One of the highlights of Oaxaca City for most visitors is the ruins of the Monte Alban archeological site. This is huge area located on a mountain overlooking the city. There are crowds of visitors there, because it is easy to get to. But most of the structures are closed to climbing and all of the tunnels have been sealed off. This style of construction is not as tall as some of the others we have seen, but impressive for some of the frescos and etchings that are still intact. The tall stellae are beautiful and unique. We also enjoyed the museum.
Our final stop in this region was Hierve del Agua. This one nearly missed our agenda, but we are very glad we caught it! It takes a bit of work to get to this location, and we took the long, steep, rough dirt road. Because we arrived on a weekend, we decided to camp nearby and wait for the crowds to dissipate. From this location we took a long hike with the dogs and we enjoyed the view across the Oaxaca mountains. One morning while Mike was out walking with the dogs, they heard voices and strange noises in the distance. And then through the bushes they spotted cyclists. They suddenly found themselves watching a very challenging mountain bike race! The racers were using trails and the road to get to the village. From our campsite we could hear the echoes of announcer in the village below as he was presenting awards at the end of the race.
On a Monday we eased out of our mountain camp spot and drove down to the parking area. With very few visitors, we were able to score a campsite right on the edge of the cliff overlooking the valley and Hierve del Agua. The view off the edge was incredible Below us we could see the mineral pools and the fossilized edge where the flowstone dropped away to the valley below. We grabbed our day pack and headed down to have a closer look.
On the pool level we found the COLD water bubbling out of the ground in several fenced areas and being directed to two main pools. The entire surface is comprised of mineralized particles and the edges of the pools are fossilized. The water from second pool falls away off the edge, plunging toward the valley before. But it never actually reaches the ground, as it is so mineral laden that it just attaches to the previously fossilized waterfall.
Although it was a very hot day, we decided to take the two-mile hike around that dropped off the edge of the cliff and into the valley below. We wanted to see the fossilized falls from another angle. We started out on our hike and were quickly ushered aside as a group came up from below. They were carrying out an injured visitor on a gurney Although we never heard what happened, we were impressed at the teamwork and care in evacuating this visitor. We suspect it was heat exhaustion – many people were ill prepared for the combination of heat and elevation. We continued along the trail and captured our first glimpse of the falls from below. It was truly amazing. Then we continued to the valley below and looked up to see the waterfall of the main pools from below. For perspective on size, there is a tiny speck of a human on the top of the frozen waterfalls in this photo.
This section of the hike showed us the current and active waterfall formation as it flows from the pools above. But there is another area that can be seen which is not a part of the pools, instead fed by underground springs that bubble to the surface more subtly, and then cascade off the edge. Again the mineral content is so high that the water is immediately fossilized. Although these springs do not form pools, they do create incredible frozen waterfalls. Again you can see the tiny humans at the top to give some idea of the size of this structure. We continued on our hike in the valley below and captured the view of these incredible waterfalls from two more locations.
The hike took several hours, and we returned to the camper hot and exhausted. But the dogs wanted a walk, so we explored a little more. This is when we found additional holes from springs and mineralized formations that once were pools. This phenomenon has been happening for ages, and likely has undergone changes as the water table, human usage and climate patterns have changed over time. In these two photos you can see an old spring, and Mango is running in a soil-filled pool formation.
When it was time to leave Hierve del Agua we took the easier, paved road down the mountain. Our drive would lead us through the mountains of Oaxaca, toward the coast of this unique and varied state. And there we would cross into the state of Chiapas. Watch for some interesting adventures ahead in Chiapas!