The High Cordillera Above Ocotal

The majestic mountains above Ocotal are the highest mountains in Nicaragua, higher than the mountains of Matagalpaand Jinotega. They are a big chunk of granite, running about 70 km from east to west, and lay in a bed of metamorphosed schist, or mud. The schist has countless runners of quartz inclusions, and in those inclusions gold, some particles microscopic, are found. West of Ocotal are found large deposits of silver ore, which were mined in the 18th and 19th centuries. The contact areas where the granite and schist meet is where the gold tends to be concentrated, and all of the streams running south off the cordillera, contain alluvial gold in varying amounts. The mountains are also pockmarked with mine shafts, with characteristic sloping tunnels that follow the quartz veins and are extremely dangerous to explore. The ruins of an arrastra, or circular ore grinding mill, was found by Totogalpa, and the striated remains of an arrastra floor is visible in Macquilizo.

As one ascends the cordillera, the vegetation changes from desert xerophytic to classic pine and oak forest, to full blown cloud forest. Some portions of the forest resemble the eastern slope of the American Rockies, with the exception of the presence of bromeliads and orchids in the trees, and a surprisingly amount of terrestrial orchids. The cloud forest also harbors quite large populations of tropical birds, including Trogons, Toucans, and Oropéndolas. The Resplendent Quetzal is found and is observable. One hears the liquid, melodious song of the Oropéndola and Keel Billed Toucan. In one or two locations the pine and oak forest produces boletus and chanterelle edible mushrooms. The Cordillera is where the most exquisite Arabian coffee is grown, perhaps because of the altitude and acidic soils. No matter, the coffees from Dipilto and surrounding areas annually win awards as Nicaragua´s best coffee. There are flowing streams and many waterfalls, and most of all, magnificent views of the roof of Nicaragua. There is no other place in Nicaragua like it.

And it has its share of legends, of bolsas, or hidden gold deposits, and lost Spanish mines. One of the earliest legends is that a young Indian maiden was bathing in one of the upper streams and when she came out of the water she found gold dust in her hair. Maybe this is why the Spaniards were in Nueva Segovia within two years of the conquest.

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