Mascota: Unfinished Sanctuary & Mirador de la Cruz

Mornings have been a tad bit nippy here at 4,000 feet elevation. But by 10am, we’ve shed all our layers and are sweating in the sun. Such is life in April in the Sierra Madre.

Yep, we brought the stroller with us. But it’s a hearty stroller and the center of town is surprisingly well-suited for baby wheels.

Getting around this part of the short trek into town, however, is not so fun.

Dry season in Mexico is construction and maintenance time. Now, why the projects don’t seem to start until the tail end of dry season I will never understand.

Mascota’s got one of the most agreeable plazas we’ve come across. Clean, photogenic, and well laid out. The entire town, in fact, seems recently painted and polished to a crisp.

Being here during Holy Week (Semana Santa) however, I can’t help but wonder how many visitors this relatively remote mountain town gets.

This being the holiest of weeks in the Mexican/Catholic calendar means most workers get a good chunk of time off during this time. That also means residents of the densely-populated highlands flee the mountains for the beaches.

We did the opposite, and are loving our decision. Everything’s still open for the most part, but it feels like we get the whole town to ourselves.

On the heels of yesterday’s failed attempt to trace the entire 50 km of the Mascota Pilgrims Circuit, we thought we’d briefly head out of town in the other direction just to make sure we weren’t missing anything.

Lori had read that there was a popular reservoir with lakeside lodging and restaurants. When we arrived, we were hard pressed to find anything that looked remotely functional.

But we did get to feast our eyes on the world’s largest molcajete, which I suppose made the journey worthwhile (though the boys would probably disagree).

The road back in to town also treated us to a nice view of the Pueblo Magico. Little did we know that later on we’d get an even better one.

Back in town, keeping on the theme of failed attempts at sightseeing in Mascota, we made our way across town to the famous Casa de las Piedras (House of Stones).

Part museum, part workshop, and part who knows what, the Casa de las Piedras is a must-visit according to, well, everyone.

Unfortunately, the owner/craftsman decided not to open today to the public. Guess there are a couple of disadvantages to visiting this time of year.

No worries. Still plenty to see.

The best we can figure is that this is either a disused cistern, swimming pool, or fancy grease pit. Either way, I’m not sure I would enjoy pulling my car in and out of there every day.

Riley, in particular, was quite interested in the design feature. Fortunately, the gate was locked nice and tight.

The boys always put on their best face for the camera when mommy’s around. Not so much with daddy, though.

Maybe they’re not pleased with the photographer’s smile tactics. At least that’s what I like to believe.

Our after-nap activity for later, climbing up to the Mirador de la Cruz.

But first, our second attempt at exploring the unfinished sanctuary.

The Templo Inconcluso de La Preciosa Sangre, or Unfinished Temple of the Precious Blood.

Varying accounts exist as to why the church was never completed (and why it was even attempted in the first place). Most people seem to agree that construction started around 1897 and was halted due, in one way or another, to the outbreak of the Mexican Revolution.

Today, it’s a popular tourist attraction and event venue, especially for weddings.

After a short nap, Riley prepares himself mentally for the climb of his life. Or… paints with water, oblivious to what the evening has in store for him.

We made our way to the far eastern edge of town, where the cobblestone avenue from the main plaza abruptly ends at a gate. A dozen steps ascend to a small shrine where we hop back on to the main road leading up the hill.

It seems that not too long ago, cars were permitted to drive to a small chapel and parking area about midway up the hill. Fortunately for us, these days it’s only open to foot traffic.

At the halfway point, we get our first panoramic view of the city. Not too shabby. We passed a small group of young guys hanging around on an otherwise deserted path and decided to continue on up the hill.

Most do the hike to the top just as the sun is setting over the mountains, and we’ve read that it tends to get pretty crowded during that time on the narrow pathway.

Opting for a slightly earlier jaunt, we knew we’d miss the sunset, but would likely also miss the crowds…if there were any this time of year.

Riley was a champ. It’s a challenging route for adults, let alone a 2.5-year-old. But he made it up without too many complaints, with a little help from mommy, of course.

Noe, on the other hand, was content to do the whole thing on his own, with dad managing to keep up for the most part.

The Top!

With Riley and mommy not far behind. Now, time for a well-deserved rest.

When it was time to head back down, I asked Riley if he’d like a hand from daddy and he jumped into my arms.

Not exactly what I had in mind, but I didn’t protest. The hike up was no small feat.

Once we reached the halfway point, we stopped for a snack and a rest, then carried on before too long.

Looks like we might just get a sunset up here after all.

A handful of others reached the top just behind us. But we were surprised not to pass anyone coming up on our way back down.

Needless to say, we had a pretty famished crew on our hands when we got back to town.

We’d been looking forward to our dinner that night at Cafe Naples, one of the top picks in town. But Riley may have had other plans for the evening.

A bit hangry and over-tired are we? That, or a demon possessed our two-year-old somewhere along the hike.

Fortunately, the demon seemed wiped out as well, and Riley passed out as soon as we put him down. In the cool mountain night, all of us slept about as good as we have in years.

After brunch the next morning (and armed with Children’s Dramamine), we made our way back down the long and winding road to sea level, once again.

It was smooth sailing northbound from PV along Highway 200. The other direction, however…

We’re pulling back into town on Good Friday. As we approach our left-hand turn into Sayulita (yep, that was fun), cars were still streaming southbound (presumably from Mexico’s second largest city, Guadalajara).

Before driving the rest of the way into town, we needed to gas up the rental car at the only gas station in town. We’d quickly learn that Sayulita’s Pemex is also notorious for ripping off visitors. And Holy Week is a goldmine for the many unscrupulous gas attendants who work there.

Fortunately, we caught the attendant in the middle of one of the scams, and were able to reconcile our receipt with another attendant for the other. We were lucky, in that respect. According to reviews on Google Maps, many, many others aren’t.

Also lucky for us, our daily driver (golf cart) is electric, so we won’t be dealing with these guys any time soon.

For those planning to drive the Riviera Nayarit during holidays, make sure you read up on the latest gas scams. Some are pretty slick, even for those like us who have driven a lot overseas.

After dropping off the rental, we were happy to return to our quiet abode, and unpack these four guys that hitched a ride back from the highlands.

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