“There’s a canyon in northern Mexico, bigger and deeper than the Grand Canyon…”
I’d heard this years before I came to live in Mexico. So when some American friends said they wanted to visit Copper Canyon, we decided to rendezvous in Los Mochis and make the trip together.
Copper Canyon is actually the convergence of multiple canyons formed by six rivers which flow down from the Sierra Madre Occidental mountains in the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua. Home to the Tarahumara, one of Mexico’s distinctive indigenous groups and easily traveled via the country’s only remaining passenger train, Copper Canyon makes an excellent travel destination for anyone wanting to be awed by nature.
The Chihuahua-Pacific Railway
Also known as the Copper Canyon Railway, the Chihuahua-Pacific Railway travels 655km between Los Mochis at the southwestern end to Chihuahua at the northern terminus. Traveling by train is always a pleasure and I can’t imagine doing Copper Canyon any other way. We made stops at Divisadero and Creel, and from there descended to the town of Batopilas nearly 2000 meters below. The harsh, dramatic landscape, and the remote, humble towns made me feel like I was in old western movie.
Creel and Batopilas
We spent a night in Creel. I was glad for the wood-burning fire place, ready to light, in our rustic hotel room. Even though it was spring, at this elevation (2338 meters) things felt quite chilly. What a difference from the climate we would experience the next day.
After brunching on chillaquiles, my favorite Mexican breakfast, we found ourselves bouncing along in a rickety bus as we wound our way down to the antique silver mining town of Batopilas. The I’m-in-a-movie feeling continued as everything in Batopilas, down to the cash register in the local store, felt like it came from another time.
We spent a night in Batopilas, warm and balmy here, and hired a local guide who took us out to the far-from-everything church at Satevó and toured us through an old silver mine where he had once worked.
Back up top the following day, we explored some of the valleys outside of Creel which are known for their dramatic rock formations. (One of them is known as the Valley of the Erect Penises. Use your imagination.)
Copper Canyon is home to the Tarahumara, one of Mexico’s many, fascinating native cultures. This is one of those places where modern, affluent tourism bumps up against indigenous people living in a completely different way, with all of the intrigue and awkwardness that that implies. The Tarahumara are fascinating. Women wear brightly colored dresses and weave fine baskets. Men sometimes wear very little, and the clothing they do wear struck me as much too light for the chilly temps at the top of the canyon. Their sandals are made from leather and tire-tread. They are famous for being fast, long distance runners, doubly impressive when you consider the environment. Some live in cliffside dwellings or caves. The isolated location has doubtless helped the Tarahumara preserve their traditions thus far, but the modern world (i.e. travelers like us) is encroaching. Do your best to be respectful.