar Cane ‘pampas’ plumes

With quality highways before us, we drove through the mountainous terrain of this lovely Mexican state. When one has been influenced by so many ‘desert-like’ images of

Mexico through movies or documentaries showing endless plains and cacti, Colima is a delightful surprise of agricultural communities and lush rolling hills, mountains and canyons.

Having stopped for an early lunch, we had now nailed down a destination to explore: Colima’s Parque Nacional Volcan or Volcano National Park. The road sign stated 17 klm. to the park gate so off we went on a hard packed, obviously well-used dirt road. There were a number of quad vehicles, dirt bikes and trucks returning as we waved and continued on what ended up being a pretty steep grade uphill, complete with built in topes (speed bumps) and glimpses of deep valleys below us. Finally, my husband couldn’t resist the temptation of hauling out his IPhone and opening a GPS application which was getting an unexpectedly good signal.

At this time we had already reached over a 3,000 foot elevation (thank you GPS) and were enjoying forests, beautiful mountain flowers and bird life. Still, no park gates at this point. We were committed now, no going back so we just relaxed and kept on going.

Our amigo and driver, happy to be out of the car and enjoying the vista

The entire journey uphill was about an hour. We could not believe our eyes when we arrived. We were met by park workers busy with construction of various buildings for a new with an information booth beside the gates. There were several trucks inside and other adventurers looking around. What really put us in shock for a few minutes as we parked the car was the fact that the park staff were wearing winter parkas and toques! Upon re-checking our GPS location we now found out that we were at an elevation of 10,000 feet! In a few more minutes we would be told that the temperature at this level was 2 degrees. Oh my goodness, talk about unprepared! I had brought an extra shirt and my girlfriend had the smarts to bring a yoga jacket, a little help, but not for too long. (There is a lesson to be learned here. We were all in shorts, t-shirts and sandals)

Our Amiga with Gate Staff at Colima Volcano National Park – Temp. 2C/35F

Well we were here now and all of us agreed that a look around was in order. Being Canadians we felt pretty much at home with the temperature so we all bailed out. First thing I noticed was the big snow-capped mountain and hills forested with evergreens. It kind of felt like home and was a bit of a reprieve from the heat below. Since at this point we were only at the gate, we decided that to drive through the park unprepared might not be wise, but we were thoroughly engaged by this local area. The drive was completely worth this stunning surprise and experiencing another side of Mexico that we had not expected.

Mountain top in Colima Volcano National Park

We learned that there is a park program underway to control soil erosion preserving access to these beautiful areas. Loosely screened mats are in the process of being laid in many areas allowing seeded grasses to take hold and fortify the hillsides with the strength of their roots and water diversion. Heavy rainfalls have eroded mountainsides and canyons, threatening a diverse biology and wildlife.

Erosion Control Program in Colima Volcano National ParkErosion Control Program in Colima Volcano National Park

As we began our journey back down the mountain, we stopped at the roadside for a closer look at the vast valley below. It was a stunning vista and completely natural. As an added bonus to our lovely day, we noticed movement in the bushes falling away below us. Lo’ and behold, we saw hundreds of scarlet-throated humming birds feeding on the plentiful blossoms of the bushes. I am always honored to catch site of these beautiful creatures as they dart around quickly and are very well camouflaged in the greenery. But to see so many at once was a real thrill.

We tried to shoot photos but none did justice to the little critters. So I have included some shots with our little friends ‘enhanced’ for recognition. I wonder if this is a special feeding area for them. If so, the erosion prevention program will hopefully protect this area for them.

Ruby Throated Hummingbird

So with the day waning, we headed back feeling well rewarded for our spontaneity. We decided to drive the ‘free’ highway (no toll booths) for part of the journey home and were again rewarded by spectacular scenery that cannot be seen from the bigger, busier thoroughfare. We passed beautiful villages nestled at the foot of the hills and eventually found our way back onto the main freeway. We were just in time to see those beautiful grasses backlit by the setting sun and leaving an impression that I will never forget. It is so wonderful here.

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