April 28, 2021

After we ate breakfast we spent some time talking to Lupe and Dora in their rustic cabin. The morning was stormy and alternated between rain/hail/snow and wind. Around 9:30 am Lupe offered to take us to see the 4 arches on the mountains just north of El Willy. He rode in the van with Eva and I and guided us through the ranchos to a gate. This gate took us to a rancho that was owned by a guy from Chicago, but managed by a local rancher. From the gate it was 2-3 miles of rough narrow road with a couple of difficult spots, but we were able to make it through without too much difficulty. We were able to park at the old ranch headquarters.

Lupe said it was a short walk to see the arches and he was correct. We walked a quarter mile to the pastures where we could see the arches across the river and up high on the mountain ridgeline. We took a few pictures and Lupe crossed the fence and started walking across the fields to the river. He convinced us all that we should hike to the arches. He had never been this way, but climbed to the arch by taking horses through the river from El Willy.

About halfway across the field the wind kicked up and the rain came down. No one was prepared because we were expecting a short walk to view the arches. We ran back to a tree to huddle under while storm alternated between rain and hail.

It only lasted 10 minutes, and we were all standing there debating to whether to forget the hike and get back to the cars before it rained again. But Lupe continued across the field towards the arch. He turned and said “When will you ever be on this trail again?” We all agreed that we would never be back so we continued on the hike. 

The next obstacle was crossing the river. It was only ankle deep, but 20-25’ across. Most of us took off our shoes and waded across. The rest tried to get across on a log and rocks, but in the end, everyone got wet. Once we crossed the river it was a climb up the mountain. We were looking for a path to see the arches and also it look like a few caves in the cliff. It was quite a climb up the mountain that was covered with slick shale and loose dirt. It took us 1-1/2 hours to work our way up the hillside and around a cliff until we were below the arches. It was close enough for us and we took pictures and enjoyed the view of the four arches and the valley below. It was a quicker hike back down and across the river. The entire trip took about 2 hours 45 minutes. We were all glad we listened to Lupe.

Once back to El Willy, we left town and drove south a few miles to the “Valley of the Caves”. It cost $150 pesos ($8 usd) to enter, but only another $50 pesos ($2.14) to camp. It was a tight and winding road down to the valley, but once we entered the river valley, there was a broad grassy area next to the river to camp. We set up camp and ate a late lunch.

This valley contains several caves that were formed in the compressed ash layers left by volcanic action. The oldest caves have shown occupation from back to 5500 BC. Other caves were dated back to 950-1060 AD. From the valley you could see several caves a couple of hundred feet up the cliff.

Later in the day we walked to the Cueva de la Golondrina (Swallow Cave). This cave had several ruins of the rooms and walls that were built in the cave. This was a large cave that could have housed several family groups.

After exploring Swallow Cave, Jeff, Wendy and I crossed the river and climbed up the cliffs to the other 5 caves that were high above the river valley. These were the older dwellings that were difficult to get to, but had beautiful views of the valley. One interesting cave had a keyhole entrance that made it unique.

April 29, 2021

First thing in the morning we drove to the main cave of the park. Cueva de la Olla is unique due to a large olla (pot) shaped grainary that dominates the entrance of the cave. The cave also includes many rooms and walls that made up the ancient dwellings. The cave was high on the cliff, but the walk up the rocks was not too difficult.

We stayed in the park until 10 am, when the gates were opened and we could exit. We spent a full day of driving south from the El Willy area, south to Madera, mostly on dirt roads. The dirt road took us through thick forests as we crossed several mountain ranges. There was very little traffic between El Willy and El Largo. We stopped at a small town named Colonia Hernandez and visited a tienda, which are small stores that people usually run out of a room in their house. We like to spend some money in these small towns. Covid has taken a large toll on these small towns and people have been glad to see us come through. It took about 3-1/2 hours to reach El Largo where we had lunch at a local restaurant. 

In El Largo we were able to get phone reception, so Eva called the kids to make sure they were all okay. After eating lunch we continued south towards Madera. The road was paved all the way, so it was an easy 45 mile drive. Our plan was to spend the night at the hot springs, about 20 miles outside of Madera. Before leaving town we learned that the hot springs were closed, but we could camp on the river near the springs. They have overflow pipes from the pools that feed the river and it would be nice to soak under those pipes. There were also several caves in the area that we could explore.

The drive from Madera was a bumpy dirt road with many switchbacks going up one side of the mountain and down the other side. It took 2 hours to drive the 20 miles to the hot springs. We arrived and found the gate was locked that kept us from reaching the river and a good camping spot. We all waited while Frenchie explored further up the canyon towards Cueva Grande. After a half hour he radioed back that he had found a spot near the cave parking area, so we all drove a few more miles to a very nice spot in the woods. To get to the cave we had to cross an old suspension bridge. It’s carries the logging trucks so we assumed it was safe, but it made a lot of noise as we crossed it. It was a warm and quiet night.

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