In the Gomez Farias region of Mexico's northeastern state of Tamaulipas is the eastern escarpment of the Sierra Madre Oriental mountains. On this slope exists an area of cloud forest known as El Cielo. Eight distinct forest ecosystems can be found within its 350,000+ acre borders, including a tropical dry forest, pine-oak forest and of course the cloud forest. The name "Cloud Forest" is appropriate for much of the time the forest is bathed in a heavy mist of clouds from the Gulf of Mexico that banks and lifts along the mountain peek. Scientists speculate that the tempered and tropic mix found here may be a relic forest that may have covered large parts of North America one time.
El Cielo has several climatic zones and is known for its biodiversity. It is typical to find tropical species of flora growing right along those found in the tempered north. The Sierra Madre Oriental is a barrier against the humid winds from the Gulf of Mexico, which causes considerable precipitation regularly on the eastern slopes. This rain and mist from the clouds feed numerous streams and creeks that flow into the southeastern Sabinas and Frio rivers, which eventually flow into the Guayalejo River that borders the northeastern region.
In 1987, the United Nations designated El Cielo as a biosphere reserve under the 'Man and the Biosphere' program. Logging had made a major impact in the area, leading to the roads, and the villages which now allow access for tourists and scientists. Signs of the logging are widespread still but are quickly fading.
In the lowlands, water flows from a giant sinkhole, called El Nacimiento which nourishes a lush forest along the river's edge. The river openings in the forest, be they man-made or natural, become a haven for the butterfly population. Increased life produces an explosion in the number of flowering plants on which they feed.
High in the forest canopy a few of the most endangered bird species are still occasionally seen. The Currasow, Red Lored Parrot and the White-Crowned Parrot have all suffered a great decline in population, due to trapping and nest robbing to supply the international pet trade.
With 225 resident and 175 migratory bird species, bird watching has been a long-standing activity in the region. One of the most spectacular birds in the forest is the Mountain Trogon. Although extensive lumbering occurred in the past, large parts of El Cielo still retain old growth trees that often have decaying sections that facilitate the excavation of cavities for tree hole nesters like the Mountain Trogon and the Bronze Wing Woodpecker. Motmots are one of the distinct communities of birds that thrive along the valley's river.
The canyons edge provides a prime location for the Bat Falcon and El Cielo's famous Military Macaws to maintain a staging area for hunting. For years, birders had thought that the Bat Falcon had left El Cielo forever. No one knows why but it has now returned. The Macaws can often be seen flying in a paired formation. Although they often leave the canyon for several hours, they return on a regular basis and linger for some time. The macaw's nest in the face of a nearby cliff, if patient one can see it perched quietly near a small cave opening.
There always seems to be movement around El Cielo. Rock squirrels are the largest of the ground squirrels; they often stand alert on top of the rocks, ready to scamper to their burrows underneath. The Long-tailed Weasel and Grey Foxes can be seen here exploring the rocks on the clearing. For several days in August, dragonflies appear by the millions. Their shimmering wings reflect the sunlight and the skies as they pass by on their migration. Although rarely seen, jaguars, pumas and the occasional black bear have also been spotted throughout El Cielo.
Transportation to Alta Cima and San Jose
Only a one-hour drive up the rough and rocky road, past Gomez Farias, the cooperative Alta Cima is nested on an elevated plateau just a few miles west of the river, at approx. 2,700 ft. A four-wheel drive is necessary to make this steep and rocky trip passed Gomez Farias up to Alta Cima, and it is best to contact a local driver.
Drivers congregate at the main plaza in Gomez Farias. Alternatively, you can visit one of the hotels in Gomez Farias and assist you in finding transportation. Transportation fees are about $40 - $50 U.S. Other options include walking if you are very fit as it will take about three hours to hike to Alta Cima (approximately 6 km).
Once in Alta Cima, one can rent horses or even hike the rest of way to the old lumber camp of San Jose where the tropical forest of the river and the deciduous trees of the cloud forest give way to a mix of pines and oak. Transportation by vehicle is also available for between $40 - $50 U.S.
For detailed information, visit: http://elcielobiosphere.org/Accommodations.html