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The Sierras Bética mountains stretch along Andalusia from the province of Murcia to the Strait of Gibraltar. They reach the highest points of the Autonomous Community, and include the Guadalquivir Depression to the north, and the Mediterranean sea at its southern most limits.
Geology and relief
It has a steep and uneven terrain, which is the result of water and limestone in the rocks forming rugged landscapes where it is easy to find very high and isolated massifs, such as the Pico Mágina (2,167 m) in Sierra Mágina (Jaén) and the Falla de la Sierra del Camorro fault (Malaga). On the surface, the erosive power of the water gives rise to spectacular formations, such as the Torcal de Antequera (Malaga), the La Nava depression and the Los Lanchares lapiaz in the Sierras Subbéticas mountains (Cordoba), or the travertines of Los Infiernos de Loja (Granada), where the dissolved limestone material in the waters of the Genil River precipitate on the organic material, drawing very unique shapes.
The water filtrations and underground run-offs also cause a fantastic modelling of the terrain, such as the Hundidero-Gatocomplex in the Sierra de Grazalema mountain, which stands out for being the most famous cave in Andalusia. There are also others, such as the Cueva de Nerja cave (Malaga), the Gesm chasm, the third deepest in the world (in the Sierra de las Nieves mountains), the Cuevas de Las Ventanas caves (Granada) and the Los Murciélagos caves (Cordoba), both of great value due to their human occupation in the Neolithic period. Meanwhile, the upwellings of underground water, which are very common, form strong currents which are able to bore through the rock, creating spectacular formations such as the Desfiladero de los Gaitanes (Malaga), an impressive rocky gorge carved out by the Guadalhorceriver, the Garganta Verde in the Sierra de Grazalema mountains, and the fascinating cut through the Cañon de las Buitreras canyon modelled by the ceaseless action of the Guadiaro River.
Among the fauna associated with these ecosystems, mountain species such as the ibex and mouflon, forest species such as roe buck and deer and water species such as otters stand out. Some of the endangered species that inhabit these lands, including the real and Bonelli's eagle, Egyptian vulture and peregrine falcon, use limestone cliffs and crags, like those in the Sierra de Grazalema and Sierras Subbética national parks and the Sierra Crestellina nature reserve (Malaga).
The numerous caves and the wooded areas provide shelter for many types of bats, some in serious danger of extinction such as the forest buzzard and greater horseshoe bats. The Los Alcornocales natural park has the largest bat reserve in the whole of the Iberian Peninsula.
The biological wealth of these areas goes hand in hand with this geology. Thus, we can find the unique gallery forests that shelter in the deep and narrow valleys, eroded by the rivers of the wetland mountains of the south of Cadiz and the northwest of Malaga, also known as canutes. They are the home to flora typical of sub-tropical regions, such as the laurel forests which are unique in Europe. This same area also has the largest cork oak grove in the peninsula.
Another example of the unique vegetation are the fir forests, forests of spontaneous and endemic firs in the mountains of Cádiz and Malaga which are mainly located in the Sierra de Grazalema (Cadiz) and Sierra de las Nieves (Malaga) natural parks and in the Los Reales de Sierra Bermeja nature reserve (Malaga).
The jaggedness of the terrain in these mountains has determined the activities that have been carried out here for centuries. Livestock, forestry and the domestication of the water and snow patches have been the protagonists of its everyday day use. In this sense, we can appreciate a large ethnographic and archaeological heritage that lies sleeping, but also another that is reinvented daily, such as the production of cheese (payoyo) and hams, honey, cured meat and oils.
Likewise, its mountainous landscape has created an exceptional place for practising all kinds of adventure sports, such as hiking and mountain biking, canyoning, climbing, caving, hang-gliding and many more.
Natural Landmark: Bosque de la Bañizuela, Cañón de las Buitreras, Cueva de las Ventanas, Cueva del Gato, Cueva de los Murciélagos, El Tornillo de El Torcal, Falla de la Sierra del Camorro, Fuente de los Cien Caños - Nacimiento del Río Guadalhorce, Infiernos de Loja, Los Tajos del Alcázar, Mirador Cuenca del Río Turón - Mirador del Guarda Forestal, Nacimiento del Río Genal, Pinar de Cánava, Pinsapo de las Escaleretas, Quejigo del Carbón, Tajos de Alhama
Other Nature Enclaves: Alto Hondonero, Castaño Santo, Charco del Canalón, Cueva del Yeso, El Picacho de Cabra, Lapiaz de los Lanchares, Mirador del Cañón del Río Bailón, Nacimiento de El Chorro, Peña de los Enamorados, Pico de la Tiñosa, Poljé de la Nava de Cabra