Rivers and Waters
In the previous stages you got to know the three Embalses, although from afar, plus the fl ood control reservoir Embalse del Gaitanejo. You will discover the other two during the current stage.
The walk allows for very different views of the Contraembalse del Tajo de la Encantada, the one located at lowest height (the top of the damis at the lowest altitude of the day, 200 metres above the sea level). From El Chorro you will see the reinforced pipes shaped to adapt to the changing terrain of the eastern fl ank of Mesas de Villaverde and Chimenea de Presión. During the ascent the walk comes in contact with the pipe and gives you an exclusive view of its section below, the steepest, and of the power plant.
Beside the great sandstone cliff there a few half-hidden constructions which are annexed to the pipeline and some remains of anchorage nailed to the ground which holds in place the pipe that supplies water for maintenance and construction work. You can also gaze southeast from the climbing ramps of the electric substation Tajo de la Encantada and, a little higher up, you can have a closer view of the Chimenea de Presión. But certainly the most unexpected experience is being able to admire the upper dam, occupying the entire length of the Mesas de Villaverde, with three peaks which together give the basin a Y-shape of a pointy mushroom.
In comparison with the earlier water displays, the rest of the walk presents devastating dryness. The only stream you will wade across is the Arroyo del Granado. Around the halfway point of the walk there is, on your right, (until you ford the stream) a sort of a dry stream bed, northbound and enclosed between two walls of clay and sandstone. But, a little further down, where the path twists to the east, a little away from the walk, this streambed starts carrying water permanently towards the Hermitage of Nuestra Señora de Villaverde and flowing into the reservoir at the level of the Desfiladero de los Gaitanes outlet. In this section it coincides approximately with the limits of the Natural Area.
Though generally of insuffi cient fl ow, the water of the Fuente de la Fuenfría has been very important for the inhabitants of the area, Las Viñas farmers and shepherds of the surrounding hills. As they were far from any other source of water, it was completely forbidden to water cattle at the Fuente.
This water spring is somewhat famous among the Ardales inhabitants. Perhaps the most striking feature though is the compelling riparian wood the Fuente sustains and the waterfall that flows into a trough carved out in the tufa deposits (the water contains a lot of lime) a few metres below the source. There is maidenhair fern here, Blue Throatwort and numerous climbing plants. From the pool there comes out an irrigation ditch surrounded by tall white and black poplars and elms.
The initial stretch of Stage 21 is characterised by the large rock faces which hold typical rock-dwellers. Then, the defining feature of Stage 21 becomes the reservoir Tajo de la Encantada which will add water birds to your list. The first uphill section takes through a pine wood with Mediterranean Dwarf Palm, retama bushes and a few savin junipers. Once you reach the viewpoint area the terrain changes to farmland; mainly almond groves and scattered farmhouses adjacent to grazing land. The former woodland character of this area becomes very evident with the mid-sized holm oaks which are still trying to claim their territory. Walking through fields and stretches of re-forested pine wood you will reach your destination which is the Ardales village.
Birds of prey, such as Griffon Vulture, Bonelli´s Eagle, Peregrine Falcon and Common Kestrel are common in the area at the beginning of Stage 21, as well as Cormorant, Grey Heron, Little Egret, Kingfisher at the section where you cross the river Guadalhorce. Around the train station Eurasian Collared Dove, Swifts, Barn Swallow House and Crag Martin, Spotless Starling, House Sparrow and finches such as Goldfinch and Greenfinch indicate the presence of human dwellings , however you can also see woodland birds here due to some forested and scrub areas (e.g.: Sardinian Warbler, Blackcap, Great Tit, Crossbill, Common Chaffinch and Rock Bunting).
On the way up you will be flanking a few rocky outcrops which gives you access to high rock dwellers such as Blue Rock Thrush, Black Wheatear and Red-billed Chough. Higher up, the mirador (viewpoint) is an exceptional site to delight in birds of prey in flight, also Swifts and Choughs. Once you embark upon the part of the footpath which leads along hills dotted with houses, fields, patches of replanted pine trees and lone holm oaks, it will be the Eurasian Jay which will be drawing your attention the most, its visible white rump and its loud call. Moreover, good numbers of Goldfinches, Greenfinches, Serins and Common Linnets will be keeping you company during this stretch of the path, joined by such species as Little Owl, Red-legged Partridge, Sardinian Warbler, Great Tit, Spotless Starling and Common Chaffinch. Along this section there are various watercourses which allow you to see Song Thrushes, Redwings, European Robins, Blackcaps, Golden Orioles and Crossbills. Plus, the Short-toed Eagle is a frequent visitor to the area in spring and summer months. Golden and Bonelli´s Eagle use these slopes to search for food. If you walk along here at the break of the dawn or at dusk you may be able to hear Scops Owl and Eagle Owl.