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El Pinacate y Gran Desierto de Altar Biosphere Reserve

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[1] 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.

Reserva de la Biosfera El Pinacate
y Gran Desierto de Altar
Reserva de la Biósfera “El Pinacate”.jpg
Aerial view of El Pinacate y Gran Desierto de Altar Biosphere Reserve
El Pinacate y Gran Desierto de Altar.png
Location of the Reserve in Mexico
LocationSonora, Mexico
Nearest cityPuerto Peñasco
Plutarco Elías Calles
San Luis Río Colorado
Coordinates32°00′N 113°55′W / 32.000°N 113.917°W / 32.000; -113.917[1]Coordinates: 32°00′N 113°55′W / 32.000°N 113.917°W / 32.000; -113.917[1]
Area2,695.05 km2 (1,040.56 sq mi)[2]
EstablishedJune 10, 1993
Governing bodyInstituto Nacional de Ecología and Tohono O'odham
Official nameEl Pinacate and Gran Desierto de Altar Biosphere Reserve
Criteriavii, viii, x
Designated2013 (37th session)
Reference no.1410
State PartyMexico
RegionLatin America and the Caribbean
Official nameAgua Dulce
Designated2 February 2008
Reference no.1813[3]
Pinacate volcanics with teddy-bear chollas, ocotillos, young saguaros, and a palo verde tree. Photo by Jack Dykinga.
Crater Elegante

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.[4] There are threatened endemic species as sonoran pronghorn, bighorn sheep, gila monster and desert tortoise.[5]

The biosphere reserve covers an area of 2,695.05 square kilometres (1,040.56 sq mi)[2] making up about half of the World Heritage site. The extent of the World Heritage site is 7,146 km²,[6][7] greater than that of the states of Aguascalientes, Colima, Morelos and Tlaxcala separated.[8]



El Pinacate y Gran Desierto de Altar Biosphere Reserve is known for its unique physical and biological characteristics, by the presence of a volcanic shield, and by the extensive areas of active dunes that surround it, and the greatest concentration of Maar craters. The Pinacate Mountains range has orogenic features of high interest, products of volcanic eruptions that accumulated lava in compact rocks, sand and volcanic ashes that formed colors of special beauty, and craters such as El Elegante, Cerro Colorado, MacDougal, and Sykes.[9]

Pinacate Peaks

The Pinacate Peaks (Picos del Pinacate), a group of volcanic peaks and cinder cones, are located in the Reserve north of Puerto Peñasco. The highest peak is Cerro del Pinacate (Santa Clara volcano), with an elevation of 3,904 feet (1,190 m). Pinacate comes from Náhuatl language word pinacatl, for the Pinacate beetle, a stink beetle endemic to the Sonoran Desert.

The Pinacate Peaks volcanoes have erupted sporadically for about 4 million years. The most recent activity was about 11 000 years ago.

NASA sent astronauts to the Gran Desierto de Altar from 1965 to 1970, to train for walking on the moon, due to the similarities of the terrain to the lunar surface.


Tohono O'odham woman. Photo by Edward S. Curtis, circa 1907.

Pre-Columbian eraEdit

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.[10]

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.[4]

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.[4][11]


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 returned on several occasions, he and his group climbed to the top of El Pinacate, which named Santa Clara Hill.[4]

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.


  1. ^ a b UNESCO. "El Pinacate and Gran Desierto de Altar Biosphere Reserve". Retrieved June 24, 2013.
  2. ^ a b "El Pinacate y Gran Desierto de Altar Biosphere Reserve". Retrieved 15 June 2018.
  3. ^ "Agua Dulce". Ramsar Sites Information Service. Retrieved 25 April 2018.
  4. ^ a b c d Comisión Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas. "Reserva de la Biosfera El Pinacate y Gran Desierto de Altar". Retrieved September 29, 2010.
  5. ^ Red Escolar. "Reserva de la Biosfera El Pinacate y Gran Desierto de Altar". Retrieved September 29, 2010.
  6. ^ Comisión Nacional para el Conocimiento y Uso de la Biodiversidad. "Regiones terrestres prioritarias de México" (PDF). Retrieved September 29, 2010.
  7. ^ "El Pinacate y Gran Desierto de Altar World Heritage Site". Retrieved 15 June 2018.
  8. ^ INEGI. "Información por entidad". Archived from the original on 2011-07-23.
  9. ^ Instituto Nacional de Ecología. "Reserva de la Biosfera El Pinacate y Gran Desierto de Altar". Archived from the original on July 22, 2011. Retrieved September 29, 2010.
  10. ^ Hayden, 1998.
  11. ^ "Pinacate y Gran Desierto de Altar". Red Escolar. Retrieved September 29, 2010.

External linksEdit