Bordering the states of Guanajuato, San Luis Potosí and Hidalgo, the Sierra Gorda of Querétaro is a shining jewel in the heart of Mexico. Extending across 384 thousand hectares, this Biosphere Reserve occupies 33 percent of the State of Querétaro and is considered to be one of the country’s most biodiverse regions.
“How can you measure the magic of a place like this?” wondered environmentalist Martha Isabel “Pati” Ruiz Corzo a few years ago while presenting a long-term project undertaken by the Sierra Gorda Environmental Group, responsible for the recovery of the region located in the Sierra Madre Oriental. While making this point, the local activist pointed to the image of a forested area in the Sierra Gorda. The photograph was made up of a slightly blurry mosaic of leafy trunks and branches, like something out of a heavenly dream. “I don’t know about you, but I know that fairies, gnomes and elves exist and one day I’m going to draw up an inventory of them,” she concluded, referring to the fantasy of the place.
Richness of flora and fauna
In this area, declared a Biosphere Reserve in 1997, 14 ecosystems coexist: pine, holm oaks and mesophylls forests; marine and underwater vegetation; bushes, as well as tropical forests and pastures, to mention but a few. As for the diversity of its flora and fauna, botanists from the Environmental Institute of Xalapa have registered 2,308 vascular plant species and mycologists have registered 127 mushroom species in the forests and rainforests of the Sierra Gorda. Due to this abundance of vegetation, there is a notable diversity of fauna, reflected in 110 mammal species, 339 bird species, 97 reptile species and 34 amphibian species.
The Sierra Gorda provides refuge to black bears, night monkeys and the six cat species that exist in Mexico: jaguar, puma, ocelot, tigrillo or margay, jaguarundi and wild cat. It is also home to red brockets, white-tailed deer, scarlet macaws, great curassows and toucanets.
Neoarctic and neotropical
In the distant past, our planet was made up of a single landmass surrounded by the ocean. Slowly, over the course of millions of years, the land began to separate. One massif, which is now North America, migrated north and another separated from Africa and moved south to form South America. Over time, land rose with force from the ocean floor and volcanoes emerged violently, forming a bridge that connected North and South America. This was how Mexico and Central America were born.
The Neoarctic flora and fauna that existed in the northern massif, such as the ancestors of pine trees and bears, migrated south by way of this new bridge. Likewise, the Neotropical or southern species, such as the ancestors of tropical forests and jaguars, migrated north. Mexico was the migration crossroads, and it was this significant phenomenon, combined with the intricate topography of our territory, that caused a high concentration of a great diversity of landscapes and flora and fauna in very small areas in certain regions of the country. This is the case of the Sierra Gorda of Querétaro.
For example, Cerro de la Pingüica, a mountain reaching a height of 3,160 meters above sea level, is a kingdom of conifers and holm oaks, while in other areas of temperate origin, sweetgums and magnolias share the land with sacred firs, parlor palms and tree ferns of tropical origin.
However, the Sierra Gorda has more treasures to offer its visitors than just its biodiversity. The indigenous Pames, Jonaces, Otomis and Huastecs of pre-Hispanic Mexico inhabited this area and the settlements of Ranas, Toluquilla, El Cerrito and Tancama remain as a testimony to these cultures, while in the region as a whole, there are nearly 500 registered archeological sites. Later on in the 18th century, Franciscan friar Junípero Serra founded five missions which, in July of 2003, were declared World Heritage Sites because of their beauty and distinctive architecture.
“I have measured how much it rains and pours and erodes, I have measured the amount of mist and cold and carbon; I have done research for years,” Pati Ruiz Corzo remarked, “but when you are in a place like this, you say, ‘the details are irrelevant’.”
*Written with information provided by ProNatura, no. 8 Oct-Nov 2004