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El Pinacate y Gran Desierto de Altar Biosphere Reserve

El Pinacate y Gran Desierto de Altar, Mexico

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El Pinacate y Gran Desierto de Altar Biosphere Reserve (Spanish: Reserva de la Biosfera El Pinacate y Gran Desierto de Altar), is a biosphere reserve and UNESCO World Heritage Site managed by the Federal government of Mexico, specifically by Secretariat of the Environment and Natural Resources, in collaboration with state government of Sonora and the Tohono O'odham. It is in the Sonoran Desert in Northwest Mexico, east of Gulf of California, in the eastern part Gran Desierto de Altar, just below the border of Arizona, United States and north of the city of Puerto Peñasco. It is one of the most significant visible landforms in North America seen from space. A volcanic system, known as Santa Clara is the main part of the landscape, including three peaks; Pinacate, Carnegie and Medio. In the area there are over 540 species of plants, 40 species of mammals, 200 of birds, 40 of reptiles, also amphibians and freshwater fishes. There are threatened endemic species as sonoran pronghorn, bighorn sheep, gila monster and desert tortoise.

The extension of the Biosphere Reserve is 7,146 km², greater than that of the states of Aguascalientes, Colima, Morelos and Tlaxcala separated.

El Pinacate y Gran Desierto de Altar is known for its unique physical and biological characteristics, by the presence of a volcano shield, and by the extensive areas of active dunes that surround it and the greatest concentration of Maar craters. The Pinacate mountain range has orogenic features of high interest for its abruptly conformation, product of volcanic eruptions, that accumulated lava in compact rocks, sand and volcanic ashes that formed colors of special beauty and craters as El Elegante, Cerro Colorado, MacDougal y Sykes.

Picos del Pinacate (Pinacate Peaks) are a group of volcanic peaks and volcanic cinder cones, are located north of the recreation center of Puerto Peñasco. The highest peaks are Cerro del Pinacate (also called Santa Clara volcano), with an elevation of 3,904 feet (1,190 m). Pinacate comes from náhuatl pinacatl, desert endemic beetle.

The volcanoes have erupted sporadically for about 4 million years. The most recent activity was about 11 000 years. From 1965 to 1970, NASA sent astronauts there to train for future lunar excursions given the similarities of the land with the lunar surface.

The first inhabitants are known as San Dieguito people, they were hunter-gatherer who lived off the land, moving from the mountains to the sea of Gulf of California looking for food. The early stages of occupation seem to have ended at the beginning of ice age about 20 thousand years ago, when drought forced people to leave the mountain range.

A second stage of occupation by San Dieguito people began in the late glacial period. This group returned to the mountains and lived as their ancestors had. Tinajas must have been a reliable source of water during this time. The second stage of occupation ended with the arrival of an antipyretic period 9000 years ago, which again forced the people to leave the territory.

The most recent indigenous inhabitants of the Pinacate and Gran Desierto de Altar are the Pinacateño band of the Hia C-ed O'odham. Like the prehistoric San Dieguito culture, the Pinacateños roamed the Pinacate all the way to the sea in search of food, concentrating their camps near the tinajas. During these voyages, they left signs of their presence; one example of this is the network of paths that go from tinaja to tinaja, as well as the stone tools and potsherds found near these water sources.

There are few records of those who were the first explorers in this area. Possibly the first white man to see the mountain now known as Sierra Pinacate was the explorer Melchior Díaz on 1540. Subsequently, on 1698 the priest Eusebio Kino, founder of Mission San Xavier del Bac in southern Tucson, Arizona, visited the site and return on several occasions, he and his group climbed to the top of El Pinacate, which named Santa Clara Hill.

Before 1956, few scientists and explorers had been in El Pinacate y Gran Desierto de Altar, the most famous, the group MacDougal, Hornaday and Sykes who explored the western part of the mountain on 1907.

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Official Record

  • WDPA ID306790
  • NameEl Pinacate y Gran Desierto de Altar
  • Original NameEl Pinacate y Gran Desierto de Altar
  • Country / TerritoryMEX
  • Sub locationMX-SON
  • IUCN CategoryVIWhat is this?
  • English DesignationBiosphere Reserve
  • Designation TypeNational
  • StatusDesignated
  • Status Year1993
  • Reported Area km27145.57
  • Marinefalse
  • Governance TypeFederal or national ministry or agency
  • International CriteriaNot Applicable
  • Management AuthorityNot Reported
  • Management Plan URLNot Reported




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Comisión Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas (CONANP), Mexico, The Nature Conservancy, Mexico, PRONATURA, Mexico, Comisión Nacional para el Conocimiento y Uso de la Biodiversidad (CONABIO), Mexico (2007)

The boundaries and names shown, and the designations used on this map do not imply official endorsement or acceptance by the United Nations.


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  • Iucn_red_white_small Logogbif

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