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The Ricardo Franco Hills

The Huanchaca Plateau


The Ricardo Franco Hills Plateau


The Bolivian Plateau that inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to write his classic novel "The Lost World" is located inside the region of one of the most spectacular South American parks, the Park Nacional Noel Kempff Mercado, which lies in the northernmost area of Santa Cruz department in the banks of Rio Guapore. This plateau was introduced to Sir Conan Doyle by Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett during a lecture he gave in front of the Royal Geographical Society reporting details about his expedition to border delimitation between Bolivian and Brazil in 1908.


The Lost World of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle


Reference for the summary of the following article was taken from:

Harold T. Wilkin's book "Secret Cities of Old South America-Atlantis Unveiled",  page 199


The Lost World  of a brilliant storyteller. His 1912 tale is pure page-turning pleasure, its premise being that somewhere deep in the jungles of South America “strange accidental conditions” have suspended the ordinary laws of nature and preserved the Jurassic age into the early 20th century. The Lost World tells the story of a mismatched expedition team led by adventurer and scholar Professor Edward Challenger who was determined to prove the existence of an age unknown. Venturing into that land out of time, the delightfully preposterous Professor Challenger and his three colorful companions marvel at dinosaurs, give nasty ape-men what for, and in general have the time of their lives.




The Serra Ricardo Franco is a line of heavily eroded sand stone hills and plateau running in a roughly northwest line that parallels the Rio Guapore from 10 km West of the Town of Villa Bella for a distance of approximately 70 km.


Its 200ft summit so smooth it “could have been pared by a giants cheese-knife.

In a Royal Geographical Society Lecture in 1911, Fawcett alluded to the mysterious hinterlands, adding: “There are tracks of strange beasts, huge and unrecognized, in the mud of the beaches of these lakes behind the unknown forests."  

The rich imagery of Fawcett’s reports was not lost on one member of the audience. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle shared the explorer’s vision, going on to write The Lost World, the classic novel where a scientific expedition encounters pterodactyls, dinosaurs and ape-men.  Doyle’s mountain itself, writes Cowell, “seems to have a malevolent being." (Cowell, 18. - Fawcett did not discover the hills.  Schomburgk in mid 1800’s and many others had mused on its arrested zoological development, lost cities and diamonds.  It seems Fawcett was the first to scale them.)


One wonders how Professor Challenger’s lecture at the end of the novel, in which he talks of dinosaurs and releases a live pterodactyl, would have contrasted with Fawcett’s own controversial addresses.  Perhaps even, Lord John Roxton, the dashing big game hunter, was based on Colonel Fawcett.


The hills cross the Bolivian border also known as the Serrania Huanchaca (Huanchaca tableland) and are part of the Noel Kempff Mercado National park. The Rio Verde, which separates the eastern line of hills from the main massif forms the Brazilian-Bolivian border up to its confluence with the Guapore. The far Southeastern part of the Sierra is an ecological reserve.


A view of the Ricardo Franco Hills from Villa Bella city (former Mato Grosso city) with Rio Guapore in the foreground.                             Courtesy of Misha Williams


The vegetation of the Sierra comprises dry wooded cerrado on the plateau with tropical moist forest and savannah grassland (some of it seasonally inundated) on the low-lying areas. The tropical forest has been cleared to some extent in recent years and burned for cattle pasture. To our knowledge, the high land and the relatively inaccessible region of the Rio Verde remain pristine. Wildlife includes both forest and plains species such as jaguars, maned wolves, rheas (South American ostrich) , spider and black howler monkeys. In the Rio Guapore, Boto pink river dolphins are regularly encountered.

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