Desierto de los Leones National Park
Desierto de los Leones National Park is located entirely within the limits of the Federal District
Mexico City
Mexico City is the Federal District , capital of Mexico and seat of the federal powers of the Mexican Union. It is a federal entity within Mexico which is not part of any one of the 31 Mexican states but belongs to the federation as a whole...

, it stretches between Cuajimalpa
Cuajimalpa de Morelos is one of the 16 boroughs of Mexico City. Its name comes from the indigenous expression "over sticks of wood"...

 and Álvaro Obregón
Álvaro Obregón, D.F.
Álvaro Obregón is one of the 16 delegaciones into which Mexico's Federal District is divided. It contains a large portion of the south-west part of Mexico City. It had a 2010 census population of 727,034 inhabitants and lies at an elevation of 2,319 m...

It is located in the Sierra de las Cruces mountain range west of the city center with an area of 1,867 hectare
The hectare is a metric unit of area defined as 10,000 square metres , and primarily used in the measurement of land. In 1795, when the metric system was introduced, the are was defined as being 100 square metres and the hectare was thus 100 ares or 1/100 km2...

s, representing fifteen percent of the entire Valley of Mexico. The area was used as a retreat for a religious group, thus the name Desierto (Desert) means not "arid place", but not populated. The "Leones" part of the name does not refer to the animals, but rather to the original landlord's lastname.

The park's altitude varies between 2,600 and 3,700 meters above sea level, giving the area a relatively cold and damp climate. It is a forested area primarily with pines, oyamel firs and holm oak
Holm Oak
Quercus ilex, the Holm Oak or Holly Oak is a large evergreen oak native to the Mediterranean region. It takes its name from holm, an ancient name for holly...

s with many brooks, ravines and waterfalls. The park is considered to be the oldest protected biosphere
The biosphere is the global sum of all ecosystems. It can also be called the zone of life on Earth, a closed and self-regulating system...

 in Mexico. It was originally declared a forest reserve in 1876 by President Lerdo de Tejada
Sebastián Lerdo de Tejada
Sebastián Lerdo de Tejada y Corral was a jurist and Liberal president of Mexico.-Background:...

 with the intent of conserving its fresh water springs to supply Mexico City. It was later declared a national park on 27 November 1917, by President Venustiano Carranza
Venustiano Carranza
Venustiano Carranza de la Garza, was one of the leaders of the Mexican Revolution. He ultimately became President of Mexico following the overthrow of the dictatorial Huerta regime in the summer of 1914 and during his administration the current constitution of Mexico was drafted...



The park's name, Desierto de los Leones is largely due the Carmelite
The Order of the Brothers of Our Lady of Mount Carmel or Carmelites is a Catholic religious order perhaps founded in the 12th century on Mount Carmel, hence its name. However, historical records about its origin remain uncertain...

Monastery denotes the building, or complex of buildings, that houses a room reserved for prayer as well as the domestic quarters and workplace of monastics, whether monks or nuns, and whether living in community or alone .Monasteries may vary greatly in size – a small dwelling accommodating only...

 situated just north of its center. Carmelite monks called their residences “deserts.” but the exact origin of “de los Leones” is not known. The first monastery complex was constructed between 1606 and 1611. By 1711, this structure had deteriorated greatly. It was demolished and a new one was built in its place adjoining just south of the original complex. By the end of the 18th century, the cold, damp weather and increasingly frequent visitors forced the monks to move their monastery to Tenancingo in 1801. The monastery was declared a national monument on 16 May 1937.
The 18th century structure has a number of areas that have been restored and opened to the public. In addition to the old monastery, the park attracts visitors for the nature that surrounds the complex. The park offers activities such as day camping, overnight camping, hiking, and mountain biking. The forest area of the park has deteriorated due to natural and man-made reasons. There is a insect plague in many of the trees, and insufficient vigilance and control of access has led to the park being used for pasture, garbage dumping, logging, and off-path mountain biking
Mountain biking
Mountain biking is a sport which consists of riding bicycles off-road, often over rough terrain, using specially adapted mountain bikes. Mountain bikes share similarities with other bikes, but incorporate features designed to enhance durability and performance in rough terrain.Mountain biking can...

 by the park’s neighbors.

The monastery was built in the very early 17th century for a group of Carmelite monks who came from Italy to evangelize the Native American
Native Americans in the United States
Native Americans in the United States are the indigenous peoples in North America within the boundaries of the present-day continental United States, parts of Alaska, and the island state of Hawaii. They are composed of numerous, distinct tribes, states, and ethnic groups, many of which survive as...

s. They received the financial backing of Don Melchor de Cuéllar. Originally Melchor stipulated that the monastery be built ten leagues from the city of Puebla
Puebla, Puebla
The city and municipality of Puebla is the capital of the state of Puebla, and one of the five most important colonial cities in Mexico. Being a planned city, it is located to the east of Mexico City and west of Mexico's main port, Veracruz, on the main route between the two.The city was founded...

. However, in these mountains, then known as Santa Fe, an image of John the Baptist
John the Baptist
John the Baptist was an itinerant preacher and a major religious figure mentioned in the Canonical gospels. He is described in the Gospel of Luke as a relative of Jesus, who led a movement of baptism at the Jordan River...

 reportedly appeared in San Mateo Tlaltenango before Friar Juan de la Madre de Dios. This caused Cuellar to accept this location for the monastery. Pedro Cortés, the Marquis de Valle de Oaxaca and grandson of Hernan Cortes, objected to the appropriation of the land before the vice royal government. However, he was overruled, and the monks obtained the rights to the land and permission to build from the vice royal government in 1604. The monastery was constructed by Friar Andrés de San Miguel between 1606 and 1611. The first stone was laid on 23 January 1606 by then-Viceroy Juan de Mendoza y Luna. It was a relatively simple structure of two stories, with a wood shingle roof, narrow corridors and small rooms called “cells” for the monks to sleep and study in. A 12,570 meter wall was built with only one opening facing the town of Cuajimalpa which still remains.

By 1711, this structure had deteriorated greatly due to the area’s dampness, a number of fires and a strong earthquake. It was demolished and new one built in its place. A one story structure was built adjoining south of the old site, with the old site becoming a large patio area just outside the main entrance of the new structure. On 8 February 1712, Brother Pedro del Espiritú laid the first stone of the new monastery. Work continued under Manuel de Herrera and was finished by José Antonio de Roa. At the same time, ten small hermitages were built in the forest outside of the monasteries walls.

By the end of the 18th century, the inclement weather and increasingly frequent visitors forced the monks to move their monastery to Tenancingo in 1801, taking with them the remains of their original benefactor Don Melchor de Cuéllar. The ceded their rights to the land to the newly independent Mexican government in the early 19th century. In 1845, General Santa Anna
Antonio López de Santa Anna
Antonio de Padua María Severino López de Santa Anna y Pérez de Lebrón , often known as Santa Anna or López de Santa Anna, known as "the Napoleon of the West," was a Mexican political leader, general, and president who greatly influenced early Mexican and Spanish politics and government...

 began to use the area for military exercises and as barracks for his artillery corps. Later, the main church of the complex was gutted, and in its place was a glass factory, which also operated as a foundry for counterfeit coins.

During the Mexican Revolution
Mexican Revolution
The Mexican Revolution was a major armed struggle that started in 1910, with an uprising led by Francisco I. Madero against longtime autocrat Porfirio Díaz. The Revolution was characterized by several socialist, liberal, anarchist, populist, and agrarianist movements. Over time the Revolution...

, the site was occupied by rebel forces. The monastery was declared a national monument on 16 May 1937. The 18th century structure has a number of areas that have been restored and open to the public. Just inside the main entrance is the Patio de la Hosteria. In one of the walls surrounding this patio there is a stone from the 17th century structure inscribed to the memory of its patron Melchor de Cuéllar. In the middle of the structure is the dining area. Here, there is a prominent shelf on which was displayed a human skull to remind the monks of the fragility of mortal life and to encourage them not to enjoy their food too much. For many years, the displayed skull belonged to a Brother Damian de San Basilio, a brother of the monastery, which was put there in honor of his virtue.
Only the outside of monastery’s church can be seen as the interior has not been restored. On its façade, the shield of the Carmelite Order and a stain glass window depicting Mount Carmel
Mount Carmel
Mount Carmel ; , Kármēlos; , Kurmul or جبل مار إلياس Jabal Mar Elyas 'Mount Saint Elias') is a coastal mountain range in northern Israel stretching from the Mediterranean Sea towards the southeast. Archaeologists have discovered ancient wine and oil presses at various locations on Mt. Carmel...

 can be seen. In the center of this façade, there used to be an image of the Our Lady of Mount Carmel
Our Lady of Mount Carmel
Our Lady of Mount Carmel is the title given to the Blessed Virgin Mary in her role as patroness of the Carmelite Order. The first Carmelites were Christian hermits living on Mount Carmel in the Holy Land during the late 12th and early to mid 13th centuries...

 with niches containing statues of the prophets Elijah and Elisha
Elisha is a prophet mentioned in the Hebrew Bible and the Qur'an. His name is commonly transliterated into English as Elisha via Hebrew, Eliseus via Greek and Latin, or Alyasa via Arabic.-Biblical biography:...

. The first stone from the earlier monastery is embedded here, inscribed to honor Viceroy Mendoza y Luna, who authorized the monastery’s founding. The choir had an altarpiece with a life-sized crucifix and served as the main altar. This crucifix was called the “Lord of the Seven Fortunes” and was surrounded by paintings depicting the crucifixion.
Under the monastery is the basement area, which is almost completely dark, damp and cold. Although widely believed to have been used for punishment, they were built to allow water from nearby springs to flow underneath and be used for mundane purposes such as watering the gardens and cleaning. This cold running water also allowed them to use parts of the basement area to refrigerate foods.
Outside the main gate of the monastery, just beyond the traces of the walls of the original monastery, is the “Chapel of Secrets.” It has a domed roof and its acoustics allowed monks face into the corner to speak to another monk during the long stretches of imposed silence in the monastery. Surrounding the entire complex is the “Barda de la Excomunicacion” (Wall of Excommunication
Excommunication is a religious censure used to deprive, suspend or limit membership in a religious community. The word means putting [someone] out of communion. In some religions, excommunication includes spiritual condemnation of the member or group...

) named so because supposedly any woman that crossed it was subject to excommunication from the Catholic Church.

Ten small hermitages
Hermitage (religious retreat)
Although today's meaning is usually a place where a hermit lives in seclusion from the world, hermitage was more commonly used to mean a settlement where a person or a group of people lived religiously, in seclusion.-Western Christian Tradition:...

 were built with the monastery and are named San José, San Elias, San Juan Bautista, Santa María Magdalena, Santa Soledad, San Alberto, Getsemaní, de la Trinidad, San Juan de la Cruz and Santa Bibiana. They are small, with an oratory
Oratory is a type of public speaking.Oratory may also refer to:* Oratory , a power metal band* Oratory , a place of worship* a religious order such as** Oratory of Saint Philip Neri ** Oratory of Jesus...

, a bed, a small kitchen and a wall surrounding the building. The hermitage of Santa Bibiana was replaced with a chapel. Three of the closest hermitages are La Soledad, La Trinidad and Getsemani with a path leading to them from the monastery. The structure furthest from the monastery is the chapel/hermitage built at the top of San Miguel Peak.


The park is located in the Federal District of Mexico City distributed between the boroughs of Cuajimalpa and Álvaro Obregón. Its altitude varies between 2,600 and 3,700 meters above sea level. The park is seven km long, three km wide with an area of 1,867 hectares. It is one of the most important natural areas of the Federal District, protecting much of the Sierra de las Cruces mountain range and represents about 15% of the Valley of Mexico
Valley of Mexico
The Valley of Mexico is a highlands plateau in central Mexico roughly coterminous with the present-day Distrito Federal and the eastern half of the State of Mexico. Surrounded by mountains and volcanoes, the Valley of Mexico was a centre for several pre-Columbian civilizations, including...

The climate of the park is relatively cold and damp due to its altitude. It rains here daily much of the year and fog is common year round. Because of this climate and the rugged terrain, it has many ravine
A ravine is a landform narrower than a canyon and is often the product of streamcutting erosion. Ravines are typically classified as larger in scale than gullies, although smaller than valleys. A ravine is generally a fluvial slope landform of relatively steep sides, on the order of twenty to...

s, brooks, streams and a number of waterfalls.
Plant life is dominated by pines, oyamel firs and holm oaks, which are broken up by meadow
A meadow is a field vegetated primarily by grass and other non-woody plants . The term is from Old English mædwe. In agriculture a meadow is grassland which is not grazed by domestic livestock but rather allowed to grow unchecked in order to make hay...

s.(resdesc) Other flora include Hartweg's Pine
Hartweg's Pine
Hartweg's Pine, Pinus hartwegii; syn. P. rudis, P. donnell-smithii) is a pine native to the mountains of Mexico and Central America east to Honduras. It is a very high altitude species, growing at altitudes of 2500-4300 m, and forms the alpine tree line on most of Mexico's higher mountains. It is...

Sigesbeckia is a genus of annual plants in the aster family.-Origin:Sigesbeckia is named for a a botanist Johann Sigesebeck, who was a strong critic of Carl Linnaeus's botanic classification system...

, alchemilla procumbens
Alchemilla is a genus of herbaceous perennial plants in the Rosaceae, and a popular garden herb with the common name Lady's mantle. There are about 300 species, the majority native to cool temperate and subarctic regions of Europe and Asia, with a few species native to the mountains of Africa,...

, sage
Salvia is the largest genus of plants in the mint family, Lamiaceae, with approximately 700-900 species of shrubs, herbaceous perennials, and annuals. It is one of several genera commonly referred to as sage. When used without modifiers, sage generally refers to Salvia officinalis ; however, it is...

, little leaf snowberries
Symphoricarpos, with common names in English of Snowberry, Waxberry or Ghostberry, is a small genus of about 15 species of deciduous shrubs in the honeysuckle family, Caprifoliaceae. All species are natives of North and Central America, except one native to western China...

 , muhlenbergia
Muhlenbergia is a genus of grass in the Poaceae family. It is named in honour of the American amateur botanist Gotthilf Heinrich Ernst Muhlenberg. There are around 155 species. Many are known by the common name muhly....

, festuca, calamagrostis
Calamagrostis, or Small-reed or Reedgrass, is a genus in the Grass family Poaceae with about 260 species that occur mainly in temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere and the southern hemisphere. Towards equatorial latitudes, species of Calamagrostis generally occur at higher elevations in...

, lupin
Lupinus, commonly known as Lupins or lupines , is a genus in the legume family . The genus comprises about 280 species , with major centers of diversity in South and western North America , and the Andes and secondary centers in the Mediterranean region and Africa Lupinus, commonly known as Lupins...

s, beard-tongue
Penstemon , Beard-tongue, is a large genus of North American and East Asian plants traditionally placed in the Scrophulariaceae family. Due to new genetic research, it has now been placed in the vastly expanded family Plantaginaceae...

, ragwort
Senecio is a genus of the daisy family that includes ragworts and groundsels. The flower heads are normally rayed, completely yellow, and the heads are borne in branched clusters...

, muly
Muhlenbergia is a genus of grass in the Poaceae family. It is named in honour of the American amateur botanist Gotthilf Heinrich Ernst Muhlenberg. There are around 155 species. Many are known by the common name muhly....

, and oak
An oak is a tree or shrub in the genus Quercus , of which about 600 species exist. "Oak" may also appear in the names of species in related genera, notably Lithocarpus...

s. Animal life in the park has decreased significantly since it was established. Animals that can still be found include raccoon
Procyon is a genus of nocturnal mammals, comprising three species commonly known as raccoons, in the family Procyonidae. The most familiar species, the common raccoon , is often known simply as "the" raccoon, as the two other raccoon species in the genus are native only to the tropics and are...

s, rabbits, squirrels, white-tailed deer
White-tailed Deer
The white-tailed deer , also known as the Virginia deer or simply as the whitetail, is a medium-sized deer native to the United States , Canada, Mexico, Central America, and South America as far south as Peru...

, lynx
A lynx is any of the four Lynx genus species of medium-sized wildcats. The name "lynx" originated in Middle English via Latin from Greek word "λύγξ", derived from the Indo-European root "*leuk-", meaning "light, brightness", in reference to the luminescence of its reflective eyes...

es, ring-tailed cat
Ring-tailed Cat
The ringtail is a mammal of the raccoon family , native to arid regions of North America. It is also known as the ringtail cat, ring-tailed cat or miner's cat, and is also sometimes mistakenly called a "civet cat"...

s, coyotes, grey foxes, skunks, bats, long-tailed shrew
Long-tailed Shrew
The Long-tailed Shrew or Rock Shrew is a small North American shrew found in Atlantic Canada and the north-eastern United States....

s, salamander
Salamander is a common name of approximately 500 species of amphibians. They are typically characterized by a superficially lizard-like appearance, with their slender bodies, short noses, and long tails. All known fossils and extinct species fall under the order Caudata, while sometimes the extant...

s, rattlesnakes and lizards There are a number of species of birds including bluebirds, American Robin
American Robin
The American Robin or North American Robin is a migratory songbird of the thrush family. It is named after the European Robin because of its reddish-orange breast, though the two species are not closely related, with the European robin belonging to the flycatcher family...

s, sparrowhawk
The Eurasian Sparrowhawk is a small bird of prey in the family Accipitridae. Adult male Eurasian Sparrowhawks have bluish grey upperparts and orange-barred underparts; females and juveniles are brown above with brown barring below...

s, red-tailed hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
The Red-tailed Hawk is a bird of prey, one of three species colloquially known in the United States as the "chickenhawk," though it rarely preys on standard sized chickens. It breeds throughout most of North America, from western Alaska and northern Canada to as far south as Panama and the West...

s, turkey buzzards, kestrel
The name kestrel, is given to several different members of the falcon genus, Falco. Kestrels are most easily distinguished by their typical hunting behaviour which is to hover at a height of around over open country and swoop down on prey, usually small mammals, lizards or large insects...

s, peregrine falcon
Peregrine Falcon
The Peregrine Falcon , also known as the Peregrine, and historically as the Duck Hawk in North America, is a widespread bird of prey in the family Falconidae. A large, crow-sized falcon, it has a blue-gray back, barred white underparts, and a black head and "moustache"...

s and song thrushes
Song Thrush
The Song Thrush is a thrush that breeds across much of Eurasia. It is also known in English dialects as throstle or mavis. It has brown upperparts and black-spotted cream or buff underparts and has three recognised subspecies...

The park is considered to be the oldest protected biosphere in Mexico. It was originally declared a forest reserved in 1876 by President Lerdo de Tejada with the intent of conserving its fresh water springs to supply Mexico City. It was later declared a national park on 27 November 1917 by President Venustiano Carranza who was motivated by the area’s landscape and the cultural value of the abandoned monastery which lends its name to the park. The park remained under federal management until 2000, when Secretary of the Environment, Natural Resources and Fishing gave control of the park to the government of Mexico City.(correon)

As a recreational and ecotourism attraction

The ex-monastery occasionally holds art exhibits, but the park’s main attraction is the nature that surrounds the complex. The park offers activities such as day camping, overnight camping, hiking, and mountain biking. Facilities include picnic tables, grills, children’s playgrounds. There are also shops selling wood handcrafts and restaurants near the old monastery.

Problems of the park

The forest area of the park has deteriorated due to natural and man-made reasons. Some of the natural problems include the arrival of a larva
A larva is a distinct juvenile form many animals undergo before metamorphosis into adults. Animals with indirect development such as insects, amphibians, or cnidarians typically have a larval phase of their life cycle...

that strips barks from trees and residual problems from a forest fire in 1998, which destroyed about 450 hectares in the higher elevations of the park. Now there is a fire station called Brigada Regional Uno de la Delegación Cuajimalpa in the community of La Venta and an observation tower at San Miguel peak to watch for fires. There are also trees that are dying from acid rain.
Other problems are man-made, as there is insufficient control over human activities in the forest. No one lives in the park proper but urban development has nearly surrounded the entire forest and over 16,000 people live right on the park’s borders. There is insufficient vigilance and control of access especially in the southern section. Parts of the park are being used for pasture, garbage dumping, logging, and off-path mountain biking.
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