Crossing the Sierra Gorda


Tucked in the North-Eastern area of the small state of Querétaro is the Reserva de la Biosfera Sierra Gorda. It also extends to the states of Guanajuato, San Luis Potosi and Hidalgo states which makes a large protected area of almost 1 million acres. The mountain range, formed about 240 million years ago (according to Wikipedia – is home of steep, tall limestone massifs on which roads were built on their flanks to allow save passage. The biosphere is home to numerous villages, treks, waterfalls, and with over 2300 species of plants, 130 mammals, 360 species of birds it is a place to discover. There are also archeological sites and is also known as the mission’s road as many cathedrals, called missions, built by Jesuits in villages along the way to spread their doctrines with the locals.

To get there, we had a fair bit of climbing to do. We left Tamasopo using quiet secondary roads leading us through sugar cane plantations and hamlets until we reached a steep climb that killed us both. I guess the 25% incline and the 35 degrees Celsius had a role in that. We made camp not long after and recovered before another big day. We got to highway 85 not long after starting our day. We admired the scenery, nothing short of stunning with the limestones mountains all around us until we arrived at the junction of road 120. We anticipated that moment over the last few days as this road crossed the reserve through its heart, ultimately reaching a pass known as Heaven’s Door at nearly 2600 meters high.

Our first stop along the 120 was Xilitla, a quiet and charming village with streets so steep even motorbikes struggled to go up or down. The main attraction in this Pueblo Magico is Sir James Edward castle, a surrealist place worth visiting. Edward, a poet, and writer who loved traveling ended up in Xilitla where he felt in love with the nature in the area where he decided to make a garden full of flowers and plants. One winter the frost was so cold it destroyed most of his natural garden. Devastated, he turned to concrete and rocks to built structures representing flowers, animals and plants. There are stairways leading to nowhere, statues, and pools where a waterfall naturally flows to fill the built-up ponds. Legends surround the castle, one saying James thought it was the perfect place for God to down to see Earth from his own eyes. We spent an afternoon exploring the Castle before leaving the following morning for a day of climbing.

James Edward castle James Edward castle

Right from the start, limestone cliffs surrounded us, going high above us. We didn’t know where to look! We never saw as many butterflies flying around, it was a pretty amazing day. Many drivers beeped us as they passed, villagers waving at us as a sing of encouragement. Every time we turned a mountain ledge, a new towering hill appeared and in the distance, we could see the road going up its edge. As we gained altitude, summits were covered by thick clouds. In the rare openings of thick vegetation, we could see villages down the valley, proof of the region being inhabited by many indigenous people. The end of the day ended with a small descent to reach flatter ground in a valley where we set up camp on the edge of a farming field.

The following day was, again, mostly climbing. And it was tough. Very hot, humid and exposed to the heat of the sun due to the lack of precious shade provided by trees. The whole day was pretty much between 9 and 12% gradients. We stopped at 3 missions along the way, all with beautiful stoneworks.

Tiph and me riding

Next day started early as we needed to climb to Heaven’s Door, about 1200 meters higher than where we were. We hit the road by 8 AM, immediately fighting gravity as the road zigzagged up mountain faces. Again, the view was stunning and with less traffic of early morning, it was amazing riding. We took many breaks throughout the day, allowing us to recover and let the blood flow normally in our legs screaming of lactic acid. By mid-afternoon, we reached the small village of Pinal de Amoles where we had our second lunch of barbacoa tacos, our tuna sandwich already digested. Tiphaine topped it off with a Snicker bar as I munched on caramel M&Ms. Upon going back on the road, we came across an American guy who’s been living in town for 2 years. He confirmed there was still a fair bit of climbing to do before the road flattens out. We pushed up to arrive at Heaven’s Door as it was getting dark. We opened a gate made up of spiky twigs squeezed between wires and camped on the side of the dirt road. Three trucks passed while we were there but no one stopped or talked to us. We saluted the guys who responded in kind, leaving us to our business.


It was a cold morning, the coldest we’ve had for some time. The views of the Sierra Gorda was simply magnificent with the clouds surrounding the mountains peaks. Heaven’s Door derives its name from the natural effect of fog building upon the top of the road between the mountain faces, giving the effect of going up in the clouds. The event is rare and wasn’t happening on that morning but it didn’t stop passers-by to take photos in the middle of the road.

The first 10 kilometers were up and down, during which we stopped often to take photos and admire the panoramic views. Then, the long descend started. For 25 kilometers, my Garmin showed a negative incline figure. The road zigzagged down the mountain faces and ultimately get down in a valley where the temperatures were a solid 15 degrees higher. The mountains around us looked like giant elephant’s foot, reducing us as insignificant being easy to crush. We started to believe the American guy we met at Pinal de Amoles who told us the best view in the whole of Mexico if from a mountain in this region.

This section saw more traffic than the previous thanks to the starting weekend. Many motorbikes, often in groups, were coming up to explore the Sierra Gorda. Like we experienced since we arrived in Mexico, drivers were extremely courteous toward us, leaving us plenty of room as they overtook us, sometimes waiting behind for a safe passage.

Toward the end of the day, we reached yet another mountain chain to pass and grew tired very quickly. We found a demolished structure by the side of the road yet well hidden from view and set up our sleeping mats on the flat and clean concrete slab to sleep in our million stars accommodation. Moments before, we rolled under a large road sign indicating the Sierra Gorda was behind us.

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Author: Pascal Lachance

I'm Pascal, cyclist, travel lover, software developer by trade and an enthusiastic photographer. I'm now cycling around the world, take the time to visit as many places as I can!