from Ray Auxillou

Las Cuevas Research Station doing okay on the VACA PLATEAU

Wife and I made a trip to Las Cuevas Research Station yesterday. 6 hours of driving there and back, most of it in second gear. Two wheel drive Toyota small pickup truck.
The lower pine ridge along the Caracol road, has pine trees looking bushy and varying depending on location, growing back at between 12 to 18 feet high. It is starting to look pretty again. Don't know about higher up, but will check it out maybe next week.
There were half a dozen white faced students from someplace COLD with a professor there and from the reservations board, the station has been enjoying a steady procession of student groups all this year. Business is slow but steady.
Built originally by the British through a variety of institutional GRANT funding systems, the 5 year GRANT had run out and the original users, the LONDON MUSEUM had dropped the station. Jane Beard who used to use it, from the London Museum now lives in Belize and has immigrated here. She lives on the Cristo Rey road, where she built a house that is still under construction, but very big. She recently got her Permanent Residency.
The research station is in a high jungle area, that is south of the two lakes formed by the Macal River and the Raspacullo Canyon, backed up by the Chalillo Dam.
The road was fine. At times one could get into fourth gear, but most of the time, 2nd and 3rd gear were more normal. The roads are actually better than the streets in Hillview of Santa Elena Town, which are 1st gear streets. We only found two dry mud holes, off the Millionairio section split, or fork, that would be trouble. Not as much trouble as several corners found on the streets of our suburb here in Hillview of Santa Elena Town though. This remote jungle area had better surfaced roads than our suburb streets in Santa Elena Town.
Permanently stationed at this Research Station was a Belize Defense Force detachment for protection. Many wildlife automatic cameras have been smashed or stolen by Guatemalan poachers who penetrate over 40 kilometers into the Vaca Plateau bush it was reported by personel. Also, all traffic to CARACOL is stopped at Augustine de Silva Forestry Station village by the Belize Defense Force and you register and wait for a CONVEY escorted by the military to the CARACOL ruins, twice a day, at 11:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.. We were allowed to continue, because our turnoff on the Millianario road a few miles past the Guacamallo Bridge in a beautiful valley of surrounding middle level mountain peaks was currently in use by British Military Forces. We saw British army personel at the Guacamallo bridge both coming and going, soaking their feet in the fast running waters. Washing their socks.
The road onward to Millionario about 3 miles further was open and they told me I could actually get all the way to the Southern plateau gold placer stream delta, up at 2000 feet in the southern Belize Alps by road, if I had four wheel drive, which we didn't, this dry season. Would like to make that trip sometime.
Las Cuevas Research Station was much bigger than I expected, with many buildings of wood, two story, or up on posts. Covered about 5 acres. They had generator facilities, hot and cold water showers, private rooms and a wooden lab and teaching classroom with blackboard and facility for slide shows. They had 50 cycle British and 60 cycle American electric systems. There was a lookout tower on a high peak nearby, but more than this old guy could walk up hill, so we skipped that part. My understanding is that the facility is now run by the Forestry Department, under some kind of license to somebody local catering to research groups. I was told but forgot the details.
Our visit was to investigate the layout and see if it would fit into anything for TOURIST ADVENTURES of our persuasion. I don't think so! Though they said they could offer some jungle survival courses for us if we wanted. Getting there would be a problem in January high season when it rains a lot, I would think?
So far, we are going to stick with our plan to open up a higher elevation Research Station for a different type of ecology studies, rainy high ridge top more accessible by road near Baldy Beacon. It is totally different than Las Cuevas, which concentrates on lower mid level jungle terrain. We are more into cloud cover plants and a different geological strata higher up. Next week we are planning to go up to our two locations chosen last year in the Belized Alps and see if we can find a spot with road access and water from a nearby headwater stream. Las Cuevas concentrates on lower elevation decideous forest and we are interested in coniferous high altitude forest of mid level Central American ridges. We don't expect to find the Quetzal bird, but plenty of other birds yes, we know from experience.
Last year we explored the locations, by map and on foot. We picked one spot, the Cooma Cairn Lookout, but was denied the lease on that closed down Forest Lookout, as it had suitable buildings we might have used and saved a lot of work and investment, but the Forestry Department were claiming it and the British Army had a counter claim for the same site. But we do have two sites that are remote and suitable for another University Student type RESEARCH STATION, East and West of that place on the southern slopes. The best road maintained part is that the American owned land north of the Cooma Cairn road to Baldy Beacon and is maintained almost as far as the 1,600 foot Hidden Valley Falls and the rest is probable passable most of the time. We need to be inside the circular mountain wall that marks the rain shadow clouds during the high season. The South side of the Baldy Beacon range and some miles before the British Army firing ranges by around 15 or 20 miles.
The sheer size and investment in Las Cuevas Research Station by different British Institutions left us gasping. We could never finance such a big facility, but think we can do something along the line of the movies that did the section in Brazil like that. From the small size of University Student groups that Las Cuevas is getting, there is apparently apt business for a smaller, more leaner operation? Having done this over many years with Marine Biology groups and Anthropology groups, I'm well aware of how to do it.
Round trip gasoline costs were about $55.