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Often called the most beautiful waterscape in Spain, the Lagunas de Ruidera (Ruidera Lakes) hold a special spot in both literature and in the Castile-La Mancha Region. Parts of this series of 15 lakes feature prominently in Cervantes' Don Quixote. Indeed, coming upon this series of connected lakes and pools in the midst of the desert-like vista of La Mancha, it would be easy to take flights of fancy such as old Alonso Quijano did. One might not remake themselves as Don Quixote, but the mysterious origins and path of the waters from pool to pool is enough to make the viewer believe in the impossible.
The watercourse appears to begin in a small pool within the Cave of Montesinos, travels through a series of waterfalls, rapids, small streams and underground watercourses through the series of lakes, only to fade once again in the Penarroya Marsh. When the water emerges from the marsh, it is impounded by the Penarroya Dam and becomes the Guardiana River. Completed in 1959 for irrigation purposes, the Penarroya Reservoir does not affect the levels of the pools upstream, but there is some concern that excessive well pumping of ground water for irrigation in the area may do so in the future.
The Lagunas de Ruidera are becoming one of the favorite vacation areas in central Spain. Most of the villages along the lakes' course are geared to tourism, with a number of small hotels and guest cottages. Several restaurants provide delightful local fare, and businesses rent all sorts of small watercraft to visitors, including canoes, kayaks, row boats and paddleboats. The various lakes hold beaches, campgrounds, hiking and bicycle paths. Some of the lakes are off-limits to visitors to protect the breeding areas of waterfowl. Most of the shorelines support a heavy growth of reeds and emergent vegetation especially prized by waterfowl and shore-dwelling birds.
In spring, the wetlands explode in a riot of blooms. This unique landscape, and the variety of wildlife it attracts, caused the government of Spain to preserve the entire series of lakes and its marshy terminus into the Lagunas de Ruidera Natural Park. The 9,300-acre natural park protects the landscape from damage due to over-zealous farming and exploitation. Bird watching is one of the reasons many visitors arrive at the park: water birds like the common pochard, red-crested pochard, mallard, tufted duck, Eurasian coot, common moorhen, bearded reedling, little bittern, great reed warbler, purple heron and egrets are commonly seen. These extensive wetlands are one of the reasons that the Lagunas de Ruidera were included in the Mancha Humeda Biosphere Reserve.
Fishing is also popular in the Lagunas de Ruidera, although less productive than many would like. The clear lakes have little underwater vegetation to support large numbers of fish. Catfish are the most common species, as the lakes ordinarily maintain a growth of moss on their bottoms. Other species include vogue, flounder, blenny and roach, although non-native species such as largemouth bass, pike and sunfish have been introduced. The latter create even more pressure on the few indigenous fish as they are mostly predatory. But fishing is such a rare treat in dry La-Mancha that there are always willing anglers who will try for a catch.
Several cultural features make visiting the Lagunas de Ruidera region most interesting. The 18th century Royal Gunpowder Factory still stands in Ruidera. Besides the Cave of Montesinos and the Rochafrida Castle ruins of Don Quixote fame (both of which can be toured), nearby is Penarroya Castle which can be dated to about the tenth century. Alternately held by the Moors and the Spanish, the ancient religious battlement has been partially restored. A number of ancient ruins and historic places exist in the area which will interest any student of Spanish history. Near the small City of Consuegra, visitors can view some of the old stone windmills deemed giants by Don Quixote. The local area is also known for its vineyards.
Those who simply wish to relax in a quiet setting will be just as happy to settle in to one of the small hotels or a camping bungalow near the town of Ruidera. One could, in fact, spend a day or so just learning the names and locations of the 15 lakes within the complex. They are, from the highest (southernmost) to the lowest: Laguna Blanca, Laguna Conceja, Laguna Tomilla, Laguna Tinaja, Laguna de San Pedro, Laguna Redondilla, La Lengua, Laguna Salvadora, Laguna de Santos Morcillo, Laguna Batana, Laguna Colgada or Gran Colgada, Laguna del Rey, Cueva de la Morenilla, Laguna Coladilla and Laguna Cenagosa. Some of the lakes are quite large, although there are few official statistics for them.
The Lagunas de Ruidera are formed by the buildup of groundwater minerals, primarily calcium carbonate, sometime called travertine. This is the same mineral that creates stalactites and stalagmites, but in this case builds up a 'lip' around the outlet over which the water must eventually flow. This creates small waterfalls and rapids between the pools, with the best flow in the spring. It has recently been found that not all of the water travels above-ground; some pools are augmented by underground springs and seepage. The elevation drops 420 feet over the 16-mile course of the lakes; the sound of the rushing water gives the lakes their name (ruido = noise). The pools hold exceedingly clear water, often with over 30 feet of visibility. Once nicknamed "The Mirrors of La Mancha", there are currently 15 lakes, Laguna Taza having been drained to build a campground. Other flat depressions in the area show evidence of once having been pools in the system also. The lakes have likely existed for millennia; archeology explorations have turned up artifacts dating far back into pre-history.
Although well-known in Spain, the Lagunas de Ruidera don't appear to have yet become well-known among international tourists. A few tour groups schedule an afternoon's visit here, but the small hotels, campgrounds and guest cottages attract primarily Spanish holiday-makers. Certainly this situation won't continue as word-of-mouth spreads the news. Such a beautiful and naturally picturesque destination begs for a visit. Although there is likely little real estate for sale directly on the shorelines, the small hotels and guest houses are waiting. So bring your camera, binoculars and hiking shoes and visit Lagunas de Ruidera. You will be spellbound, as was Don Quixote. But please, no tilting at the windmills!
*Statistics listed are for Laguna Colgada only.
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