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This is a complex question - there is for example a 3-volume scientific study on EYNF by the AEC after a small atomic device was planted in the lower forest to study the effects in the 1960's. El Yunque may well be the most studied rain forest in the world...scientists study it, visitors go wild and locals cool off in the rivers. Reference: https://luq.lter.network/about
El Yunque has something? Before Maria it attracted over 2 million spellbound visitors a year. They all loved La Coca waterfall and specially the roaring La Mina falls (closed). I always marvel at how HAPPY all get when immersed in a pond! … It can not be explained...
Authors note: There are many tours to El Yunque and zip lines etc. that make the forest more accessible and exciting. But in my humble opinion - if you do not take a day off alone in the forest in some corner, trail or river you will miss the point...there is a silent message from all these LIVING trees in harmony - but YOU need to be still to get it. You also need to be alone since human interactions are artificial (language is artificial) and introduce distraction and disturb and distract ones attention. This understanding can be far more lasting than a zip line...but to be fair we give some basic links below.
The main stops are La Coca and Yokahu tower as they have views, have good parking, La Coca has a store, and Yokahu a great view and a easy walk.
Another early good stop is Quebrada Juan Diego (a stream) but it has very few parking spots. The best is at the end of the trail an awesome waterfall and pond.
To be practical I will take the rare attached image (which I took before Maria - there are several canvas in the store of this unique road) which is a view of the forest from the East Peak road at about 2,000 feet of altitude. You may wonder. where is this road in El Yunque? Sorry - it's an open secret.
From this vantage point we can see 4 things:
1-El Yunque is a very dense forest - actually it's nearly impenetrable. That is because of a complex ever changing combo of steep geography and dense forest (many cliffs, muddy as hell, drainage holes, no visibility, fallen trees, rivers etc.). Before Maria in the upper section 3-people could be 10 feet away from you and you could not see them! Now the forest is in a fast recovery mode and evolution. The trees you see here close is the remarkable Sierra Palm - it's orange roots are so strong that it waistbands hurricane force winds of 140mph - like Maria.
2-There are a lot of clouds over the forest - yes it rains over 180 inches a year! El Yunque can convert fog directly to 'rain' - drops fall from the from moss. Trees are filled with moss. Biologists call it Horizontal rain - accounts for about 20% of the water there. Humidity is 99% all day in the upper shaded regions. Can have over 10K small & big rains in a year. Its water feeds about 30% of the need of the whole region around the forest and San Juan. That is about 2 million people.
The rain does come from the Atlantic ocean, taken by dry winds from the Sahara desert! These are called Tradewinds. When they get angry they revolve and become nasty Hurricanes. The last major one hit on 9/20/2017 called Maria.
3-There are many mountains in EYNF - yes there are 4 major mountain ranges:
a) El Yunque (not visible but close to the right side) - has 2 trails and 1 road.
b) El Toro - in the rightmost side we see a small peak - the highest - has 2 trails.
c) The Cacique range - In the middle we see 5 peaks - no trail.
d) East peak - Were we are standing - the the big secret...uhhhh… has 1 road.
The Taming of the forest:
In the 1940's the CCC created a remarkable road called the PR-191 which crossed the forest from side to side - Rio Grande to Naguabo. But in the 80's a huge landslide developed and the road was split (good for the forest).
Due to this split is good to know that PR-191 has a LOOP at the end, were it passes the Mt Britton trail (blog-option#1) because remember - the road ends.
There is a gate at the end thus YOU HAVE to go back the way you came. Actually many people just do this - they drive around the park and leave.
If you come late (The park access is all weekdays, is free of charge and opens at 7:30am) you may not find parking and may have to return or wait...better come early or weekdays. Now after the closed gate there is an abandoned road - the lost PR-191 were you can have a 2 hours walk. See blog option#1.
EXPRESSWAY TO EL YUNQUE - ROUTE 66:
Now most people take PR-191 from the small town of Palmer on PR-3. This connects to PR-191. The main access point is an express PR 66 from San Juan - prepaid toll. With this great road you travel easily to EYNF in 1.5 hours or less from SJ. You can also arrive via PR 3 from SJ or Fajardo. From Caguas or Fajardo you can arrive to Rio Sabana Park via PR-191 via Naguabo PR-30.
From this road a complex set of trails were developed.
The main ones are La Coca trail (open-blog option#2), El Yunque trail (closed) and Mt Britton Trail (open), La Mina Trail are Big trees trail (arboles grandes) - both converge on La Mina falls - are closed. The La Mina trail and Mt Britton are the most close to nature of all.
There another long road - the service road to El Yunque telecom systems. You cross is when you go to Mt Britton (blog-option#1). Both Mt Britton (Britton was a Biologist in the 1920's that made a 3-vol study of the fauna in PR) and El Yunque has towers, but El Yunque is a small castle, rarely has a view due to fog. There is also Los Tres Picachos and El Yunque Rock. El Yunque has many corners...
Now this PR-191 leads across the park to the upper (over 2,000 feet) magical, ancient, mossy and dense forest. The real stuff never logged or disturbed, except for the roads and a few houses, trails etc.
Now the lower part of EYNF is called EL VERDE:
El Verde means 'The Green' - you can imagine why? But this is 2nd growth forest. EYNF had great masters in Forestry (USFS - Wadsworth and others) that did their best to replant the forest with suitable species, so it also very dense here.
Here the forest is much taller - less strong winds - less steep. At each level the types of plants and trees change gradually. An example is the Yagrumo tree.
This huge region is crossed by a long road the PR-186.
Here we have Puente Roto (a bridge) with the Mameyes river - the largest in EYNF. La Mina and La Coca river are joined here. Many locals come here in the hot summer to cool off, and bring food and music to pass a great day. There are several entrances to the river, truly awesome ponds and the short Angelito trail.
You can get to the above via PR-191 going up and turn left on the sign. To the next one turn right in PR 186. It crosses many rivers now mostly boulders since erosion is great due to floods. There is the Holy Spirit and many others with ponds if you search for trails. At the end is the entrance to El Toro Trail - described in Blog Option#3. Some of these rivers can be explored easily.
BIT OF HISTORY:
The Taino Indians of Puerto Rico preserved El Yunque since it was a holy land for them. The Spaniards invaded PR from the 1400 - 1898 and created the first forest reserve of El Yunque in 1876. It is the oldest park in the western hemisphere.
When US invaded PR in the Hispanic American war El Yunque passed from the Crown of Spain to the US Federal Government. PR was heavily deforested for 50 years to exploit the 'cash crops': coffee, sugar cane and tobacco. The last two did great and lasting harm to the land. Eventually a military government gave up to a few American Governors and then to a Government managed by Puerto Ricans.
The massive deforestation of the US by farming, industry, the military and destruction of major landmarks (mining, endless roads, huge cities etc.) made enlightened people like John Muir, founder of the US National Park Service (NPS) and the Sierra Club to fight to the end to save the remaining pristine lands - like Yosemite. Then El Yunque, after many name changes, became El Yunque National Forest (EYNF) in 1903. Inside the forest in Tradewinds there is El Toro Wilderness - an even more protected zone.
But times change, and a new US Government is fast reducing all environmental protections and reducing the size of National Parks or opening them for development or oil exploration. The Sierra Club and many organizations and individuals are dismayed at this change and will do all that is needed to stop this backward so called 'progress'. Since Forests are silent and non-violent only we can act and be a voice for them. Their HARMONY does help cities and societies in an invisible way...