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Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve

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Offering a bit of a respite from the hotter lowlands, Mountain Pine Ridge is one of the most heavily visited reserves.

Mountain pine ridge forest reserve 

Offering a bit of a respite from the hotter lowlands, Mountain Pine Ridge is one of the most heavily visited reserves. As the oldest and largest protected forested area in Belize, Mountain Pine Ridge (MPR) covers 300 square miles of area, but visitors are surprised to find a sharp contrast to the tropical landscape; here, pine needles rather than palm fronds, fill the landscape. This pine tree-dominated forest is more than just a vast wooded area: visitors find deep ravines, traverse dramatic granite expanses atop the Maya Mountains and observe meandering rivers, streams, waterfalls and pools amid the sweet fragrance of the evergreens.
 
It's a landscape of rolling pine forest spread over smooth granite hillsides, a slightly bizarre area with battalions of uniform pine sporadically dissected by fire breaks and broadleaf gallery forest. Established in 1944, the reserve has been logged on a carefully managed basis ever since. A huge fire in 1949 caused catastrophic damage, and the combination of this and the logging means nearly all the trees are the same age.
 
Not surprisingly, the reserves wildlife is very different from the lowlands. Certainly, birds can be quite hard to see secreted away in the scrub around the pines but there are exceptions. Acorn Woodpeckers are busy around D'Silva Forest Station causing great aggravation by hammering buildings, guttering and telegraph poles. Their habit of storing accns in tree stumps will be familiar to visitors from North America, but for some reason, the Belizean ones do it as well, even though there's no harsh winter to survive. Other reserve specialties include the Rufous-capped Warbler, Crossbill, Pine Siskin, Stigeon Owl and Eastern Bluebird. If you visit between Autumn and Spring, you may also see the Hepatic Tanager and Chipping Sparrow. Raptors cruise the valleys of the Pine Ridge, and it's the most likely place in Belize to see Orangebreasted Falcons.

Wildlife at the preserve 

A special part of the reserve is Baldy Beacon. Speculation continues on the cause of its infertility - soils are so poor they can't even support trees. Instead its covered in grass so tough that when sheep were introduced as an experiment back in the 1960s, they died of indigestion! The most probable explanation for the infertility is that in geological history, while the rest of Central America was under water, protected from the elements, these parts were still above sea level and exposed to erosion and leaching for millions of years longer than anywhere else. The result is a set of rounded grassy hills, with views uninterrupted by any trees.
 
Another different part to Mountain Pine Ridge is the areas that did have limestone deposited on them. These now support broadleaf forest, and the most spectacular example is the Rio Frio caves area, the largest accessible limestone cavern in the country. Walk in a short way, and you can see out both ends. It's light enough you don't need a torch.
 
Back outside, short trails are being developed by the Forest Department, who are in charge of the whole reserve. Also, within its boundaries are the Rio Pools, a popular site for a summer picnic, where the river cascades down into a narrow cavern strewn with granite boulders. It's a great place to spend some time enjoying the deep pools and clambering around the enormous granite rocks. In all areas, a common roadside flower is the yellow flowered St. John's Wort, conspicuous with delicate petals and sets of spike-shaped leaves.

A lovely place inside the reserve 

Although an adjacent private property, the 1,000 Feet Valley Falls and King Vulture Falls are also reached from Mountain Pine Ridge, capping off the area's attractions.
 
GETTING THERE
You’ll need a 4WD vehicle to traverse the forest since roads can be daunting. Two roads will get you to MPR: Chiquibul Road from Georgeville or Cristo Rey Road from Santa Elena. Choose the first for a smoother ride. The reserve entrance is off the Western Highway.

There are several maps of Mountain Pine Ridge in our maps area.
 
The reserve is not accessible by bus, but can be with a car. Two roads go up there, joining before the reserve entrance, and both from the Western Highway. The main route is the Chiquibul road from Georgeville, starting at Mile 63, six miles east of San Ignacio. The second route is the rougher Cristo Rey road leading directly ovt of Santa Elena. Both tracks wind through orange groves, before climbing up the mountains' northern escarpment.

Directions

Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, Stann Creek

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