Monthly Archives: April 2017

Copper Canyon

Hello everyone! I´m keeping my promise to tell you about our trip to Copper Canyon, “even if I have to do it from home in Oregon.¨

Yes, we are home! It´s been cold and rainy since we got here a few days ago, and we are trying to adjust, cranking up the heat and putting on another few layers of clothing.  We are so used to waking up to bright and sunny in Vallarta, and it´s hard to get up to dark and gloomy. Peggy calls it ¨dismal.¨I´m not sure I´d go quite that far, since it has a certain clean and stark beauty to it, but it still takes some getting used to.  Last year at this time we came home to flowers and spring. Not this year, which folks say has been a particularly wet, cold and long winter.

But enough of that! Let´s move on to Copper Canyon. First, a little 411…

Copper Canyon, Barrancas del Cobre in Spanish, encompasses a huge area in the Sierra Tarahumara, part of the Sierra Madre Occidental in northwestern Mexico. It´s not just one canyon like the Grand Canyon in the US, formed by one river. Copper Canyon is actually formed by six rivers which come together in the area called Copper Canyon. Copper Canyon is four times larger, and 2,000 feet deeper, than the Grand Canyon. It gets its name from the blue-green color of some of the canyon walls.

The canyon system is inhabited by the Tarahumara people, a corruption of the word Rarámuri, which is what the people call their men. The Tarahumara are known for being the “running people,” made famous by the book Born to Run, by Christopher McDougal. The Tarahumara think nothing of running a hundred miles between villages, and they continue to win international long-distance races, running barefoot or in huaraches.

The Tarahumara were never conquered by the Spanish, they were just pushed out of the more desirable areas up into the canyons and cliffs, where they live today. They are very shy and do not like to have their pictures taken, which I tried to respect. A few, mostly women and children, gather at tourist spots to sell their handmade wares, chiefly baskets, some woven exquisitely from pine needles.

To visit Copper Canyon, Peggy and I joined a tour originating in Puerto Vallarta. There were 30 total on the tour, and we were already acquainted with 21 of them, since we signed up as a group, including our close friends Pat and Vic Goodwin. All were Canadian except us; as one of the guys said, we were the “token Americans.” But knowing most of the group was a good start, since we were all compatible and it made for a friendly and comfortable group experience.

The trip lasted a week, and we were in a different hotel every night. It was exhausting, but we sure saw a lot. First off, I have to point out that Copper Canyon, in the state of Chihuahua (Mexico’s largest state), is a heck of a long way from Vallarta (more than a thousand miles). To get there from the state of Jalisco, we passed through the states of Nayarit and Sinaloa to Chihuahua. We went most of the way by bus, so it meant two long days each way. But it was worth it, once we were in the Copper Canyon area. It’s at a high altitude, too. Our highest overnight stay was at 7,200 feet, so we were out of breath a lot. But the clean, clear mountain air was wonderful.

Well, on to the pictures. I have a lot to show you!

Gathering  in the very early morning in Vallarta, waiting for the bus.

A rest stop along the way to our first night’s stay in Mazatlán. Wave for the camera, Peggy!

Our hotel in Mazatlan.

Almost sunset, the beach view from in front of the hotel.

Mazatlan cathedral.

Cathedral interior.

Peggy found a friend, outside La Catrina restaurant.

I don’t think we’re in the tropics any more, Toto!

Sinaloa is a big agricultural state. These are truckloads of tomatoes outside the Contadina cannery.

View of the town of El Fuerte, our next stop.

El Fuerte town square.

Most of our group at dinner in El Fuerte, at a great seafood restaurant we found on the square.

Peggy, ready for breakfast before starting out the next day.

Goodbye to the bus; we’re getting on the train!

The Chihuahua-Pacific Railroad, nicknamed Chepe, is the last passenger train in all of Mexico. It took 100 years to build the rail line through the Sierra Madre Occidental, an engineering marvel. There are 37 bridges and 86 tunnels, and at one point the track passes over itself to gain altitude. It was a comfortable and exciting ride, with wonderful vistas, and it sure was great to get off the bus!

Finally, on the train!

View from the train as we start climbing into the mountains.

Entering one of the 86 tunnels.

This is a view from the rear of the train, a really good vantage point, and I would have loved to have spent more time there. But a security guy in full military-style gear told me to leave after I took this picture, saying “It is for your own safety, Señor.” Harrumph! But I wasn’t about to argue with his M16!

An immense rock formation, harbinger of canyon vistas to come…

We are rapidly gaining altitude; the trees have changed to pines.

And here we are! This is a view of Copper Canyon! This vista greeted us when we stepped into our room at the Hotel Mirador. The balconies of all the rooms are cantilevered out over the canyon.

If you look closely, there is a small bluish square at the base of the cliff on the left side of the above picture. If you zoom in, you will see that it’s a Tarahumara family house built into a cave in the side of the cliff.

Here it is using the zoom on my iPhone camera.

Another vista from our room.

The next day we took a cable car across part of the canyon.  Three of our group took the zip line, billed as the highest and fastest in the world. I say: Nope!

Here we are, waiting for the cable car at the viewpoint. Thanks for the picture, Carrol Lanoue!

The next few pictures were taken from the cable car. That’s 3,000 feet down, folks!

That little dot is one of our party zip lining past us!

Peggy and I at another viewpoint, hanging on tight!

Two more canyon views.

Here’s a place you can look down! Those are my feet.

Peggy, with a Tarahumara woman selling baskets and other wares. Notice she is not looking at the camera.

Tarahumara people on a corner.

Waiting for the train to take us to the next stop. Peggy is sitting back by the window.

An opportunity to buy baskets from the train.

In the town of Bahuichivo, our last stop in the canyon area.

We were lucky to be in Bahuichivo on a Friday during Lent. This is a procession to the church. The children are from the orphanage school next to our hotel.

The entrance to the church. Note the date, 1552. This is very early, barely 30 years after the Spanish conquest.

The interior of the church, simple and serene.

At the Bahuichivo station, about to get on the train back to the coast.

Following the El Fuerte River, coming down out of the mountains.

Hello from the train!

Sunset from the train as we near the end of our trip.

Back at our Mazatlan hotel, with next door neighbors Pat and Vic Goodwin.

We took a tour of Mazatlan on a pulmonía, a small motorized cab. Here’s a view of the city and the port from a high point. Mazatlan is a working port, and is not as dependent on the tourist industry as Puerto Vallarta.  

Here’s another view of Mazatlan, showing the ferry to La Paz, a 12-hour trip, leaving at 5:00 PM every day.

Our pulmonía, with Pat and Vic photographing the photographer.

Well, folks, that’s it for OnVallartaTime for this season. Have a wonderful summer! We are planning to go back to Vallarta next fall, so stay tuned!