1-21-04 Wed. Mostly cloudy. We got all packed and left Monterrey about 10 driving south through Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas to the small city of Gonzalez, about 60 miles north of Tampico. That is where the Cerro de Bernal that I wanted to see is located.
We had a good trip with no problems, arriving about 5. We used some of the time driving to practice Spanish. I could see the mountain from 20 miles away as a very prominent landmark. As we still had some daylight left, we drove west and then south to get some good views of the mountain and take some pictures.
Cerro de Bernal, or Bernal de Horcasitas as they call it here, is the classic example of the stump of an old volcano, with the harder inner core remaining after the softer outer cone has eroded away. It looks exactly like the stump of a gigantic tree, and when the clouds cover the top, you can imagine the trunk and branches extending up into the heavens. Most of the upper part consists of shear rocky cliffs, but there are several chutes or clefts of vegetated talus which extend all the way to the top allowing ascent without ropes.
There was supposed to be one on the NW side, but I couldn't see it when we drove around to that side. There was one that I could see on the SE side near village of Graciano Sanchez, so thought that I might attempt to climb it if I could get close enough, or find someone to guide me. When we got to Graciano Sanchez it was a small village of dirt streets and mostly cement or adobe houses.
I stopped at the only store and asked if there was anyone who could guide me to the mountain. He knew of two brothers who went hunting there a lot
and gave me directions to their house. I located one of them who was very
friendly and willing to give me information. But he said he had to work tomorrow, so called over his brother Gustavo Cano who was off tomorrow.
Arrangements were made to meet him at his house tomorrow at 8 am. He asked us to bring him a sandwich from town for his lunch. He didn't want to take Myrna with us, but I told him she was in good shape and walked all the time. My plan was to have her walk in with us and then wait at the base of the mountain while we climbed to the top.
They thought we could do it in 6 hours. I asked several times how much they would charge but they wouldn't tell me. We drove back to Gonzalez, looked around town a little, then got a room at the better of the two motels in town, which still left a lot to be desired.
1-22-04 Thur. Gonzales, Tamaulipas. Mostly cloudy and warm. Threatening
rain. We got up early, packed, and left the motel. It was starting to drizzle-a bad sign.
We drove down the main street of Gonzalez and found a food stand open where we bought a beef sandwich like Gustavo had requested. I wasn't impressed with the way they made it scooping mayonnaise out of a gallon jar that had apparently been left open outside all night. Then we drove out to Graciano Sanchez, 30 minutes away. I was wondering if Gustavo would back out as the weather didn't look very good, but he was up and ready to go.
He invited us in to his house and introduced us to his wife who was a very pleasant woman-a professional seamstress. She had 3 nice sewing machines in the front room of their 3 room cinder block home, including a new professional surger.
He showed us the deers heads from the bucks he has shot up on the Cerro. He wanted to take his rifle along today in case he sees anything. We drove north of Graciano Sanchez to the turnoff which he showed us, then went about 5-10 miles back in the country on dirt roads which were fairly primitive, but not that rough.
We finally had gone as far as we could drive. The mountain still looked a long way off, but we started off on foot in good spirits. By then the clouds had lifted and the sun was trying to shine.
We traveled about 3-4 miles thru dense tropical woodland, along overgrown trails that the former wood cutters had made. Gustavo said that they used to harvest a lot of ebony and palo de arco from here, hauling it out on burros, but apparently the government made them stop. In places the trails were pretty much overgrown, but Gustavo had his trusty machete and was very adept with it, clearing trail for a good three hours without tiring. His machete was different than the ones I have seen, having a pointed tip like a sword.
There was a lot of bird life around although all I really saw were the vultures circling overhead. He says that there is a lot of wildlife here and pointed out signs of deer and javelina, and says he has shot bobcats before.
What surprised me was the denseness of the vegetation. From a distance it just looks like brush land, but when you get into it the land is covered with trees 40-60 feet tall overshadowing the dense underbrush, and supporting all kinds of vines and hanging parasitic ferns and moss. Once we left the car we couldn't see anything farther away than a hundred feet, so it was very difficult to get a bearing.
Occasionally we got a glimpse of the spires of the peak through the tops of the trees, but most of the time Gustavo just went by instinct. Once I saw what it was like, I was very thankful that I had arranged for a guide instead of doing it on my own like I had considered doing. It took us 3 hours to get to the base of the peak, and the only way you could tell you were there was that the grade got much steeper.
Gustavo was surprised at how well Myrna had done on the trail and said that the women around here couldn't have done it.
At the base of the mountain there is a very interesting forest of what Gustavo called Soyate trees. They seem to be similar to mangroves, but have a very broad, conical base which goes up to about 10 feet, then a regular sized tree grows from there on. These conical trunks averaged 10 feet diameter at the base, and these trees were quite dense right at the base of the mountain. They gave a rather enchanted effect to the whole atmosphere.
Myrna said they reminded her of something you might imagine seeing on another planet.
The wood itself was very wet, and when the tree dies, the remaining woody skeleton is just like a vegetable sponge.
We left Myrna at the base of the mountain on a large rock to wait for us as her knees do not do well coming down steep slopes. She had a whistle to communicate with us.
It was about 500-1000 farther up to the top with a 60% grade. After another 45 minutes we finally broke out of the vegetation enough to be able to see out over the surrounding landscape. In the far distance was the white speck of our car.
There are also a lot of lagoons and lakes associated with the large Panuco River to the south. We also noticed to our disappointment that we had come up the wrong chute so could not go completely to the top.
I climbed up to the top of the chute where it butted into the cliffs and could look over into the next one, and up to the top, but I could go no further.
The next chute to the west was the proper one which led all the way to the top. But to go back down and follow that one back up would have taken too much time, so we had to abandon the attempt. But we got within 200-300 feet of the top and I achieved pretty much everything that I had wanted to do and see.
I was able to get some pretty good pictures considering the weather. We descended back down to where Myrna was waiting, finding her easily by means of the whistle. We started back to the car and Gustavo was wanting to go fast. He had seen some ominous black clouds to the north and was worried that a storm was coming in, and if the dirt roads got wet we might not be able to get the car out until they dried.
But Myrna was pretty tired by then and her knees were starting to bother her, so she had to go slow, and I wasn't in much better shape, so Gustavo was constantly having to wait for us. We finally made it back down about 3:30, very glad to see El Blanquito, which is what Gustavo called our Nissan Sentra. And I had a new appreciation for the tough Mexican campesino, and a greater respect for the tropical forest.
Gustavo had talked quite a bit about religion (he and his wife are Pentecostal) and he seems to be very religious, so I told him about the Book of Mormon, and gave him a copy. I asked him again how much I owed him for his time, and he just told me to decide. I had felt that $50 (500 pesos) would be a good price, so gave him that. He seemed pleased. When we got back to his house, his wife invited us to stay and have some beef soup with them.
They have a very humble home, and are very humble people. I felt very much at home and thoroughly enjoyed the visit. Myrna also seemed to get along very well with Senora Cano.
After we left, we drove back to Gonzalez, then the 60 miles on south to Tampico. By the time we got there it was dark and the streets were crowded. I was very tired by then and having a hard time staying awake, and we couldn't find the streets where the three hotels were located. But we finally found one and got a good room, and had a hot shower. Then off to bed before 10 for a change.
The photos of Cumorah3 below are courtesy of Jim Warr.
Above is from the highway looking east.
Above is from the highway looking west.
Above is from the end of the dirt road where they began walking in.
Above is the vegetation at the base of the Cerro.
Above is Gustavo about 2/3's of the way up the south face.
Above is the south face near the top.
Above is the view southeastward.
Above is view of the top from the top of the chute they climbed.
Above is Gustavo and Myrna back at the base of the hill.
Regarding "Cerro Bernal" - the hill called "Cumoroh3" elsewhere on this website:
As I understand it, quite a few years ago a number of LDS professionals gathered to discuss the location of the hill called Cumorah where the final Jaredite and Nephite battles took place, as recorded in The Book of Mormon - Another Testament of Jesus Christ.
Everyone at that gathering knew that the hill today called "Cumorah" located near Palmyra, New York is the actual hill where Moroni buried the golden plates that he later showed to Joseph Smith, founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But it was unlikely, these people believed, that the final battles took place in that location. Professional research around Hill Cumorah in New York has failed to produce evidence of large battles in the area, and it doesn't fit in with some of the descriptions in the Book of Mormon.
Two locations for Cumorah of the Final Battles were proposed at the gathering of LDS professionals, and were discussed. One was the Hill Vejia in Mexico. Vejia is still favored by quite a few LDS professionals and is a stop on "Book of Mormon" tours. Vejia is mentioned in books on the Mesoamerica theories of Book of Mormon geography.
But not much if any professional field research has been done at Vejia, or at the other location.
The second (less favored) location was Cerro Bernal Horcasitas near Mante, Tamaulipas, Mexico. This is the hill favored by Dr. Jerry L Ainsworth, the hill he is researching. See The Hill Cumorah is not Cerro Vejia in the Reading Room.
Dr. Ainsworth may soon publish evidence that could be strong enough to sway popular opinions away from Vejia, and towards Cerro Bernal. Subscribers to our free monthly newsletter will be the first to read about it.
The photos above are of Cerro Bernal, or simply "Bernal"...
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