Thursday, February 16, 2017

Cajas National Park: A Candidate for an UNESCO Heritage Site

CGEE Student Voice
Environmentalism in Ecuador series
by Steven Beardsley

On the balcony by the Park Center
Cajas National Park: "A Gateway to the Snowy Mountains
This past Sunday I went with several other teachers to Cajas National Park, a park that is just about thirty minutes outside of Cuenca. Cajas became a national park just 20 years ago in 1996. It is an important place for Ecuador and especially Cuenca because it gets all of its clean water from the naturally forming lakes and rivers in the mountains. There are over 12 different routes you can take ranging in difficulty based on whether you want to hike a flatter trail or rock climb some of the major hills. Another past time in Cajas is trout fishing that was mentioned to me by more than several cab drivers. You can also camp out in the park for another $2-$4 dollars and rent camping equipment. Learn more about planning a visit to Cajas National Park.

Meeting *Matteo the Majestic Alpaca

One of the many Alpacas we saw by the Park Center
The five of us took route A, or the least difficult route, through the park. It took us past the first major lake about a quarter the size of Lake Superior in Minnesota, though the park itself is home to over 200 major lakes. Along the way we saw several large alpacas, posing perfectly in the breeze and sun. In the pictures I am bundled up because the weather in Cajas can be unpredictable. Lows are 30-40 degrees Fahrenheit even dropping to below freezing at night. So if you consider camping in this wonderful place, remember to bring plenty of layers.

Biodiversity in Cajas National Park
The "Quinoa" Forest

Another cool thing about Cajas is that it is home to "at least 600 species of vascular plants, 43  mammals, 157 birds (including 24 hummingbirds), 17 amphibians and 4 reptiles". Route A had us traveling through a mix of the moorland and paper trees that are known locally as “quinoas” (although they aren’t the actual grain that you can have with a salad), and several lagoons and marshland. In Cajas you can see Condors (we didn’t see one sadly D: ), wild horses, cows, alpacas, Andean parrots, hummingbirds, and many other animals.

Archaeological & Scientific Research at Cajas National Park

We were over 12,000 ft. above sea level! 
Cajas has also been the source of many scientific and archaeological investigations. Incan ruins can be found at various sections of the park such as near the Laguna Toreadora and Laguna Atugyacu. Next time I hope to continue exploring the park and maybe visit some ruins as many of the routes range from 1-2 hours to 2 full days. Regarding scientific research, the University of Cuenca has taken students out to do field studies of the water and biodiversity. We saw a meteorological site dedicated to monitoring the changing weather in Cajas. In the morning it can be warm and very sunny only to switch to rain and even sleet in the afternoon and evening.
Part of the Route A path we took; It was a beautiful day

Luckily, we had a very beautiful and warm evening. I definitely want to visit this ecological paradise again and see more of the Incan ruins and meet the various wildlife. You can learn more about Cajas National Park through the links in the post. This month and December I hope to travel to other ecological places in Ecuador such as the Banos in Cuenca, the Amazon rainforest, and some islands in the Galapagos Islands.

Hasta Luego-Until then.

Me and the other CEDEI Teachers at Cajas National Park

*We didn't know if they named the Alpacas, but I decided to call this one "Matteo."

*More great pictures of the park below

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