By JOHN PINT –
The Magic Circle is 500 kilometers wide and centers on Guadalajara, Mexico. It is the only place in the country where all five of Mexico’s ecosystems come together. With elevations ranging from sea level to 4000 meters, the result is amazing biodiversity and stunning natural beauty.
For a while I’ve been asking myself how it’s possible that I keep finding new natural wonders to write about after 25 years of living near Guadalajara. So, one day I sat down with a map and drew a circle around the city, with a radius of around 250 kilometers, nicely encompassing the places a citizen of Guadalajara could conveniently drive to in one day.
As I looked over what was included in that circle, I realized it was filled with attractive, picturesque, exciting, charming, even amazing sites. There was Lake Chapala, biggest lake in the country, the Primavera pine and oak forest, the live and fiery Volcán de Fuego, the white sand beaches of the Pacific Coast, huge, deep canyons carved by the Santiago River, limestone mountains supporting incredibly rich cloud forests like El Cerro de Manantlán, the mangrove swamps and rivers of San Blas, teaming with bird and animal life, and much, much more.
Of course, to some extent, this variety can be attributed to altitude, which ranges from the height of snow-covered Nevado de Colima (4240 meters, 13,911 feet) to sea level on the Pacific coast. But is this diversity of eco-systems due only to altitude?
By good luck, I happened to receive a copy of just the book that could answer this question. I’m referring to Geo-Mexico, by Richard Rhoda and Tony Burton. This is a geography book, but far more interesting than the sort I had to deal with as a schoolboy. It focuses on the interaction between people and the physical environment and is chock full of fascinating facts. For example, did you know that Mexico has more species of pine trees than any other country? That it has the world’s richest assortment of cacti (over 900 species)? That Mexico’s diverse economy produces about $1.6 trillion in goods and services every year, more than Canada or South Korea? That Mexico’s population of 110 million makes it the eleventh largest nation on earth? That migrant workers in the USA sent $25 billion (yes, billion!) back to their families in Mexico in 2008?
But I digress. This book also made it possible for me to test my theory that the circle I had drawn around Guadalajara is something special. Chapter 5 of Geo-Mexico is devoted to ecosystems and biodiversity. It divides all of Mexico into five natural ecosystems:
• Arid scrublands (as in the cactus-rich Sonoran desert_)
• Tropical evergreen forests (for example, the rain forests of Quintana Roo)
• Tropical deciduous forests (like the thorn forests of Sinaloa)
• Grasslands (from Ciudad Juarez to Aguascalientes)
• Temperate forests (the oaks, pines and firs of Mexico’s mountains)
To my surprise and delight, I discovered that there is only one place in the entire country where all five ecosystems are found in close proximity and that is inside of what I have now decided to call The Magic Circle. In addition to this, according to Rhoda and Burton, the line designating the major Faunistic Divide of Mexico, (creatures of the north and creatures of the south) just happens to run right through that same Magic Circle. This is shown as a dotted red line on the map above.
Rhoda and Burton state that Mexico is one of the most mega-diverse countries of the world, with 30,000 different species of flora (compared to 18,000 in the USA) and, in my opinion, the best place to get a taste of this extraordinary biodiversity is The Magic Circle.
While many of us who live inside this circle see it as a single geographical unit (the area around Guadalajara), politicians might have a very different opinion. Politically, the Magic Circle is composed of Jalisco plus a large chunk of Michoacán, a slice of Nayarit, a lump of Zacatecas, a piece of Guanajuato and the entire states of Colima and Aguascalientes. While a citizen of Guadalajara might see a circle, a politician may see something shaped like an anemic amoeba. Funding, of course, for most projects related to culture, tourism or sport will usually come from the coffers of a single state and usually result in posters, brochures, films, etc. with titles like, The Marvels of Michoacán, The Haciendas of Jalisco or The Calabashes of Colima.
Thus, the bigger picture often escapes the eye of the politician—and the publisher as well. I was once asked to write a book on The Caves of Jalisco and replied, “But amigo, some of the best caves of Jalisco are in Colima and Michoacán.”
Apart from the fact that The Magic Circle encompasses extraordinary geographical, botanical and biological diversity, it also just happens to have been home to complex civilizations for over 2000 years and because of its huge obsidian deposits, was, for a long time, the very hub of the vast and powerful Teuchitlán nation. So, this area is abundantly rich in pre-Hispanic ruins like its famed Circular Pyramids, as well as countless colonial-era haciendas.
So it is that a person living in Guadalajara Mexico could choose from any of the following fascinating places for a Sunday outing, and could draw up a similar list for dozens of Sundays thereafter:
• Ceboruco Volcano: pine trees, meadows and hissing fumaroles
• San Blas: mangroves, exotic birds, crocodiles and dramatic ocean surf
• Los Negritos: boiling black mud pots next to an unpolluted deep lake.
• Las Piedras Bola: giant stone balls at least a few million years old
• Santa Rosalia: untouched, beautifully preserved circular pyramids 2000 years old
• Hacienda de San Antonio: deep canyon, tropical orchard, idyllic swimming hole
• Tapalpa: mountain town with cobblestone roads, ornate balconies, cold nights, blazing fireplaces
• Las Siete Cascadas: seven waterfalls and natural pools all in a row, 10 minutes from • Bosque de Maples: a Pleistocene cloud forest near Talpa, dripping with moss
The Magic Circle around Guadalajara is almost as big as the U.S. state of Kansas, but I doubt if you could find so many marvelous and varied places to visit on a day trip out of Topeka… or even out of Tokyo or Timbuktu.
If the governors of the seven states within the Magic Circle were to sit down together and to draw up a strategic tourism plan, the Magic Circle around Guadalajara might someday acquire the reputation that it deserves as one of the most extraordinary and attractive places on the face of the earth.
Explorer and adventurer John Pint is a regular columnist for the Guadalajara Reporter and author of several books in both Spanish and English, including “Outdoors in Western Mexico” (co-authored by John and his wife Susy). The Pints’ website offers many fascinating articles about caves, geology, history, and many hidden or little-known natural wonders and mysteries in Mexico.