What a pleasure it has been to get acquainted with Manuel Valenzuela, Founder and Director of Operations for Tierra Chamahua Eco Adventures at Rancho Los Baños as we completed this interview. As I strive to find words that express my fascination and desire to experience the wonders of Tierra Chamahua, just south of the US / Mexican border in the Sonora State, I find myself reading about the ranch on their website, and I can’t stop reading! Manuel expresses the unique wonders and mysteries of the area better than my favorite western novel writer has in the mountains of western novels that I have read of his. Maybe that is because he doesn’t just live there. No, not just living and working in the area, Manuel’s ranch has been in the family for generations and they are actually part of this place of beauty.
After reading the interview with Manuel and reviewing his website, I am sure you will agree that when Manuel says, “Tierra Chamahua EcoAdventures strives to maintain a harmonious balance between guests and Nature, with an emphasis on returning our guests to a natural world long since forgotten, a world of immense beauty and peace.” that he speaks the truth and lives a way of life that many have forgotten. Thank you for sharing your adventures with us Manuel!
How and where were you introduced to the outdoors?
From the time I was still in diapers I have been hiking the canyons of Rancho Los Baños, whether on my father’s shoulders or on my own two feet. I was bouldering and canyoning at a very early age, when everything seemed so massive and perilous, with danger at every corner, yet Dad, as always, being there to reassure and help out. We have learned the land from our father, just as he learned from our grandfather.
And let me tell you, I have yet to grow tired of the dozens of hikes we have because it seems we are always discovering or seeing something new and wonderful. With our five seasons (summer is divided into two – dry summer and wet summer), the ranch changes every time, whether it’s the vegetation or the contours of the river beds, making it seem as if we are hiking through entirely different hikes, ecosystems and landscapes.
This adds to the beauty, the scenery, the trails and canyons. There is something new every time we go out on a hike. Guests ask me if I grow tired or bored with the hikes. On the contrary, my love, respect and appreciation of the land continues to grow. With the ranch in the family now for over 65 years, every generation is born hiking the canyons.
My two year old daughter is already a veteran hiker as she hikes atop our toddler backpack. She loves it, of course, for the sights, smells, sounds and experiences are incredible. Just as family’s pass down secret family recipes, so ours passes on the secrets of the canyons. The respect we have for the land has been passed down generations, and we intend to keep it that way.
What has been your favourite outdoor recreations area?
I love the Columbia River Gorge and Mount Hood in Oregon, as well as Boundary Waters in northern Minnesota. Closer to home, in Arizona, I really enjoy Oak Creek Canyon between Sedona and Flagstaff. Recently we have begun taking excursions across the Sierra Madre into Chihuahua and into Copper Canyon, a remarkable natural wonder that I highly recommend. Those canyons are simply mind-numbing in their spectacular and massive size, five times bigger than the Grand Canyon. Because of our close proximity, we are starting to offer tours there, something we are very excited about.
Of course I am a bit biased but Rancho Los Baños is my all-time favorite, probably because of my love of canyon hiking, with its combination of canyoning, bouldering, climbing and hiking, and the fact that I am guaranteed to never see another hiker on the trail, or another person, trash or noise pollution for that matter, which makes wildlife spotting easier and more exciting. When at the ranch, it’s just me and nature. Nothing else.
Please share an outdoor story related to one of the above areas.
A while back two of us decided to go out for a hike at Rancho Los Baños, through one of the least explored canyons of the ranch. After a short distance we deviated onto an artery branch of the canyon. A bit ahead we were forced to climb and boulder two enormous boulders blocking the river bed. After accomplishing this, which was no easy feat, we continued on what was at the time an entirely new small canyon for us. It is as exotic and scenic as anything else at the ranch, with great trekking, using various disciplines along the way.
Finally, after hiking in awe of our surroundings, we stumbled onto what had once been an ancient hunter/gatherer inhabitance (since dated to about 2,000 years ago), with petroglyphs, arrowheads, metates (grinding stones) and pottery, some of it Intact. Given the large number of locations at the ranch where we have found evidence of ancient human habitation, this one was truly special; isolated, untouched, surrounded by spectacular canyon walls and left almost as if abandoned a few months ago.
It is discoveries like this (with many yet to be made at the ranch) that truly take my breath away. To think that ancient groups once inhabited the land which is now the ranch, 2,000 years ago, struggling to survive, making a life inside canyon walls, raising children, hunting wildlife, gathering what the land provided, surviving a most rugged and wild land and leaving some evidence of their culture just leaves me in awe. It is from these ancient peoples that we got the inspiration for our name, Tierra Chamahua, some of our philosophy, and our logo, which is a petroglyph whose image is taken from one of our caves.
Can you share any unique encounters with wild animals?
Inside El Cajon on a hike not too long ago we heard a shattering of noise to our left side, about 50 yards away. It was an enormous commotion in the brush. We froze to listen and try to discern the noises. It sounded like a struggle between animals, and then we heard the unmistakable sound of a mountain lion and a javalina, followed by the smell of the javelin as it released its glands due to it being attacked.
At first we could not see the apparent struggle. Then, in a split second, in a sudden act of randomness that only happens in nature, we heard the approaching sound of the javelin as it stormed straight for us. The power of the javalina’s run, as it tried to escape the claws of the puma, could be heard reverberating through the canyon’s walls. It sounded eerily like an approaching runaway train, and we were powerless to escape its trajectory, which just so happened to be us.
My friend and I looked at each other and agreed, through a quick glance, to remain frozen instead of running away, knowing the javalina would speed past us, thinking us trees or rocks due to its very bad eyesight. As it approached us, within 25 yards, we spotted the puma, a giant mature male. His stunning beauty is hard to describe, but he was a very big cat.
Suddenly, following the puma, there appeared another equally impressive puma. Both cats were in full chase after the javalina, and suddenly our eyes got that much bigger. The javalina passed us in a split second, roaring past us and disappearing into the brush on the other side of the canyon. We did not bother to see where it headed. Our immediate concern were the two big cats now getting closer to us, running in our direction.
Out of instinct, I quickly drew my backpack to my front and pulled out my emergency mace I had in store just in case we ever ran into an uncooperative big cat. At the sight of us, the two cats put on the brakes, starting wild growls too ominious to describe. For a second there was a stand-off, two humans and two mountain lions, staring each other down, each group not knowing what the other was thinking of doing. Mace at the ready, I quickly picked up a rock and lunged it at one of the cats, hoping it would scare. My friend and I came close together and made ourselves big, raising our arms, extending our bodies, and yelling at the cats, hoping our display of size and testosterone would do the trick.
It did. After a few more seconds the puma’s turned around and quickly disappeared from the brush they had first surfaced out of. The incident made our hearts pound, our adrenaline spike, and our minds go into overdrive. It took us a while to calm down but when we did, we reflected on what had happened and, in hindsight, loved every minute of our encounter with two puma’s and a javalina.
What is your favourite outdoor website?
I love any site that has news, knowledge, information, photos, maps, interviews and videos that help me learn about and open my eyes to the sheer number and beauty of Earth’s little Eden’s. Those with a focus on the environment, sustainable development/travel and a green focus get special attention from me.
What is your favourite outdoor hiking gear store?
I love REI and a Tucson favorite, The Summit Hut.
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