The Cumbres del Ajusco National Park is one of the many national parks near Mexico City. It is famous for Ajusco–a lava dome volcano known for its high elevations reaching 3,900 metres above sea level and visible from any part of Mexico City. Being a mountain area, the park is characterised by pine-oak forests and high mountain grassland.
“Cumbres del Ajusco” means “watered grove peaks”–an appropriate name for this mountainous region covered with lush green forest with many flowers. The Balsas and Lerma rivers begin in the heart of the Cumbres del Ajusco. The mountain range accounts for approximately half of the area of the Mexican Federal District, the rest of which is occupied by Mexico City. The area is key to the conservation of the ecosystem. Even though the park is considered an area in jeopardy of being negatively affected by urban expansion, the Cumbres del Ajusco has a great diversity of flora and fauna endemic to the mountain range that goes through the centre of Mexico.
The Cumbres del Ajusco has attracted people since approximately 1200 BC; Otomíes are thought to have been the first to inhabit the Ajusco area. During the pre-Columbian Era, an area now known as Tlalpan (which covers the park) was inhabited by natives known as Tepanecas.
During the 17th century, the Viceroyalty of New Spain made it a state policy to find all rural indigenous populations living in the mountainous areas of the Cumbres del Ajusco, and resettle them to a smaller area so that they could be converted to Christianity. Today there still remain many old Spanish churches along the edge of the Cumbres del Ajusco. The Cumbres del Ajusco National Park was created by decree on 23 September 1936 by the Mexican federal government. The park was later expanded to its current state of 920 hectares on 19 May 1947.
The elevations reaching 3,900 metres above sea level are part of the Sierra de Ajusco-Chichinauhtzin mountain range (with Cerro La Cruz del Marqués being the highest peak–3,930 metres). The area around the peak is a popular destination for locals and tourists, with activities such mountain biking, horseback riding, motorcycling, hiking and climbing.
The highest peaks in the Cumbres del Ajusco National Park include also Cruz del Marqués (3,930 metres), Pico del Águila (3,880 metres), Santo Tomás (3,710 metres) and Mezontepec (3,480 metres). The mountains are constituted of perforated volcanic rock inhibiting surface rivers to form. There are many subterranean rivers that feed fresh water springs in the lower areas of the park and in the surrounding valleys. This mountain offers stunning views, where all of the Valley of Mexico can be seen (weather and pollution permitting), including the city and its skyscrapers.
The park includes various species of trees from the following families: pinus, abies, quercus, juniperus, and arbutus. Throughout the park the fauna changes due to various physical geographic features.
Abies religiosa, locally known as Oyamel (from náhuatl language), is one of the many abies species located in the park. At altitudes between 2,700 and 3,500 metres above sea level, abies are the most common. They grow most proficiently in rich organic soils with abundant moisture all year. The pine forests abound at elevations between 2,350 to 4,000 metres; the most common pinus species are: pinus leiophylla, pinus montezumae, pinus rudis, pinus teocote and pinus hartwegii. Pinus hartwegii is one of the pinus species that have become endangered.
The park’s fauna consists of many mammals, such as bats, shrews, opossums, volcano rabbits, squirrels, least weasels, skunks, coyotes, and bobcats. There are also three common snake species in the park: milk snake, rattlesnake, and plain-bellied water snake.
The bird species in the park have been known to feed in the Mexico City metropolitan area due to its proximity to the park. The main bird species observed in the park are: house sparrow, barn swallow, lark, chalk-browed mockingbird, woodpecker, goldcrest, blue jay, black vulture and golden eagle.
The general area of the Cumbres del Ajusco National Park is one of the few around Mexico City where it may snow in the winter.