|Very organized parking and checkin area|
|Is this a baby Ceiba???|
Things are different now in a post-Covid world. Instead of offering guided educational tours, the organization has had to come up with a more safe way to allow people to visit the site. The number of people allowed in was limited, and staggered by arrival time. And to take the place of a tour guide, they set up a self-guided tour using an app that has GPS tracking, and marked areas of interest, complete with an educational description of each site, and an interactive test! Fun stuff! Today's hike consisted of 10 stops, and I learned a lot through the app, because I can now go back and view the information again for a more in-depth study. While I did miss the personal interaction with the group's awesome people, we did get to chat with some of them along the way.
|Definitely a Ceiba!|
guide book to help me identify the many species of flora and fauna we encounter on our walks.
|Along the paved trail, there were several sandy paths leading to the bay.|
|Las Cabezas - the heads, are in reference to the headlands seen in this photo at the horizon line.|
Note: The italicized inserts were taken from the App created by Para La Naturaleza
Station 1: The Cabezas de San Juan Nature Reserve has several chapters in its history from the geological origin of its most notable features around 90 million years ago. The 'heads', or rocky headlands visible in the distance, have welcomed numerous storms and hurricanes, but have also been an important navigation icon since ancient times.The "Cabezas de San Juan" their name is due to the headlands or headlands that can be seen from the sea towards the coast. Today, from the highest point of the reserve, the oldest lighthouse in Puerto Rico continues to give light to boaters.In this space, Nature has built one of the most diverse resources in our archipelago. The 11 coastal ecosystems represented in the Cabezas de San Juan Nature Reserve allow us to learn about biodiversity, interdependence, ecological services, resilience and the need to conserve these spaces for the well-being of our society.
Just beyond the first station, we had the choice to divert off the pavement to see more of the app stops, or to continue walking on the paved road. It seems like there were more people NOT using the educational app, and I can truly say that they were not maximizing this experience!
We happily took off through the brushy forest, where the effects of the hurricanes could still be seen. So many fallen trees! But, the workers and volunteers who have been cleaning so diligently these past two years, have done a wonderful job in clearing the pathways for us to enjoy.
Walking through the wild area, we were far enough away from others that we lowered our masks so that we could breathe in the changing scents that enveloped us as we walked along. Soon we came to station #2.
La Vereda de los Almácigos runs through an old coconut palm plantation that has been recovering its structure as a sub-tropical coastal forest. Among the plant species, the tamarindillo (Leucaena leucocephala) stands out, an invasive species that negatively affects the growth of native species. Its accelerated spread began when cattle were removed from the land when it was acquired by the Puerto Rico Conservation Trust in 1975. The green pod was used to feed cattle, its wood to build fences and make charcoal; it is considered very useful in nitrogen fixation.During the journey, you can also see the coconut palm (Cocos nucifera) native to the Asian tropics, and the almácigo (Bursera simaruba) species native to the Caribbean. Common birds such as the common warbler (Coereba flaveola) and the white-winged turtle dove (Zenaida asiatica) can be heard. So the Coconut Palm is not native to the Caribbean or Puerto Rico; was introduced.
In the landscape of the Cabezas de San Juan Nature Reserve, a tall, upright tree whose reddish or silver bark falls in sheets like paper is striking, that is the almácigo (Bursera simaruba), a native tree of the Caribbean. It is a very versatile species, although it is considered a dry climate, it grows very well in humid climates. It thrives on sandy, salty, clayey, flat or sloping soils. It is resistant to hurricane winds so it has been recommended as an alternative to reforest.In Puerto Rico many people know it as the soup tree because when there was no food to eat, its bark was scraped and boiled to make broth, it was used as a home remedy for stomach ailments and a substitute for breast milk.
|It is very tall...|
|Random: Just thought this looked like a chicken foot!|
|A little bird's nest, low enough for us to peer inside.|
|The butterflies were LOVING these, and I stopped to try to get a good photo of them...|
|But they moved so quickly, this is the only in focus pic I got... with BRUCE!|
This place arose a little more than 500 years ago and, from this side of the Cabezas de San Juan Nature Reserve, this strip of sediment is the closest point between Laguna Grande and Ensenada Yegua.To avoid the inclemencies of the Atlantic Ocean, and shorten the trip from Las Croabas to the reefs of Ensenada Yeguas, many local fishermen and sailors crossed the lagoon. Once they reached the so-called Fisherman's Walk, they passed their yola rolling it on logs until they reached the other side and continued their journey.Even with a maximum depth of 5m (15 ') and a mud bottom, the Laguna Grande is the most transparent in Puerto Rico. It is famous for being one of the bioluminescent bodies of water that we have on our islands. The channel that connects it to the sea is what gives life to this natural wonder. Dozens of fish and invertebrates, many of commercial interest, live there permanently, others only come to visit during specific stages of their life cycle
|The Bioluminescent Bay, up close and personal, and the lighthouse beyond!|
It is said that in the lands surrounding this cove there were many horses, hence its name Ensenada Yeguas. A bit of sand from its extensive beach tells us about the diversity of soils present in the Cabezas de San Juan Nature Reserve; from sediments of marine origin such as pieces of coral and algae to gray and tiny rocks that remind us of the volcanic origin of our islands 100 million years ago. Submerged in its waters we find a great metropolis, called a coral reef, where dozens of fish species such as damsels, doctors and butterflies and invertebrates such as sea urchins, sea cucumbers, sponges, among others, live.The coral reef is the most diverse marine ecosystem on the planet and they only develop in tropical areas. Among its incalculable functions, it deals with calming the waves that come from open waters, creating ideal conditions for the development of seagrasses, which are flowering plants that have adapted to the marine environment.
|Aid tent up ahead, but we're good!|
|Termite trails everywhere!|
Termites are social insects that live in colonies and are organized in a caste system, they are different social classes according to their roles and responsibilities; similar to bees and other insects.Did you know that termite nests are the largest than those of any other insect in Puerto Rico. This refuge, also known as termites, are consoles with a warm, controlled temperature and a relatively high interior humidity to avoid the desiccation of termites.This structure provides its inhabitants with a type of micro-climate appropriate for them. Termites have the appearance of a large, round ball, appear to have a rough texture, and are dark brown in color.Termites are made of soil, wood and their own feces that stick with their saliva. Termites are a fundamental part of our forests since they are one of the insects responsible for the decomposition of organic matter such as the bark of trees, trunks and branches.
By this time, it was beginning to get warm. The sun was higher overhead and there was less shade to be had on the paved trail. We walked along the edge, so that we could take advantage of the scanty shade from the brush. The distance between the termite station and the next seemed long, as we turned away from the coast. Somewhere along this way, I missed app station #8, but we would go back through it. Bruce was beginning to make noises like he might be done with this activity... But we hadn't reached the boardwalk!
Station #8 Ecology designates an ecotone to a transition zone between one ecosystem to another, this definition also applies to ecological communities. This imaginary line between two ecosystems or communities facilitates the exchange of diversity and provides a route or highway for the movements of organisms from one place to another. These zones tend to be extremely active and dynamic.You can take a photo in this place to show the world that you can be in two ecosystems at the same time. If they do it with the states, why not do it with nature? At the moment you are walking a dividing line, a transition zone between a dry forest and a mangrove forest; two different ecological elements.But what is a subtropical dry forest? It is a type of forest that is established in places where the amount of rain that is received in the year generally does not exceed 44 inches (20-40 cm) and occurs in very limited periods. The predominant vegetation in the place is adapted to living here.
|Photo credit: Para La Naturaleza|
|Ildamaris, the woman who created the educational app material. Sweet girl!|
|Tiny cluster of flowers on the mangrove tree!|
Station #9, somewhere in the mangroves!
Suddenly, surrounded by strange trees with extensive roots in reddish water, you smell a rotten egg smell. That is the sign that the forest is working. The tree that produces this effect is the red mangrove (Rhizophora mangle), its name is for a dye that it has just under its bark, the same tannin that grapes have. To live in an unstable soil, and without oxygen, it has developed an anchoring system so strong that it is able to withstand strong hurricanes, those roots also allow it to do its gas exchange. It is also the habitat for countless species that find in their roots a space to rest, feed and, for some, a place to live. We cannot forget that we are in a salty water environment, sometimes more salty than the sea. Many times we see something swimming that looks like tadpoles, they are actually larval or juvenile stages of fish. More than 70% of the marine species that end up on our plate spend some stage of their life in the mangrove.
Station #10 is in the movie: This platform presents the mangrove forest from a different dimension than the one our ancestors knew.In Puerto Rico there is only a quarter of the mangroves that existed almost 100 years ago. In those days it was a source of firewood and charcoal, wood to build fishing gear and repair boats, and a refuge for boats in times of storms and hurricanes.Their most precious value is not seen with the naked eye, these tropical trees, adapted to living submerged in salt water, are one of the best carbon dioxide traps on the planet, which is one of the gases that accelerates climate change. In the mangrove forest of the Cabezas de San Juan Nature Reserve there are the four species of mangroves present on our islands, the red mangrove, black mangrove, white mangrove and button mangrove.
At the end of the boardwalk, I could tell that Bruce was becoming less interested in seeing the lighthouse. We could see the steep walkway leading up to it, and I wasn't even sure that we would be able to go inside. But I just couldn't come all this way and NOT get as close to it as possible... I had waited far too long to let this opportunity slip away. Bruce agreed to sit in the shade at the mangrove station while I made the steep climb on my own.
|You can see the top of the lighthouse over the trees. Getting closer!|
|And up... ! Almost there!|
|And THERE it is!|
|I am here!|
|Cayo Icacos, where many boats lie at anchor. (sigh...)|
|Isla Palominos. We'll take a tour there some day soon...|
|See those boats? That could have been us!|
|Looking to the west, you see the BioBay, Bahia las Cabezas and the mountains of El Yunque!|
Faro Las Cabezas de San Juan... I paused only a moment while waiting for another couple to come back out of the lighthouse. Then, all by myself, I had the extreme pleasure of taking a long look inside. I have to say that I was very surprised at how GOOD it all looks. I had heard for some time, that it was being restored, but it looks to me like it's just about done! This is going to be an amazing educational facility when they're done!
|Gotta document this with the selfies!!|
|Looks ready to me!|
|These old floors are amazing!|
|OMG!! There it is!!|
|Very happy face!|
Note: Wearing of masks and social distancing is required at all times when you're in public here in Puerto Rico. The photos shown here not wearing masks, or with them down, were solely for the photos. We have honored the requirements of our government so that we can put this pandemic behind us as quickly as possible. Also, Bruce has had his vaccination, and I'm in the middle of mine.