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Special Collections & University Archives: Rancho del Cielo (Mexico)

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Rancho del Cielo (Mexico) Research Guide

Rancho del Cielo Research Guide


This research guide provides information on Rancho del Cielo, a place located in the heart of Tamaulipas, Mexico less than three hundred miles south of the border. Rancho del Cielo, a cloud forest served as a base of operations for field research pertaining to vegetation, plants, and animal species. This research guide provides students and researchers with an overview of primary and secondary sources available from the University Library. Links to external resources are also included.


Rancho del Cielo is in the mountains near Gomez, Farias, Tamaulipas Mexico. It has long attracted scientists due to its diverse vegetation, plants, and animal species. It is named for the clouds that brush through the trees due to north and south winds that converge on the area and mix with the humidity from the Gulf of Mexico. This creates low cover throughout the year. ‘ People who express an interest in learning about the “cloud forest’s” unique ecology will visit Rancho del Cielo, especially bird watchers and other naturalists. It is the home to more than 250 resident species of birds and 170 migratory ones.

John Hunter & Frank Harrison

In 1954, John Hunter, a Brownsville businessman became a board member of Texas Southmost College. In the early 1960’s, Mr. Hunter was enamored with Rancho del Cielo, a ranch that was approximately 400 acres and was started by a Canadian surgeon by the name of Murdoch Cameron. This land was later inherited by Frank Harrison who was a good friend of John Hunter. Mr. Hunter owned a cabin on Frank Harrison’s property located in Rancho del Cielo. After Mr. Harrison died, he donated Rancho del Cielo to Texas Southmost College (TSC) to be used as a research laboratory for nature.

Barbara Warburton & Gorgas Science Foundation

The Gorgas Science Foundation was established in Brownsville in 1947 by TSC biology professor Dr. Barbara T. Warburton. It continues to operate as a nonprofit organization and was created to help college students pursuing careers in science and wildlife preservation. In 1948, the foundation developed a student organization, known as the Gorgas Science Society.

Throughout the 1960s, the Gorgas Science Society established a research station in Rancho del Cielo. Dr. Warburton took groups of students and volunteers there to help build and maintain the site while shadowing scientists and researchers who were studying the rainforests.

Research trips continued approximately until 2010, when travel became unsafe due to increased violence in Northern Mexico. The Rancho del Cielo is now protected by the Mexican government off limits to the public.

Gallery of Images

Photograph of TSC biology professor Dr. Barbara Warburton students and volunteers building a cabin, Rancho del Cielo (1965)

Cabin, Rancho del Cielo (1967)

Color photo of six people observing a mushroom

Photograph of researchers observing a mushroom, Rancho del Cielo (1974)

Color photo of twelve people singing

Photograph of researchers singing and enjoying the bonfire on a quiet evening, Rancho del Cielo (1974)

black and white photo seven people

Students and Faculty enjoying the forest view, Rancho del Cielo (1984)

Black and white photo two people

Researchers enjoying the tranquility of the forest, Rancho del Cielo (1985)

Black and white photo six people

Faculty and students conducting research, Rancho del Cielo (1992)

Black and white photo three people

Mike Booster, computer science professor, with industrial science professor Pat Wade and Kathrine 'Kitty" Wade, scan the treetops.

Archival Resources & Digital Collections


El Cielo: The Enchanted Mountain includes an 8 track.  01 Dawn in The Lowlands, 02 Along The River, 03 Rapids and Cascades, 04 El Cielo...the Cloud forest Afternoon, 05 El Cielo Night & The Electric Storm , 06 El Cielo Dawn chorus, 07 El Porvenir, 08 Canyon of The Macaws. 

UTB/TSC Leadership Summit, 2002 November 15-18

UTB/TSC Leadership Summit, 2002 November 15-18, other: BLIBR-0075-PRE, Box: 78. UTB/TSC University Archives - Office of the President, BLIBR-0075-PRE. University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Special Collections and Archives, Brownsville Campus.


Video: "At a Bend in a Mexican River" John Bax, Gorgas Science Foundation, Inc.

More than 50 years ago, bird artist and ornithologist George Miksch Sutton visited a hidden river along the eastern escarpment of Mexico’s Sierra Madre Oriental. Although he had visited many places in the world, perhaps none so enthralled him. His vivid memories were published in 1972, exactly 50 years later. Cinematographer John Bax was compelled to visit the same enchantingly beautiful stream that flows from the foot of the dark and majestic mountain. This video features 38 rarely seen neo-tropical birds. These, and numerous others, are included in the video.

External Resources

Research Compiled by Millie Resendez

Milagro (Millie) Resendez has served as the Special Collections Manager with UTRGV Special Collections & Archives at the University Library in Brownsville since 2015. She joined the legacy institution, UTB/TSC University Library in 1999 as a student worker and later as a full-time member of the library staff. Millie earned a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology with a minor in Sociology, and a Associates in Social Work from UTB/TSC 2002.

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Video Resources

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