In the northernmost part of Andalusia, between Jaen and Ciudad Real, where Andalusia begins, we find a Natural Park, which is unequalled amongst the natural parks of Andalusia.
Its history is ingraved in its landscape, and is well illustrated in books and stories, in common expressions, and also physically in the many archeological sites, paintings and sculptures found here. These, and the richness of nature in its rugged and hard terrains makes it a deserving subject for conservation. This natural and historical wealth is a heritage for the future. The Natural Park, with an area of 6.000 hectares, situated in the Sierra Morena, is one of the most spectacularly beautiful landscapes that exist in Andalusia. For the hiker or tourist entering the park after the smooth plains of the central peninsual, the sudden dramatic panorama of the mountains and narrow passes is breathtaking. On the other hand, the hiker leaving the park finds that in the space of only a few kilometers these forceful montains are now behind him, and that suddenly a gentle, easy Castilian landscape lies ahead.
The area is is the pass between Andalusia and the rest of the peninsula. In few places is your entry and departure so well defined. A place of history, a place full of rocky cliffs and crags, a frontier, and more, the list could go on forever with the ideals this place cojures up in the imagination. However, it is necessary to travel here to appreciate the range of images that can be seen in the changing vista from the highway.
In this area, the town of Santa Elena can be found, a place which the visitor really should visit. Although this is inside a natural park of great ecological value, it has also been for centuries an axis of meeting points between Andalusia and Castilla-La Mancha. A strong sense of its special omportance is expressed in the history of this place.
The national park was formed by a large fracture in the surface of the earth where the slow erosion of the river has formed the great narrow passes through the slate of the Sierra and has broken up the uniformity of the Sierras, through which, in its course, leasds the Valley of the Guadalquivir.
Their position in the northern border of Andalucia, gives these mountains considerable rainfall. The combination of the natural form of the rocks and the rainswater endows this land with its vitality and vigor. With heights of more than 1.000 metres and because of he geological break between the Meseta and the valley of the Guadalquivir, a natural bioversity exists.
Any tourist will be more than rewarded by a visit there and will be able to observe in these forests the blend of holm oak, cork, gall oak, and pine, to mention only a few species among the natural wealth of this mountain range. Below the trees, is an undergrowth of mediterranean origin, with plants such as madrona bushes, mastic bushes, and myrtle. The wildlife living here include the wolf, the lynx, the deer, the wild boar and the marten, to name just a few. They have evolved here in perfect equilibrium in a rich diversity of species in spite of the proximity of human civilization. The skies, too, are worth more than a mere glance, as here you can observe such birds as the lion vulture, and the beautiful imperial eagle.
Access to the park is principally via the Motorway of Andalusia which leads te Santa Elena, from where your route can be decided. You can travel through some of the narrow passes of the River or by going on foot across the Arroyo del Rey (The King's Stream) or, perhaps, taking the road to the Aldea de Miranda del Rey (Village of Miranda del Rey).
Inside the park and just after crossing the pass in the north, is the zone of the Correderas. From here, the road going in the direction of Aldeaquemada leads to the interior of the sierras. On entering this area of natural beauty one should perhaps be prepared to pause and absorb at leisure the geological formations that nature has created. Deep ravines, stark, vertical faces and diverse eroded forms shape the landscape.
Speaking of areas of natural beauty, we must not forget that there are also those who consider this area to be a real hunter's paradise as well. For a long time this has been a major hunting ground where hunting practices have had an almost ritual fulfillment, Santa Elena and La Carolina being central to the practice.
Few natural places of this size can offer the tourist so much. Wildlife, hunting, spectacular views, as well as its own special historical features. Near Santa Elena is one of the jewels of Iberian archeology, the Collado de los Jardines (Collado of the Gardens). In the middle of the Sierras is one of the most interesting Iberian sancturies known, and nearby, an archeological site, The Cave of the Dolis with its valuable cave paintings.
Another place of interest to visit, though not within the park's borders, is the Paraje Natural (Natural Place) known for la Cascada de la Cimbarra (The Waterfall of the Cimbarra). It can be reached via the Motorway of Andalusia via Aldeaquemada or from Santa Elena which also leads to Aldeaquemada.
In mid sierra, due to the erosion of the strong hard slate, the River Guadalquivir appears to be completely enclosed, creating mighty cliffs, from where various waterfalls originate, the most spectacular being La Cimbarra. The combination of natural factors here make it a place to mark on the map as a must. The delicious meat of the mountain is also a rare delicacy due te the difficulty of the terrain. Meat, such as small game, with fried breadcrumbs, sausages, and delicate wild mushrooms, are authentic dishes which tempt the palate with their delicious flavours and aromas.
This area has become, over the centuries, through the richness of its wildlife and natural beauty, a unique place on the map of Andalusia and the Iberian peninsula as a whole.