Friend Doug once described the U.S. Southwest as ” a whole lotta rocks.” The El Yunque National Forest just outside San Juan, Puerto Rico has over two hundred and forty varieties of plants, some found nowhere else. The forest is in a mountain range in the northeastern corner of the island that has up to two hundred inches of rain a year. It is the only tropical rainforest in the National Forest system. There was a whole lotta of green — with colorful highlights.
We rode a little bus for almost an hour through San Juan. Much of it outside the “old city” is dreary. Homes and businesses are often guarded by fences and barbed wire. It ran right into the adjoining town of Carolina. Our driver took this route because the park did not open until 9:00. The trip back to our ship on main highways was much quicker.
We drove up a narrow road winding through hairpin turns to around 1600 feet where we stopped to take a short walk through the forest. At one point, the driver opened the windows and turned off the air conditioner so that the bus could make the climb, but fortunately it was not raining, and even in summer, it was cooler in the high forest than down below.
Our walk went by a pool 1930s Civilian Conservation Corps members used to bathe as they constructed roads, trails and park facilities many of which still exist. We saw boxes built to house the yunque parrot and other birds but saw no wildlife. Our guide was knowledgeable about the history of the area, but we overheard another guide who clearly knew more about the many ferns, palms, trees and other plants and flowers. I was interested to read a park sign which describes it as a “safe place” with no poisonous plants or dangerous animals.
We paused by an 80 foot waterfall flowing down over a wide rock face. And on our way down the hill we stopped at the stone Yokahu Tower where we climbed the eighty six steps for panoramic views. In one direction there were the cloud covered peaks and in the other a view all way to the Atlantic Ocean.
Our route had been selected to avoid crowds, so it was not until we were on our way down the mountain that we stopped at the park visitor center. The center itself is very attractive and unusual, and it would have been nice to have had more time to look at its many exhibits. Indeed, it would be nice sometime to walk quietly back in the forest in order to really see, not just look.