Dans le désert de Coahuila
© Etudiante Vagabonde. Photography : Dunas de Yeso, Cuatrociénegas
A magical town
Located in the desert region of Coahuila State, Cuatro Ciénegas is part of the 111 Pueblos Magicos (magical villages) in Mexico. Its name means "four marshes" in english.
The formal name of the city is Cuatro Ciénegas de Carranza, in honour of Venustiano Carranza, one of Mexico's many presidents, who was born there in 1859. The house where Carranza was born is now a museum located on Calle Zaragoza near the plaza central.
Million years ago, the valley of Cuatro Ciénegas was covered by a sea that emerged at the same time as the Sierra Madre Oriental, and the folded and fractured marine rocks formed the majority of its mountain ranges and hills..
Now it is a desert with many groundwater-fed streams, ponds, rivers and lakes. which is considered as a protected area for its flora and fauna. This ancient sea offers many opportunities for astrobiology investigation.
The town of Cuatro Ciénegas is a pleasant spot with a typical style from Mexico. The houses are very colored and the center is decorated with a lot of green. On the center square stands the Parroquia San José (Parish church of San José) which was built in 1806 in a neoclassical style.
Many touristic tours in bus are organized departing from the city of Monterrey. It costs around $700 MX for the whole day with everything included (bus transportation, lunch and entrance to every place).
I think the best option, when it's possible, is to share a rental car with some friends and leave from Monterrey enough early because the road lasts around four hours. It allows you to be freer and it costs a bit less.
Three natural tourists attractions in the valley of Cuatrociénegas : the Dunas de Yeso, the Poza Azul and the Rio Mezquites.
After 4 hours driving, we finally arrived to the valley of Cuatrocienegas and we started with the Dunas de Yeso which is part of the protected area of Cuatrocienegas. Las dunas de yeso means dunes of gypsum crystals.
There, the landscape was unreal, a white lightning scenery contrasted with the blue sky, all of this surrounded by mountains.
What seems like white sand is in reality calcium sulfate and silicon.
Dunas de Yeso
These dunes extend over 800 hectares in the desert of Cahuila.
The Cuatro Ciénegas Basin receives less than 200 mm of precipitation per year.
This so white color of the gypsum crystal is generated by its geochemical composition: an hydrated form of calcium sulfate that is rarely in the shape of sand soluble being in water.
An ancient sea ?
Everything started at the time of the Tetis sea, of which Coahuila was a part. As soon as it evaporated after million years, there stayed these crystals of hydrated calcium sulfate, better known as plaster in its purest form, a type of heavy salt that gave origin to the formation of these so white and unique dunes in Mexico. They are the second largest ones in the American continent.
The origin of life ?
The Poza Azul is a small oasis in the desert of Cahuila. Its turquoise water reminded me the Caribbean landscapes.
This natural area surprised me very much when I learned the following extraordinary (scientific) facts.
First, the valley of Cuatro Ciénegas and its surrounding mountains form a highly protected biological reserve of Mexico, comprising over 843 square miles and around 200 pozas (= ponds) like this one.
Then, unique in the world, this area is the house of many plants and animals endemic to the valley. A lot of scientists are interested in this zone to study the evolutionary processes that structured Earth-based life.
Indeed, each natural pool has its own universe with uniques bacterias. The Cuatro Ciénegas Basin is an object of studies for the identification of specimen from the past and present that can be used in the search for extraterrestrial life.
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