The National Park encompasses 33.960 hectares of the Sierra de Guadarrama in the Central Mountain Range, chain that halves the Castilian meseta and separates the Duero and the Tajo river basins and Madrid and Segovia provinces. The majority of its surface is covered by heights where rocky outcrops, mountain pastures and shrubs dominate.
During the Park pronouncement process, it was named at a certain time “Sierra de Guadarrama Heights National Park”, but the inclusion of large pinewood surfaces, and other not so large of Pyrenean oak covering the Supramediterranean and Oromediterranean bioclimatic areas, leaded to the “Heights” denomination removal.
The Park contribution to the National Parks Network is then mainly based on the representation of diverse natural systems, among them, the Pinus sylvestris pinewoods, with high environmental value, recognized naturalness and excellent condition on siliceous soils. Other are the “natural systems of glacial and periglacial origin” showing a landform more characteristic of higher altitudes and northern latitudes. Other assets are the exceptionality of its systems, and “its mountain and high-mountain formations” with the granitic rock geomorphology which emphasizes unique landscapes forms. The natural “gall and Pyrenean oak” systems poorly represented in the National Parks Network, the supra-forest level shrubs, the high-mountain pastures, the woody steppes in altitude and the pebbles grounds” and also “pinewoods, juniper and Spanish juniper fields”, contribute as well to a major and unique representation on the National Parks Network.
From a quantitative point of view, we can find more than 1.000 plant species in the National Park, 114 are considered of interest and 83 are endemism. In the Red List of the Spanish vascular flora are included in different categories, Erysimum humile subsp penyalarense, Licopodiella inundata, Ranunculus valdesii and Utricularia minor present in the Park. Many other are as well included in different national and autonomic catalogues.
The vertebrate fauna consists of 255 taxa, which 148 are birds. The majority of them are characteristic of the mountains heights zones, as the alpine accentor, the dunnock, the northern wheatear, the bluethroat, and the rock thrush. We can also find some of the most threatened birds in the Iberian Peninsula, such as the black vulture, the Spanish imperial eagle and the black stork. The barbel comiza and the common trout are part of the 14 fish species, and the Iberian frog and the Iberian painted toad (Discoglassus galganoi) may also represent the 36 amphibians and reptiles present in the Park. As well, more than 58 species of mammals can be found, such as ibexes, otters, Pyrenean muskrats and a large variety of bats.
The invertebrate fauna is very diverse, and one of the Park top priorities is to review its census. Some of the extraordinary butterfly species, such as the Graellsia or the Apolo might become the Park icons because of their beauty and singularity. There are over 74 taxa in the Park accounting for different either national or European protection levels.
From both slopes lowest zones of the Park to the Peñalara Peak, we can find holm-oak woods, steppes, oak woods, pinewoods, gallery forests, brush woods, alpine juniper (Juniperus communis subsp. Alpina) fields, high-mountain pastures, wet meadows and matgrass (Nardus stricta) fields, little spots of birch and yew and a large number of vegetation formations. We have to highlight the over 50 hectares of holly tree under cover and Scots pine situated on one of the Acebeda river banks.
Besides the fauna, the flora and landscapes, the National Park offers an extraordinary sample of geological phenomena. The stone area called “La Pedriza del Manzanares” is the granite kingdom with its whimsical shapes unique in the Iberian Peninsula, sculpted by the different periglacial erosion actions, such as the water, the wind or the chemical rock decomposition. We should also emphasize the Peñalara Massif (Macizo de Peñalara); its glacial formations show the Central Mountain Range most important and better preserved glacial shaping: moraines, cirque walls, depressions, lakes etc. and as well other forms due to the intense periglacial activity initiated after the glaciations final period.
People familiar with the Sierra de Guadarrama are very aware that any comment related is incomplete if Culture is omitted. Its proximity to Madrid has meant for centuries, the Sierra de Guararrama became the perfect scenario for landscapes painting, literature, architecture, cinema and even educational activities. The Sierra de Guadarrama appears as a landscape backdrop in the most relevant Velázquez royal portraits. It is also present in Carlos de Haes, Martín Rico, Morera and Beruete pictures. Sorolla painted the Sierra in several works, being one of the most famous “A storm at Peñalara” (“Tormenta sobre Peñalara”) pictured from Mount Matabueyes (Cerro Matabueyes). The Sierra has also been chosen by writers as scenario of their books or as subject of their poems, and therefore described in splendid literature texts.
The Sierra is also the landscape backdrop of emblematic constructions such as El Escorial Monastery, El Paular Monastery, La Granja Palace, Manzanares Castle and El Valle de los Caídos (The Fallen Village). It has also been the set of hundreds of films, from the Hollywood 50’s productions to the actual TV series. The cultural values of the Sierra de Guadarrama landscape were part of our lives much earlier than its official pronouncement as National Park. Even the education innovating movement, founded and leaded by Giner de los Ríos, The Free Education Institution (La Institución Libre de Enseñanza), chose the nature contact in the Sierra de Guadarrama as an educational element.
Apart from the above highlighted major culture, there is in the Sierra de Guadarrama another modest culture surviving with effort and risking extinction. We are referring to the “serranos” (Sierra inhabitants) traditions, people living and changing the landscape for centuries at the same rhythm as nature. Those landscape changes are due to the natural resources exploitation through agriculture, cattle rising and forest logging. Their numerous traditions, proper cultural asset of the Sierra, and all this activity driven to gather food, energy and tools have generated during centuries the landscape that today we deserve to become a National Park.