The Valley of Oaxaca and the Mixteca
Continue your breeze-blown journey, now turning southwest over the Sierra Zapoteca (Zapotec Highland) country to the Valley of Oaxaca, the heartland of the Zapotec people and Oaxacan civilization for more than 3,000 years. Below you spreads Oaxaca’s great highland central valley complex: farms, pastures, towns, and villages, radiating in three 50-mile fingers (east, northwest, and south) from the capital city, Oaxaca City.
Drawn on by the mystery of the mist-shrouded western mountains, you continue a hundred miles northwest, following the valley of the upper Río Atoyac, where the Sierra de Oaxaca rises again. There, you gaze down on a broad mountain and high plateau landscape, much of it tragically eroded. Oaxacans call this the Mixteca, the domain of the Mixtec people, proud transmitters of a major share of Oaxaca’s ancient tradition. From your high vista, you see a landscape as creased as an old chopping board, dotted with tiny settlements scattered atop rugged mesas and tucked into deep gorges.
A closer look reveals natural divisions in the land. In the center you see the Mixteca Alta—high, cool, and cloud-shadowed. To the northwest, bordering the states of Guerrero and Puebla, lies the Mixteca Baja, a lower, desert-like plateau-land of cactus, maguey, and dwarf palm. To the south, toward the Pacific, at the place where your imaginary journey began, the mountains drop to the verdant, jungle-draped foothills, lush river canyons, and coastal farms of the Mixteca de la Costa (Mixtec coastal region).
© Bruce Whipperman from Moon Oaxaca, 5th edition