The Copper Canyon

Trip Start Jan 12, 2007
Trip End Nov 19, 2007

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Flag of Mexico  ,
Wednesday, March 14, 2007

We arrived on the mainland (Topolampo/Los Mochis) late at night on March 8, after a 5 hour ferry ride, but an all-day ferry experience. Stupidly, we believed them when they said we had to arrive at the ferry terminal 3 hours before departure. We also went willingly when they loaded us onto the ferry as soon as we arrived at the terminal. And what could we do when the ferry was 90 minutes late in leaving.

The ferry ride itself was uneventful. Adrienne was thrilled to watch a "foreign film" with Spanish subtitles, but she thought it amusing that "Training Day", a movie about a rookie "narc" cop and his dealings with gangs of east LA, would be considered an appropriate choice for the all-ages audience.

The loading and unloading of the ferry was eventful, as we unloaded from the same end of the ferry that we loaded on, and thus vehicles had been parked frontwards, backwards and sideways. We had the honour of joining most of the semi's in the "dungeon" and it took us over an hour to unload (sucking fumes the entire time), as everyone - the semis, large RVs, etc. - had to back up, turn around, etc., in order to get off. After getting off, we spent the night at the ferry terminal parking lot with Hector and Diane (see below) and a couple of other RVers.

The next day, we drove about 90 minutes northeast to the small town of El Fuerte so that we could catch the train that would take us through the Copper Canyon, and up to Creel (in the state of Chihuahua). We hadn't heard of it until about 3 weeks ago, but the guide books say that the Copper Canyon (Barranca del Cobre) is far larger than the Grand Canyon, and more spectacular. Also, Hector and Diane, a charming couple from Nanaimo that we had met on the Baja, had told us that "we had to see it", and so we had decided to fit the 4-day, round-trip excursion into our exacting schedule. (After parting ways almost 3 weeks earlier, we ran into them on the ferry, and the next morning they had us over to their RV for omelettes (with real feta! and Tim Horton's coffee).

After spending the night in El Fuerte, we left the van at the campsite and caught the "Chepe" (Chihuahua al Pacificc) train. It took about 7 hours to reach Creel (farther northeast still), as the train snaked through 86 tunnels and various other engineering feats. Creel is a smallish logging town at an elevation of about 7,550 ft and while the days were warm with bright sun and blue sky the nights were crisp. We stayed there for 2 nights at a nice hotel that, for $35 all in, served us breakfast and dinner, before catching the train back to El Fuerte.

Other than the Copper Canyon and the train ride itself, one of the main attractions of the area is the 60,000 or so (according to a bartender) Tarahumara Indians who live in the area. The Tarahumara apparently headed to the hills 400 years ago to escape the Spanish Missionaries and are now regarded as one of the least assimilated indigenous populations in North America, with many still living in caves.

Instead of taking the overpriced, minivan tour, we decided to get some exercise and rent bikes. We managed to do a 4-hour tour of the area, feeling as if we had the canyons all to ourselves, with the exception of one leg of the journey when a young boy decided to "ride" with us and show us the trails. We were going to pay him for his fine navigating skills, but it seemed he only wanted companionship, and someone to show-off his bike tricks to (no hands, standing up, etc.).

We only saw Tarahumara women and children in the caves, as many of the men, we later discovered, were in the town's centre playing basketball, or attending church. While women still wear the traditional Tarahumaran dress, the men sported jeans and t-shirts (makes sense, as the traditional dress really wouldn't work on the court anyway).

With that adventure over, we are planning on continuing south along the west coast.
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