1st January 2022: Barranco de la Hoz & some towns around (Spain)

I found myself socially free on the first so I decided to kick off the year by improvising a hike – and when I arrived at the parking lot I realised I was crazy person #3 to have the same plan. To be honest I kind of went along the flow for half of the day trip, with just a faint idea of what to do.

My first stop was an area in the natural park Parque Natural del Alto Tajo. One of the tributaries, the River Gallo, has eroded a deep valley in the sandstone and calcareous rockbed – Barranco de la Hoz, which translates to something akin to “Gorge Ravine” (though technically it could also be “Sickle Ravine”). The gorge is located in the north of the province of Guadalajara. Two hundred million years ago (Early Triassic period), the area was covered by the same sea that gave way to all the fossils that can be found in Albarracín and reached the muddy areas where dinosaurs left their footprints in Enciso.

When the sea level receded, it left behind different layers of rock, that have been painstakingly excavated by the river Río Gallo for the last two million years or so (Quaternary period). There are conglomerates at the very base of the gorge, and red sandstone, calcite and dolomite in the upper parts. The vertical wall is around 115 metres high. At the base there is also a small hermit church. According to the legend, during the Middle Ages, the Virgin Mary appeared to one of the shepherds in the area – that is the reason why the area is also called Barranco de la Virgen de la Hoz. Next to the sanctuary there is a restaurant / hotel, and a parking lot. Along the river bank there are several tables for picnics and so.

Being the insomniac I am, waking up after the New Year celebration was not excessively hard. As mentioned though, as I was not sure I would be free until the previous evening, I just went along the flow of the day. I drove off and reached the gorge at around 11:00. The the car measured a temperature of -1 ºC. I was wearing five layers anyway so I was all right. Just before reaching the parking area, I had to yield to a sounder of wild boars.

The sanctuary is the starting point of a path of around 400 steps carved and sculpted onto the vertical wall, ascending over 110 metres. The climb was not as hard as I expected, especially as the sun shone on the steps. I reached the mid-viewpoint in less than 15 minutes and sprawled on the stone ground for a little to bask in the sun. As I continued upwards, I encountered a small lizard doing the same sun-basking routine – Iberian wall lizard Podarcis hispanicus (maybe?). I finally reached the top of the gorge and I was the first on the upper viewpoint area for a while. Throughout the hike up, the strata can be clearly seen, along with fossilised ripples, fracture lines and the hints of some folds. The steps and viewpoints are protected by markers and verandas (helpful at points).

Halfway up a reddish sandstone wall. The picture faces the rising sun, and at the bottom of the ravine is the river, with the evergreen trees around.

Close up of a lizard hidden amonng leaves

Although you are technically supposed to stay on the trail, I honestly wanted to explore the upper edge of the gorge, so I went towards the rocky cliffs to the east. I came across marks caused by of boars, and European wildcat (Felis silvestris) paw prints, I also saw some birds of prey (very maybe a golden eagle, Aquila chrysaetos) , but not the right time to see much fauna – probably because around noon people started arriving with dogs. Also, it was stupidly warm for a first of January… Good thing I was using the good-old technique of having a lot of layers and shedding / putting them on as I felt warmer or colder.

A panoramic view of a rabine, with the river at the bottom.

A panoramic view of the top of a ravine, with the cut-off walls dropping from sight

A view of the vertical sandstone walls that create the ravine

A flying bird of prey and some animal tracks: a paw print and removed ground from a boar digging for acorns.

After an hour or so, I made my way downwards and I visited the church now that it was empty and walked into the area where the legend says the Virgin appared.

A hermit church built against / into the vertical wall of the ravine

Then I walked around the river bed for a while. The river bank was covered in frosted leaves, and the water was quite cold. I layered up again…

The wall of the ravine from the riverbank

Ivy and fallen leaves on the ground. The rims are white with frost and ice

At around 13:15 I decided to head over to Molina de Aragón. It was New Year’s Day, so I did not expect anything to be open, so I just wanted to wander round for a while. Though the town is considered one of the coldest places in the area, when I parked it was warm. I found the castle Castillo de Molina and wandered around for a bit. The castle has three distinctive parts – the walled fortress, the lone watchtower Torre de Aragón, and the back area, which was cordoned off, but not walled, Prao de los Judíos. The first Arab castle or alcázar was built the 10th century, over an older Celtiberian hill fort. In the 12th century, it was conquered by the Christians and rebuilt in the Romanesque style. Out of the eight towers that the castle had, four of them have survived, along the ruins of two more.

A rectangular castle with quite a few towers and battlements on top. Around half of it is reconstructed, the rest is in ruins

Afterwards, I took a stroll down the town. There are many churches dating to the Medieval times, most of them Romanesque style, some already showing hints of Gothic: Parroquia de San Felipe, Iglesia de Santa Clara, Iglesia de San Pedro, Iglesia de San Martín, Iglesia de Santa María la Mayor de San Gil. There were also some mansions and palaces.

Buildings in Molina. They all look reddish due to the characteristic rocks used to build them

I tried to locate a bridge I had seen trying to find a parking spot, and it only took a couple of wrong turns to do so. The bridge is Puente Viejo, the old Romanesque bridge, built in the reddish calcites that are characteristic of the area. From there I also peeked onto Monasterio de San Francisco, originally from the 13th Century, though the current building dates from the 18th century.

A reddish stone bridge over the river. It has three arches, but today only the left arch is over the river, the other two are over grass.

A church with an angel on top of the belltower

It was already late afternoon, and I had a couple of options. In the end I decided to head back in order not to drive through the sunset – at this time of the year, the sun’s glare would hit me square in the eyes in the highway. However, on my way towards the gorge, I had driven through a tiny village, Rillo de Gallo, where, for some reason, there is a Modernist-style house, called, more or less formally, El Capricho Rillano (The Folly in Rillo), as a lot of Modernist buildings have the “whim” name in them. It was apparently erected by a builder who apparently liked the aesthetics, without an architect being involved. It was… interesting, though the village was tiny and it was difficult to get into it and find a place to leave the car without blocking a street.

Bizarre modernist house. The construction looks wavy, with snakes and twisted columns. The balcony is held out by gigantic hands.

That was the whole day in the end, I drove back home, and did not have much trouble with sunset. As a whole, I drove around 300 km, and walked just a little over 10 km. And it was way warmer than expected for a first of January! Here’s to hoping that it was a promising start to 2022…