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April 2000

by David R. Ferry

I want to repost my previous directions to the volcanos of Colima, after the post by Stephen Dinsmore on his recent trip.

First of all, they had some marvelous encounters and I complement them in their enthusiasm and tenacity.  What an incredible amount of driving!

I just visited the same area in February, however, and I didn't find the road up Volcan del Fuego all that bad.  We made it up in our usual rented Suburban to the 8 km exclusion zone which is decribed below.  The rainy season doesn't start for another month at least, so I doubt if the road changed that much after I was there.

I agree that the National Park road up the east side of the volcanos is wonderful, as is the other microwave tower road described below.  However, the east side is much wetter and has somewhat different birds than the west side, and both should be birded.

The name of the eastern volcano is, I believe, Volcan de Nieve, not Nevado.  Since the former means "snow" and the latter "snowy", it probably doesn't matter.  Also, the peak that you see from the pass on the national park road is actually Nieve (or Nevado), not Fuego.  You have to drive about 7 km further and climb a ridge on the north flank of Nieve before you can see the smoking cone of Fuego to the immediate west.  You can't do that currently, however, because the road is closed at the same 8 km exclusion zone because of the volacno's activity.

Finally, I agree that the world's (or at least Mexico's) most confusing intersection is the circle off of the toll road at Atenquique that gave Dinsmore and colleagues so much trouble.  This was the first year that I didn't get lost at least once negotiating it.  I hope the directions below are clear enough.


To get to the Volcán del Fuego road coming from Guadalajara on the Guadalajara-Colima toll road, take the Atenquique exit and follow the signs for "Colima Libre", the old free road to Colima.  After winding down the hill and into the deep pit that contains the Atenquique paper plant, proceed up the hill to the north.  About 500 m after cresting the hill, there is the familiar Telmex sign on the right which indicates the road up Fuego.  Set your odometer here.  The lower part of the road proceeds straight up the slope of the volcano through agricultural fields and is good for sparrows, kingbirds, raptors, and quail.  The road begins to switchback up into pine-oak forest at about 7 km.  This is the habitat of White-striped Woodcreeper, Chestnut-sided Shrike-Vireo, etc.  There is a side road on the way up at about 10 km indicated by the Telmex sign which goes a short way up to the obvious microwave tower site itself.  I have seen Dwarf Vireo and Amethyst-throated Hummingbird there.  At 18 km on the original road, there is a moderate-sized camping area on the right which is supposed to be the day roost for a Stygian Owl (although I have not seen it in five tries).  A few km later, the road is closed by a "No Hay Paso" sign because of the 8 km exclusion zone around Fuego.  If one were to ignore this sign and continue to the end of the road at 10,000 feet, you would be about 3 km from the summit of the volcano and in deep weeds if it popped.

To get to this road coming from Colima on the toll road is a little trickier.  Take the Tuxpan exit and proceed to the world's most confusing traffic circle.  Follow the circle around and take the "Colima Libre" road, in spite of the fact that you just came from Colima.  Then follow the previous directions.

To get to the two Nieve roads coming from Guadalajara, exit at Ciudad Guzman and take the main 4-lane road out of town towards Colima.  Turn right at a small sign on the right which says "Technologico".  This road passes under the toll road and passed the Ciudad Guzman Technological College.  The paved road passes by a huge unused prison on the right which must have cost the state's budget for a year.  Just as the road begins some serious switchbacking, look for a sign on the left which says "Parque Nacional".  This extraordinary dirt road must have cost another year's budget to build.  It goes up through more fields which are very much worth a look, through great pine and pine-oak forest to a pass at 11,000 feet.  There is an emergency shelter cabin here and a great view of Nieve.  You can keep going on this road down into a good camping area just below Nieve.  The road keeps going to a set of microwave towers and concrete observation building at 12,500 feet which is at eye-level with Fuego.  The road is closed by a chain 2 km from the top, once again because of the 8 km exclusion zone.

The other road up Nieve is a few km further up the paved road, and takes off exactly as the road goes over a pass at 7,000 feet.  Another Telmex sign indicates the dirt road's origin on the left.  This road starts high and gets higher quickly.  After a few km there is a large meadow with barbed-wire fencing which is worth a quick look.  The real treat, however, is another meadow which will be obvious at the 9,000 foot level.  If there are any flowers here at all, there will be hundreds or thousands of hummingbirds, including Bumblebee (mostly in "female" plumage).  This is also the easiest place I know to see Flowerpiercers.  The road curls steeply to the left and goes up to the microwave towers and other roads continue on through various parts of the forest.  All are worth a look.

To get to these roads from Colima takes a bit of experience or (hopefully) these directions.  Take the same Tuxpan exit that you did for the Fuego road, and go around the same confusing traffic circle.  Believe it or not, take the very same "Colima Libre" road.  As the ramp curves right down the slope, you will finally see a sign for "Guadalajara Libre" which was indicated nowhere on the traffic circle.  Turn right on this road.  The old road parallels the toll road and finally crosses over it just before Ciudad Guzman.  The road ends at the four lane highway which runs out of Ciudad Guzman.  Turn left here and look for the "Technologico" sign again and turn left.

If you are going back to Colima from the Nieve roads and want to get on the toll road (which is a good idea since the old road winds through many steep-walled canyons), there is a neat trick to help you.  Take the free road back towards Colima and watch carefully for the sign to Tuxpan as you near Atenquique.  As soon as you exit, the onramp for Colima Cuota (the toll road) is on the left (before you get to the infamous traffic circle).  This is not signed at all.  If you get confused, go up to the circle and follow the signs for "Colima Cuota" which will take you exactly back to the ramp I just described but which now may make more sense.

Any questions?  It only took five years to get all of this straight.  Contact me if you need to, and good birding!

David R Ferry
Yucaipa, CA