Saturday, December 30, 2017

Copper Canyon—Last--Best Hike in Mexico—Nov. 22 to Dec. 1, 2017

The Copper Canyon in Mexico known locally as Barranca del Cobre has more than 20 canyons that converge along the Rio Urique.  Together these canyons carved out of the Sierra Tarahumara are four times larger than the Grand Canyon.  It is the ejido home to the indigenous Rarámuri who are renowned for their long distance running abilities—-long distance running was used to wear out their prey like deer and other animals.

Our hike traversed the ejidos that are communally owned which is one of the reasons we used a local Rarámuri guide, Chuy, during our hike. We also rode the Copper Canyon Railway, known as Ferrocarril Chihuahua al Pacifico (CEFE) which many travelers consider it as among the world’s most scenic journeys, from Los Mochis to San Rafael.

John Filby and I began our journey to the fabled Copper Canyon with a ride from Adrian Maldonado from Loreto Bay to Ciudad Constitucion-- some two hour drive away.  When we pulled into the Cd. Constitucion airport, it looked more like a crop-duster airfield than an airport.  Security was handled by military personnel.  It was a small 10 passenger prop plane that took us on an hour flight across the Sea of Cortez to the new Los Mochis International airport.

Ciudad Constitucion Aerodrome

Leaving Ciudad Constitucion

Flying over the Sea of Cortez

Approaching Mainland Mexico

Shrimp Farms and Salt Ponds

Landing at Los Mochis International Airport

John Deplanes at the new Los Mochis Airport

Our Journey Mexico Tour company had arranged for a taxi driver to take us to El Fuerte, the gateway to Copper Canyon.  We were put up in the colonial Posada del Hidalgo, which was built in 1890.  We are greatly impress by the quality of our first night accommodations,  Our “Gucci” hiking trip has begun.

We met our Mexican guide, Octavio P. Jones, who took us to dinner at a nearby courtyard restaurant that was filled with hummingbirds flying about.  We got an outline of our upcoming trip.  We would meet him the following morning and would drive us to the nearby CEFE train station joined by many locals as well as international travelers.  Many of these travelers were from the cruise ships so they would travel in the morning on our train and return to the ship the same day by transferring at the Areponapuchi-Posada Barrancas train station.

Upon return to our hotel, we headed to the restaurant and pool filled bar area, named Don Diego in honor of El Zorro's real name, for some live music and a Zorro performance.  He really hammed it up for the women seated around the pool area.

After posing with Zorro, the following morning, we had a great buffet breakfast in the hotel restaurant.

After a short drive, we caught the train around 8:30 am that came from Los Mochis bound for Chihuahua.  John, in the blue shirt and day pack is preparing to board.

We lost count of how many tunnels we went through and bridges traversed.  It was a spectacular journey as we traveled from sea level up to Areponapuchi-Posada Barrancas train station—elevation 7,260 feet.

Here is where the train makes a 360 degree turn up the mountain.

A driver took us a short distance to the Lolita cabins—very, very rustic and the hot water heater went out which gave us a very chilly morning shower.  After dropping off our bags we headed out to explore the area.

Our first stop was at the Copper Canyon Adventure Park where we got our first views of the Copper Canyon. 

John and I decided to ride the longest zip-line in the world at 8,350 feet.  Instead of a harness, we were in comfortable seats for the exciting journey.  My zip ride stopped 100 yards short of the terminal due to an equipment malfunction which left me dangling several hundred feet above the ground.

My rescuer had to hand over hand cover the 100 yards distance, he then wrapped his legs around my cable connection and hauled me down to the bottom station.  From there we hiked back up to a gondola which returned us to the start of our zip-line journey.

From there we took one of the many hikes exploring the Copper Canyon Rim before coming to the beautiful rusty orange hotel, Posada Barrancas Mirador, that hugged the edge of the Copper Canyon giving all guests spectacular views of the canyon.  We enjoyed strolling through the lodge open areas before returning to our driver and the ride back to our humble abode. for the night.

We stoked up the fire to warm up the dining room as we waited for dinner.  Lolita had prepared a filling Mexican plate supplemented by some cold beer.  We delayed heading back to our cold room as long as we could until the fire died down.

The morning was chilly—made even more so with the cold showers because of a broken hot water heater.  The sun warmed us up as we packed up our bags—some to carry, some for the mules to haul and some clean clothes to the driver for the end of our journey.

After a great breakfast of scrambled eggs, refried beans, endless coffee, and cornmeal cakes, we drove a short distance to San Rafael—elevation 7,425 feet.

San Rafael to Guitayvo
At San Rafael—elevation 7,425 feet, the beginning of our hike, we met up with Chuy, the local Rarámuri guide, the wrangler, Modesto, his wife, and two mules.  They were loading up our camping gear and bags onto the mules as Octavio and Chuy started us on our hike.

The trail tread was clear and wide enough and not too steep as we headed up to and along a small stream where the mule team overtook us as we took our first break in this higher altitude.  

Along the trail we travel, there were frequently other trails that branched off in various directions.  Octavio explained that these other trails generally led to other Rarámuri homes and villages.  An unguided hiker would certainly have difficulty navigating along this trail. 


At one junction we came to this pile of rocks with a cross atop, and Octavio explained that this was not of Christian origin but was part of their ancient dance, "Yumari," in which they offered food to the four points of the compass and their traditional God to insure rain and ward off evil. The pile of rocks were placed there by those that traveled by to honor mother earth.  We added rocks to this pile for our safe journey.

Along the way we spotted several caves like this that travelers used for shelter from Inclement weather—some of these included cave paintings.

During our entire hike, we saw no other outsiders hiking these trails, however, as we met occasional travelers it seemed like they were either related to Chuy, our local Rarámuri guide, or knew him.  They always stopped to chat a bit about what others were doing and how they were doing.

We met this teacher who was heading back to San Rafael after finishing up the week teaching in the small school in Guitayvo.

After that we came to an open area where the Rarámuri had carved symbols of tools and the cross into the soft stone along with this curved mound that use to have a wood cross atop according to Chuy.

Along the trail we would occasionally have broad views of the Copper Canyon amongst pine trees that reminded me of the northern California Sierra Mountain Range area.

We then came to our first village and the solar powered school in Guitayvo that the teacher had come from.

Our first hiking day was drawing to an end as we came to this emergency cabin.  Octavio said that they had used this on occasion when there was a big rain or snowstorm instead of the tents.

A few minutes later, we knew we had arrived at our Guitayvo camp—elevation 7,590 ft.— when we saw Modesto, the wrangler, and all of the unloaded bags in a clearing with a fire ring.  Octavio and Chuy quickly set up our camp as we lounged on the camp chairs they had provided us.

They even set up our throne.

After setting out our chairs and the camp table, Octavio served up margaritas and popcorn for our happy hour as they set up all of the tents and prepared our dinner.

Chef Octavio is busy preparing our dinner.

We enjoyed the margarita as we recalled our 10 mile hike in which we had climbed up 1,650 feet and dropped down 1,200 feet.

It was then time for a steak, succotash, tortillas and guacamole dinner along with another margarita.

The fire kept us warm until we headed to our tents and our warm down sleeping bags.  The day time temperature was in the mid 70s but the night got down to 45 degrees.

Guitayvo to Huemanchi
In the morning, Chuy quickly made us some hot cowboy coffee and stoked up the fire to stave off the chilly temperature.

Scrambled eggs, tortillas and hot coffer proved to be a welcomed breakfast. As we finished, these two girls from the nearby Guitayvo village came by to offer us some of the woven baskets for just 25 to 50 pesos—$1.25 to $2.50USD. John bought the big one and the girls went back home to get another one for me.  I also bought some of the smaller ones as well.  Fortunately the wrangler’s wife carried these fragile baskets for the rest of the hike.

These girls are wearing the traditional shoes and at the local village store, they get the soles of these sandals retreaded with old tire pieces.  The girls and women also wear these types of colorful skirts as well.

As we break camp on our second day of hiking, Modesto loaded up the mules.  We would not see him until we arrived at our second camp.

During the day, we would see these homesteads where they grow corn and occasionally raise goats.

We came to Modesto’s homestead and took a short break there to check out what he grows and raises before pressing on.

We are now back out along the rim, and in the distance we see some faint smoke from a lingering forest fire.  It obscures the view a bit, but is no danger to us.

Lots of great rim photo ops here as we hiked uphill 1,085 ft. and downhill 2,150 ft during the day.  We climbed up a number of picturesque outcroppings for some breathtaking views and photos.
Octavio, Chuy, and John are near the rim.

Along the trail and near some more caves we saw these orange and black cave paintings along with some more recent graffiti.

We arrived at a beautiful river ravine near Huemanchi—elevation 6,620 feet after hiking about 10 miles.  Modesto and his wife were already at the camp after unloading the camping gear and scrounging for dead wood for our fires.

John and I took advantage of the many pools found along this stream and took refreshing baths in the very cold water.

We again had a fabulous dinner from Chef Octavio.  It was brimming with tomatoes, onions, peppers, with cheese and tortillas along with a fine bottle of red wine.  The nearby fire was welcomed to offset the increasingly cold evening.

It got down to 32 degrees at night.  I ended up struggling to get my down parka and wool socks on half way through the night for more warmth inside the tent with my 40 degrees sleeping bag. Unfortunately I left my 0 degree bag in Loreto.

Huemanchi to Chihuirabo
We woke up to find that Modesto had lighted our fire so we quickly warmed up as Octavio prepared our scrambled eggs breakfast and endless cups of hot cowboy coffee. After we finished breakfast, Modesto began loading up the mules.

We traveled along the rim of the canyon most of the day.  Our trail had so many other trails heading off to various ranches and villages we were glad to have these guides to show us the way.  They say that about 70,000 Rarámuri live in the Chichuahua State.  We came across these two Rarámuri girls and one of the girls was weaving her small basket as she walked.  We bought a couple more of these baskets from them, and they continued on their way. 

The terrain changed a bit as we passed these weather worn walls.

By mid day we arrived at  the Chihuirabo—elevation 7,720 ft.— which had road access.

Chuy stopped by to pick up his daughter, Abril, from a nearby home and she joined him for a short walk to the local store where many villagers had gathered along with kids who were playing around in the school grounds across the street. 

Chuy bought some goods for Abril and she then headed back home by herself.

After leaving the village, we again came to the Copper Canyon Rim area.  We hiked for a few more hours until we got to where we spent the night overlooking much of the canyon.  We hiked about 17 miles. 

Our elevation climb for the day was 2,525 feet. and descent was 1,475 feet.  A little bit of smoke covered some of the area which would otherwise have been a brilliant blue.  We enjoyed this awesome view that Octavio told us that fewer than 50 outside hikers per year enjoy.

As the sun set over Copper Canyon, we enjoyed the view and changes of light and shadows of the rugged canyon walls while sitting at our camp table.  There, we enjoyed our dinner of beets with onions, rice with peas and quesadilla finishing up with a bottle of fine red wine. What a way to spend our last night on the trail.

Chihuirabo to Naranjo with a drive to Cerocahui
Fortunately, it was a warm night  50 degree night even though it was at a higher elevation than the previous night.  When the moon went down the views of the stars and Milky Way were spectacular because of the high elevation and clear skys.

We were up to see the sky lighten and the sunrise as Modesto got our fire going and Chuy made some cowboy coffee for us.

After breakfast our hike was mostly down along the rim and into the Urique Canyon floor.  We only climbed 900 ft. and descended 4,525 feet to el Naranjo at an elevation of 3,894 ft.

As we descended down the trail, we chased a number of cows—with big horns— off the trail.

About half way down Modesto, his wife and the two mules passed us by.

After about 5 hours of hiking down the trail we came to the trail head near el Naranjo where Modesto had unloaded the mules.  There we waited for our driver to take us to our lodging at Cerocahui.

Octavio had Modesto get us some beers at the nearby store and our soon driver showed up with Modesto, his wife and a six pack of beer.  The beer was so refreshing.

El Naranjo to Cerocahui by Car
We then went on a very rugged ride down a very twisty dirt road for hours before we hit pavement.  That ride in itself would be considered a great adventure. 

Along the way we passed through Urique—elevation 1,804 feet— spread out along the river of the same name, and then headed up to the Mirador with great views of much of the Copper Canyon.  

It was then on to Cerocahui—elevation 6,680 feet— where we would get our fresh clothes and clean up.

The San Isidro Lodge in Cerocahui was a very welcomed experience.  Unlike Lolita’s Lodge, this one had beautiful well appointed log cabins.  The hot showers with lots of water was very welcomed as we washed off days of dirt and sweat. 

The lodge was like a museum with lots of old pictures of Rarámuri along with pictures of past very long ultra marathon races of 200 miles and more.

I especially liked the wall mural of chiles.

The dinner was a very filling mix of beef strips, guacamole, and rice.

Cerocahui to Creel by car
After breakfast we headed to Cerocahui and toured the town center and nearby mission.

We then drove on to Creel—elevation 7,694 feet—where we stayed at the Best Western —The Lodge.  After dropping off our bags in our beautiful room, we had lunch with Octavio in the hotel bar was a was a boutique brewery.  We ordered the IPA but they only had stout left since it was near the end of the tourist season.  It was OK, but the pizza was better. This is one of Octavio’s favorite hotels since he was married here and had a big wedding party and reception.

John and I then checked out the town, including the museum and several souvenir shops, and train station.  We also found a newly opened ice cream shop near the train station.

Creel to Chihuahua by car
After breakfast at the hotel, we went for a short 2 hour hike in the hills around Creel.  We found many interesting rock formations along the way.

San Ignacio de Arareko Mision

San Ignacio Cemetery

On the way to Chihuahua, we stopped at this rib joint and feasted.

We then drove to Chihuahua-elevation 4,635 feet—for our last time with our tour guide, Octavio.  We checked into the Hotel Quality Inn and then explored the area around the town center and church.  Many of the streets branching off the town center were walking streets that increasingly were filled with people enjoying some entertainment and the Christmas displays they were putting up.

Angel of Liberty and Plaza de Armas

We met up with Octavio who treated us with our last tour dinner at the La Casa de los Milagros, located in a 110 year old mansion where Pancho Villa and his buddies hung out.  There are numerous private rooms that surround the main room. We enjoyed reliving our amazing journey thorough Copper Canyon and wishing Octavio well on his future tours.

The following day we walked around town for some shopping and to visit the Pancho Villa home which is now a museum. The museum displayed the living and working areas of the mansion, material that documented Pancho Villa’s actions, and the car he was assassinated in.

That night we went to dinner at La Casona, another one of the top ten restaurants in Chihuhua.  It was a 19th Century mansion.  We were immediately impressed by the polished waiters in white shirts, black ties and aprons that served us  and decorated with a beautiful Christmas Tree.

Our dinner was artfully presented and tasted as good as it looked.  I had a Caesar salad made at the table along with a filet mignon and John had a lamb shank.

After dinner we returned to the plaza to see the lighted Christmas displays.

The following morning after an early buffet breakfast, we got a taxi to the Chihuahua Airport for our 9:30 am flight back to La Paz.

From La Paz we took a comfortable Aguila bus to Loreto—about a 5 hour journey.  When we got to the Loreto bus station, John’s friend Bertha was there to drive us back to our homes in Loreto Bay.

It was a wonderful journey thanks to John’s invitation to me.  John warned me that it was a “Gucci” tour and it was.  I really enjoyed that level of travel to this special place where few hikers have gone.

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