It is known that the first settlers of the territory known today as the Sierra Norte of Oaxaca were 10 Zapotec families, who abandoned their native land Zaachila, with the hope to find more fertile lands than the ones from the Oaxacan valley. Since that moment, the Zapotec communities settled in the highlands of the sierra have called themselves “Gente de las nubes” (people of the clouds) due to the winds from the Golf of Mexico that drags cloudiness up to the Sierra Norte, surrounding and wrapping with fog all the Serrano Pueblos.
Since that moment a strong link was created between the pueblos and its surrounding. It is said that Guizo, “The lord of the mountains” lives in the Sierra Norte and takes care of the people of the mountain. This is why the indigenous pueblos from the area founded population that were prosper , who managed with wisdom their resources and had commercial trades with the neighboring pueblos.
At the Spanish arrival, the Azotic maintained certain Independence in their lifestyle, different from their neighboring towns like the Mazatec, Chinantec, and Cuicatec. This helped them to preserve their way of life and have control over their territories, same that have been taken jealousy care of until today.
Creating ecotourism enterprises and as a consequence reducing forest depending activity impacts, is a way in which Zapotec people can take care of their environment.
The Sierra Norte is recognized as an important area, due to the variety of microenvironments found in the region that supports an abundant diversity of flora and fauna. The determinations of the existence and location factors of these microenvironments are from different topographical zones, altitudinal, geological and climatic conditions in the region.
The altitude gradient in the Sierra Norte goes from 100 meters above sea level to 3,300 meters above sea level, constituting Mexico’s largest natural corridor of well-preserved forests and jungles, considered the most diverse in the world (WWF, 1995). The Sierra Norte is home of 50% of the flora of the state of Oaxaca.
This region has broad climatic zones: the windward side facing the Gulf of Mexico has from cold to warm climates and the downwind side, that experiences the shadow effect causes the weather to become drier and warmer as elevation decreases towards the valleys of Oaxaca (from 3,300 to 1,500 meters above sea level) providing favorable tropical and temperate flora and fauna conditions for its development.
From the tropical forests with deciduous cactus and a great variety of endemic species, you can get up and trough to the pine and oak forests, reaching the top of the mountain, where sub-alpine meadows (similar to Swiss meadows) await your arrival
This is the point where we meet the ¨cloudy forests¨ where we will find plants growing over plants. The trunks and branches of the trees are usually covered with epiphytic plants such as mosses, orchids, vines and ferns. The cloudy forests of the Sierra Norte of Oaxaca represent the largest untouched zone in the north of the Andes in the American continent.
Among these forests we find some very old ones: Mexican Oreomunnea forests, a tree species similar to those that existed 22 million years ago during the Miocene age, and that today exist only in humid lands of the Sierra. Nationally these forests are classified as the richest plant species.
When descending, the lowlands are covered by tropical forests, where we find giant trees covered by vines.
It is estimated that our Sierra is home of about 2,000 plant species in total. Many of which have medicinal properties, existing between them a high endemism level, this means, not found anywhere else in the world. This is critical because many of them are highly threatened.
Mexico is a bird Paradise. Our country ranks in the fifth place with numerous endemic bird species worldwide, inside Mexico, Oaxaca is home of most of them. For reasons like this, the Sierra Norte of Oaxaca is an important area for bird conservation, a category declared by the government of Mexico. Nationally this mountain system ranks in the first place in endemic species. We will show you some of the most relevant species:
More than 400 bird species. In your hikes in Pueblos Mancomunados you will probably see and hear numerous wild species, including the Mexican Trogon or "Flag Bird," family of the famous quetzal bird whose colors recall those of the Mexican flag. It is also very common to see the flashing blue Chara Enana, which loudly sings in the mountains.
Over 350 butterfly species. Including several endemic species such as the rare Butterfly Esperanza, that only lives in a community of our Sierra.
Six Wildcats species and several feline animals like the jaguar and the ocelot.
The climatic zones of the Sierra Norte, goes from the subtropical to the predominant temperate and sub-humid climate above 1000 meters. The average temperature varies between 16 to 20 degrees Celsius with frequent frosts on the highlands The higher we get in the mountains, the cooler it will be which means that while someone is dying with the heat of the lowlands; you will need a sweater to explore the mountaintop. That is why the lowlands (200 masl) have warm weathers all year round with an average temperature of 24 º C. while the summits (3,000 masl) have a cold climate with an average temperature of 8 to 10 ° C.
Every day the clouds tend to accumulate around the mountains causing the forests in the Gulf of Mexico region to receive more rain, with an annual average ranging from 700mm to 2000mm or more. This is equivalent to the annual average that places like the Peruvian Amazon may register. The rainy season occurs from mid-May through December, with the heaviest rains between July and September, but with greener and cloudier landscapes. On the other hand, the dry season is from December to May, which is more wet and cold.
The conservation of the Sierra by Indigenous Peoples
The 400,000 ha. of the Sierra are under the indigenous communities ´control (Zapotec, Chinantec and Mixes) through approximately 60 communal properties.
The good preservation of these natural areas is no accident. The communities of the Sierra Norte have ancient knowledge inherited from their ancestors, about the rational use, protection and conservation of resources of their territory. Today, the indigenous communities provide to this region a splendid cultural heritage manifested in a careful way of relating to nature.
The communities choose to preserve the wilderness areas. The farmers of the Sierra Norte do not use pesticides or improved seeds, which has allowed many native varieties of domesticated and special wild plants to maintain its genetic wealth.