Driving the Devil's Backbone

Trip Start Dec 20, 2009
Trip End Mar 27, 2010

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Flag of Mexico  , Northern Mexico,
Sunday, January 24, 2010

Adam very much wanted to catch a puffer fish and he did too. Jeff even got a picture of him holding it while it was all puffed and everything… sure wish I could share it with you now but you'll just have to wait.  They also caught a red snapper that we all had for dinner.  The look on Adam’s face when he tasted the first bite was priceless.

We found the tourist hustle and bustle of Mazatlan to be not quite what we were looking for, so we left a day earlier than planned (giving up the best beds in Mexico at the Crowne Plaza) and headed to our next stop – approx 300 Kms east to Durango.  In hindsight, I was glad that I had no idea what I was getting in to because I was able to enjoy the morning.  We stopped in  Concordia and got pictures of the kids in the 'big chair’.  We found a highway called ‘Durango corta’ - close enough to ‘cuota’ (toll) so I took it.  It turns out that means ‘cut’, as in bypass so we had this toll-like highway all the way to Concordia.  After our stop, we got back on that road despite Keara claiming that she thought it ended.  I told her that was ridiculous and that she failed as a navigator.  We drove merrily along this new highway with it’s freshly painted lines and road signs (Durango - 182) and I figured we were good to put on the cruise control (approx 80km/h).  Suddenly we hit a rough patch and the van was bouncing!  Jeff started yelling and when the bouncing stopped, I started adamantly demanding my 10 pesos (back seat driving fine) when, without ANY warning, the beautiful new highway ENDED!!  At a mountain no less.  So Jeff gave me 10 pesos which I in turn handed over to Keara.  We all had a good laugh, took some photos (again, you’ll have to wait for those) and started the return trip to Concordia, from where the signs say ‘Durango 272’. 

We made another stop in Copala for lunch and the local specialty, banana cream pie at Daniel’s Restaurant.  It is set up to accommodate bus tours of day trippers from Maz but we had it to ourselves.  It’s from here that the road goes all to Hell – the Devil’s Backbone as it is known to the locals. And to be fair, the road condition is excellent; smooth asphalt.  It’s just that it twists and turns and climbs without the benefit of shoulders and all the while I’m negotiating the many trucks that drive it (usually taking up both lanes in the curves… which is all of it.)  There were signs posted, which loosely translated said, ‘Caution, vehicles may invade your lane.’  200 + Kms does not seem far until you drive it at 20 km/hr.  It started to look like we wouldn’t make our destination by sundown.  And Adam had apparently used up all his motion tolerance on the boat the day before because his tummy didn’t make it.  Thank goodness for ziplock bags!

Not far (enough) from Durango, there is a toll-highway.  It’s as though it’s your reward for making it through the mountains.  We made our decsent into Victoria de Durango just in time to have the setting sun at our back and the alpenglow reflected on the hills east of the city.  It was quite a sight.  Nonetheless, my nerves were frayed and I was exhausted.

Now if I could get a bit technical for a moment… the van has been holding up very well.  At one point, I floored the gas to pass a truck and I will admit it wasn’t the smoothest overtaking.  I said, "the little van didn’t like that." to which Jeff replied, “Are you the ‘little van’?”

Knock on wood but everything is operating as expected, except the GPS.  Now I realize that touring Mexico with a GPS is like ‘cheating’.  Anyone who’s done it without one could hardly think we’ve taken the same trip.  It has saved us countless times and that is an understatement.  It has become more valuable to us than the laptop and even the cash!  We call her Jill (that is the name of the voice that Keara has selected) but Jill is not without her flaws.  For instance, she must have been hitting the tequila when she was doing her programing for Durango.  She knows NOTHING of one-way streets and has no respect for roads best NOT taken.   Fortunately, Durango has some of the best street signage so far.  So with a combination of following overhead signs and taking into consideration what Jill has to offer, we’ve found our way around.  But not before getting very lost, and checking into the FIRST hotel we could find in the dark.

I had researched the area and found that it is rich with hot springs… some are not so easy to get to but are apparently well worth the trip.  The young man (read: idiot) at the tourist information informed us that ‘el major’ (the best) hot springs/water park was La Joya out past Mezquital – about an hour south along Mex 23 (aka. Mex 27 according to Jill.)  He assured me that it was open Domingo (Sunday) which contradiced my research, but it wouldn’t be the first time that happened… it is Mexico after all.  Mex 23 is deceivingly straight heading out of town but about halfway, turns almost as twisty as the Devil’s Backbone.  We were optomistic when we saw signs that said ‘Mezquital 78; La Joya 81’.  Mezquital has recently had an infusion of cash.  The road in town is getting done in brick, the buildings on the main street all have new stucco/paint/tile.  Then that all stops just past the plaza and so do any helpful signs. It was now too late in the day to enjoy the hot springs AND make it back to Durango before dark but we figured we could do our recon and come back tomorrow.   To make a frustrating story short, after asking for directions from three different helpful locals, and driving through town FIVE times over topes (the grandaddy of speedbumps) we finally found the road by pure luck and what do you know… this is where they choose to start posting signs again – La Joya 4.  Well, not only was it not open, but it was closed until March!

Back in Durango, having checked out of our filthy hotel, Jeff decided to splurge and we checked into the Holiday Inn with an indoor pool. 

If that 30 hour stretch of time is our worst of the whole trip, I’ll be more than happy with that.
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Grannie on

No wonder they make movies about trips like this -- hilarious for everyone but the participants. We also hope this was the worst 30 hours of your whole expedition.

Heidi on

Whoa... I'm feeling a bit carsick just imagining this last little bit. That is funny about the road just ending and Keara being right.

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