This is a fascinating day trip. You travel not only out of crowded busy beaches and cities. You are traveling in time to forest and mountains. The ‘Ex convento del Desierto de los Leones’ started as an actual convent (men’s convent). The land was owned by a Spanish family, de Leone, who donated it the monks. The location needed to be out of the way and quite (Desierto in this case means deserted), a retirement home for the monks. Through the Spanish order of 654 'Barefoot Carmelites’ built their men only home atop a large mountain far removed from anyone. Built in a mountain range with peaks soaring to over 12,000 feet the refuge is at modest 9,000. The first stone for the convent was laid and construction began on January 1606. To ensure privacy and solitude it was completely walled off with only one gate. A long winding road led down the mountain to another gate at the bottom. It was a place of meditation to get close to God and get away from the daily hustle and bustle of life in Mexico City. Think about that, its 1606 and these guy’s need a place to escape all the horse carts, traffic and congestion of Mexico City. The city had a population of about one thousand. Wonder what they would do today?
The retired monks lived a silent life of reflection. To remind them and greet visitors a painting was posted at the only entrance. A father who chronicled the Barefoot Carmelites described it like this.
"The painting is a Carmelita who is frightening to everyone who sees it because it is an image of what happens inside. The Carmelita is crucified on a cross, with a padlock over his mouth, silicon in his eyes and where a baby Jesus is resting within his visible broken heart inside his chest. The friar's right hand is formed into a fist, which exemplifies a harsh discipline and in the left hand he holds a candle: to watch others and see the candle burn. Two trumpets touch his ears. Two misconceptions, where one is death telling him that life is over and the other is an angel calling for a trail in a frightening voice. The padlock in his mouth means the eternal silence that the Carmelita’s must live in alongside with discipline and continuous penance"
This was their retirement home; out of the way, cold, wet, silent, frightening and then they died.
The weather at the convent is miserable most of the year with occasional sun or snow. Due to these harsh conditions by 1720 the buildings were beyond repair and the complex demolished. Rebuilding began of a larger convent just south of the original site with only one wall and gate still used. The war of Independence began in 1810 and convent was appropriated by the military and used as a headquarters during the war. The 'Barefoot Carmelites' were relocated, to a warmer place I hope.
Should you be in Mexico City or another over crowded city this park will be a welcome reprieve. It has streams, pine trees, wild life, fresh air. You can camp, hike, mountain bike, ride horses and eat at several of the restaurants nearby.