What are Barrancas?

Caitlin Dempsey

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A barranca is a deep gorge or canyon. A word of Spanish American origin, the term ‘barranca’ stems from the Spanish word for “cliff, precipice, gully, ravine.”

Where to Find Barrancas?

One place to find barrancas is at the lower elevations of La Malinche volcano in central Mexico. Found among the farmlands and villages of the area are narrow stream valleys that form the barrancas.

The barrancas are dry most of the year. It’s during those dry times that area residents use the barrancas as pathways for foot and vehicle traffic, playing soccer, and dredging for materials for creating concrete blocks for building.

Satellite Image of Barrancas

This Landsat 8 satellite image shows the northwestern side of La Malinche volcano where several barrancas can be seen.


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Satellite imagery of the northwestern side of La Malinche volcano, Mexico.  Image: NASA, public domain
Satellite imagery of the northwestern side of La Malinche volcano, Mexico. Image: NASA, public domain

1847 Map With a Barranca

This 1847 map showing the Mexican plan of the Battle of Cerro-Gordo during the U.S.-Mexican War, 1846-1848 highlights a barranca.

Cropped view of Croquis del terro, camino, bosques, barrancas, cerro y beredas de Cerro-gordo con las posiciones de las topas Mejicanas y Americanas con sus respectivos Generales Cuerpos y Baterias el dis 18 de Abril de 1847.
Detailed view to show the barranca (dashed line on map) that was mapped. Map: Croquis del terro, camino, bosques, barrancas, cerro y beredas de Cerro-gordo con las posiciones de las topas Mejicanas y Americanas con sus respectivos Generales Cuerpos y Baterias el dis 18 de Abril de 1847, Library of Congress.

The map depicts Mexican and American troop positions at various stages of the battle, gun emplacements, roads, relief and encampments, and the retreat route of Santa Ana’s forces.

The barranca is mapped on the left side of the map connecting the road to the river.

Croquis del terro, camino, bosques, barrancas, cerro y beredas de Cerro-gordo con las posiciones de las topas Mejicanas y Americanas con sus respectivos Generales Cuerpos y Baterias el dis 18 de Abril de 1847. Delineado por Rafael Zamora y ejecutado por Vicinte Quiroga. Zamora, Rafael. [1847]. Manuscript, pen-and-ink and watercolor.
Croquis del terro, camino, bosques, barrancas, cerro y beredas de Cerro-gordo con las posiciones de las topas Mejicanas y Americanas con sus respectivos Generales Cuerpos y Baterias el dis 18 de Abril de 1847. Delineado por Rafael Zamora y ejecutado por Vicinte Quiroga. Zamora, Rafael. [1847]. Manuscript, pen-and-ink and watercolor. Library of Congress.

References

Dauphin, L. (2020, August 29). La Malinche’s barrancas. NASA Earth Observatory. https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/147194/la-malinches-barrancas

LaFevor, M. C. (2014). Conservation engineering and agricultural terracing in Tlaxcala, Mexico (Doctoral dissertation). http://hdl.handle.net/2152/24815

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About the author
Caitlin Dempsey
Caitlin Dempsey is the editor of Geography Realm and holds a master's degree in Geography from UCLA as well as a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) from SJSU.