Discovery in Copper Canyon

Discovery in Copper Canyon


Mexico’s Barranca del Cobre — Copper Canyon — is indeed North America’s most massive. It lies in the Sierra Madre southwest of Chihuahua. One great way to experience this awesome cut is by train, leaving Los Mochis early in the morning. You will pass through 73 tunnels and over 28 major bridges, attain an altitude of 2300 meters, and marvel at a feat of engineering that took more than a century between start and finish.

A lot has happened in Mexico’s Copper Canyon area since its pyroclastic origin some twenty five million years ago. Great mountains rose in a fiery display of smoke and ash. Torrents of rain and wind, cut deep slashes in the raising igneous colossus that we now know as the Sierra Madre, to form immense canyons. Some eleven or twelve thousand years ago, the first humans arrived, migrating bands of nomadic hunters seeking fate and fortune in dangerous unknown lands.

During the ensuing millennia multitudes of unknown peoples passed through, some eventually staying to take up residence in the many sheltered caves to practice simple farming.

And so it was in the spring of 1541 when a detachment of Conquistadores from Coronado’s expedition in search of the seven golden cities of Cebola first encountered a group of natives, they called Tarahumara.

More time passed, the Tarahumara — or Rarámuri as they call themselves — planted maize and warred with their southern neighbors, the Tepahuanes. In 1607 an event took place that would change life forever in the canyon country. Jesuit missionaries arrived with mandates from the Spanish Crown to Christianize and civilize the Sierra Madre natives.

The story of the survival and adaptation of the Tarahumara, during the colonial years and later under the Mexican Republic, is a fascinating, complex epic that I leave for a long evening around the campfire.

Mysteries abound in a multitude of inaccessible, forgotten arroyos and cerros that climb and plunge in rugged highlands separating the great canyons. Who built the Mogollon style houses that occupy several cliff sites? Who built the carefully made stone terraces? What early people lived in round houses? These are a few of many enigmas that capture our imagination.

Urique River adventure tour in Copper Canyon

It was with these thoughts in mind that naturalist guide Amy Finger, author Carl Franz [People’s Guide To Mexico] and I sat out to explore several new areas in the rugged hill country north and east of the Copper canyon last fall.

Teaming up with local rancher, Esteban Cobos, we searched the lower Cusarare canyon for evidence of pre-Tarahumara occupation.

We located several shelter cave sites that appear quite old. Time limitations prevented further examination. Fortunately, we will be forced to plan another trip.

Our next goal was to locate a new remote route down into the upper Urique Canyon, by which Amy could bring her small adventurer groups. We were excited to follow a stone paved mule trail that proved to be part of Alexander Shepard’s Camino Real. Shepard, a silver baron of Batapilas build this system of trails to transport the metal from the depths of the Batapilas Canyon. Although part of the trail showed recent use by Tarahumara, we cleared and repaired many places to allow our loaded burros to pass.

Urique Canyon travel package for Copper Canyon

A broad beach camp site at the Urique river was everyone’s romantic fantasy. And we were miles away from the backpacking hordes, ‘mochileros’. Wanderings from camp located an abandoned mine with hot springs and a hidden grotto canyon with magical swimming pool beneath a waterfall. We shared this canyon with an Elegant Trogon and Magpie Jays.

Carl remained for further explorations. He planned to connect the new route with an old trail from Divisidero via the rancho village of Pamachi. From Guatemala where he is researching his latest book, he reports a list of new interesting sites worth further examination but that the connecting route remains illusive. We plan to get together again next November for another go at it.

If you decide to experience the adventure:

U.S. Toll Free: 1-800-896-8196

Balderrama Tours staff will tell you everything you need to know about accommodations and will offer to make all of your travel arrangements, including all associated plane, train and car reservations.

If you choose to make your own plane reservations, you’ll need to get yourself first to Los Angeles, Phoenix, Tucson, Tijuana or Las Vegas.

Bring along clothing appropriate for both Fall and Summer. This means you’ll want everything from a jacket for cool evenings to shorts for hot days — including a bathing suit for the hot springs.

As for gear, make sure you bring hiking boots, a day pack, water bottles, a sun hat, plenty of suntan lotion, and more camera film/memory than you think you could ever use in eight days!