|Pico de Orizaba|
I was in a pick-up truck with my SEMARNAT co-workers on a highway in Puebla's altiplano, driving southeast towards Tehuacan. We were going to visit small communities in the Sierra Negra mountain range that divides the state of Puebla from the state of Veracruz. Pico de Orizaba defines the northwestern end of the range, the more traversed, populated part of the mountains. We were headed in the opposite direction.
We arrived in Tehuacan, the "land of the gods" in nahuatl, at about 10am. Tehuacan lies in a valley about 1,500 meters above sea level. The Sierra Negras form the northern edge of that valley. Tall peaks, steep slopes, and sheer rock faces loomed large over the city, forming an intimidating barrier that stretched as far as I could see in both directions. All of the moisture that collects in the air over the Gulf of Mexico falls on the eastern Veracruz side of the Sierra Negras, leaving Tehuacan hot and dry.
Although seemingly impenetrable, we began our journey up and over the wall. A narrow road, prone to rockslides, wound its way along dangerous cliffs. Parts of the road had been washed out recently - within the last ten years - and had not been repaired. It seemed unlikely that the guard rails could stop the force of our multi-ton truck if they had to. Desert scrub vegetation was accentuated with forty foot tall candelabra and "old man's beard" cactus.
|Mountain creek in the oak forest.|
Soon we had reached the top of the mountain range, about 3,500 meters above sea level. The oak forests were below us and had transitioned into a blanketing pine forest. A constant, cool breeze blew through the tops of the trees. The air moving through the pine needles was the only sound we could hear.
As we began our descent down the other side of the mountains, the forests were no longer pristine and untouched. Large swaths of trees had been cut and replaced with pastures or corn fields. At about 2,000 meters our road became engulfed in fog. We were heading down through a high, narrow valley. In most places its seep walls were barren with thousands of acres of rock that was once tropical cloud forest, once dominated by tree ferns and short hardwoods. The people who live here use slash and burn techniques to make room for corn fields. Unfortunately, their new corn fields last only two or three years; the deforested slopes quickly erode, leaving only rock not even suitable for corn. Over the last fifty years the people that live here have continued to move up the valley, into ever steeper and less hospitable parts of the mountains, searching for what little land is left to farm, before moving on again. Sierra Negra means black mountains in English. It was named that because its deep forests made the mountains appear black from below. In a few years, the name won't mean anything.
|Church in the cloud forest.|
|Slash and burn in the cloud forest.|
|A mother and child at the meeting.|
|A river in the rainforest.|
|Snow on the road.|
We passed through Tehuacan at 10am, 24 hours after leaving Tehuacan the day before. In that short amount of time, we had passed through deserts, primordial oak and pine forests, the remnants of cloud forests, and through a rainforested plain, all in the same mountain range. We had driven through communities whose principal language wasn't Spanish or English, but one of the many indigenous languages spoken in Mexico. We stayed in a town that was disconnected from the world; that wasn't part of Veracruz because of arbitrary political boundaries, and that wasn't quite part of Puebla because of its remoteness. And the trip ended with a snow storm in the hot, dry altiplano desert.
|Snow along the highway.|
|A dust storm followed the snow.|