At Yokahu Tower, there was a visitor's center and snack bar.
Bob climbed the circular 98 steps to the top of the tower (which was built as an overlook by the Park Service- you can see 10 miles on a clear day) and took some pictures from the top, but I remained at the bottom and just took pictures from there.
According to legend, the good spirit dwells in Yuquiyú and protects Puerto Rico. This tower was named for the good spirit.
An invasive species is a non-native (or alien) species whose introduction causes, or is likely to cause, economic or environmental harm, or harm to human health. Only a small proportion of non-native species are invasive. While you might not think so, there are a lot of non-native species in the Caribbean Forest. Some of them have pretty flowers - like Impatiens, White Ginger (native to Southeast Asia), the bamboo along the road (imported from India in the 1930's to control erosion). Although it isn't listed as a major problem, I tend to be wary of bamboo's ability to become invasive.
According to a speech by Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth at the Centennial Ceremony, Caribbean National Forest in 2003, "...about 30 percent of the tree species in Puerto Rico are naturalized, meaning that they are alien species that have been here for so long they have become part of the landscape. By national forest standards, that’s a really high number of nonnative trees. Yet the forest ecosystem has remained basically healthy, even though these nonnatives have changed forest composition. I think that’s useful for us to keep in mind in looking at invasive plants... Not all invasives are equally threatening, and some might even be benign."
Some kinds of Orchids are really invasive non-native species. Most of the nine identified species of invasive orchids in Puerto Rico arrived as ornamental or agricultural imports, but the seeds of one invasive orchid, originally from tropical Africa, Oeceoclades maculata, may have been carried here by the wind, country- and island-hopping its way from Brazil. Its seeds germinated and propogated rapidly which is what makes it invasive. There are places that you can’t walk through the forest without stepping on it. When Oeceoclades was found in the sugarcane fields of the Dominican Republic, planters chopped them up. But the workers only succeeded in vegetatively propagating them, as many of the pieces sprouted
Among the non- native trees, the non-native Syzygium jambos, inhibits colonization of native species, and reduce plant community diversity because of seed durability, vegetative reproduction, shade-tolerance, and formation of a light-restricting canopy. The beautiful non-native African Tulip Trees (Tulipán Africano (Spathodea campanulata)) readily colonizes abandoned pastures at high densities, but it is replaced by native tree species in secondary forests. S. campanulata is shade-intolerant and only lives 30-40 years, so it is not considered so invasive.
Fondest memory: There are also invasive animals like the Small Indian Mongoose (Herpestes auropunctatus) and various rat species (Rattus spp). If you see any of these animals on forest trails, as they could be infected with rabies and thus be a danger to you. If you encounter a Mongoose who does not scurry away at your approach, do not come near that animal. Report your sighting to the nearest forest employee for disposal.
In walking in the rainforests of Puerto Rico, be on the lookout for trees that you might be surprised to find here – Asian plants! We were driving at the side of a mountain and I was surprised to see so many Bamboo trees (which is actually not a tree, but a kind of grass). Apparently, these were imported from Asia so that erosion would be avoided in this forest. You usually see these bamboo grasses near the roadway – it would be expensive to keep on rebuilding these roads if they were to erode!
As we were leaving a viewing tower, we also saw this familiar Asian tree called Ilang-Ilang which was also brought in from Asia, Nice to see familiar foliage!
We didn't see the Puerto Rican parrot which is an endemic and endangered species (only about 75 of them in the wild) but we did see a palm with blueberry-like fruit (photo 3) which they like to eat. Endemic BTW means that it is an animal or plant that grows or lives only in that one place.
Fondest memory: We did see some land snails. We didn't see any, but we heard the coqui (tree frogs) singing. Marian told us that there are no snakes, and very few mammals because it is an island.
One thing you will most definitely come across in El Yunque is lots and lots of wildlife. Just some of the creatures we saw included birds, spiders, lizards and snails. You could her the Coqui frogs all around, but gosh darn it I never did get to see one. At one point I saw some children being really mean to a salamander which had wandered onto the walk way. I quickly gave them the evil eye causing them to leave the poor creature alone and continue their hike. My suggestion is that if you or your children can't be kind to the wildlife then you shouldn't come on a hike like this. I look at it this way, we are visitors in their environment not them into ours.
Fondest memory: Seeing all the wildlife. They truly were pretty.
By 10 a.m. we were at the El Portal visitor's center for the Caribbean National Forest. Marian paid a fee for everyone in the van - it was 2 or 3 dollars each I think. It would be less if we went on our own as seniors, but more for people on their own who weren't seniors. If you bypass the visitor's center, you don't have to pay, but the park really needs money to operate.
The park is run by the US Forest Service. You walk across a bridge to get to the center which is very modern in architecture. The center is open 9 AM to 4:30 PM 7 days a week. Even though this is run by the Forest Service, I got my National Park Service passport stamped there. I have no more room on the southeast pages so I had to put the stamp in another section.
The center had various explanatory exhibits, a snack bar, a gift shop, and a theatre which showed movies about the forest alternately in Spanish and English narrated by Jimmy Smits (photo 3).
Fondest memory: The center itself is at the bottom of the rain forest in an area known at the wet forest. You have to climb considerably to get up to the rain forest itself.
How to get there from San Juan
Take the Airport Expressway, Hwy. 26 (Baldorioty de Castro Ave.) and follow the signs directing you east to Carolina; once you are on the expressway, follow it to the end (approximately 22.5 kilometers/14 miles). At the final exit (Carolina) stay in the left hand lane until you merge with PR Road # 3. Continue on PR # 3 for approximately 20.9 kilometers/13 miles until you see the signs for "Palmer-El Yunque." Turn right at the traffic signal and follow the road through the village of Palmer until you see the sign for PR Road # 191. (Hint: there is a restaurant called "Noname", painted a bright-turquoise on the corner!) Turn left on PR # 191 and follow it for approximately 4 kilometers/2 miles until you see the El Yunque National Forest sign (photo 4). The entrance to the El Portal Rain Forest Center is on your right-hand side just after you enter the forest.
We drove up to a trail head beside a Baño Grande dam and pond which is a beautiful man made pool filled with the waters from an upper branch of La Mina River. The 18 feet deep pool is formed by a stone and masonry dam over which water cascades. Surrounded by a cobblestone path and arching stone and masonry bridge, the pool was built in the 1930's by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Baño Grande was used as a public pool until 1976. Swimming is no longer allowed.
Baño Grande is located across from Palo Colorado at the trailhead of El Yunque trail at PR 191, km. 11.9.
We saw a breadfruit tree. There were hibiscus and ginger flowers, and traveler's palms. Marian told us there were more than 75 species of ferns
Marian pointed out a tree that she said was an Australian pine. It was quite a big tree, but it didn't have pine needles on it - it had leaves. Someone else mentioned to me later that his guide had also pointed out this tree and called it an Australian pine. I don't quite understand this, as it definitely wasn't a pine tree. In Ecuador, the guide called another non-coniferous tree an Australian pine, but in his case I think he meant a palm instead of a pine.
Fondest memory: My favorite was a tree with a palmate leaf which turned over (white side up) when it was going to rain. Actually, it turns over when there is a breeze which there often is just before rain shower. Since the rain forest does get a lot of rain, the white side is visible fairly often.