Thursday, February 19, 2015

little boxes on a hillside

Parque al Cajas is breathtakingly high. Tres Cruces (three crosses), the highest point and also a continental divide, is at nearly 15,000 feet. And I didn't fall down!
We started with a walk around a lake surrounded by steep granite hills and valleys resembling Yosemite, but at more than twice the elevation. These small horses run wild but were accustomed to hikers. 
Cajas comes originally from cassas or caxas, a Quechua word referring to the gateway to the snow. Though today it may refer more to the box canyons (caja means box in Spanish). The park is just over 20 years old with well-maintained trails and smooth roads. The u-shaped valleys were formed by glaciers. 
These brick remains are from a German brewery in the first half of the 20th century. 
Our guide Milton pointed out the angel's trumpet flowers and showed us the fruit which contains concentrated powder better known as scopolamine. It's the drug in my timed seasickness patch and was used as truth serum by the military. 
These gorgeous amber trees are known as arbol de papel, paper trees. I never did find out why it's known as the quinoa forest. 
Art nouveau font classes up the keep off the grass signs. 
The view from 4167 meters (13,671 feet). Some people describe the pampas—the moors—as being similar in appearance to the Scottish highlands. 
It's a little mossy and muddy, but not too bad. We had knee-high rubber boots on. 
Not the first place you'd expect to find a bunny. Lots of tiny alpine flowers too, above the tree line. 
Eventually the altitude got to me, and I headed back to the ranger station and our van. 
These spiky things are related to agave and yucca. 
The spiky cactus flowers (which are not cacti) are cool too. 
At the top of the hill, I managed to munch on a few chocolate almonds and a tube of goo left over from the half marathon. 
We spotted a few wild llamas on the top of the ridge. Cuenca has been charming, moreso since the stores and restaurants reopened yesterday after Carnaval. But I'm excited to head down to 2300 meters tomorrow. Imagine what my brain will be able to do with all that oxygen.