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Calendar >  Travels With TR – Copper Canyon – The Largest and Grandest of Canyons

Travels With TR – Copper Canyon – The Largest and Grandest of Canyons

By   /  December 25, 2014  /  No Comments


Travels With TR – Copper Canyon – The Largest and Grandest of Canyons

Travel in Mexico for the past few years has been somewhat suspect with concerns over traveler’s safety in many regions.  There does appear tom & carolto be a change in the climate and outsiders are once again going to various destination points in Mexico. There are still many spots that are off of the travel destination itinerary. Even some cruise lines have pulled stops in many of Mexico’s cities off of their ports of call. The basic lesson for traveling in Mexico should be, do your homework about where you are going and the travel company you are going with. One of the places to visit in Mexico, that is still included on most travel companies lists, is Copper Canyon. Companies like Grand European Tours, California Native International Adventures and S & S Tours, to name a few, have Copper Canyon as a destination spot offered. Several years ago, my wife and I took a Grand European Tours trip to Copper Canyon and found the tour enlightening, informative and very picturesque.

Copper Canyon is a group of canyons of 6 distinct canyons in the Sierra Madre Occidental range located in the southwestern part of the state of Chihuahua. Copper Canyon is larger and deeper that the Grand Canyon of Arizona. Six different rivers merge into the Rio Fuerte, which will eventually empty into the Gulf of California. Copper Canyon gets its name from the walls of the canyon that appear to be copper/green in color.

Indigenous peoples have lived in Copper Canyon for hundreds and hundreds of years.  In the 17th century Spanish explorers entered Copper Canyon looking for gold and silver. They would meet the Indian tribes living in the lower regions of the canyon and the Spanish would call them the Tarahumara. This name was probably taken from the indigenous peoples name Raramuri.  The name is thought to have meant “running people”. Silver was eventually discovered in the canyon and some of the Indians were enslaved.  Many of the tribes would flee deep into the canyon and live in the many cliffs and caves in the walls of the canyon. It is in these areas that the Tarahumara live today.

April thru June are the hottest months in the canyon with little rain until July. There are 23 different species of pine and 200 species of oak trees in the canyon. Mexican Douglas Fir trees are found on the high plateaus above 8000 feet. Deforestation in this area is endangering the animal population of animals like cougars, the Mexican wolf and the Imperial woodpecker. There is also an effort by the government to stop the cultivation of opium poppies and cannibus by spraying with herbicides. Unfortunately a side effect is the killing some natural species of plants and animals.

The Tarahumara Indians still live in the canyon depths. There is an estimated 35-70,000 Indians living in the canyon. They are a seasonally nomadic peoples moving from the lowest regions of the canyons to the cliff walls depending on the season/weather. Their diet is largely domestic agrarian, although some of the tribes do raise chickens, goats and some fish from the rivers. They are known for their endurance running abilities. Many of the tribal games involve running skills. One of the games involves hitting a small hoop with a stick as it rolls along the ground.  Some of the tribes are accepting of the tourist visitors. Other tribal members stay far away from the tourists. Those Tarahumara Indians that do associate with tourists do so by selling their various crafts, such as baskets and pottery. At some of the train stops along the way as you travel by train through the canyon tribal members will show some of their traditional dances and games.

The train through the canyon starts at El Fuerte at sea level and will run along the main canyon, Urique.  The train runs for about 405 miles, will cross 39 bridges and go through 86 tunnels. The total travel time for the length of the train ride is 15 hours.  The train will take travelers to a height of 7,500 feet.  The main region of the canyon is called Parque Nacional Barranca del Cobre, the Copper Canyon National Park. In the city of Creel visitors can hike to the 2 highest waterfalls in Mexico, Piedra Volda Falls and Basaseachic Falls, both located in the canyon.

The 10 day trip we were on started off in Tucson, Arizona. We caught a bus out of Tucson, entered Mexico and our first stop would be in San Carlos, located on the Sea of Cortez. From San Carlos our next stop would be Alamos, at the foothills of the Sierra Madres. We would leave our bus in El Fuerte, the town where we would board the train for the trip through Copper Canyon. In El Fuerte we stayed at Posada Del Hidalgo, a Spanish colonial style hotel that was first a colonial mansion built in 1890. This beautiful hotel had pine beams and furnishings brought in from San Francisco when it was first built. This mansion is the possible birthplace of Diego de la Vega – El Zorro. There is a large bronze statue of El Zorro on the grounds and a Zorro impersonator wanders the hotel. We were also treated to traditional Mexican music and dance in the evening. One unwanted part of our stay was getting bitten by many bugs referred to as “no-see-ums”, also called biting midges, you literally cannot see until you are bitten. I highly recommend lots of bug spray for your stay here.

Our train trip was pleasant with beautiful scenery as it twisted and wound its way to our mid-point destination of Posada Barrancas and the Mansion Tarahumara Hotel, our stay for 2 nights. This castle –like hotel was started in 1986. From the hotel we were able to take a leisurely walk to the overlook point of this part of Copper Canyon. We could actually see two of the canyons merged together. Also visible were numerous trails leading into the canyon, down to the deepest points.  There were several small homes with what appeared to be small gardens deep in the canyon. These were homes of some of the Trahumara Indians. During our second day at the hotel we were taken a short distance to the home of an elderly Indian gentleman and his wife who we were told were shamans, mystical healers, for the community. Our group was able to witness and participate in a spiritual reading involving the use of eggs and the yolks of the eggs. Our guide explained the various steps of this ritual and told us other information about the shaman and his importance to the community he lived in. In Posada Barrancas you can find a number of hotels to stay.  The most famous is the Mirador Hotel, a premier hotel, with each room offering a balcony with a view. The hotel is located on the canyon rim at the highest point of the canyon at this location. We were able to walk to the hotel and look at the view from one of the balconies.

From Posada Barrancas the train would take us by Creel. We stopped here for a short visit. Near Creel is Divisadero, the best overlook along Copper Canyon, where 3 canyons merge together. Creel is near Urique, a gold and silver mining town. The Jesuit Mission of San Francisco, founded in 1694, is still located here. Not far from Creel is the 2nd longest aerial tram in the world.  The cable cars rise some 1,475 feet above the canyon. The system is called the Train in the Sky and is located in the Copper Canyon Nature Park.

We departed the train and boarded the bus for our trip back to Arizona, but first we would visit Casas Grandes in Paquime, an archaeological site featuring the ruins of the Chichimeca civilization. We were also treated to a visit to a Mata Ortiz pottery store – originally the black on black pottery and now featuring red/green on black designs. This famous and expensive pottery is known throughout the pottery world. One interesting demonstration we saw was how pottery was first fired by the ancient people of this area.

I have been fortunate enough to see sites in Mexico like Teotihuacan – the Pyramid of the Sun and Moon – outside of Mexico City. Monte Alban and Mitla outside of Oaxaca, Chichen Itza not far from Cancun, not to mention the typical tourists stops of Cabo San Lucas in Baja and the once popular vacation destination of Acapulco, when it was safe to travel there, just to mention a few. It would be a shame if visitors were not able to continue to go to these destinations. There are many incredible sites and places to see in Mexico. With careful planning, choosing the right tour company and common sense about safety, visitors should be able to continue to visit cities and sites in Mexico.






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  • Published: 9 years ago on December 25, 2014
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  • Last Modified: January 15, 2015 @ 12:40 am
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