512px-Arecibo_Observatory_Aerial_View

Fun with Highways: Puerto Rico

This installment in our “Primary Highways” series takes us to the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico is not a state, but it is part of the United States. Dealing with that concept is beyond the scope of this article. Instead, we choose to visit like we would any state in the U.S.

We begin in the capital, San Juan. Specifically, in the old city of San Juan, which was started on a small island just off the main island of the territory. The narrow alleys and colorful buildings are a common feature of colonial cities in the Caribbean, and indeed these images remind me a bit of Havana.

The narrow streets and buildings seem ideal for walking around and observing architectural details. And with the small size of district, the bay and ocean are part of its visuals. Just to the north of the old city, facing the ocean, is Fort San Felipe del Morro.

[By Mtmdfan at en.wikipedia (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]

At the eastern edge of Old San Juan, two of the streets merge for the start of PR 25, the Avenida Juan Ponce de Leon, which continues east past the Capitol building of Puerto Rico. PR 25 and PR 1 leave the island of San Juan via a pair of causeways to the main island, where PR 1 becomes a major freeway. As it curves around the central city, we observe a very different kind of architecture. The modernist curving Puerto Rico Convention Center has won numerous awards.


[Photo by chente922 on flickr. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)]

We exit the city east on PR 26, which becomes PR 66 in the city of Carolina. And after the freeway ends we continue on PR 3. Eventually we turn south onto PR 191, which is the goal of this side trip from San Juan. This small highway winds its way upward into the El Yunque Rainforest. It is the only true tropical rainforest in the U.S. National Forest System


[By AjaxSmack (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons]

While I have been more drawn to the desert over the years, the textures, lush colors and imagined warm humid climate pique my interest. El Yunque has unusual vegetation even for a tropical forest (including the unique “dwarf forest”), waterfalls, and the ever popular frogs known as the coquí.


[By United States Department of Agriculture (en.wiki) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]


[Photo by Jmoliver. (CC BY-SA 3.0)]

One the sides of one of the peaks is Yokahu Tower.


[Photo by Joe Shlabotnik on flickr. (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)]

The shape gives it an appearance of an old castle (or perhaps a chess piece), and cracked paint set against the tropical vegetation adds an air curiosity. But it’s main function is as an observation tower, providing spectacular views of the hills and forest.

Returning to San Juan, we can head west on PR 2 along the coast to Arecibo, home of the Arecibo Observatory.

The observatory conducts radio astronomy and has attracted attention for its use int he SETI@Home project for crowd sourcing of potential intelligent signals from space. It has also been involved in many scientific discoveries related to our Solar System, and two exotic astronomical objects like pulsars and neutron stars. It has struggled with funding in recent years (sadly, certain groups target both public funding and all things scientific at the same time), but it is still operating.

Back in San Juan, we head southward through the center of the island on PR 52. This is a busy toll expressway, but outside the cities it stretches across hilly countryside in the interior of the island. As we approach the southern coast, we can stop at one of Puerto Rico’s few highway rest stops and see both human-made and natural landmarks, the Monumento al Jíbaro Puertorriqueño and Las Tetas De Cayey.


[By Roca Ruiz (http://www.flickr.com/photos/roca-ruiz/5358901411/) [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

PR 52 ends in the city of Ponce on the southern coast. The city is known on the island as a major center for the arts, and ishome to many museums including Museo de Arte de Ponce.


[By Oquendo on Flickr (appears to be Jose Oquendo here.) (Flickr.) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

The building itself is a work of art, built in the 1960s and designed by architect Edward Durell Stone. Their primary collection is traditional European Art – something that sounds at first description a bit jarring for the building. But their signature piece is more modern, the 25-foot Pinceladas al vuelo (Brushstrokes in Flight) by Roy Lichtenstein.

With on in mind, we continue west from Ponce on PR 2 – this is the same PR 2 we encountered in San Juan, as it traces the coast on the western half of the island – and stop at the ruins of the CORCO refinery.


[Photo by cavenaghi9 on Flickr. (CC BY-SA 2.0)]

Like so many other places in this series, this seems like a great place to do some photography work. The pipes and columns are rusting and peeling, but they still stand there. I don’t know whether it is quiet – there is still some industrial activity in the area – but it is what I imagine.

It’s a no-brainer that a tropical island like Puerto Rico would have beaches. But the southwest corner of the island apparently has some of the most scenic and less populated beaches – which is what I would prefer if I was there. We exit PR 2 onto PR 116 past the town of Guánica, where we come to Las Paldas and La Jungla beaches. We conclude with this video of quiet beaches on Guánica Bay.