November 3, 2007

Copper Canyon - Barranca del Cobre


Hi Everyone!

We got safely back to Raptor Dance on Oct 13th and We've been swept up in boat maintenance and the social life here since. So we're just getting to our much delayed report on Copper Canyon. Accompanying pictures are on our website at http://raptordance.com

The Copper Canyon (Spanish: Barranca del Cobre) is a group of canyons consisting of 6 distinct canyons in the Sierra Tarahumara in the southwestern part of the state of Chihuahua in Mexico.

The overall canyon system is about 6 times larger and half again deeper than the Grand Canyon. Copper Canyon also straddles the continental divide, so the rivers flow out to either the Pacific (Sea of Cortez) or Atlantic.

The canyon system is transversed by the Chihuahua al PacĂ­fico railroad, known by the nickname "Chepe". It is both an important transportation system for locals as well as tourists. The train runs from Topolobampo on the Sea of Cortez to Chihuahua. The train took 90 years to build because of the extremely rugged terrain, which also results in great sightseeing from the train. see http://www.chepe.com.mx/ing_html/index.html and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chepe

We started our visit at the Hotel Posada del Hidalgo, a beautiful restored colonial mansion, built in 1890 by the Mayor of the town. Part of the original structure was the original home of Don Diego de la Vega, origin of the Zorro legend and the hotel has a fun appearance by El Zorro at the bar's happy hour with musicians. see http://www.hotelposadadelhidalgo.com/

Since we were traveling on our own and not in a group, we got to know the hotel staff pretty well and had a great time joking around with them during our visit. We had a great time and highly recommend the hotel.

The hotel also had some of the best food we had during the trip, especially the Huevos Rancheros at breakfast and they langostinas (crayfish) and shrimp at dinner.

After a two nights stay (Oct 3 & 4) we caught the train to Creel - 8 hours up the line. The train goes very slow as the engineer has to keep an eye out for rocks, cattle and other stuff on the tracks. The scenery was every bit as fantastic as advertised.

At Creel we stayed at the Sierra Lodge just outside of town. Early October (Oct 5) is just before the start of the high season and we were the only guests in the 22 room lodge.

Sierra Lodge is very rustic with no electricity - only kerosene lamps. Great hiking in the area - we did a great 4 mile round trip hike to Cuzarare Falls. The food in the lodge was very tasty.

We recommend the Sierra Lodge particularly for the hiking. It's at 7,000 feet and we didn't have any problems at that altitude. later at Posada Barranca, we were at 8,000 feet and noticed a quite a difference.

That night we were treated to a great light show as a thunderstorm passed through dropping probably an inch or two of rain.

The next morning, our guide for the next 3 days, Pedro picked us up in his Chevy Sierra to take us down to the silver mining town of Batopilas at the bottom of the canyon. The trip took 7 hours: 75 km on paved roads and the last 65 km on dirt roads. At the end of the rainy season there were lots of rocks on the road and near washouts. The prior nights rain also fortunately kept the dust down. It was an exciting trip. The last 40 km we rode on top of the Sierra in seats welded to a strong framework with full harness/seat belts to keep us on board - it was breathtaking and exciting. The scenery was fantastic.

Batopilas was founded by the Spanish in 1632, but the road was only finished to in 1977. Before that the only way in and out was via burro or hiking. Still it was a very interesting town. It was the second town in Mexico (after Mexico City) to be wired for electricity due to its mining wealth. Today the town is quieter, with the economy based primarily on agriculture, tourism and some residual mining.

We spent 2 nights (Oct 6 & 7) in the Riverside Lodge, a beautifully restored silver barons town residence. It took up a rambling city block in downtown Batopilas. The town itself is only about 3 blocks wide but over 1 mile long, alongside the Batopilas river at the bottom of Batopilas Canyon. Our room was very comfortable, but quite funky with the main entrance through the bath.

We toured the town on our day in Batopilas and hiked the 4 miles to the Satevo mission, now in the process of restoration. Pedro picked us up in the Sierra at the mission and we rode back to town, touring the castle-like home that Alexander Robey Shepherd, the last governor of Washington, D.C., built after leaving the United States in 1875. It stands across the river from the center of the village and has long been in ruins. A new small hotel building is almost complete in the midst of the ruins.

The food we had in Batopilas was basic rustic. OK, not fantastic. An area specialty is a preserved dried meat - Machaca - see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Machaca. We didn't find it as flavorful as many of the dishes we enjoyed throughout Mexico.

The two restaurants we experienced in Batopilas were Dona Micas and Restaurant Carolinas. Dona Micas has no sign but it's just across a small plaza from Carolinas. Dona serves a dish of the day. When we visited she served a nice Chicken Mole. Carolinas as a more extensive menu with Machaca specialties as well as a selection of other dishes.

After breakfast on Oct 8th Pedro picked us up at the Lodge to head back up to Creel. We gave a lift to a Tarahumara friend of Pedros who rode most of the way back on top of the Sierra. We rode inside. In contrast to the ride down, the ride up was quite dusty and we were glad to be in the car.

On our way back we were delayed about an hour as the bridge across the Batopilas River was blocked about 15 KM up from Batopilas by a fellow who had too much tequila and drove his truck into the side of the bridge. We worked with some other folks who were also stuck to push the truck over enough to get by. We heard that an Army truck got there a few hours later and towed the truck off the bridge.

Once back up the canyon, we toured another village and a Tarahumara cave home. Once our eyes got used to the dark, it was quite interesting with a number of room areas with furniture a kitchen area with ladies cooking. A very rustic way to live.

That night (Oct 8) we stayed at the Best Western Lodge in Creel. We walked around the town and would suggest giving it a pass - if we were to do the trip over, we'd go directly from Batopilas to our next stop, the Hotel Mirador at Posada Barranca.

We took the train from Creel, a few stops down the line to Posada Barranca, but you could just as well take the road this short distance. You would miss the Divisidero stop on this part of the trip, but we stopped there on the train on the way up. It's fantastic with a great overlook of the canyon so you should plan on stopping there sometime on your trip.

Divisidero also has a number of very interesting Tarahumara craft and food stalls.

We highly recommend the Hotel Mirador see: http://mirador.mexicoscoppercanyon.com/. It's perched right on the edge of a spectacular part of the canyon. The balcony of our room was right on the edge with a fantastic view. As the sunlight changes throughout the day the colors in the canyon morph through a series of fantastic colors. The hotel faces the South East and the sunrise over the canyon was truly majestic (It was still daylight savings time, so sunrise wasn't too early).

That afternoon, Oct 10th, we caught the train to head back down to El Fuerte. The Canyon was just as amazing heading down, with different views as we were headed in the opposite direction and the afternoon light dramatized the colors of the canyon.

We again stayed in the Posada Hidalgo hotel for the next two nights before heading down to Mazatlan for the night (Oct 12th) then back to Raptor Dance in Paradise Village, Nuevo Vallarta.

We especially want to thank Sue Stilwell, the owner of S & S Tours who arranged our independent tour of the canyon. Reservations are vital in this area as accommodations and guides are limited and often booked in advance by tour groups. We also needed to make sure that we had a safe place to leave our car while we were off on this side trip. We recommend her services. See: http://www.ss-tours.com
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