EXPERIENCE THE CONSTRAST BETWEEN HIGH SUMMITS AND DESERT MIRAGES

The south end of the Nature Reserve is full of surprises. You can travel through ten thousand years of geological history and go from alpine settings to sub-desert landscapes in just one hour. Between the two worlds lies the miracle of water: the formidable Cueva del Agua (Water Cave) of Tíscar, very close to the Tiscar pass and sanctuary. One of the two worlds – the upper part – is home to a wealth of wildlife that is integrated into a Reserve Area and to a group of Corsican pines listed as the oldest trees on the Iberian Peninsula. The other world – the lower part – evokes the magic of one of the few sub-desert environments in Europe.

The southern part of the Nature Reserve is made up of four mountain chains: The Cazorla, El Pozo, Quesada and La Cabrilla mountains. They are well-defined geographical units separated by deep canyons and narrow valleys that give the landscape a surprisingly alpine appearance. The Nature Reserve does not end there, however. To the west, the Guadiana Menor river flows through a wide valley that is an arid, desert-like depression, like a piece of a puzzle found in the wrong box. It is hard to imagine such a sudden change of landscape in such a short distance.

This diversity of landscapes and environments in such a limited space is the distinguishing feature of this area of the Nature Reserve. Long after the mountains of the El Pozo and Quesada ranges were formed only 20,000 years ago, an enormous inland lake covered the region and accumulated mud and sediments from the surrounding mountains. Around 11,000 years ago, a huge movement of the Earth’s crust shook the region and changed the course of the rivers. The lake disappeared, leaving its sandy bottom exposed. The steppe-like depression of the Guadiana Menor is the result of those geological events.

From then on to the present day – a brief period in geological terms – the rivers of the former river valley joined each other to become the Guadiana Menor, one of the Guadalquivir river’s main tributaries.

In such a short period of time the waters have eroded the impermeable clay heavy with gypsum and salts from the bottom of the former lake, creating ravines up to 400 metres deep. Moreover, the surrounding mountains cause a “rain shadow” that makes this one of the valleys where it rains the least in all of Europe, with an average rainfall of only 300 mm.

Out of the near-naked clay rises the El Pozo mountain range, one of the most well-preserved territories in the Nature Reserve, and therefore almost the entire area is integrated into the Navalhondona-Guadahornillos Reserve Area. The mountains are home to many types of forest and plant formations, with alpine environments on the summits and a wet, mountain climate. The Puerto Llano pine forest lies at the foot of Pico Cabañas peak, where the rainfall exceeds 1600 mm. In it there is a botanical monument site comprising more than thirty of the oldest trees on the Iberian Peninsula, according to studies conducted by the Spanish High Council of Scientific Research. The most incredible thing of all is that these two completely different worlds, the desert and the alpine forests, are scarcely 10 km apart. Who could wish for more?

 

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