When I was in school, I had a subscription to National Geographic magazine. Each month when it arrived in the mail, I would find myself flipping through the pages, hoping to one day get out and explore some of nature’s strange and incredible sites. México certainly has its fair share of fascinating natural wonders worthy of the pages of National Geographic, and I got to experience them firsthand!
Fascinating Flamingos. The first stop on our wildlife adventure: Celestun Wildlife Refuge near Mérida. As soon as the team arrived we rented two speed boats and made our way down the expanse of the Celestun River in search of one thing -- flocks of flamingos.
Each winter, upwards of 20,000 flamingos migrate to Celestun Wildlife Refuge. Here, the super salty and shallow waters provide an abundance of brine shrimp. Flamingo beaks are specially adapted to help filter these critters from mud and silt, but they only work upside down, leading to the flamingo’s distinctive appearance when eating. Their diets consist of almost nothing but the small orange or pink-colored crustaceans, which turn the flamingo pink. Simply put, the more shrimp a flamingo eats, the darker pink it becomes!
While flamingo sightings are not always guaranteed, we spotted a couple hundred, a relatively small number for these social birds whose flock can number up to 10,000!
Creepy Cenotes. Imagine yourself deep underground, swimming in a silent, still lake. Sleeping bats cover the ceiling and what rests beneath was once believed to be a gateway to the Underworld. I thought of this when I jumped into the clear waters of a cenote.
Cenote (pronounced say-NOH-tay), is basically a fancy name for an underground cave filled with fresh water. In México, there are more than 3,000 cenotes and they are popular swimming, snorkeling, and scuba diving sites.
Cenotes are a geological wonder. They are formed when a hard crust of rock sits over softer earth. Over time, this soft earth is slowly eroded by ground water, creating pools or pockets under the rock. If the water table is below the rock surface, a gap of air is formed between the water and the rock, which can make the crust collapse into the lake creating a cave or cenote.
There are four types of cenotes. The shape and size can vary depending on how the cenote was formed. (See the cheat sheet!)
Sinkholes and watery caves like these exist in various places all over the planet. However, scientists believe the high concentration of cenotes in the Yucatán is the result of a meteor impact around 65 million years ago, creating a large number of cracks and pockets in the limestone underground. These cracks offered tiny openings that water could creep into, starting the process of slowly eroding the limestone over years and years.
The cenotes in the Yucatán are located on the outside rim of the impact crater. Cracking occurred the most at the rim, the boundary where the existing rock met the earth compacted by the meteor. Simply put, imagine a baseball being hit through a glass window. The area around the baseball’s hole would be badly cracked, but still attached to the window. This broken, yet intact limestone, is where the cenotes were formed.
A Tremendous Tree in Tule. In the small town of Santa María del Tule in Oaxaca, I visited one of the world’s oldest and largest living things: El Árbol del Tule. Scientists date the tree between 2,000 and 3,000 years old and it weighs in at a whopping 500+ tons. To put that in context for you, imagine a parking lot of 40 school buses. That’s about equal to the weight of this tree!
After gawking at the sheer size of the tree, I examined the twists and turns of the massive trunk. I began to notice life-like shapes taking form on the bark: a mighty lion’s mane, a pineapple, and an elephant with its trunk hanging to the ground. Just like staring up at passing clouds, finding shapes in this tree’s bark is limited only by visitors’ imaginations.What worldly wonders amaze you?
Let’s see some more colorful creatures.
© ProjectExplorer.org, 2010. All Rights Reserved.