I ♥ La Sierra Gorda/Lost in the Fat Mountains
I took a ride out East of here into the beautiful Sierra Gordas two days ago. This is one of my favorite rides: about 150 miles each way of the most beautiful roads that twist and turn through Mexican high desert, alpine forest, and generally not much traffic. Then an attempted return on dirt roads. I enlisted my friends Marc, and Peter to join me.
Peter, (on the right), & I, (Marc was the only one who brought a camera on this ride).
Peter would accompany us on the ride out and then return to San Miguel. Marc and I would continue on another 76 kilometers over one of the most breath-taking sinuous mountain roads in all Mexico to the town of Jalpan, where we would spend the night, then plot a return route for the following day.
Our route would take us from San Miguel de Allende, to the Town of Dr. Mora, a pretty, but uninspiring ride. Shortly past Dr. Mora, the road to Victoria, seems to have the bottom drop out of it and begins a series of twists and turns descending a couple of thousand feet to the town of Victoria.
The road to Jalpan from Pinal de Amoles
From Victoria we continue East, and the road is in excellent condition as it snakes along the valley floor then over a ridge before dropping into the town of Santa Catarina. We stopped for a breakfast, (huevos con chorizo para mi), and continued on to the desert town of PeŮamiller, where Peter headed west toward Bernal, and Marc & I turned north toward Jalpan. The temperature, to our pleasure, drops as we ascend thousands of feet to the mountain town of Pinal de Amoles.
After our arrival in Jalpan, we headed north toward the Santa Maria River, but stopped at a tiendita for a couple of beers on the way. Had a nice little soirť there with Margarito and his dad, who were fixing a flat, and drinking their own cervezas, before continuing on to the rio, (which is beautiful).
We returned to Jalpan before dark and checked into El Hotel Economico, on the south end of town, where we negotiated a lower rate for two rooms, (both with 2 queen size beds), for 220 pesos per room, or about $19 US. The rooms were clean, and pleasant. Weíd asked Margarito where he liked to eat, and went there, (Karinas right by the BIG Mexican flag at the town crossroads). We both had enchiladas and a thin cut steak served with grilled onions and jalapenos, (cost = 50 pesos, or $4.35 US). Then back to the hotel for nightcaps on the balcony, and a good nights rest.
The plaza at Jalpan
That night we had decided to make our way back home via dirt roads. Using the Guia Roji, weíd spotted some roads out toward Rio Verde, which would take us in the general direction we wanted to go. The Mexican Atlas is pretty limited once you get off the state and Federally maintained roads, and we knew this before starting. So we werenít surprised when we jumped off the paved road where the map indicated, and later ascertained from the locals that we should have jumped off back the main road about 10 miles. They then told us that the farm track we were on continued on to the village where we could pick up the other dirt road we were looking for. So off we went on a pretty rugged 4-wheel drive road.
When we re-connected with the road we wanted, the quality and grading improved dramatically. There is a mining operation out this way toward the Presa Realito, and we stopped to talk to some of the parked mine truck operators for further directions, (the trucks were stopped in order to allow only one-way traffic on a narrow series of switchbacks in the road, which would have resulted in an impasse were two trucks to meet head-on in that section). They told us to take the road to the left before we arrived at the Presa, (lake).
We did so and the road maintainance deteriorated almost immediately.
We continued on and made several guesses when confronted with forks in the road. We tended to choose the left fork each time. This would prove to be our undoing in terms of reaching our intended destination.
We had to cross a couple of these log bridges,
and had to get out to open and close one cattle gate along the way.
After we made the second left fork, the road quality deteriorated even more, becoming little more than a glorified cattle track. Eventually we were getting deep into the mountains, when we spied a small village, (about 5 buildings), in a valley deep below us. These are some of the most rugged mountains Iíve seen, so there are few signs of civilization on the mountaintops, and just a few smatterings of houses, and corrals in the valleys.
We continued on, and began a series of steep switchbacks down to the valley below. After a half hour or so we arrived in the village, (Corral Quemada or a rough translation of ďburnt corralĒ), where I talked with an aged rancher and his son to see if this was the route to San Luis de la Paz. Marc and I were crestfallen when he told us that the town was back the way we had come, and that it was about 5 hours from us. Weíd been trekking around the Sierra Gordas all ready for about 5 hours, and knew we would not likely have enough gas to make it there. I was also becoming dehydrated, as it had been a few hours since our last signs of civilization and a tienda to sell us a bottle of water or a beer. Fortunately Marc had two bottles of agua, and we were maintaining.
Our rancher friend told us that if we continued on an hour or so we would be in the bigger town of Acero, and the roads were paved there. Not recognizing the townís name I asked him what the next big town was called, and he told me ďJalpanĒ. At this point I just had to laugh, and he smiled along with me. We had left Jalpan about 6 hours earlier, and in another three hours we would be grateful to be back again, and no closer to our final destination then when weíd started. If you let your mind go at moments like these you will see the humor in it, and we did just that. There was no place to buy a bottle of water, so we continued on through another series of switchbacks up the next mountain, and over the top. Along the way we started to run into signs of road work, and eventually work crews and earth-moving equipment. Then the road became graded gravel, and eventually a beautifully paved twisting and turning descent to a broader valley than we had seen since leaving the pavement that morning. Itís kinda weird to think of building that road back to Corral Quebrada, since the population of the valley could not have been more than 20 persons, and there was little else between the town below and the village. Maybe itís Mexicoís version of putting people back to work during the global financial crisis. Either way, it will be a beautiful ride when finished.
So we make our way into the town below, and upon entering recognize itís name as one we had passed through about 6-1/2 hours before, San Ciro de Acosta, (not "Acero"),on the highway toward Rio Verde. Grabbed a quick cerveza from a tienda in the town plaza, then on back to Jalpan where we gassed up, and decided to make a run for home leaving town at around 6 PM.
The drive over the mountain toward Penamiller and then on to Victoria was spectacularly beautiful as the sun waned, and the desert pastels came out in full bloom. By the time we reached Victoria, I had to stop to remove my sunglasses, as the sun was well and truly down by then. It was at this point I realized my low beam was burnt out. On top of that, I had last adjusted the headlamp carriage months ago, but had not ridden after dark since doing so. Now I realized, I had adjusted it to high. I was barely illuminated the ground in front of the bike, and in turn was blinding oncoming drivers as they approached. When they flashed me I at first tried turning to my low beam, to show them I had no low beam, and then switching back to my bright. Which in turn caused them to turn on their brights, and I was guaranteed not to see anything through my dusty visor.
We made it home about 9 PM and I was never happier to dismount after that ending to a really great day of riding, exploring, and getting lost in the Sierra Gordas in Central Mexico. Cheers!
Thanks for posting the trip! I just moved out of SMA after 5 years of living there and never got to see las gordas... I bet that trip would be double the beauty and probably tougher, during the rainy season. cheers
Marc and I took another ride into the Sierras Gordas this week. This time we rode out to Victoria and had a breakfast of tacos de bistek, then rode on to Santa Catarina,
The plaza in Victoria
where we diverted toward the mountain town of Artajea. Our friend Jorge had told us the ride out that way was beautiful, and he wasnít kidding. The road out of Santa Catarina starts a series of sharp twists and turns up into the mountains, and then into the next valley.
The views are so spectacular here, we didnít bother trying to ride too hard, as our vision was continually shifting from the twisting road surface toward the panoramas unfolding before us as we rounded each bend.
We started on the dirt section to Artajea, but after checking the map, saw a way to reach the mountain town of Xichu on another dirt road.
After asking some of the locals, we headed on a dirt section toward La Joya. This later hooked up with a brief section of pavement where we talked to some more locals and were told how to find the road to Xichu.
The road was dirt, but fairly well maintained with just a few short stretches that were 4-wheel-drivish.
We stopped at the one little town we passed through on this section, and had a couple of beers at the local tiendita, surrounded by about 15 of the local kids watching a soccer match on the store's TV.
About 50-60 miles later we arrived in Xichu, which is a cute little mountain town. Marc asked the local constabulary whether we could drink a beer in the town plaza, and he said not really, ďbut if we limited ourselves to 4 beers or less, it would be OKĒ. We smiled and told him that one would probably be enough for us. ☺
We left Xichu and started another great series of paved twisties back toward Victoria before heading off on another dirt section Marc had rode previously with some other buddies of ours. We again faced an instance where we had to make a judgment call on which fork in the road to take, and this time we chose the right, which turned out to be correct.
We arrived in Victoria within a half hour or so and continued on to home. Total travel time this trip was about 10 hours, and we made it home well before dark. Another great day's ride in the Sierras Gordas.
Raining donkeys redux
I should have posted my "Raining Donkeys" post in this thread, but had a brain fart. I'm copying and pasting it here just to keep all my writing about the Sierra Gorda in one place, so if you've all ready read the other thread=> Move along, nothing to see here...
The ďItís raining donkeysĒ or ďNo moí square tiresĒ tour of the Sierra Gordas
Itís been a long last couple of months. My Dad passed away in December, then I got sick in January, (like the kind of sick where you donít get out of bed much for three weeks), then on my first day of feeling relatively OK, my stator gave up the ghost, and I waited patiently for three weeks for the part to arrive. It arrived about a week ago, and I installed it. Then tentatively rode around the general area on some day rides and around town till I gained confidence that my installation was working as planned. It's time to book on down the road from San Miguel de Allende
My girlfriend had gone to the US on business, and I was on my own. One night after about a week of these local rides and decided I was due a mental health ride. A long one. On curvaceous roads. At about 9 PM, I Emailed a few friends who weren't sick, or attending weddings or such, and whom I thought might want to join me, and whom I thought would ride hard and fast, as I wanted to do, that I was leaving the following morning at 9 AM. I was pretty sure I would have no takers, but dutifully stopped at the local super market at 9 the following morning to be sure. In some ways I was relieved to be riding solo. I havenít done much of that in the past year and a half. So now I was free to ride wherever I wanted, and for a s long as I wanted, and had no one to consult about the route, the gas stops, or the breakfast lunch or beer stops, or the hotel to spend the night in. I lubed my chain, and when my clock struck 9:02, I cast off for the Sierra Gordas, a wonderfully convoluted piece of topography that begins a mere 45 minute ride from my home town.
That first 45 minutes is rather flat, straight, mundane riding through broad, flat, agricultural valleys surrounded by scenic mountains. After you pass the town of Dr. Mora to the East, the ground drops out from underneath you, as you begin a serpentine road that hugs a cliff face as it descends to a desert valley below the agricultural plain that leads to it. Itís truly a spectacular vista as you begin the descent to the town of Victoria below. From Victoria you begin a slalom course as the road hugs one desert valley wall after another as it snakes its way through the town of Santa Catarina, then Penamiller, and finally intersecting with Federal Highway 120 near the town of Pena Blanca.
Somewhere between Santa Catarina and Penamiller, I rounded a curve just in time to see a burro tumble down a 15 foot cliff into the middle of the road. He lay there struggling to get up, and I was feeling pretty sorry for him when I saw him finally pop up onto all four hooves, shake himself, and glance around as if to see if anybody was watching his pratfall. First time I ever saw a burro drop out of the sky. I suppose Mexico really can be dangerous.
The road surface deteriorates between San Miguel de las Palmas and Penamiller especially, but itís scenic, and heads up riding with enough diminishing radius curves to keep you honest, and focused on your riding.
Once you hit Hwy. 120, youíre in the puddin so to speak. Most of the curves are constant radius, the pavement is good, and they are continuous for the nest 60 miles or so till you reach the town of Jalpan in the next valley.
Itís been a hotter than normal day, and as you climb to the summit, you can feel the air cooling, and I even thought about stopping to put a sweater on under my mesh jacket, but thought better of it, and rode on to the mountain town of Pinal de Amoles where I stopped for a really nice steak in a habanero sauce with potatoes before descending the rest of the slalom course to Jalpan where I stopped for gas, then headed out immediately for the town of Xilitla a bit over the next mountain range, and through a corresponding series of continuous twisties.
On the road from Jalpan to Rio Verde
I think this ride, which Iíve made several times heretofore is a world class motorcycling road, and there are few passes in the US that Iíve found that can compete with it for the plain fun you will have riding it.
As I climb up the mountain toward Xilitla, Iím throwing the bike around as I have been for the past 4-1/2 hours when I notice itís getting a little squirrelly when I lean into the corners, so I stop to check it out. The axle nut is tight, and the air pressure is spot on, and there were no striations in the road surface to cause that kind of ďwalkingĒ, so I saddle up and continue on out of the desert biome of the west side of the range into the more lush Huasteca to the East. They get more rain here from the gulf, so they have more plant life, and seemingly more people.
Xilitla was the home of British aristocrat and eccentric Edward James, who in his thirties was one of the worldís richest men when he inherited his parentís and his uncleís fortunes. He retired to this corner of Mexico in the 1930s and began a labor of love building a jungle castle with follies abounding. All in all a rather creative guy, and worth visiting his estate which is now open to the public, and run by his caretakerís family. Iím not gonna visit this trip however. This trip is only about the ride. No tourist attractions for me.
I arrive in Xilitla relatively early in the day, but between the heat, and throwing the bike around corners for 5-1/2 hours Iím exhausted, so I check into the Hotel San Ignacio with their own covered parking lot, hot water, and a free bottle of water for 200 pesos/night, or about $16 US. After joking around with the owner, Elena, I went to my room and showered before venturing forth for food and cervezas. I ended up at a place Iíve eaten before called Cayo. The food is good, and they have a nice broad patio overlooking the hills and town, but the service, like the time Iíd eaten here before is abysmal. After waiting for them to come and check on me, ( I was the only person in the restaurant at that point), I finally got up and carried my bottle inside, and left it on the table next to where the one waitress was sitting. She never looked up, so I interrupted her daydream, and asked for another. She dutifully delivered another and never showed her face on the patio again. I decided I was gonna stay here and drink a lot of beer just to annoy her and here compadres, and began a routine of banging my bottle on the stone topped table whenever I was ready for a refill. And so it goes.
I was vindicated when I stopped into another restaurant bar, Casa Vieja on the plaza and met Jorge. When I told him where Iíd eaten, and how lousy the service was, he laughed and said I was the first gringo heíd met whoíd expressed what he and the rest of the town apparently knew quite well. In his own words: ďThey act like theyíre doing you a favor when they wait on youĒ. Amen. I hung out with Jorge for a bit longer than I expected to as he began buying me drinks, and then I would reciprocate. Heís lived in the US as an illegal alien for seven years, but had made the decision to return to Mexico, where the quality of life is better even if the pay isnít so good. He introduced me to his friends, and eventually I wandered the block and a half to my hotel, where I slept the sleep of the dead.
Tomorrow, Iím heading down the east slope of the mountains to Tamazunchale, then up Rt. 85 which is new turf for me, and looks really twisty and windy, and when I met with ADV rider kennyanc, he said it looked like an awesome ride, (although he had the misfortune of riding it during a cold/rainy/foggy spell), so ďYay!Ē, (for me).
Day 2 - Xilitla to San Joaquin, the long way around.
I wake up, and bid Elena adios, and begin descending the mountain through more wonderful curves. I stop in one of the first towns I get to to lube the chain, which I didnít want to do in the hotel parking area. When I look at the rear tire, I let out a ďHoly sh#t!Ē. The outer treads of the tire look like theyíve grown wings. Iím starting to figure out what was happening yesterday when the bike was slipping on the corners. I think the tires were melting. Does that sound reasonable? Anyway, they look pretty weird, but itís riding OK for now at least.
After Tamazunchale the road begins to climb into the improbably vertical world of the eastern flank of the Huasteca. Small groups of houses cling to this horizontally challenged world like roof jacks on a 16/12 pitched roof. Hope I donít see too many donkeys falling on the road today. There are more people here and consequently more traffic, and topes, (speed bumps). Still, itís not too bad. Iíve been able to safely get around all the trucks and cars in spite of the curvalicious nature of the road. Itís seriously beautiful. Vertical and beautiful. I canít imagine riding this ride as Kenny did in the rain and the cold and the fog. Lo siento amigo! Next time it will be better!
I detoured through Zimapan, but didnít stop. Iíve been here before, but never got a chance to see the center of town. South of town I took rt. 45 to the west and stopped for a break at Huichapan, at a carnitas place near the central plaza called Los Arcos. I liked the town, and the people. I asked directions from a cop on how to get over near San Juoquin where I want to spend the night. I head north from Huichapan toward Tecozautla, where my map shows a road in the general direction of where I want to go.
But itís not easy. Maps are pretty much useless when you get this far back of beyond in Mexico. I ride into Tecozautla, and scout around, and most people tell me I need to ride back to Huichapan. Not me. I head back to a sign I saw a few miles ago that said Ezekiel Montes which is in the general direction of where I want to go. But itís still hard. I ride out through some tiny towns, one was called Pathe, and then got lost in a small town where I find myself riding down lanes barely wide enough for the bike between houses, and am beginning to become frustrated about finding an exit from this village, when I spy a paved road ahead with cars on it! I arrive at the road, turn left, and accelerate out of this puebla, eventually arriving at the road I wanted to be on. I turn right and shortly thereafter bear right again toward the mountain town of San Juoquin.
Now begins another spectacular section of twisties up into the then mining and now, (mostly), resort town at over 9000 feet elevation. The road surface is excellent, but some of these curves have varying radiuses so beware if you come this way. The town is more or less a cul du sac on the paved roads, though I did once ride a dirt/river bed way between Zimapan and here. There is so much to explore everywhere Iíve ridden this trip, and I know Iíll be back to revisit all the towns and more that Iíve passed through.
I check into the Posada de las Pozas right in town. Iíve stayed here before. Itís small, has gated parking, and is a little more expensive than most of the other hotels in town, (300 pesos, or about $24 US), but itís close to everything, and it is a lovely 4 room hotel. I have dinner at El Burrito, which is one of the more popular, (read: ďbestĒ), places to eat in this little town. The first time I stopped by the 7 or 8 tables were full so I stopped back an hour later and there were only a few tables occupied. I had the burrito a la Mexicana. Yumm! Then bought a bottle of water, (not included at the hotel), and returned to my huge master suite, king size bed, and DVD player/TV, (although after sampling some of the DVDs I chose to read my book before drifting off, as a fog settled over the town.
Tomorrow, I return to San Miguel de Allende via a somewhat different route than that by which I came over this way.
Day 3, San Joaquin to San Miguel de Allende
I wake up and can see out my window that there is heavy cloud cover and fog in town. Not unusual at this elevation, and close enough to the Gulf of Mexico to suck up some moisture.
Iím debating whether to lounge around town and see if it clears up or book out of here. I waffle. Then I think it looks like it could just as easily start raining as it could clear up. I pack my bag, turn in my key, and am heading out of town feeling cold for the first time since this ride began. Brrr! Iím wearing my mesh jacketís liner and a fleece sweater, but itís not bad. And itís all down hill from San Joaquin. I can see patches of blue out there to the east, and I know itís gonna get warmer as I descend from this altitude.
I always start the day slow but not totally slow, building to the rhythm of the day. Itís refreshing, and the view traveling this direction is outstanding. Itís a pity there arenít more places to pull off and get some pictures, as you look down on the lower lying Sierra Gordas, which look so much smaller, but you know, that they are huge mountains in their own right.
When I get to Hwy. 120, I decide to head back a different way, and head north to Toliman. Nice sweeping curves in this section of road. As I approach Toliman, I pass a convoy of about 10 ADV type riders heading north on their fully outfitted bikes. I flash the wave, and itís returned by most of them. Like ships passing in the night theyíre gone.
Iíve repeated this scene a multitude of times during my time here in Mexico. Itís bittersweet. Sweet because you see other kindred spirits out and about the country, exploring, and having adventures of their own, and a tad bitter, as you know you'll never sit down with these cats and break bread, share a beer, and tell stories. Itís always different for me too, as most of the time, Iím out on my own or with Dianna riding second position.
BTW, if any of the riders from that group stumble upon this report, I was the guy on this bike at the turnoff from Toliman toward Jalpan near the Pemex.
I always wonder what it would be like to be with so large a group. Would I have met Jorge in Xilitla? The Posada in San Juoquin would have been too small for so many, so we would be having a very different experience. Either way, I salute you all, for doing what you do, however you do it. Life really is grand. Donít waste it.
At Toliman, I head out the back way to San Miguel de las Palmas, which I passed through on Day 1. About 5 miles out of town, I decide to take the road to Penamiller, as Iíve never taken it.
This ride is spectacularly beautiful as have all the previous days been. Itís an amazing road cut into the side of cliffs, and as such an area which you might call ďgeologically activeĒ. ☺ As I proceed, I see the sign ďZona de DerrumbesĒ, or landslide/rockfall area. Theyíre right. The road to Penamiller is littered with rockfall from the cliffs on my left.
On certain sections the highway department has seen fit to spray tar and toss gravel. Fortunately those sections are blacker than most of the other sections and I can moderate my speed accordingly. Pity. This is one twisty section of road, but with no guard rails for the most part, Iím not leaning into these curves.
At Penamiller I head toward Santa Catarina again. The road surface sucks for the first 5 miles, but it improves as you go on. I take the road through Tierra Blanca as I have my thoughts on lunch at El Salto, and hang gliding/parasailing location not far from San Juan de Iturbide. Itís a pretty valley, but there are way too many topes on this stretch. Finally I reach the end of the topes, and begin the ascent out of the canyon and up the vertical walls much like I entered it after Dr. Mora on Day 1 of this ride.
El Salto is right at the top of this climb, and I settle in for their Sunday Buffet, and a couple of obscuras. Iím tired, and almost home, but itís a good tired.
The view from the balcony at El Salto.
I got what I wanted from this trip. Iím not sure if it was to get into my head or out of it. I did both, by focusing on the thousands of curves that presented themselves, I had to focus on the outside world, and the consequences that a momentís inattention could introduce. At the same time by doing so I found a center in myself beyond all the hoopla and externalities that make up so much of our day-to-day lives. Now, I can't wait to make this ride again. I wish you all un buen viaje, (a good trip).
And BTW, any squareness that was in my tires before this sinuous trip began is now gone.
And a final note: I forgot to bring my camera on this trip, so Iíve used pics from previous trips as best I could, and lifted others from the web where needed. Lo siento.
More pics from the raining donkey tour route
I rode over to Xilitla again this past weekend and took some more photos. I was struck by the mixture of sophistication and grit in the town of Xilitla as after sitting in a cantina with the working men of the town drinking 10 peso beers, I then wondered over to a more upscale restaurant, which played acid jazz into the evening. Acid jazz in the wilds of Mexico. Welcome to the 21st century.
This is what it looks like just as you drop into the valley to Victoria.
Same as above.
On the road between Victoria and Santa Catarina.
On the road between Santa Catarina and Penamiller.
On the road between Santa Catarina and Penamiller.
Highway 120 on the way to Pinal de Amoles.
Highway 120 on the way to Pinal de Amoles.
Highway 120 on the way to Pinal de Amoles.
Highway 120 on the way to Pinal de Amoles.
Highway 120 on the way to Pinal de Amoles.
Highway 120 between Pinal de Amoles and Jalpan.
Highway 120 near Jalpan.
In the valley below Xilitla, near Tamazunchale.
Great writing and amazing pictures. Liked the report very much , especially because I will be up there next week.
The information saved me the time to look around for hotels :clap:clap
I'm not sure why, but that was the most inspiring ride report I've ever read! Thank you!
Until now, my Mexican riding adventure dreams were focused on Copper Canyon and Baja. You've put the Sierra Gordas on Must Do list! :freaky
love to see mainland mexico. only been to baja, but surely want to see copper canyon and the shoreline towns on the pacific side.
Come on down H8chains! I haven't ridden Baja extensively, but the mainland has a seemingly infinite permutations of rides you can explore.
Yes, Sierra gorda or Fat mountains are an awesome place. It has a desert and dense forrest
thanks for sharing and nice pictures.
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