There was just toooo much to write about to put in one blog. It seemed best to split this at Creel and do a return trip, especially in light of the adventures I had on the return in 2000. As I mentioned in the first addition, there were few pictures on the eastbound trip in 2000. The weather was gloomy, rainy, and cold. Photography was questionable at best. I took some shots, but wasn’t pleased with the results. The return trip was also limited for an entirely different reason, which a reader will discover shortly. Also, I’ve misplaced some of those pictures and hopefully they will appear as I go through my old negatives. Perhaps I will have to do a third post of Copper Canyon.
The eastbound trip in 2008 was perfect for pictures except for one major problem. Artistically you are limited by lighting. There is no way to get the early morning light for photography given the current train schedule. But, I found at the end of the westbound leg provided some great opportunities as you exited the main canyon late in the afternoon. I was very pleased with the results and some of those pictures will appear below.
I now have a lot of respect for an author writing a book or a longer, accurate travel log with beautiful pictures. The effort I’ve put into this, researching, reading my journal, editing and examining photos, and just plain going over my writing is phenomenal. As I put the last blog together, it became clear that it was poorly organized. I spent about 7 hours to get it reasonably close to right. I’m getting a baptism by fire as I wade through this new world of blogging and travel writing. Rather than go back over my older posts, I’m going to try to improve the newer ones. Having a netbook will certainly help. My sweet wife gave one to me for my birthday and I plan to thoroughly use it. This year there will be three; my six week working trip to the Idaho back country, a week-long trip to the Oregon coast, and an extended vacation to the Philippines.
[Digression mode -off-]
There are many day trips to explore from Creel, Chihuahua and we took one in 2000. That trip is almost worth an entire shortish post on it’s own. As I think about this, I’ve decided to do a post or two on the interesting side trips I’ve taken. The list will include but not be limited to…Creel and Cusarare falls, a bird watching trip in Alamos, Sonora, another bird trip from Playa las Glorias, the mangrove swamp jungle cruise in San Blas, Nayarit, and an incredible trip to the Monarch butterfly refuge in eastern Michoacan state. The last can be seen on PBS now and then, they did an entire episode on this amazing bug.
I got up the following morning and headed off to breakfast at Maragita’s motel in Creel.
The dining room was clean and attractively decorated. The menu included Tang, cantaloupe, sweet rolls, scrambled eggs, coffee, and of course tortillas and beans. Not inspired, but certainly adequate. I then took off to do a little shopping for souvenirs. A total disappointment. A whole town full of trinkety BS that was completely overpriced.
So I took off to the train station to wait for the first class train heading west. First order of business was to see if the little restaurant with the great food and also with the horribly hot pickled chilies on the tables was still in business.
Yep, still there. They now have the sign changed to make it easier for the gringos to read. But I got it the first time. "Hospital for hangovers" meant that they serve meneudo. I walked back to the station and settled down for the 1 hour wait for the train. Boring. The train was on time and no excitement. My mind wandered back 8 years to the previous trip…
We arrived at the train station an hour early to a big surprise. The
train was going to be 2 hours late because…there was a derailment on
the line between El Divisadero and San Rafael! Now what? We knew
better than to leave the area, so I spent some time doing a little
I have another shot somewhere of these 4 moppets playing while mom works hard at weaving a basket in the right center of the lowest picture. What I’m missing here is that she is sitting next to a 7 foot drop to the parking lot with no railing and the kids are now playing near the tracks. There is no way I would leave my little ones in this precarious position, but she never even looked at them. They horsed around dangerously close to the dropoff and I shuddered as I watched. Of course they were fine and nothing happened, another instance of Mexican endurance.
As we hung around, the stationmaster came out and talked to us. The decision had been made to send the train to El Divisadero on time (whew!, we stayed close) and wait there for the tracks to be cleared. Seems it was more interesting to wait there. I couldn’t have been happier. With the great and sunny weather, I had the opportunity to get the photos of the overlook that I had missed three days previously.
There were 3 young couples from Texas waiting for the train also. They had brought blankets and clothing for the Tarahumara indians that were suffering greatly from one of the coldest winters the region had ever experienced. Their adventures to get to Creel were quite humerous. Mexican customs had hassled the hell out of them at the border and demanded a lot of charges for duty. The young ladies (who were quite attractive) had slipped away and changed into flattering clothing and dresses to try to wow the customs agents. It had worked, to their great benefit. The charges went to near zero. And all it cost them was a little low cut clothing that was tight in the right places and some big, friendly smiles.
I learned a lesson on that one that I will never forget.
We boarded the train about 20 minutes late and headed off for El Divisdero. There was no real rush and the engineer drove slowly through the highlands, giving us all a great view. We arrived at El Divisadero and I got my shots. Here is a composite from the 2008 trip that is better than the shots from 2000.
Well, there wasn’t much "other" to do. The estimated time of departure was 6PM. A long time, nearly 7 hours. After a while of wandering, I met another traveler. Eric was a businessman from Chicago that had taken a trip to Copper Canyon on a whim. He was exhausted at work and told his secretary to book him a 3 day vacation in some unusual place and surprise him. For some unknown reason, she had chosen the motel at Posada Barrancas. He was a little uncertain at first, then pleasantly surprised when he arrived. The motel staff had brought him to the overlook to wait, rather than wait at the tiny little waiting area at Posada Barrancas, 2 miles away. It is about a 30 minute walk.
We talked and shared adventures. As we chatted, he brought up that he had taken a horseback tour of the area near the overlook. Intrigued, I pressed him about the route. Since he was also quite bored, he offered to take me on a walk of that same area. I couldn’t resist and accepted. After checking with the train crew AGAIN for the estimated departure time (still 6PM), we took off on an amazing two hour hike. It still remains one on my biggest Mexico highlights.
You simply walk towards the cliff past the parked freight cars in the above picture. There is a sewage pond, then a roughly marked trail heading up the ridge in the left center of the picture. Then you follow the cliff for this view…
Then scramble farther away, around the rim for this view…
of the overlook with our train patiently waiting, waiting. The return trail sneaks around the rock outcrop at the bottom center of the picture. It was a mile walk to get down to that point. The trail is plenty wide and safe, but a person cannot be afraid of heights. There are some narrow areas and cliffs below. The terrain is so steep it seems that gravity wants to suck you into the abyss on it’s own accord.
Go down to this flat and turn right. There is an embankment to slide down and suddenly you find a well used path. The local kids "commute" to school on this path. And this is what those children get to see 5 days a week.
Eric takes in the scenery. This was about a 200 foot cliff. Yowser!
The tourist overlook and train are in the left center. I have never seen anyone else post pictures or publish any material about this exhilarating little hike.
Towards the end of the walk, we came upon two caves that were obviously being used as a house and goat pen. I was reluctant to shoot a picture of the opening of the cave, which was crudely framed in with rough sawed lumber and had an old wooden door. Tarahumara Indians are not crazy about being photographed, some can get positively irate. But I figured the goats were fair game. They bleated and stomped and begged to be let out, what a ruckus. But we walked by with only a quick snapshot.
A two hour hike at 7000′ elevation is quite exhausting if you live near sea level. It takes some acclimation, which I didn’t have time to acquire. We got back to the train and I was ready for a break.
We wandered to the dining car and found the train service crew busy. Playing cards. The game was dompe (sp) and I am unable to come up with rules on the internet. The game may also be called Conquian, I simply don’t know. The deck has 40 cards with no 8s, 9s, or 10s. We had 42 cards, two jokers, some clubs missing and made up for with extra diamonds. Ante up, then the player to the dealer’s left rolls the top card. If it is a face card, the king being the best, you get some money from the pot. The game continues something like rummy. If you get all cards of the same suit, or 3 pair (or something like that, it’s been 10 years) then you lay your cards down and scoop up the pot. I watched, fascinated. After a bit, I was invited to join. More money to win, perhaps? Soon we were all having a great time. The crew was colorful and friendly, and we all still had an hour to pass. I ended up winning, much to the other player’s chagrin. The cook needled them constantly about how I was fleecing them, about $2 total. It was late afternoon, about time to leave, when the cook showed up with a plate full of delicious sandwiches for dinner. No charge.
We took off just before dusk and headed for San Rafael. The 20 mile or so trip was time consuming. We absolutely crept over the sight of the derailment, a road crossing between El Divisadero and San Rafael. The work crew had huge bonfires going in the area and they watched us very closely as we passed. No problem. Now before any readers start freaking out about this derailment, I’ll digress.
Derailments occur occasionally on all railroads. This area would be a prime candidate for a tourist disaster, or so it would seem. But not so. The passenger trains are lightly loaded and travel slowly for the tourists, so they can ogle and take pictures. The conductors of the freight trains, however, are not gawking at the scenery and so they haul ass. If the trains are anything like their truck counterparts on the highways, they are overloaded. Combine those factors and which one will find the weak areas on the tracks first? Ding ding ding ding ding ding, yep, the freight trains. I have only heard or read of one passenger train derailment. I met a couple that had been on that trip. The engine was going very slowly over a known weak area and fell off the rails, remaining upright. The repair crew simply jacked the engine up and moved it back into position on the rails without much problem. No passenger cars were involved and the delay was only a few hours.
Back to the story.
We arrived at San Rafael to what looked like a gigantic kicked over ant pile. People milling and walking everywhere. The eastbound 1st class train, the 2nd class train, and a freight train waiting on the rails in front of us. The work repair train was on a siding next to us. We were diverted to another siding. Then the westbound 2nd class train came in behind us. We had to jockey into a yet another siding as the 2nd class train cleared the right of way. It took 45 minutes for the jockeying to be completed and we were able to continue west. All eastbound had to leave first.
Trying to follow the scenery in the moonlight was not possible. Only two things worth mentioning. I made it a point to be awake when we crossed the long bridge over the Rio Fuerte. The moonlit view was stunning, a black emptiness below and moonlight glinting off the river. No way to photograph it. And later, a stop in Loreto. We pulled into a siding and let a waiting freight train pass. That conductor absolutely poured on the coal, and that train had to have been doing 60mph by the time the last car passed by. As I watched, bemused, it occurred to me that the passenger trains weren’t going to be involved in many derailments, and I put the previous digression together in my head.
We arrived in El Fuerte around 11:15pm. One last concern, could we find a cab? No problem, three were there waiting for a fare.
I snapped back to 2008 as the train rolled into the station. We took off, on time, for a return trip completely unlike the last. Passing through El Divisadero and San Rafael, there is a crew change in the middle of nowhere.
I believe this is the outskirts of Bauichivo, but it could be Cuiteco.
We pulled through the station and the eastbound second class train passed us as we left. I got a kick out of the two young ladies in the next pictures.
Our train stopped with me happening to be in the vestibule directly even with them. I paid little attention at first, but then I noticed something interesting. The beautiful young girl in the foreground was anxiously waiting the
arrival of the second class train. Her actions, fidgeting, and body language made obvious her great impatience. She HAD to be waiting for someone special, and I guessed her novio (boyfriend) was on the westbound 2nd class train 20 minutes behind us. What tickled me was her sister behind her. True to sister-like form, the younger sister was tugging her sibling’s hair, tickling her ears, pulling on her sweater, covering her eyes, blowing air down her neck, anything to bug and distract her older sister. The older sister meanwhile was almost totally oblivious. She would just brush aside any disruption with hardly a thought, giving the younger one free rein. Probably not any chance of this at any other time and advantage was being taken. The younger one flashed a big smile and gave me a conspiratorial wink as she was doing the pestering, which brought me to the conclusion a novio was involved. The attempted provocation continued for 5 minutes, with little response.
The older sister was also totally oblivious to my delight, openly photographing her from less than 10 feet away. I could have had skin colored red with green polka dots, been dancing in a ballerina tutu, or been on fire. She never even gave me a glance.
Some things never change, even in cultures living in the depths of the Sierra Madre mountains.
and on down through the canyon.
No luck finding the name of these purple flowered trees. Readers?
My maps do not show the reservoir in the pictures that follow. The setting sun provided the lighting I’d been looking for the entire trip.
Looking downstream towards Los Pozos and Choix.
The exit to the canyon is visible in the left center. I love looking at this picture.
Looking upstream as we cross the 1637′ bridge over the Rio Fuerte near Agua Caliente.
That’s about it. There is still about 30 miles to go to El Fuerte. We got there about dark.
Next, I head for home.
Tip–By now it should be obvious that I have a great time in Mexico. I’m willing to learn their language and immerse myself in their culture, not try to adapt their culture to mine. Because of that, I find them warm, friendly, and personable. I think that is the greatest thing about visiting foreign countries. The people.
If you haven’t done this, try it. Leave the tourist traps, expensive motels, the timeshare salesmen, and above all, the crowds behind. The first steps are scary, but later on the rewards are huge.