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In geological terms, the Alta Montaña Bética Mountain and the Bética mountain ranges are generally young mountain formations, which gives them a steep and rugged relief, and peeking over the horizon, they touch the ceiling of the Iberian Peninsula (Mulhacén 3,482 metres and Veleta 3,398 metres).
Geology and relief
The highest peaks have a hilly landscape, well worn by year-round snow and water run-off. They are formed by marble and slate, replaced by limestone further down, which is a surface formed by limestone rocks and dolomite that results in an uneven landscape when penetrated by water: excellent aquifers, such as the Lanjarón; magnificent sources, like those of the Segura, Castril and Borosa rivers; impressive sinkholes, potholes and dolinas, like the "mass" of dolinas in the Campos de Hernán Perea, and spectacular chasms, in the Hundimiento and Pinar Negro.
The upwellings and springs associated with this type of modelling are the result of sources such as those of the Castril River, whose source has made a deep valley, flanked by very straight, high limestone walls. Some of the streams that run into this channel form very unique and beautiful waterfalls.
The most representative vertebrates include the golden eagle and Pyrenees goat, which are few and far between throughout most of the Andalusian mountains. It is also home to the snow vole, typical of the Alpine mountains, and are the most southern populations known to man.
In Cazorla, Segura and Las Villas the absence of emblematic species is replaced with the presence of 7 species of fish, 7 species of amphibians, 18 species of reptiles, 140 species of birds and 38 species of mammals, including exclusive endemic species such as the Valverde lizard, a subspecies of the common squirrel and the reintroduced bearded vulture. Among the invertebrates and in particular, the insects, there are more than 80 mountain species, with beetles, grasshoppers and butterflies (Lepidoptera) prevailing.
It is worth mentioning the exceptional nature of the Castril River, with clean and transparent waters, where species such as dippers and otters live, which are very demanding when it comes to the condition of their habitat.
The great height of these mountains, their orography, climate and unique geological composition result in unique ecosystems, with exceptional flora. As an example, Sierra Nevada is home to over 2,100 classified plants from the 8,000 in the Iberian Peninsula. Of these, 65 are exclusively endemic to Sierra Nevada and 175 are Iberian endemisms which have found an ideal refuge in the higher altitudes.
Between 1,900 and 2,800 metres, together with the aforementioned endemic species, grow pine, juniper and sabines, whilst the lower areas are covered by the typically Mediterranean oak trees. In more humid valleys and shaded areas are the remains of deciduous forests with maple, wild gall-oaks, melojo oak trees, cherry, plum and yews.
The Cazorla, Segura and Las Villas mountains, which for much of the Middle Ages were used for storing wood by the Royal Marines, lost their original coverage to give way to conifer repopulations. Today they co-exist in magnificent harmony with autochthonous species, such as the Corsican pine in the highest altitudes, and black and Austrian pine further down, which intertwine with the remains of the original forest made up of gall-oaks, oaks, yew, holly, maple, white beams and cherry trees.
In this rugged, rocky landscape, the limestone quarries alternate with tooth shaped hills, and small villages are located in the valleys formed by streams and rivers that run through this complex arch of mountains. Sometimes these are cramped villages of Muslim origin, such as Cazorla, Hornos and Segura, others are formed by a small labyrinth of houses, tinaos and irrigation channels that run along the gorges in La Alpujarra, in other cases, rock castles that dominate steps, knolls and gated communities such as those in Lanjarón and La Iruela and the rest, small and hidden inhabited areas that dot the eternal mountains of Andalusia.
The unevenness of the terrain, the geology, flora and fauna in this area, the richness and uniqueness of the crops and its soil and the hugely important ethnographic and archaeological heritage of these mountains reveal an exceptional setting for the wide range of leisure, sports, cultural and nature activities.
National Park: Sierra Nevada