“I’m organizing a hike to La Piedra Balanceada de Juanacatlán,” announced Mario Guerrero. “It is so short and easy that even my wife is going to go.”
I passed this news around to lots of friends, most of whom decided to pass, commenting that too many of Mario’s “short-n-easy” hikes had proved just a wee bit too long-n-hard for their taste.
I, of course, took the bait, along with a few friends I could describe as “hardy hikers.”
Fast forward to the very night before the hike, when I learn that neither Mario nor his wife can make it because their son is going to be operated on. “But it’s dead easy to find the trail,” says Mario. “It starts right from the plaza of Juanacatlán and goes both to the rock and to a rancho called San Francisquito—just ask anybody.”
The next morning we park at one end of the plaza and ask “just anybody” about the footpath to La Piedra Balanceada and San Francisquito.
The first anybody tells us there is no such trail. The second anybody sends us out of town to a decrepit cobblestone road, which, I must admit, does have a beat-up sign that says “San Francisco.”
We walked along the steadily rising road admiring the greenery on both sides. We passed patches of thick mud suggesting that only very robust trucks and jeeps use this route which we now understand is obviously not Mario’s “beautiful trail.” After just short of two hours, sweating profusely, we arrived at the famous Balanced Rock, too pooped out to bother trying to make it move. The altitude atop the rock was 2817 meters above sea level. Here we had a great picnic, gobbling up jicama and other tasty finger food made by Maruca González.Because we had left our car at the plaza, we just started walking along this road, figuring it would eventually dwindle into a footpath. The first thing we came to was a huge slate quarry. This would be a fascinating place to visit on a weekday when you could watch workers removing big pieces of smooth slate several meters across. Curiously, I learned from one of my fellow hikers, Jorge Monroy, that Mexican schools never used slate for blackboards. “Our pizarrones were made of painted wood instead of pizarra (slate), although there’s plenty of slate around this area and it’s dirt cheap,” he said.
Now it was time to start looking for Mario’s trail. Two local men came along and gave us advice:
“It’s that-a-way,” said the first. “Just go straight and you’ll end up right in Juanacatlán. You can´t go wrong.”
“What trail?” said the second. “The last time I tried to find my way in these hills I was lost for three days!”
As I mentioned, all of my companions were hardy hikers, now determined more than ever to return to Juanacatlán via Mario’s trail. As you can already guess, we walked only about a kilometer until we came to a three-way fork. So much for “just go straight.” Unfortunately, all three trails seemed headed in the general direction of Juanacatlán, so which one should we choose?
Glancing up at the ever-darkening sky, I said, “Ustedes decidan” (you guys decide), conjuring up in my mind a picture of the four of us sleeping under wet pine needles for the next three days.
“We choose the trail on the far right,” they said. This looked just like the proverbial less-traveled road to me. “OK,” I said, “I just hope Iván Ahumada here (a biologist) knows which of all these mushrooms are edible. I have a feeling that could be really useful info in the next few days.”
The less-traveled path turned out to be one of the most beautiful trails I’ve been on in the Tapalpa area, which is noted for its great outdoor beauty. The trees were incredibly tall here and we soon passed a bubbling brook whose waters must be safe to drink because that’s what Jorge did with no ill effects. Along the way we saw so many strange and beautiful mushrooms that all I could think about was photographing them, forgetting entirely my vision of being stranded in the woods.
That less-traveled trail turned out a winner and in no time we reached the edge of Juanacatlán and then the plaza, just where Mario had told us we should start the hike.
If you would like to take what really is a short, easy and great walk, don’t ask “anybody” in Juanacatlán for directions; just read the paragraph below. The total distance from the town to Balanced Rock is 4.7 kilometers with a vertical difference of 336 meters and the walk may take two hours each way with lots of stops for snapping pictures.
How to get there
Take the Colima toll road or the libre to the Tapalpa exit. Head uphill, towards Tapalpa, for 25 kilometers until you come to Cabañas la Frontera where you must turn right onto the highway that heads for Atémajac. After 10.6 kilometers, you’ll come to Juanacatlán. Go into town looking for the church steeple. At the northeast end of the plaza you’ll find Calle Pascual Morones (N20.03374 W103.68779). You can either walk from here or drive northeast along the rough road for two kilometers to where the road turns into a path (N20.04183 W103.67236). The Balanced Rock is at N20.05563 W103.65361and the slate quarry at N20.03866 W103.68603. If you want to eat at a great restaurant after your hike, Amor Corazón is less than a kilometer to the north at N20.04147 W103.69050. This hike is on Wikiloc.com under “Juanacatlan to Balanced Rock.” Driving time from Guadalajara is about 90 minutes.