Rancho Pint - The Mexico Page

Text and Photos ©2012 by J. Pint

Photo Gallery

Stairs at trailhead

Ilse Hable on the stairs at the trailhead.

nopales depricklers

In the village of San Esteban, the hand is quicker than the eye. These women can clean a prickly-pear leaf in about one second.

Good Lookout Point

The  Lookout Point also happens to be an archeological site.

field of nopales

Seemingly endless fields of prickly-pear cacti fill the hills and plains around San Esteban.

Up, up, just a little further up!

"Just a little further up."


Wildflowers seen along the way.


San Esteban: no end of enticing rocks.



Caves beneath the dunes? Check out our Saudicaves page:







Crowing roosters, ambling cows and deprickled nopalitos

By John Pint

Santiago Monroy, who is just starting out as a rock climber, found himself in paradise among the monoliths of San Esteban.

The little town of San Esteban—located only seven kilometers north of Guadalajara—is overshadowed by a steep mountain  bristling with tall, rocky spires as numerous and as pointy as a hedgehog’s quills.

Many years ago, I went to San Esteban trying to reach the top of that picturesque mountain, and along the way fell in love with the town itself, whose charm I’ve described in the book Outdoors in Western Mexico (now available in a new edition):

“I beheld dogs barking, chickens cackling, pigs rooting, children frolicking, cows ambling down the unpaved street, a decrepit truck clanking its way through the potholes, loudspeaker on the roof announcing luscious papayas (papaws) and the cheapest onions anywhere. Moreover, each back yard we passed offered a new feast for the five senses. There were groaning clotheslines swaying in the breeze, seeds drying in the sun, an old, old lady patting tortillas, skeletons of long dead cars sprouting bright flowers and climbing vines ── plus the mouth watering smells of carne asada (roasted meat) and bubbling salsas.”

I paid a new visit to San Esteban not long ago and I’m happy to report it is as quaint as ever, even though the road is now paved and the number of homes has grown. The town’s prosperity, I suspect, is due to the nearby fields of nopales (prickly-pear cacti) which stretch for kilometers and kilometers to the north. These are cultivated for their tender “leaves” called nopalitos, which, I discovered, the local ladies can “deprickle” faster than your eye can follow. It’s worth going to San Esteban just to watch these women at work and I suggest the town ought to start holding an annual Nopalito Festival and Deprickling Contest. Actually, Mexicans have so many delicious ways to prepare nopalitos that I think this would really work.

San Esteban SpiresIf, in addition to folklore and nopalitos, you are also up for a strenuous climb to the monoliths above, I’m happy to report that I have at last found the elusive trail which you need to follow.

The trailhead is a concrete stairway on the roadside, 735 meters north of San Esteban’s church (actually, it’s a chapel). The stairs took us right up to the chicken coops of a private home, whose owner assured us we were on the right track. “Take the trails that head up there,” she said, pointing southwest. We walked one minute and the path split. “Take the upper one” shouted the Señora of the house, who was still watching us, and this turned out to be good advice in general. Up is the way you want to go! It’s not mountaineering, but the path is about as steep as a path can get.

Passing three clumps of scrawny trees, we came to rocky outcrops we had to scramble up. In a bit under an hour, we were “on top,” that is, we reached a magnificent lookout point from which we enjoyed a breathtaking view, including a peek at Guadalajara’s skyline in the far distance, just beyond the magnificent Barranca de Oblatos. Our belvedere also turned out to be an archaeological site, even including what appeared to be a looted tomb. It was a tough climb, but well worth the effort.

How to get there
Go north on Prolongación Alcalde. Once you leave town this becomes highway 54 heading for Zacatecas and Saltillo. Nine kilometers after crossing the Periférico, you pass under a footbridge followed by a sign announcing the entrance to Fraccionamiento Las Cañadas (formerly San Isidro). Bypassing the Las Cañadas entrance, take the immediate following left turn. After three kilometers, you will find yourself in the center of San Esteban and in the shadow of the spire covered hillside. As you pass the church, set your odometer to zero. Drive 735 meters north and park near the stairway, which you’ll see on your left. The lookout point you are trying to reach is to the southwest at coordinates N20 48.225 W103 22.719. Driving time from the Periférico to the stairway is about 25 minutes.


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