It's hot, dry and sometimes called ugly by the uninitiated. Hot desert winds chap the lips; soaring temps steal your body moisture - the horizon is huge mirage of rising heat. Yet before you looms a wall of rock, thousands of feet tall, and upon the slopes above in lies rich mountain forests and trickling springs. It's been called one of the most remote places on Earth. Welcome to the Lost World!

By Logan Hawkes

Some people like a remote environment, a total getaway from the pressures of life-in-the-fast-lane; a place where you can scream at the top of your lungs and no one will hear you; a place where, for all practical purposes, you can disappear from the world and not worry about cell phones, fax machines or crowded malls.

The Sierra del Carmen range just across the U.S.-Mexico border from Big Bend National Park is that perfect escape, a half-million acre Mexican nature reserve that has been called the most remote place on Earth. The only voice you will hear is the echo of your own bouncing off canyon walls - no cars, no hotels and no tourists.

The region has historically been an important mining and forestry center that maintains its natural richness and scenic beauty as a result of its isolation and small population. Once home to famous bandits and Apache war parties, the region remains unspoiled and sparsely populated. And for good reason.

The isolated mountain range is far removed from population centers, surrounded by desert prairie and, like Big Bend (but more so), protected because it's in the middle of nowhere.

That could be changing in the future. Efforts have been under way for decades by Mexican officials (with support from U.S. groups) who wanted to turn the region into a major nature reserve and ecological park.  Off and on again support has been garnered on both sides of the border, but until recently, the project was going nowhere fast. But a few years back, Mexico's huge cement corporation, CEMEX, stepped into the picture and has started doing what governments could never get done: Acquiring land and paving the way for that dream to become a realty.

As part of CEMEX'S conservation and environmental policies, the Company adopted the El Carmen Project and has made headway where others have failed. The Project's goal is to preserve the natural environment of one of Northern Mexico's richest ecological reserves.

Located in Coahuila State, east of the Chihuahua Desert, El Carmen is a joint effort between CEMEX and the Sierra Madre Association to protect one of Mexico's most pristine ecological zones. The area is renowned for its large prairies, which are bordered by impressive mountains, pine and oak forests, as well as a desert with the largest variety of cactus in the Americas.

The Project includes the preservation of the bio-diversity of 55 thousand hectares of land, of which 60% are part of the Wildlife Protection Area of the Maderas de El Carmen.

Several other actions geared toward the preservation of the region will be conducted through the identification of natural richness in terms of animal species, ecosystems and biological corridors, along with the history and culture of the area. The Project seeks to restore wilderness areas damaged by human activity, and native flora and fauna that had become extinct or are in danger of becoming so.

"Our vision of El Carmen project is to preserve this variety of pristine ecosystems, as well as to reintroduce several large mammals into the area that have become extinct and to repopulated the area. At the same time, we want to guarantee that they can continue to exist and reproduce in order to inhabit this and other areas", said Armando J. García Segovia, Executive Vice President of Development at CEMEX.

Segovia explained that the importance of the region has been recognized by organizations such as World Wildlife Fund, the North America Environmental Cooperation Commission, The Nature Conservancy, Conabio, Birdlife International, Pronatura, Profauna, the Maderas de El Carmen Museum, the Sierra Madre Association and Unidos para la Conservación (United for Preservation).

CEMEX is one of the three largest cement companies in the world, with approximately 78 million metric tons of production capacity. It is also the world's largest trader of cement and its leading producer of white cement. CEMEX is engaged in the production, distribution, marketing, and sale of cement, ready-mix concrete, aggregates, and clinker through operating subsidiaries on four continents.

The reserve is home to black bears, large cats like the mountain lion, and over 400 species of birds. In addition, deer and big horn sheep are repopulating the region and are slowly filtering their way across the border into Big Bend National Park.

One of the biggest draw backs to ecotourism in the region is the U.S. Border Patrol's policy to keep residents of both nations from crossing the border at Boquillas. Enterprising residents of Boquillas, located high on a cliff on the Mexican side of the border  overlooking the famous Boquillas canyon, once provided row boat crossings of the Rio Grande River (Rio Bravo). But in recent years the crossings have been termed illegal, and tourists to the parks can be fined for violating border laws.

U.S. citizens wishing to visit the region should check with Big Bend National park rangers concerning the current climate for such crossings, or can venture across the river at their own risk. The chances of being hassled over the crossing are remote as there are few border agents in the region on either side of the border.