By John Pint
In most places, a straight line is the shortest distance between
two points, but not in many parts of Jalisco’s Primavera Forest.
A person trying to take a shortcut to some spot only 100 meters
away may suddenly find himself standing on the edge of a sheer
cliff 30 meters high. The bottom can be seen straight down
below, but it’s only ten meters wide and then another parallel
cliff rises up on the other side. In some cases, you might be
able to walk around this fissure-like canyon—if it’s not too
long—and be on your way. Otherwise, clambering down to the
bottom and back up the other side could take many, many hours,
if not days.
So how can you go for a hike in El Bosque without becoming
frustrated (or a missing person)?
The solution is to take advantage of the canyons themselves,
many of which offer easy-walking routes to interesting sites or
are, in themselves, so fascinating that it really doesn’t matter
where they go.
A fine example of a canyon that stands on its own merits is
Arroyo El Carbón, which starts at the edge of La Venta del
Astillero (ten kilometers west of Guadalajara) and heads
southeast for about two kilometers, straight toward the heart of
the forest. As for the arroyo’s name, “carbón” can mean coal,
carbon or charcoal. There’s certainly no coal in the volcanic
tuffs of this area, but this long arroyo may have given
charcoal-makers living in La Venta easy access to fallen
trees—of which we found plenty a kilometer and a half from the
This arroyo is much too narrow to be called a canyon. In a few
places, it’s actually less than a meter wide, so I guess in
English we would call it a gully or gulch, even though its walls
are sometimes 50 meters high. Some have suggested that these
features may qualify as Slot Canyons.
The most striking features I noticed in my first exploration of
Arroyo El Carbón were long, parallel rows of natural shelves
lining the smooth walls in many places. “This ought to be called
Pantry Gulch,” I said to myself, recalling the pantry in the
perpetually cold basement of my childhood home, its shelves
always laden with canned tomatoes, peaches, plums and pickles in
mason jars, the product of hours of hard work by all the ladies
of the neighborhood—a dramatic cooperative effort involving
clouds of steam, powerful smells and incessant gossip, nowadays,
alas, degenerated into a boring visit to Walmart.
Besides shelves, the gully’s walls are also decorated with
brightly colored moss and plenty of wildflowers, including some
very nice little Pine-Pink Orchids (Bletia reflexa).
One kilometer from the entrance, there’s a small spring and pool
of cool water which no doubt account for numerous paw prints
nearby on the sandy floor, including many that look suspiciously
like those of the Primavera Forest’s celebrated pumas.
Not far beyond the spring, it is necessary to climb up small
walls to continue along ever higher levels of the arroyo,
sometimes requiring you to scramble up wobbly, leaning tree
branches placed there by past explorers. You might also come
upon mounds of jal (volcanic sand) and rocks, the results of
recent collapses of the gully’s soft walls.
Because of all this, I suggest that the Puma’s Pool would be a
wise place for most hikers (especially families) to enjoy a
sandwich and then to turn around and head back out. This would
make for a round-trip walk of two kilometers while allowing you
to experience to the fullest the marvels of beautiful Arroyo el
How to get there
Head west out of Guadalajara on Avenida Vallarta. Ten kilometers
past the Periférico (Ring Road), you’ll be in La Venta del
Astillero. Keep your eyes open for the first pedestrian
overpass. You need to turn left on Calle Allende, which is the
first street after the overpass, but to do this, you must drive
on forward a bit, make a U-turn and come back. Take Allende
south until it ends. Make a left and then a right onto Avenida
de los Pinos. Follow this 190 meters south until you come to a
high-tension-wire tower. Just before the tower, turn left onto a
dirt road which will take you 280 meters south to the edge of a
deep barranca. Park somewhere around here (not too close to the
edge of the barranca, please!) and continue walking down the
same road, which is now paved with cobblestones, to the dry
river bed below. From here walk 130 meters southwest and you’ll
see the entrance (N20 43.089 W103 32.470) to narrow Arroyo El
Carbón, heading southeast. Driving time from Guadalajara to the
parking spot: about 25 minutes.