The Maya Mountains of Belize: Where Past and Future Collide
Geologist Jean H. Corneck has more than a passing interest in the stately Maya Mountains that overlook a generous portion of both southern and central Belize before stretching over to eastern Guatemala. Dr. Corneck believes that the mountains hold secrets.
But trekkers eager to see what they can find at the highest points of this range—Doyle’s Delight at 3,688 feet and Victoria Peak, only 8 feet shorter—only care about the majestic vista, flora and fauna they encounter when they visit what’s fast becoming the #1 vacation nation in Central America, Belize. Are these interests incompatible? Not necessarily.
Geology meets society
Named for the Maya people who settled in the region, the mountains provided a refuge for them when Spaniard conquerors arrived, foisting foreign customs, religion, and practices upon them and eventually contributing to the demise of the culture. The ruins Mayas left behind are indelibly imprinted on the landscape, especially at Lubaantun, the settlement located in the mountain’s foothills. But long before these people arrived, these mountains did.
According to Researchgate.net, the range’s geology is composed of Pre-Mesozoic crystalline, sedimentary and volcanic rock, but it’s the sedimentary rock that tells the story of the mountain’s origin: a mix of “metamorphosed fluvio-marine conglomerates, turbidites, graywackes, quartzites, sandstones, siltstones, shales and minor crinoidal limestones.” Most materials were pushed up from the earth’s core when the North American and Caribbean tectonic plates crashed together during the earth’s formation.
The range’s biggest secret: gold
In addition to being a geological treasure trove of history, the Maya Mountains hold deeper secrets that have yet to be unearthed: all manner of gold deposits have been found over the past 60 years. Huge parts of the mountain range remain unexplored or under-explored due to hard-to-traverse terrain and thick vegetation. It will take a major effort to extract gold in the future, even with state-of-the-art prospecting tools.
At least one mystery has been solved as Belize moves forward with thoughts of mining the range for gold: Where did ancient Mayas find the gold they used to embellish their treasures? From alluvial gold to fine gold flakes panned at drainage points, who knows what secrets this land still holds and whether Belize’s future will, in some way, be shaped by plans to mine the mountain range the Maya people held sacred?
Can mining and ecology co-exist?
The Maya Mountains continue to beckon outdoor adventure seekers who know that the nation’s government supports a vibrant ecosystem that protects the nation’s natural assets. This fact is appreciated by tourists eager to vacation in the shadow of this imposing mountain range, so whether or not interest in gold mining increases, the mountains will remain as stately as they did when the earth was formed. Easy to reach via Hummingbird and George Price Highways, the Maya Mountains will continue to intrigue and fascinate visitors for generations to come.