The road cut into the side of the cliffs leading out to Faro Cabo de Gata made for quite an interesting drive. We had some great views in both directions along the coast as the road wound ever upward from the beach. It is nicely paved with two lanes most of the way but, shortly before reaching the 'faro' (lighthouse), it dwindles to a one lane affair with blind turns where you can't actually see if another vehicle is coming. At these locations there are very narrow lay-bys where vehicles heading back toward Almeria are supposed to give-way (yield). Most people blow their horns at these locations to provide some warning to on-coming traffic. The lighthouse marks the end of the line for the road - you have to retrace your path and drive through a mountain pass to reach the eastern side of the cape. However, there is a hiking path if you are prepared to continue onward on foot.
This 19-m (62-ft) round stone tower, built in 1863 and standing on the edge of a cliff with its light 55-m (180-ft) above the Mediterranean Sea, makes quite an impressive sight in the sunshine. Located nearby are a cluster of buildings used for accommodations, a restaurant area and parking lots to cater to the hoards of visitors in the summer months (2nd photo).
This promontory has been the site of many shipwrecks over the centuries and was also developed as a Spanish fort in 1737. The present lighthouse was built on its ruins and had to be repaired after sustaining damage in 1937 during the Spanish Civil War. It is presently closed to visitors, but we had a good time wandering around in the strong breezes with a relatively small bunch of other tourists as compared to peak season numbers!
Continuing our drive onward toward the lighthouse located close to Cabo de Gata, we came to the small settlement of Almadraba Monteleva which sprung up in the early 1900s when the flat area here beside the sea was developed with salt pans for production of salt. Today, this industry is suffering economic problems but the salt pans continue to be a major stop-over point for birds migrating between Africa and Europe, including up to about 2,400 pink flamingos.
Standing beside the highway is the now abandoned church of Iglesia de la Almadraba Monteleva also dating from the early 1900s, making quite an impressive sight. Both it and the adjoining small village were actually built by the company that developed the salt pans here. We had to stop for a closer look and noticed that a large sign said that it was to be rehabilitated from its present derelict condition - although not much actual work appeared to have been accomplished.
The small village associated with the church seemed to be relatively popular considering the time of the year, with quite a few cars pulled into one of its restaurants as we drove on through.
We enjoyed this beach so much that, before we continued onward to Alicante the next morning, we actually came back for a better look while the sun was shining. As a result, we have some photos from dusk the evening before mixed in with our next morning ones. The first two photos show the strangely eroded formations where the molten 'breccia' flow has been worn away by the sea, while the 3rd photo shows Sue standing in front of a white rock on the beach with the breccia dwarfing her. Reportedly, the various eroded hollows in the 4th photo make excellent spots to take shelter from the hot summer sun during peak season! Unlike lava, which is of a more uniform texture, breccia is formed by volcanic explosions which break up large chunks of the surrounding rock, which then become trapped in and carried along by the lava flow until the mixture cools into a solid mass, with bits of the broken rock still visible within the now cooled molten rock.
Literature says that this area "represents the best example of fossil vulcanism in the Iberian Peninsula. The exceptional conditions for observation allow the visitor to go for a walk through an open 'geological museum' with a great scientific and tourist interest including molten rock flows, volcanic domes, volcanic calderas, columnar joints, fossilized beaches and reef constructions."
From the Andalucia.com website: "Covering 45,663ha in the southeastern corner of Spain, Cabo de Gata-Níjar is Andalucia's largest coastal protected area, a wild and isolated landscape with some of Europe's most original geological features. The related mountain range is Spain's largest volcanic rock formation with sharp peaks and crags in ochre-hues. It falls steeply to the sea creating jagged 100m-high cliffs, which are riven by gullies leading to hidden coves with white sandy beaches, some of the most beautiful in Andalucia. Offshore are numerous tiny rocky islands and, underwater, extensive coral reefs teeming with marine life."
We began our exploits for this day by turning off the A7/E15 superhighway at Exit 467 just east of Almeria and then made our way down the western coast of Cabo de Gata until we came to the small fishing village of the same name, located not too far from the actual cape. As we continued through the village we soon emerged onto a long stretch of beach with what appeared to be an old fortress situated right at sea level by the Mediterranean Sea.
On closer inspection, it had a sign on it stating that it belonged to the Guarda Civil (police) but there was absolutely nobody around other than a couple in a camper van who had pulled up and parked beside its walls just as we arrived. The only thing I have been able to find out about it is that it was a watchtower dating from the 1700s - it certainly did not look like something the Guarda Civil would have built! We took advantage of the sunshine to get out and enjoy the fresh air while we had a look at it from the beach side as well (2nd photo). There were few small fishing boats pulled up on the sand as well as several shacks obviously used for storing fishing gear.
The sandy beach here is about 5-km long and 60-m wide, although we only used a small part of it to just wander around for a while after our not so scenic drive to reach this area. The sun was shining on us and a fresh breeze was blowing ashore as we looked down the completely deserted beach toward the curve in the bay where Almeria is located. There were quite a number of very small and colourful boats pulled well up on the beach.
Looking the other way, the weather seemed more ominous as the peak of Cabo de Gata itself was shrouded in dark mist. We could also make out a distant lonely church tower along the beach (2nd photo), so, once we had enough of the fresh sea air we continued our drive toward the cape. Later, once we were part way up the peak at the cape, we turned around to gaze down upon the entire length of the beach including the old church complex as the sun continued to shine down below (3rd photo).
Not long after a late afternoon shower had driven us for cover in a small bar, the sun suddenly broke through again shortly before dusk began to fall. Sue suddenly jumped up and said "let's head out to have a look at the beaches along the Cabo de Gata-Nijar Nature Park coast west of town while we have the chance". It sounded good to me, so off we went in our car - it was only about 4-km before we came to a dirt road with a raised gate pole. Located there were the remains of an historic Spanish windmill probably used to pump water in the old days in this semi-arid climate. A glance to the other side showed us the mountains along the landward side of this area of beaches as well as another old looking building of some sort (2nd photo).
From our perch on the hillside and as we drove further on, we could see Playa de los Genoveses in the distance (3rd and 4th photos). This 1-km long broad sandy beach is very popular with swimmers but has no facilities of any sort. In our case, we could see that the sun was quickly starting to set behind the mountains and we really wanted to see the next beach, Playa de Mónsul, so we kept on driving at the designated 20 kph on the somewhat rough unpaved road.
Mónsul is one of the nicest beaches in the Cabo de Gata area with its ample width as well as several small coves. The dark sand is quite fine and the sea usually calm but there are no bars or restaurants of any sort on the beach, so you had better bring your own supplies, sunblock and a beach umbrella. It is also a good spot for snorkelling and there is lots of room for beach games. This, and some of the other more secluded beaches that can be reached only on foot, can also be used as naturist beaches in the summer heat.
After enjoying the beach and waves in the sunshine for a while, we said goodbye to Cabo de Gata-Nijar Nature Reserve and headed back to San José for our drive up the coast to Alicante.
By the time we reached Playa de Mónsul, the sun was rapidly disappearing in the west and the last of the rain clouds were still hanging on the distant mountain peaks. We parked the car and I jumped out to run up the side of a rough lava hill to its peak while Sue stayed at beach level for her explorations. This view, taken from my hilltop position, shows a similar rocky hill at the far end of the beach, as well as a few specks of people on the sand where the waves are coming ashore. The 2nd photo shows the view behind, including where we ditched the car in the small area where visitors can overnight in their campers. There was a young Spanish man on the peak with me with a major camera and tripod. He was grateful when I took a photo with his camera showing him atop the peak, so he returned the favour for me (3rd photo). We then went back down to shore level by the seaward side of the hill where I was able get a closer look at these rock formations (next tip).
It did not take us too long to backtrack and find the scenic road leading to the the other side of the cape, where we were hoping to find a little town with a nice place for us to spend the night.
Our Lonely Planet book on Spain says that San José "spreading around the eastern side of Cabo de Gata, is a mildly chic resort in summer, but it remains a small, pleasant, low-rise place and is a base for both watery and land-bound activities. Out of season you may have San José almost to yourself. The road from the north becomes San José's main street - Avenida de San José". I can't comment on the summer bit, but the remainder of the information is spot on! It was probably the most relaxing place we visited during our entire 3 weeks in Spain - and beautiful too.
With the Cabo de Gata-Nijar Nature Park surrounding its scenic location, I wish we had been able to spend more time in the area to allow us to try more than two fleeting visits to its beaches, but we were at the end of our trip with a deadline the following day.
As we proceeded down the road toward the beach we came across a couple of interesting features of this Nature Reserve (which we returned to in the morning for better photos). First up were these mature Sisal plants, which prefer to grow in arid climates and preferably with temperatures above 25 C. The large leaves at ground level are used to make high quaility twine, resulting in these plants being distributed around the world for commercial purposes.
The 2nd photo shows another interesting aspect of Spain, a sand dune moving its way up a hillside! This was something that we also encountered on the Atlantic coastline near Tarifa and is caused by the force of the onshore winds carrying the sand particles relentlessly forward.
We decided to take a different route on our way out of San José, turning right a short way out of town to head toward the coastal community of Los Negras but turning toward the main highway A7/E15 before reaching it. Once again, the scenery was great as we rolled along almost alone on excellent highways that wound their way up and around spectacular arid mountains in this desert-like part of Spain. We also saw this old windmill now converted into someone's very nice hacienda.
Even after we reached the main highway and began to head northeast at 120-kph, the scenery was quite nice for a long time. The geological layering of many of the gorges and peaks reminded us of Badlands National Park in South Dakota, USA!
Rodalquilar is a village located in the Parque Natural Cabo de Gata. There were gold mines which were exploited up to 1966. The remains of the mines can be visited.
For hikers: a path starts near the old mines.
In the days bofore water pumps and reservoirs, the locals of El Pozo, had the enterprising idea of getting the donkey to do the work lifting the water from the well. This Molino or mill has been preserved as an example of agricultural machinery, and is an interesting feature in the village center.
Adjacent to the Molina de Agua is an example of how the ladies of 'old' used to do the laundry in the days before Washing machines. Maybe its still in use, but I never saw anyone washing their underwear while I was there.
I saw these 'Aloe' plants all over El Cabo de Gata, in the desert, on the hills, even in gardens. The plant itself is a succulent (similar to a cactus) with wide, thick, spiny leaves. What looks like an ornamental tree growing from the top is in fact its flower. Its amazing these flowers are up to 20 feet (6.5 meters) in height.