Water
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THE ARTERIES OF LIFE


Water has populated the mountains

Historically, the geographic distribution of water resources has determined the pattern of population. With the exception of constructions such as castles, which were built on high ground for military reasons, the majority of human settlements have grown up around rivers, which are the true arteries of life in the mountains. This fact is most noticeable in the northern half of the park, where there is an abundance of small villages and isolated farmhouses that, until recently, were devoted to the subsistence agriculture made possible by the water flowing down from the narrow mountain valleys.


altRivers that move forests

For centuries, if not millennia, the park's rivers have also served as the thoroughfares through which the region has exported its immense timber wealth. Until the arrival of motor vehicles and road networks, the pineros (pinecutters) exploited the power of the Guadalquivir and Segura rivers to transport vast "floating forests" consisting of mile upon mile of pine trunks, which they would guide downstream using special hook-like tools known as ganchos, to places where they would be used to build boats and large buildings such as the Royal Tobacco Factory in Seville.

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These great river transportations, known as maderadas, were strongly encouraged during the 18th century when the mountain ranges that make up the national park began to be administered by the ministries of Finance and Maritime Affairs. Indeed, the role played by the rivers in linking the timber resources of the park with the shipbuilding industry became so strong that in 1748 the so-called Maritime Province of Segura de la Sierra was created, a denomination that lasted until 1836. As strange as it may seem today, these mountains were once administered by the navy.


Green Corridors

Willows, ashes and poplars follow the serpentine course of the park's rivers, forming lush riverbank forests that stand out among the rest of the landscape, particularly in the lower areas. Riparian vegetation is particularly noteworthy in the rugged areas at the rivers' sources, where there are numerous canyons, ravines and defiles with sides that are covered by a dense layer of plant life that remains in a continuously rude state of health. The high shrublands, consisting of boxwood (Buxus sempervirens) and barberries (Phillyrea latifolia), create lush, damp environments that are punctuated by occasional examples of northern plants such as holly and hazel trees.

Animals

The abundance of water is one of the keys to understanding the richness of the park's animal life. Many animals depend not only on the rivers and streams, but also on other, humbler bodies of water that are created both naturally and through the traditional activities of the people living in the park: springs, fountains, pools and millponds, watering troughs (known as tornajos in the mountains) and small, seasonal lakes and lagoons are all common throughout the park.

Some of the park's most remarkable animals have a very reduced distribution that depends to a greater or lesser extent on their proximity to water, as is the case with the Betic midwife toad, Cabrera's vole and the Spanish algyroides.

The park's rivers are in such a healthy condition that they remain home to the otter, dipper and brown trout, while the undergrowth echoes to the sound of the park's outstanding songsters in the form of robins, wrens and blackcaps, in addition to beautiful summer visitors such as golden orioles. Mammals such as foxes, badgers and wild boar are also frequently drawn to the rich feeding opportunities offered by the areas around rivers and streams.

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The best fishing in the south


The mountainous region formed by the Cazorla, Segura and Las Villas mountain ranges and the neighbouring Castril mountains is, without a doubt, the best location for freshwater sport fishing throughout the whole of southern Spain. Fans of this sport will be spoilt for choice, with the abundance of large, clean, trout-filled rivers and extensive reservoirs where carp and pike are plentiful. In some game reserves in both the upper and lower reaches of the mountains, the presence of brown trout means that only catch-and-release fishing is permitted: this is done using bare hooks, and the fish, once caught, must be put back into the river.


THE PARK'S RIVERS

The sources of the Guadalquivir and the Segura and their tributaries make the park one of the great hydrographic hubs of the Iberian peninsula. Rain and snow fall plentifully in the mountains, while the karst topography of the landscape efficiently regulates the flow of water, acting as a large sponge that absorbs the water and enables most of it to pass through slowly and continuously.

However, this does not of course prevent the summer droughts so typical of the Mediterranean climate from impacting on the landscape, ensuring many streams and rivers remain seasonal and significantly reducing the flow of those that are permanent.

The park's water systems pertain to two distinct basins: most of its rivers and streams drain into the Guadalquivir and from there into the Atlantic, but those in the northeast enter the Mediterranean via the Segura.


The Guadalquivir Basin

The River Guadalquivir begins in the area known as Cañada de las Fuentes, in the midst of a forest of Corsican pines. There, at an altitude of 1,350 metres, it embarks on the 667-kilometre journey that will take it to the Atlantic ocean, draining 65% of Andalusia on the way. This river, which the Romans called Betis and the Moors the Río Grande, or Great River, has formed a northeast-facing valley that is both the largest and most iconic in the park and includes the spectacular Cerrada del Utrero gorge just a few kilometres from the river's source. Beyond the gorge, the valley widens out and gives rise to a series of natural beauty spots that are among the most visited parts of the park. The final stretch of the valley is home to the Tranco reservoir, which dams the river and forces it once again into a rugged defile, from where it turns sharply to the west towards the Jaen countryside and the great Andalusian basin.

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Before it reaches the Tranco dam the Guadalquivir is joined by the River Borosa, which has its source in the Valdeazores lagoon and descends by a total of 650 metres during its 11-kilometre course, creating a large number of waterfalls and crystal-clear pools along the way. This river is easily accessible on foot and is notable for the magnificent Cerrada de Elías gorge, where it has bored a hole through the rock. It is swelled by the water from a number of waterfalls, which, like the well-known Linarejos waterfall, are in particularly strong flow during the spring thaws.

The River Aguasmulas joins the Guadalquivir some kilometres down from the Borosa and like the latter is also a short mountain river, just eight kilometres in length. A walk along this river is also highly recommended as it is a comfortable route through extraordinarily picturesque landscapes, particularly at its source, where it rises beneath the impressive rocky outcrops of Banderillas at an altitude of 1,993 metres.

The higher sections of the River Guadalentín is another of the outstanding parts of the park, as it includes a number of canyons and ravines flanked by serried peaks, all of which reach or exceed an altitude of 2,000 metres. Once of the most spectacular natural features of this river is the extensive forest of Portuguese oaks it passes through on its way to the La Bolera reservoir, beyond which it flows beyond the borders of the park and into the River Guadiana Menor, which in turn flows into the Guadalquivir.

The intricate mountain range of Las Villas boasts a wealth of fast-flowing rivers and streams, many of which have the prefix "Aguascebas" and are only differentiated by the second part of their name: Aguascebas Grande, Aguascebas Chico, Aguascebas de Chorrogil (which has a beautiful waterfall), Aguascebas de Gil Cobo, and so on. The first of these is the most spectacular, as it features two breathtaking ravines: however, the Aguascebas de Gil Cobo, which descends a full 770 metres during the scarcely six kilometres of its course, also has a number of waterfalls and ravines, including the renowned Cerrada de San Ginés. Some of these mountain rivers flow into a small reservoir, which is also called Aguascebas.

In addition to its mountain rivers, the Guadalquivir basin is also criss-crossed by a number of others whose courses follow a less demanding route. Chief among these is the Guadalimar, which means "Red River" in Arabic and was named for the reddish earth from its clay banks that is washed into it by the rain. The Guadalimar rises in the province of Albacete, in the foothills of the Segura mountains. Inside the park it flows through olive groves in the north and is swelled by tributaries of a considerable size, such as the Onsares, Trujala and Beas rivers, all of which originate in the valleys of the lower mountains.

The Guadalimar is joined by the Guadalmena, the river which marks the northwest boundary of the county of Segura and which, although it does not comprise part of the protected zone, is nonetheless important owing to the reservoir of the same name and because the landscape it flows through – the final eastern foothills of the Morena mountain range – are entirely different from those found in the park, despite their close proximity. The horizon here is filled with peaks of a modest altitude, smooth and rounded in shape and covered with holm oaks and Mediterranean scrub.


The Segura Basin

The River Segura, which takes its name from the county in which it begins, is born in an extraordinarily picturesque pool in the area known as Fuente Segura, near the village of Pontones. Almost immediately it is enclosed by a magnificent, deep-walled canyon, which later opens out to become a narrow valley dotted with mountain villages. Its flow is regulated by the small yet striking reservoir of Anchuricas. alt

It is joined by the River Madera, which runs for 20 kilometres before flowing into the Segura and forms a narrow valley between impressive limestone slopes that are covered by lush forests of Corsican pine.

Further north, the River Tus flows through another isolated valley in its journey through the Agua mountains. To the south, the Tus skirts the mountains of Calar del Mundo (Albacete Province) and passes through the breathtaking Barranco del Infierno ("Hell's Gorge") before meeting up with the Segura beyond the borders of the park.

From the opposite direction, the Segura is joined by another river that flows through areas of outstanding natural beauty: the Zumeta. This river passes very close to the town of Santiago de la Espada, demarcating the borders of Granada and Albacete provinces. It flows between the walls of a rugged canyon, which later opens out into a valley dotted with small villages such as Tobos, Vites and Marchena, and later enters the peaceful backwater of the miniscule La Vieja reservoir before being channelled once again into a ravine shortly before joining the Segura near the village of Las Juntas de Miller.

MOUNTAINS OF SPRINGS AND UNDERGROUND WATERS

The rivers mentioned above are only the main arteries of a tightly woven network made up of smaller permanent rivers and seasonal streams and torrents. These water systems are all the more surprising for their passage through isolated areas, particularly when their flow increases during winter and spring. Visitors who discover them will be treated to the sight of peaceful, unspoilt environments characterised by small navas (fertile mountain pastures located at high altitude) and natural orchards, in addition to beautiful hidden corners, wild nooks and unexpected waterfalls cascading from sudden precipices.

The abundance of precipitation, along with the predominance of carbonate materials that filter the water and direct it underground, turns the park into an enormous storage facility for water resources, both underground in the form of aquifers and above ground in the form of reservoirs. In fact, the volume of rainwater and snow that filters through the terrain in the counties that make up the park and its sphere of influence account for approximately 60% of the total for the entire province of Jaén.

Water flows through the park, but above all begins there. Sixty-seven aquifers are known, of which 48 are located fully within the park. This rich underground resource emerges in the form of around 3,000 springs, in addition to being extracted in many different ways by hundreds of different artificial mechanisms. The majority of the springs are located in the higher reaches, between 1,000 and 1,300 metres, and do not have a particularly strong flow; there are exceptions, however, such as the spring in the village of La Toba above the River Segura, where the water bursts forth from the bare rock with spectacular force. Moreover, in any location and under the right conditions (such as an intense thaw or heavy rainfall) a reventón can occur, which is the name given to the phenomenon in which water can suddenly surge and gush out with an unprecedented and almost explosive force.


THE TAMED WATERS

The park's reservoirs are among the outstanding features of its landscape, owing to the fact that, despite their great differences in size, they all have one thing in common: they are enclosed by mountains that are of a considerable height and covered with dense pine forests. The appearance of the reservoirs changes with the seasons and with weather events, which also determine the water levels at any given moment, but in general they take the form of narrow lakes that reflect the deep green of the forests that surround them.
Taking a walk around the reservoirs is always a relaxing experience, as is rowing on the larger ones. The park regulations forbid the use of motor boats, and as a result peace and quiet is always guaranteed.


Tranco Reservoir

La Bolera Reservoir

Guadalmena Reservoir

Aguas Negras Reservoir

Siles Reservoir

Anchuricas Reservoir

La Vieja Reservoir


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