Saturday, December 6, 2008

Ay Chihuahua, What a Road Trip

Arrow straight, the highway pierces the great desert stretching south from El Paso and Cuidad Juarez into the Mexican state of Chihuahua. From the border to Ciudad Chihuahua, you traverse 231 miles of arid scrub land, once the floor of a great inland sea and now covered in creosote, yucca, mesquite and palo verde.Heading west and south you pass through Cuauhtemoc and the tidy fields of the Mennonite camps before climbing into the mountains. It's a long haul to Creel, the village that serves as a central hub for exploration of the region best known as Copper Canyon.Copper Canyon Country is comprised not of a single canyon but a 10,000 square mile area riven by seven canyons: Urique, Copper, Batopilas, Sinforosa of the Rio Verde, Tararecua, Cusárare and Conchos. We know these collectively by the Spanish term ABarrancas del Cobre,@ a barranca being a type of canyon in which the walls descend in a series of benches rather than in one sheer drop.Most visitors to this area come via the famed Chihuahua-Pacific Railroad, which runs between Ciudad Chihuahua and Los Mochis in Sinaloa. Although the journey is one of the most beautiful rail trips in the world, it does not descend into the canyon system. It's possible to stop at various stations along the route, but only at Divisadero does the line offer views into canyon depths. This is the most popular place for passengers to disembark, do hurried shopping among the many Tarahumara Indian stalls lining the platform, and snap a few pictures of Urique Canyon, at this point 1,300 meters deep.Our group of explorers decided to forgo the tourist route and go down into the canyons. Making a two-day stop in Creel, our first excursion was a hike to Cusárare Falls. Two routes take you to the falls, the first is 3 km and begins at a trail head approximately 14 miles south on the road to Batopilas. The second trail begins at Copper Canyon Lodge and follows the left-hand side of the river for 4 km to the falls. Although not as high as Basaseachi Falls to the northwest, Cusárare is a heady sight with ribbons of turquoise water spilling 100 feet over a rock face and droplets creating a shimmering rainbow. From the overlook on the heights, you can see children splashing in the pools at the cascade’s base.Returning to Creel for the night, we visited the small museum at the train station and the Tarahumara Mission store where we purchased books, baskets and other Indian-made crafts. By morning we were rested and ready to head out.The road to Batopilas is long and tortuous but unabashedly beautifully. Your views are not of massive rock formations like Arizona's Grand Canyon, but of pine-covered slopes dropping down to silver slips of river. As you descend, you pass through a series of climatic zones from subalpine to subtropical. Flowers bloom all year long in Batopilas and summer nights are really torrid.It's 46 miles of paved road from Creel to Samachique and about 40 miles of one-lane dirt from there to Batopilas. The trip takes a minimum of five hours, and top speed on dirt is 25 miles per hour. There’s not much sign of the fabled Tarahumara Indians unless you happen to make the trip on a Monday, as we did. About two hours after leaving Creel, we saw a small Indian boy hopefully scanning our passing vehicle. Our driver, an expert in the Tarahumara culture, pulled to a stop, climbed from the van and spoke to the child. After a quick exchange, the boy quietly hopped on board. This little hitchhiker was going to school, and like many Tarahumara children, his school was in a distant village. Every Monday he would walk the ten miles to the boarding school, and every Friday he would walk the return ten miles back to his family casita. In this region, no one considers this excessive hardship.In their own language, these people call themselves the Raramuri, or the runners, and their feats of long distance loping are legendary. Two Tarahumara men competed in the 1968 Mexico City Olympic marathon but lost badly complaining over the shortness of distance and the fact that they were required to wear shoes.Dusty and tired we arrived in Batopilas late in the afternoon. The town with a population of approximately one thousand runs three miles along the river's west bank and is only a block or two wide. Arriving at our hotel and quickly unloading our gear, we were back in the van for the drive to Satevó Mission before sunset.Located on a wide stretch of flood plain of the Rio Batopilas, the mission was built in the early 1600s by Jesuits using Tarahumara labor. Imposing and completely out of proportion for its location, it has three domes and a bell tower several stories high. In considerable disrepair, it is still the most impressive edifice in the area unless you consider the Hacienda de San Miguel back in Batopilas. On the east side of the river and visible from town, the large complex served as the office of the local mining company and the residence of Alexander Shepard, one of the area's first silver tycoons. For a modest fee, you can tour the ruins which include the remains of an assay office, refectory, boardinghouse, corral and stables, machine shop, iron foundry, ingot mill and amalgamation sheds.After a simple dinner at one of the few establishments still open during the extensive street excavations, we retired to our rooms, only to be beckoned outside by music emanating from the plaza. Some local musicians had formed a group and were attempting to resurrect an old tradition of weekly concerts. Standing on the sidelines while the music played, children pirouetted and an elderly couple gaily waltzed, we concluded that the rewards of the journey had been commensurate with its difficulty. We’d experienced a part of Copper Canyon Country few travelers get to see.If you go (phone numbers reflect dialing from the U.S.A.)For a visitor’s guide to Chihuahua:Secretary of Commerce and Tourism Development, State of Chihuahua, Libertad No. 1300, Chihuahua, Chih., Mexico, C.P. 31000; Phone (011521) 429‑3421 and (011521) 429‑3320; Email cturismo@buzon.chihuahua.gob.mxSelf-drive: Contact your local AAA for regulations on taking your own vehicle into Mexico. Accommodations and restaurants:Creel:Parador de la Montaña, Allende 114 C.P. 31060, Chihuahua, Chih, Mexico; phone 011 (521) 410-4580 or 011 (521) 415-5408.The Lodge at Creel (Best Western), Creel, Chih., Mexico; phone (800) 904-7500 in Mexico, (800) 528-1234 in the U.S.A.; email
Sierra Lodge, 20 miles from Creel. For information, (800) 776-3942; for reservations, faxBatopilas (telephone in the city of Chihuahua):Hotel Casa Real de Minas, 011 (521) 456-06-32.

No comments:

Post a Comment