Landscapes
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TERRAIN

altWhen you enter the Sierras de Cazorla, Segura and Las Villas you are among the largest mountain ranges in the Iberian peninsula. The majority of the region's towns and villages are located between 700 and 1,000 metres above sea level, and while over half of the park's surface area is at an altitude of 1,000 to 1,500 metres, some peaks soar to over 2,000 metres, such as CabaƱas (2,028 metres), Alto de la Cabrilla (2,039 metres) and Empanadas (2,107 metres), which is the park's highest point. There are more than 50 peaks that reach a height in excess of 1,600 metres.

These spectacular mountains are laid out in sheer ranges running northeast-southeast, occasionally interweaving and usually separated by deep valleys carved out of the rock by the rivers and flanked by rounded, rocky escarpments.

The eastern area of the park is the most mountainous, while the northeast is home to numerous limestone crags: high mountains whose sheer sides rise majestically from the ground and which are crowned with sizeable plateaus. Heading south, visitors will come across one of the most unique and unexpected landscapes in the park: the vast intermontane plateau of Los Campos de HernƔn Perea, which reaches an altitude of 1,600 to 1,700 metres. Further south, but remaining in the eastern area of the park, the Empanadas and Cabrilla mountain ranges rise up towards the sky. Here the park is at its most rugged and reaches its highest points, with ten peaks over 2,000 metres high.

In the western area of the park, the mountains begin to the north with the low peaks and simple profiles of the CalderĆ³n, OruƱa and Cumbres de Beas mountain ranges, none of which extend above 1,350 metres. Moving south, the mountains of the Las Villas range thrill visitors with their complex, intricate topography and steep, jagged peaks that soar over 1,800 metres into the sky.

altIn the extreme south of the park, an impressive array of mountains looms above the olive country and the sub-desert areas of Huesa and Hinojares, where the lowest point of the park is to be found at just 470 metres above sea level. These are the Cazorla and El Pozo mountain ranges, which are home to the towering peak of CabaƱas (2,026 metres).

Many of these ranges are separated by rivers that have carved deep channels into the landscape in the form of canyons, gorges, ravines, gullies, mountain passes, defiles and enclosed valleys that visitors will undoubtedly find one of the most singular and attractive landscape features of the park.

Among the valleys is the Guadalquivir, a beautiful mountain pass opened up by the river of the same name and which stretches northeast up to the Tranco reservoir, where it turns westwards and opens out into a wide bowl presided over by Yelmo, which is one of the park's most iconic mountains owing to its spectacular height (1,808 metres) and reputation as an ideal spot for hang-gliding. The Guadalimar River flows through another low-lying area nearby, which is covered with olive groves. The Guadalimar and Guadalquivir rivers will later join up, many kilometres further down. There are other rivers in the area that have also gouged numerous valleys into the mountain rock; sometimes wild and sometimes tame, all of them form part of a charming, harmonious landscape that constantly draws visitors.



NATURAL ARCHITECTURE

The rock formations in the park have a variety of remarkable shapes. As they are limestone, they do not all react in the same way to the passage of water; different sections offer unequal levels of resistance and as a result, unique profiles are formed and natural architectural shapes emerge in this karst landscape created from limestone dissolved by water. Visitors will have their breath taken away by the majestic picones, enormous rocks in the shape of needles or towers; muelas and castellones, sheer sided rocks with a flat top, like molars or castles; and poyos, colossal blocks of stone with horizontal, ledge-like contours that sit atop certain mountains. alt

Another type of rock that is very common in the park is tufa, an eye-catching creation that is formed by layers of calcium carbonate building up underwater in waterfalls and sheer, dripping rock faces. In some places the rock underfoot has been intricately sculpted by the passage of water into labyrinthine networks of grooves, fissures and depressions: these are limestone pavements, or lanchares as they are known in the local dialect. Sometimes these sections of rock are very steep, in which case the passage of water has less effect. The locals call these rocks lastras.

In the higher areas, visitors will also come across unexpected large potholes or sinkholes, places where the earth has fallen in to leave a round-shaped hole that forms a natural funnel. The bottoms of these sinkholes, which are called sorbiores by the locals, serve as drains for rainwater and often continue downwards to become deep chasms.

At the edges of the rock formations are large areas of stony ground, known here as cascajares, which are formed by the accumulation of stones that have fallen down the slopes following the fragmentation of rocks in the higher reaches of the mountains. There are a number of plants that have adapted to survive in such a hostile environment, and although little of them can be seen on the surface they have an extensive root system and their stalks are easily regrown when they are severed by the movement of the stones.


A LANDSCAPE OF FLORA

Above all, the park boasts an immense blanket of pine forest. However, visitors will discover that this forest is varied and diverse, with pines of different species and sizes existing in harmony with many other types of trees and bushes. This is not a place for monotonous rows of identical pine trees, sprouting like columns from a soil that is bare of any other type of vegetation.

The three pine forests ...

As you climb higher you will find Aleppo pines and both Corsican and European black pines (the park boasts the most impressive forests in Spain of this latter species). With their straight, pale-coloured trunks, these mighty pines are the masters of the landscape at high altitude, while higher still, the peaks are the exclusive preserve of the towering rocks and breathtaking panoramas. Below the wide belt of pine forest the landscape has been harmoniously humanised with the planting of olive groves, which have an intense mountain quality to their appearance as they climb to the very limits of where cultivation is possible. However, as well as the abundance of olive groves, pine forests and picturesque peaks, Spain's largest protected area has a great many surprises in store for its visitors.

altThere are many different combinations of altitude and direction in the park, which makes the landscape extremely diverse in terms of plant life. The protective shade of the pine forest shelters dense undergrowth, which in turn affords a home to a wide variety of animals. The forests of Aleppo pines (Pinus halepensis) that grow at an altitude of 1,000 to 1,100 metres are also home to an abundance of rosemary and cistus, which prefer dry, sunny slopes, while in other parts of the forest a complex strata of bushes can be found with species that date back to the times of the older woodlands that existed before today's pine forests. Examples include the kermes oak (Quercus coccifera), lentisk (Pistacia lentiscus), narrow-leafed mock privet (Phillyrea angustifolia) and laurustinus (Viburnum tinus). The forest belt populated by European black pine (Pinus pinaster), which is sometimes called resinero or rodeno by locals, can be found at an altitude of 1,000 to 1,300 metres and is home to cade juniper (Juniperus oxycedrus), the durable roots of which were once used to make the large balls used in the popular game of mountain bowls, and terebinth (Pistacia terebinthus), whose leaves turn an intense crimson in autumn. This bush is known locally as cornita, owing to the strange shape of the galls that grow on it as a result of the invasion of certain types of insect. Higher still, in the forests dominated by Corsican pines (Pinus negra ssp. salzmanii), there are a great many wild rose bushes - the park is home to 13 different species ā€“ that display their beautiful five-petaled flowers in spring and summer in colours ranging from white to a variety of shades of pink. Their red, egg-shaped fruits, known as rosehips, have been consumed by humans since ancient times for their strong astringent properties. Another bush that is plentiful in this area is hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), which in spring becomes covered with white flowers that fill the surrounding area with an immensely sweet perfume. In autumn the hawthorn offers up its small, round fruits - haws ā€“ that are perfectly safe to eat when they are fully ripened.

... and much more.

However, despite the fact that pine forests characterise much of the landscape, diversity is one of the key identifying features of the park and many other species of trees and bushes will catch your attention. Occasionally you will see them mixed in with the pine trees, while at other times they become the stars of the landscape and display their own unique formations. alt

Among the trees you will discover are Portuguese oaks (Quercus faginea), which are numerous enough to form entire woods. Some older examples have a majestic bearing that is a magical reminder of the fertile past of these mountains, when oak woodlands occupied a greater area of the park than they do at present. Also present are holm oaks and even Phoenician juniper (Juniperus phoenicia) and Pyrenean oak (Quercus pyrenaica), so uncommon in southeast Spain, with its attractive lobed leaves. Other plants that grow in this area include strawberry trees, which are bedecked with red and orange in autumn, and even a solitary maple here and there: both the Spanish (Acer granatensis) and Montpellier (Acer monspessulanum) varieties, this latter being particularly scarce in southern regions. Both provide a spectacular display of colour in autumn.

Visitors to the park will be most surprised, however, by the number of trees that are much more common in northern latitudes than in southeast Spain, such as holly (Ilex aquifolium), hazel (Corylus avellana), mountain elm (Ulmus Montana), yew (Taxus baccata) and even birch (Betula pendula ssp. fontqueri). The park's flora is a whole world of surprises just waiting to open itself up to those who are curious to discover more and who know how to appreciate the strategies used by nature to adapt to every corner.



THE HUMAN FOOTPRINT

If anything characterises the majority of Spain's protected natural areas, it is how discreet the mark left on the landscape by humans has been throughout the centuries. However, a mark has been left nonetheless, and it has almost always been a positive one.

The Olive Groves

The clearest signs of human activity in the park can be observed in the north, in the Segura region. The lowest areas are home to olive groves, inching up the sides of the slopes and interweaved with numerous traces of woods and scrubland. The economy of the park and its dependent surrounding area is centred on olives, and the olive groves are a key part of its landscape and culture and of the daily life of the park's inhabitants. In fact, the groves are a type of "cleared forest" that, although artificial and lacking the structure and diversity of natural forests, nevertheless constitute a complex agroecosystem that is home to a wide range of plant and animal species. alt

The Mountain Pastures

A substantial part of the higher areas in the Segura region display signs of an entirely different kind of human activity: raising livestock. These high mountain pastures have few trees and have historically been deforested in order to provide grazing for Segura sheep. At times this remarkable landscape is almost overwhelming in its breadth of awe-inspiring panoramas, everywhere flanked by soaring mountains and dappled with scrubland and rock formations. In winter it becomes a land of snow, while in spring the green pastures once again emerge. It has always been the home of an ancestral farming culture that deserves to be recognised and treasured.

Villages and Farmhouses

Besides the larger towns, the profusion of villages and tiny, isolated farmhouses is another sign of human presence that gives a distinct personality to this part of the park. In the higher reaches many of these human enclaves are no longer populated, or only during those months when the weather is more benign. The traditional architecture of the villages has not always been preserved but the presence of these settlements is not just agreeable from an aesthetic point of view; they are also a moving testimony to a way of life that was historically tough, yet always capable of adapting masterfully to the difficult mountain conditions.

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The Orchards

Nestled alongside these enclaves are small orchards, which are known locally as hortales and are situated on the huelgas, small strips of more or less flat and fertile land on the banks of rivers and streams. Agriculture in these mountains has always been of a purely subsistence nature and as a result the orchards have suffered the same fate as the villages and farmhouses they were connected to: abandonment. However, in the lower areas close to the towns there are still many active market gardens that produce exquisite vegetables. Each huelga, even if it has been abandoned, remains a small paradise that contributes great diversity and a soothing sense of balance to its surrounding environment, as it combines a green-fingered gardener's touch (terraces, ponds, walnut trees, poplars and the like) with the grandiose spectacle of the ever-present mountains.

Reservoirs

The abundance of water in the park prompted the construction of a number of reservoirs of different sizes, capacities and uses. They are all of great importance to the park's economy and landscape, although their construction had a significant negative social impact at the time, given that most of them were built at a point when the political context was particularly harsh. Today the park's reservoirs are an attractive recreational and sporting resource and this website includes a number of references to that extent: however, in the context of the relationship between the landscape and the people who live here in the mountains, it is worth remembering the hardships suffered by a resident of the village of Vega de Hornos, who was affected by the construction of the large Tranco reservoir. His words are a vivid illustration of the decisions that were forced upon the inhabitants of the mountains for centuries by those in power. Today we are lucky to be living in different times.

alt"In 1940 the thing we had been dreading for a long time finally happened: they told us that the area would have to be vacated immediately and the houses knocked down (...) Large groups of woodcutters and sawyers came in, using their enormous axes to cut everything down to an even size, categorising the wood and burning the firewood and the thousands of centuries-old oaks that had up until then covered the land around the village. Later they made it into charcoal. In a short space of time the area looked as though it had been struck by an atomic bomb. Along with everyone else in the village, we had to move away, taking all our belongings and animals with us: we had to move to different areas, different landscapes; we had to change our customs, our neighbours and many other things that we can't put a name to but which were real and remained inside each and every one of us. These changes were extremely hard for everyone, although each of us suffered in silence"

Recuerdos sumergidos, 1931-1941
("Submerged Memories, 1931-1941").
Ɓngel Robles RodrĆ­guez, born in El ChorreĆ³n, a farmhouse that was expropriated in order to build the reservoir.


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