Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Cadiz: Trees of the Ice Age

The View from the Trail
Hiking in the Cadiz Mountain range, I was seeking the Pinsapar, a type of fir that existed in the Ice Age.  It is the oldest species of tree in Europe, and the Spanish government  set aside an area of this forest preserve in its natural state so that no clearing, cutting, or removal of debris can occur.

To reach the forest, I and 20 other hikers plod a path that climbed steeply upward for about 100 meters or so and then leveled off -- although I had to pick my way through rocky crevices on the path and be careful not to slip or twist an ankle.  In some spots, the wind was quite strong, and then we would walk into a more protected area, where the air was crisp but not windy.  Clouds moved quickly along the sky.

Along the way, we heard bellowing from the bucks of the Red Deer seeking their mates.  I spotted several flock of blackbirds, probably rooks although at first I thought  they were ravens (but no, not that large).  I heard twittering in the trees that I could not identify and we had to keep moving . . . not really a birders' excursion.   A fellow hiker spied two Ibex posing on a rock and then we used our best visual skills to see and, if the camera were equpped with a zoom lens, to photograph them.

Pinsapar Tree:  Relic of Ice Age

Traveling to the firs, we passed through a forest of planted pines, small olive trees (similar to Autumn Olive) and bushes with red berries festooned with mistletoe.  I smelled wild oregano and gingerly touched pink thistles and miscellaneous succulents.  There are approximately 71,300 different species in these limestone mountains of Cadiz. 

When we reached them, the firs appeared like the traditional triangular Christmas trees, but the needles are so uniform they almost look artificial.  The female cones, long spheres, hang at the top, while the male ones are smaller, near the center of the tree.  The 35-square meter area was named a Common Heritage of Mankind by UNESCO in 1977.  We had a special permit to visit, and permits are limited during the year to protect the area.

It was peaceful to walk among these craggy mountains and challenging to keep my balance on the rocky paths, but at the end of the trail, we were rewarded by a stop in El Pueblo de Grazalema where I enjoyed  tapas of venison and a glass of white wine before motoring back to the ship.
Emily, Milton and Kay's white wine

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