Without a doubt my favorite place to hike in Mexico City is Desierto de los Leones (Desert of the Lions). It’s not a desert and there are (usually) no lions there. It’s a park with natural trails used by walkers, runners and mountain bikers. The high point of the trail is a chapel on a hilltop called San Miguel. At around 12,000 feet, it is no joke. I was first introduced to Desierto de los Leones by a hiking buddy in 2013. Jake discovered the park around the same time. After that first trip, I was hooked. And Jake was too. We both became regulars — even though we didn’t know each other yet. When you live in a sprawling city of million, you need to find natural places to roam.
Roaming was the object of my visits to Desierto. The trails there are barely marked. So if you want to find your way, you need a good sense of direction and a willingness to get lost. I got lost countless times in Desierto. At the same time, whenever I was there, I never felt like I was really “lost.” In Desierto, you can hear the wind rustle the trees. You can watch the evergreens sprout new needles. You can get caught in one of the regular hailstorms. You can sprint down an old creek bed. And you can labor your way along an ancient rock wall.
The park was developed as part of a monastery that dates to the 17th century. It is reportedly named after the big cats that roamed the woods — not lions — but pumas. I’ve never seen a feline on the trail, and hope not too on the PCT.
Today the old monastery is a major draw for families who like to visit it and picnic around it on the weekends. Crumbling hermitages can be found throughout the park and an old rock wall lines some of the trails. Just beyond the parking lots and taco stands, the woods are often peaceful — except when the occasional group of mountain bikers passes, some blaring music out of portable speakers. Sometimes you find them huffing up the trail slower than hikers, which is satisfying.
It’s in this place that Jake and I went on one of our first dates. Jake brought his campstove so we could have a Yorkshire tea break. We climbed to San Miguel and ate sandwiches at the top. Since then, we’ve returned several times. We have found new routes through the park together. And in Desierto, this year, we began the bulk of our training for the PCT. Over several weekends, we added weight to our packs and added mileage. Eventually, we hit around 20 miles on a one-day outing in the park. We’ve done training walks in other places, but, for me, this park will always be the place where our PCT dream started to come to fruition.