Copper Canyon

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This month, California Native’s 11-day Ultimate tour of Mexico’s Copper Canyon  has been selected by InfoHub.com as their “Unordinary Trip of the Month.”

Tarahumara Weaver in Mexico's Copper Canyon

In Mexico’s Copper Canyon a young Tarahumara lady shyly smiles as she weaves a basket.

One of our most popular trips, this small-group fully-escorted tour explores Copper Canyon, the real “Treasure of the Sierra Madres” from top to bottom. A truly unique experience, Copper Canyon is four times larger than the Grand Canyon and the homeland of the cave-dwelling Tarahumara Indians, the world’s greatest long-distance runners. The area is accessed by one of the world’s most spectacular train rides.

InfoHub.com is the #1 travel portal on the Internet dedicated to the out-of-ordinary adventures.

In additon, InfoHub in conjunction with their  sister-company, GPSmyCity, will enroll persons who book the tour before October 25, 2017 in a raffle for a one-year full membership of the GPSmyCity app with access to all of the GPSmyCity content—over 6,500 city walks and travel articles. The app features offline city maps, self-guided walking tours and travel articles for 1,000 cities worldwide and can turn your smart phone into a personal tour guide. The app works offline so there’s no need to worry about roaming charges when traveling abroad.

For more information for any of our California Native Adventures please give us a call at 1-310-642-1140.

We appreciate it when our guests share their stories, comments and photos with us and allow us to post them on our blog. Larry R Hanson, from Carrabassett Valley, ME, traveled with us on our Copper Canyon 6-day Independent Trip and wrote us this quick letter about their trip:

Greetings Laurie,

Sending you a thank you for putting together a wonderful trip to Mexico. It was surly a vacation of a lifetime. Wonderful people, beautiful country and all of your itinerary masterful.

Thank you again,
Larry R Hanson
Carrabassett Valley, ME

Tarahumara indian at one of the many beautiful Copper Canyon view points.

Tarahumara indian at one of the many beautiful Copper Canyon view points.

Larry Hanson enjoying the view at Cusarare Falls in Copper Canyon.

Larry Hanson enjoying the view at Cusarare Falls in Copper Canyon.

Tarahumara indian girl sells baskets in Copper Canyon

Tarahumara indian girl sells baskets in Copper Canyon

We appreciate it when we receive comments and photos to share. From our story “Her Uncle Rode With Pancho Villa” we received many interesting comments by family members of people associated with Pancho Villa:

Crickett Quijada
Hi Lee, thank you for writing this article on my great uncle Ricardo Gonzalez with Francisco Villa and his wife Maria Luz Corral de Villa. He had three brothers. Jose, Simon and Daniel who was killed in WW11. Also he had three sisters, my grandmother Prajedes, Epifania and Isabel, all children of Estefana (Fanny) Gagen and Pedro Gonzalez.

Pancho Villa with Ricardo Gonzalez, great uncle of Bessie

Pancho Villa with Ricardo Gonzalez, great uncle of Bessie “Crickett” Quijada.

Alberto Gonzalez
Crickett is my cousin. I remember my Grandfather always with the funny hat and cane, I was with my Dad and my Grandfather (Ricardo Gonzalez) when this visit occurred

Rebecca Hughes
This is so cool, Ricardo was my Great-Grandfather and Crickett and Alberto are my cousins.

Matt Holguin
Ricardo was my great grandfather too! Small world!

Jonathan Corral
My family and I have been building a family tree of our family, the Corral’s, and since we only know of the Corral side. Everyone has passed away in our blood line from the elderly side and can only hope to find out more about Maria through her family or if we could find out if Francisco Villas side of the family happen to know more about Maria Corral. We have all been told by our (now deceased) grandparents that our family is related to Francisco Villas wife Dona Maria de la Luz Corral de Villa. I’m told my grandfather Joseph Louis Corral (born 1927) had a father named Leopoldo Corral (a Police Officer in Mexico and was assassinated as well) and his wife Maria Ortiz Figueroa Corral (born 1888). We know Maria Luz had a father named Jose de Jesus Corral, but we haven’t pin pointed exactly if she had any brothers our cousins. We’re told Leopoldos aunt was Maria Luz Corral.

Javier Solis
Jonathan my mother Alejandra Corral’s grandmother was Benigna Corral which was Luz Corral Sister. She still has memories of her grandmother and my grandmother (my mother’s mom) knew Luz Corral around Durango and Buena Sevi. My great great grandfather talked a lot about Pancho Villa.

 

Pancho Villa and Luz Corral de Villa Dona Luz Corral de Villa with Ricardo Gonzalez
Pancho Villa and his wife, Luz Corral de Villa, in 1914. Dona Luz Corral de Villa with Ricardo Gonzalez in 1967.

 

The California Native has been leading tours to Copper Canyon for more than 30 years. Located in the Sierra Madre Mountains, Copper Canyon is four times larger than the Grand Canyon. This area is rich in history from Pancho Villa and the Mexican Revolution to the booming silver town of Batopilas.

We offer a full range of itineraries from small group escorted tours to worry-free adventures designed for the independent traveler.

We appreciate it when our guests share their stories, comments and photos with us and allow us to post them on our blog. Linda & John Gowdy, from Poestenkill, NY, traveled with us on our Copper Canyon 8-day to the Bottom and wrote us this quick letter about their trip:

Laurie-

I wanted to thank you for all your help and arrangements for our Copper Canyon trip! We got back Saturday night after a week of very relaxing travel. Everything was exactly as planned and we were very pleased with the accommodations and the trip. We had a very good time and the scenery was spectacular. Martín was an excellent driver on the “road” to Batopilas. He even put up with my bad Spanish!

Thanks again!

Linda Gowdy
Poestenkill, NY

Tarahumara church in the Copper Canyon.

Tarahumara church in the Copper Canyon.

El Chepe train exiting one of the 86 tunnels it will pass through on it's way through Copper Canyon.

El Chepe train exiting one of the 86 tunnels it will pass through as it travels through Copper Canyon.

Spectacular Copper Canyon view!

Spectacular Copper Canyon view!

 

We appreciate it when our guests share their stories with us and allow us to post them on our blog. Leslye Dentch, from Fishkill, NY, wrote us this short letter about her adventure with us in the Copper Canyon:

We just recently returned from your 7 day Copper Canyon tour and I just wanted to tell you how impressed we were with our guide, Rob. He was professional and well informed but it was his people skills – his knowing the nuances and subtleties of our group that made the difference.

We were a group of ten family members ranging in age and attitude from 13 to 80 and Rob not only managed to handle everyone’s needs – he anticipated them – even before we ourselves could. It was not an easy task given the diverse age and interests in our group and Rob did it with ease, style and grace. Watching him “wrangle” my 13 year old nephew, pacify my brother and his outspoken negativity and entertain my 80 year old mom was like watching an artist at work. It was truly impressive.

Sincerely,
Leslye Dentch
Fishkill, NY

CCview

Tarahumara women selling baskets and small items at the Divisadero area

We appreciate it when our guests share their stories, comments and photos with us and allow us to post them on our blog. Dianne Raymond, from Fort Fraser, BC Canada, who recently traveled with us on one of our Copper Canyon Independent Trips and had this to report:

I really enjoyed it all. Some of the favorite parts of the trip were the visits to Urique, Batopilas and the train trip. The local guides and drivers were helpful and friendly, especially the guide at Divisadero. We had a lovely river tour in El Fuerte. Our driver in Batopilas took us to see the entrance of a mine, he definitely knew his way around.

I liked having our train tickets, accommodations and transportation organized for us. We then had the freedom to do what we wanted the rest of the time.

Everything was well organized and seamless, good organization up front. It was grand and we felt safe. I have many memories that I will cherish. Thank you.

Dianne Raymond
Fort Fraser, BC Canada

Spectacular view on the road down to Batopilas

Quick stop for a photo on the way down to Batopilas.

 

 

 

We appreciate it when our guests share their stories, comments and photos with us and allow us to post them on our blog. Recently, Steve Donaldson, from Calgary, Alberta, Canada, traveled with us on our Copper Canyon 8-day Independent Tour and wrote us this letter:

Hi Dave. We finished our Copper Canyon Tour a few days ago and I thought I would provide some feedback on our trip. First, thanks for setting it all up. Everything worked out great and we had an incredible experience. I will certainly recommend The California Native to others. Attached is a day by day run-down.

 

El Chepe train starts it's journey from El Fuerte into the Copper Canyon

El Chepe train starts it’s journey from El Fuerte into the Copper Canyon

Day One
Taxi from Los Mochis airport to El Fuerte: We went to the taxi dispatch booth as recommended and secured a taxi to El Fuerte as you suggested. Excellent hotel and the staff were very accommodating which we enjoyed very much.

Days Two and Three
Check-out and transfer to the train worked well and the conductor had our tickets for the rest of the train ride.

We were met at the train station in Bahuichivo by Hugo from Paraisio del Oso.

El Chepe train into the Copper Canyon

El Chepe train into the Copper Canyon

His English is perfect and he was very helpful and informative our entire stay at the lodge. Hugo suggested we hike up to Yogi Bear, it was great. Back down then into town where we had some wine at the Hotel Mission.

As I said, Hugo was great and very helpful and informative our whole stay. We had a great trip into Urique then a hike to the caves with his nephew and the next morning a horseback ride.

Day Four
All transfers worked out great and our room at the Best Western Lodge in Creel was excellent. A great example of rustic appearance with added amenities such as internet and even TV (even though we didn’t need TV it was a nice addition). We were also introduced to our guide by Salvadore from S&G Tours for the next day tour.

Across one of the many bridges

Across one of the many bridges

Day Five
Martin from S&G picked us up at 0930 and we were off on the tour. He was very accommodating to our needs and was helpful and we saw all the key sights – waterfall, lake, mission, Valley of the Monks, and caves.

Day 6
Check-out, train transfers and check-in to Mirador all worked out great. Hotel Mirador lives up to the pictures. I took two great hikes for a couple of hours, unguided, and loved it. Dinner was excellent.

Tarahumara indians at an overlook

Tarahumara indians at an overlook

Day 7
Great breakfast and lunch. Had time for a couple of great hikes – not a cloud in the sky. Check-out seamless as was the transfer to the train. The staff at Mirador were excellent and very professional.

Again, thanks for making it happen and especially for your flexibility in our tour modifications and the personal contact to arrange everything.

Steve Donaldson
Calgary, AB, Canada

We appreciate it when our guests share their stories, comments and photos with us and allow us to post them on our blog. Recently, Sandy and Harry Scott, from Asheville, North Carolina, traveled with us on our Copper Canyon 11-day Independent Tour to the Bottom and had this to report:

Keep making your excellent itineraries, everything was so easy! We loved having reservations made. Not needing to get taxis was a welcome luxury to have. All our needs taken care of. Going the extra mile exceeded our expectations – example: having the driver take us to our Air BnB at the end of the trip. Laurie was particularly helpful. Participating in the Christmas Posado was very meaningful, I was very positively and emotionally impacted by the experience. We will call you again!

Sandy & Harry Scott
Asheville, NC

Sandy Scott at an overlook in Copper Canyon. Photo by Harry Scott

Sandy Scott enjoying the spectacular view of one of the many canyons in Copper Canyon. Photo by Harry Scott

Snowy covered canyon in Copper Canyon. Photo by Harry Scott

Snowy covered canyon in Copper Canyon. Photo by Harry Scott

Copper Canyon has so many amazing canyon views! Photo by Harry Scott

Copper Canyon has so many amazing canyon views! Photo by Harry Scott

We appreciate it when our guests share their stories with us and allow us to post them on our blog. Carol Schlafly, from Nashville, TN, wrote us about her recent escorted adventure in the Copper Canyon:

It was all just wonderful, food was great, all arrangements were just great, the hotels were great too! Rob [California Native guide] is wonderful — whatever we needed, he made it happen. Our al fresco lunch on the way to Batopilas was an unexpected and very sweet surprise.

I thought the prep work was great — wonderful info, all arrangements were very smooth, instructions were good. All the local guides and drivers were wonderful. A+ for all, lunch on the beach after petting the dolphins was great!

It was an adventure, we saw and did things I would not have ordinarily done, we saw some amazing terrain and some excitement along the way! Very exciting!

Rob Aikins is amazing. I could write a book on all the things he handled & how patient and understanding he was. His knowledge of the area and the contacts (he knows everyone) are fabulous. I would definetly recommend this tour to friends.

Carol Schlafly
Nashville, TN

Enjoying a picnic in Copper Canyon!

Enjoying a picnic in Copper Canyon!

We appreciate it when our guests share their stories with us and allow us to post them on our blog. Charlie Stephens, from Olympia, WA, wrote us this short letter about his independent adventure with us in the Copper Canyon:

Thanks for organizing a wonderful trip for us in the Copper Canyon (we took the 5-day independent.) It was just the right “taste” of this spectacular and fascinating area. My 72 year old mom, who’s a little hobbled, had a great time, and didn’t have too much trouble getting around. Accommodations and food were great too. Thanks for a great trip!

Best Wishes,

Charlie Stephens
Olympia, WA

Arareko Lake just outside of Creel

Lake just outside of Cerocahui.

 

Most travelers miss out experiencing historic Los Mochis and scenic Topolobampo Bay. This tour and boat trip adds an additional day/night to the beginning of any of our Copper Canyon escorted adventures, or to either end of our Copper Canyon independent tours.

What’s included:
Historical Botanical garden tour
Topolobampo tour
Bird Island and Dolphin Encounter tour
Free time to relax at Marviri’s Beach
Special Mariscada Lunch (special seafood lunch)
Soft Drinks and snacks
Hotel night in Los Mochis
Private transfer to or from El Fuerte with bilingual guide

$290 Per person, double occupancy

*Note: Prices subject to change without notice.

Los Mochis is a city founded in 1893 by the American pioneer Benjamin F. Johnston, who started planting sugar cane and building a sugar empire. Over the years this area has become the most productive agricultural region in Mexico and the final western destination of the Chihuahua-Pacific Railroad (El Chepe), better known as The Copper Canyon Train.

The Historical Botanical Gardens were part of Johnson’s mansion, La Casa Grande. Formerly private, the Sinaloa Botanical Garden is full of both native plants and specimens from abroad, plus a large variety of bird species.

Topolobampo Bay, on the Gulf of California is about a 20 minute drive from Los Mochis. Its beaches with calm waves are ideal for aquatic sports. Nearby, Playa el Maviry is a super spot for swimming and home to a bat cave. Visiting Playa el Maviri is an experience in itself as this is where the locals dine, a seafood lovers paradise.

On our cruise in Topolobampo Bay you will visit Bird Island, see many species of birds, sea lions and dolphins in their natural habitat and enjoy the clear blue waters of the Sea of Cortez.

Beautiful Toplobampo Bay

Beautiful Topolobampo Bay

 

 

We appreciate it when our guests share their stories with us and allow us to post them on our blog. Mary Fitzgerald, from Malibu, CA, wrote us this short letter about her adventure with us in the Copper Canyon:

As a veteran traveler I have worked with many tour guides, some more adept than others, but none more earnest and attentive than [The California Native guide] Rob. Being far the oldest member of our travel group I had some concern about keeping up with the rest. Rob was always there to be of support when needed, but never offensively obvious.

This young man has an astounding fund of knowledge about almost everything, and he had a thorough answer for the endless questions our group posed. In addition, when situations arose that might provoke anxiety, Rob had a quiet way of taking charge to reassure us. This is the art of leadership.

Tour leading is not an easy task. One must be all things to all travelers, and relentlessly pleasant, no matter how trying. Rob did an excellent job. I found him to be very well qualified, and would travel with him again.

Sincerely,
Mary Fitzgerald
Malibu, CA

The Copper Canyon has spectacular views!

The Copper Canyon has spectacular views!

Tarhumara men demonstrating traditional dances

Tarhumara men demonstrating traditional dances.

Riding the first class Chepe train through the Sierra Madres.

Riding the first class Chepe train through the Sierra Madres.

Cruising through the Copper Canyon in style!

Cruising through the Copper Canyon in style!

We appreciate it when our guests share their stories with us and allow us to post them on our blog. Bob & Ginnie Thurler, from Brooklyn Park, MN, wrote us this short letter about their adventure with us in the Copper Canyon:

We recently returned from your Ultimate 11-Day tour of the Copper Canyon. We both agree that this was by far the greatest vacation we have been on. Everything about the tour was first class and much more than we had expected it to be. This was the first guided trip we have ever been on. The guide did everything he could so that we were always informed of the days events, times and places, which we liked. We now have so much knowledge about the history of this area especially the people. As I stated before, this was our first guided tour and we both agree that it would be pretty difficult for anyone to top.

Bob & Ginnie Thurler
Brooklyn Park, MN

 

Tarahumara Musicians

Tarahumara musicians and dancer demonstrate a traditional Tarahumara song and dance in the Copper Canyon

Lost Cathedral of Satevo

Down at the bottom of the canyon is the “Lost Cathedral” of Satevo near Batopilas.

We appreciate it when our guests share their stories with us and allow us to post them on our blog. Phyllis and Arnold Aho, from Marquette, MI, wrote us this short letter about their adventure in the Copper Canyon:

Thanks for (arranging) our recent trip to the Copper Canyon as independent travelers. The train was excellent and the scenery was spectacular! Our side trips to the villages of Batopilas, Cerocahui and Creel were interesting and exciting. Our overnight in Divisadero was unique. It was a great experience!

Phyllis and Arnold Aho
Marquette, MI

 

The Cusarare Mission in the Tarahumara village of Cusarare near Creel, Copper Canyon

The Cusarare Mission in the Tarahumara village of Cusarare near Creel, Copper Canyon

 

We appreciate it when our guests share their stories with us and allow us to post them on our blog. Recently, Ted McGrath who lives in Vancouver, Canada, returned from our California Native adventure in Copper Canyon and wrote:

California Native sent Rob Aikins from San Diego as our guide, Rob was excellent. Great personality, loaded with local knowledge, an awesome wit and ability to deal calmly and politely with any off the wall situations. Rob spoke perfect Spanish and at every stop knew just about everyone we met. He worked diligently to make our trip a seamless time where all we had to do was enjoy the experience while he attended to the detail of herding cats. He left nothing to chance!

El Fuerte
Hotel Torres del Fuerte has big rooms, high ceilings, air conditioning, bottled water, wi-fi in the hotel lobby area. Each of the 25 rooms decorated uniquely. Nice large inner courtyard. Lets call the place “charming”.

El Fuerte to Divisadero
The train ride from El Fuerte to Divisdearo was as awesome a train ride as one can find. The ride through the canyon has to be seen to be appreciated. 86 tunnels, 36 bridges with interesting rock formations. The train was great. Air conditioned, good seating and the meal at lunch very tasty.

Tarahumara woman at Lake Arareko

A Tarahumara woman is selling baskets and small items at the shore of Lake Arareko.

The Hotel Mirador at Divisadero sits right on the edge of Urique Canyon and the view is stunning. We took a gondola ride across the canyon where three of the main Copper Canyon complex of canyons join – cool!

Divisadero to Creel
From Divisadero, the train on to Creel is not as scenic. The hotel (Best Western Creel) has nice rustic western themed public space. One could think you were on vacation in Montana–western themed rooms too.

Creel to Batopilas
After one night in Creel we departed to Batopilas. Along the way we stopped at a Tarahumara cave home, and then two stops at unique rock formations. One with “mushroom” like outcroppings and one (the valley of the monks) with a proliferation of tall (really tall!) rounded rocks. About noon we stopped at a roadside home for a classy picnic lunch.

Batopilas
In Batopilas we walked to Mision Del Sataveo. On the way to the mision we stopped at a Tarahumara school and handed out school supplies and visited the nearby cemetery. We also visited the local museum in Batopilas and the crumbling previous property (Hacienda) of a silver mining company.

Batopilas to Creel
On the return trip to Creel we stopped again at the roadside home for lunch and went to the waterfall near Cusarare. Nice diversion, neat waterfall.

Ruins of the Shepherd Hacienda in Batopilas.

Ruins of the Shepherd Hacienda in Batopilas, at the bottom of Mexico’s Copper Canyon. It was once one of the richest silver mining cities in the world.

Creel to Chihuahua
After leaving Creel for Chihuahua we stopped at a Mennonite home for lunch. There’s a huge Mennonite presence in Chihuahua state, they are very successful farmers and it shows in their opulent homes and ample modern farm implements. On the drive into Chihuahua we passed many fields of apple orchards. The state is the major apple growing region in Mexico. Arrived in Chihuahua around 2:30 pm, checked into the lovely Holiday Inn & Suites in Centro. Next we were given an introductory tour of the city centre–the Zocalo, cathedral and drive by Hidalgo’s museum and a gorgeous early 20th century home now belonging to the University of Chihuahua (Mansion ‘Quinta Gameros’). This was the end of the California Native tour except for a farewell dinner at a Centro restaurant, El Retablo.

The group left for El Paso the next day.

Ted McGrath
Vancouver Canada

Alexander Robey “Boss” Shepherd

Alexander Robey “Boss” Shepherd was born in Washington D.C. in 1835 and served as Territorial Governor of D.C. from 1873 to 1874.

At the bottom of the deepest canyon in the vast complex of mountains and canyons known collectively as Copper Canyon is the sleepy little village of Batopilas. Sitting next to the bougainvilleas in the town square you might see a cowboy riding his horse down the sunbaked-earth main street, or a group of brightly clad Indians packing their burros for the long journey back to their remote village. It is hard to believe that this quiet village was once one of the richest silver mining cities in the world.

The Spaniards first mined ore here in 1632. Over the centuries more than three hundred mines were worked, but it took a most unusual American to bring real wealth to the area. The man was Alexander Shepherd and the story starts, not in this remote section of Mexico’s Sierra Madre mountains, but in Washington D.C.

Statue of Alexander Shepherd in Washington D.C.

Statue of Alexander Shepherd in Washington D.C.

In 1871, Alexander Robey “Boss” Shepherd headed the D.C. Board of Public works and two years later became territorial governor of the District of Columbia. At that time Washington was a city with muddy streets and unpaved sidewalks. During his three years in office Shepherd constructed 157 miles of roads, 123 miles of sewers, 39 miles of gas mains and 30 miles of water mains, leading some historians to refer to him as the “Father of Modern Washington.” Instead of being heralded as a hero, however, he was ungraciously chased out of office after Congress discovered that he had overspent the cities budget by $16 million with a disproportionate share of the benefits going to neighborhoods in which he had financial interests.

Shepherd declared bankruptcy and, in 1880, moved his family to Batopilas, where he had purchased a silver mine from another American, John Robinson, for $600,000. Thirteen years earlier, Robinson bought two old supposedly worked out mines where he discovered a rich vein of ore, but then ran into a major obstacle—because of the remoteness of the area his transportation and processing costs were far too high to make the operation profitable.

Shepherd, who always thought on a grand scale, applied the same organizing skills he had used in Washington to his new mining venture.

He began by filing more than 300 additional mining claims and consolidating his holdings into the Batopilas Mining Company. Then, instead of shipping out raw ore to be processed at some distant location, he constructed a complete processing facility in Batopilas. The processed silver was cast into bars, loaded two bars per mule, and taken by monthly mule trains of up to 100 mules to Chihuahua.

Between 1880 and 1906, 20 million ounces of silver were extracted from the mines—ranking the Batopilas mines among the richest silver mines in the world. At their peak the mines employed 1500 workers, and the total length of tunnels exceeded 70 miles.

Ruins of the Shepherd Hacienda in Batopilas

Ruins of the Shepherd Hacienda in Batopilas, at the bottom of Mexico’s Copper Canyon. It was once one of the richest silver mining cities in the world.

Shepherd’s innovations included the construction of the Porfirio Diaz tunnel—a tunnel bored through the base of a mountain, where a train hauled out ore, which was dropped down shafts from the tunnels above. The train had to be dismantled and hauled in almost 200 miles by burro and human labor. The tunnel is still there, now deserted except by bats.

Shepherd did much to improve the town of Batopilas, building bridges, aqueducts, and a hydroelectric plant, which made Batopilas the second city in Mexico to have electricity—second only to Mexico City itself. By the time Shepherd died in 1902, the town’s population had grown from 400 to around 5000 (it is now around 1000). The hydroelectric facility he built was restored in 1988 and once again powers the town, and his original aqueduct still provides the local water supply.

Today there is no large-scale mining in Batopilas, though a few old prospectors still pan gold and silver from the river or extract small quantities of ore from the abandoned workings.

A group of Tarahumara Ladies in Batopilas

Today, a group of Tarahumara Ladies go about their business in the quiet little town of Batopilas.

About thirty years ago I first became aware of Copper Canyon when a travel writer friend of mine returned from a journey to Northern Mexico.

“Lee, you have to see Copper Canyon,” he insisted. “It’s magnificent!!” After viewing his slides I became excited and traveled to the Sierra Madre mountains of Northern Mexico to explore this remote area. Since then, over the last thirty years, we have introduced thousands of people to this fascinating area of mountains, rivers and canyons, and to the Tarahumara, the indigenous people who make this rugged land their home.

The Canyons

Copper Canyon is four times Larger than the Grand Canyon

California Native founder Lee Klein tests the stability of Balancing Rock on the rim of Mexico’s Copper Canyon. Copper Canyon is four times Larger than the Grand Canyon and almost 300 feet deeper.

Long ago, about a hundred million years, a huge plateau arose in an area that is now part of northern Mexico. Seventy million years passed before volcanoes erupted and flooded the plateau with molten rock. Rivers then sliced this lava-covered plateau into deep twisting canyons—the largest area of canyons in North America.

Between the volcanic layers and the old plateau are rich mineral deposits. The depth of the canyons exposes these layers, making the gold, silver, and copper accessible for mining. It is from the abundant copper ore that the area derives its name—Copper Canyon.

The Miners

The first people to mine the ore were the Spaniards, in 1632. Over the centuries, hundreds of mines were worked, peaking at the end of the 19th century when 20 million ounces of silver were extracted from the mines at Batopilas, making Copper Canyon one of the richest silver mining areas in the world.

The Tarahumara

Tarahumara wear traditional makeup for the Easter celebrations in Copper Canyon.

Tarahumara men wear traditional makeup for the Easter celebrations in Copper Canyon, the most important celebration of their year.

The longest term residents of Copper Canyon are the Tarahumara Indians. No one knows how long they have lived here, but archaeologists have found artifacts of people living in the area 3000 years ago.

Francisco Vasquez de Coronado’s expedition, which passed through the Sierra Madres in 1540, in search of the legendary Seven Golden Cities of Cibola, may have been the first contact between the Tarahumara and Europeans.

The Jesuits

In 1607 the Jesuits established the first of their 29 missions to be built in the canyons and introduced the Tarahumara to Catholicism, domestic animals and the plow.

When the Spaniards discovered the rich mineral wealth in the canyons, they forced the Indians to work as slaves in the mines. This led to many bloody revolts throughout the 17th century.

The influence of the Jesuits came to a halt in 1767 when the King of Spain expelled their order from the New World. In the canyons there are legends of treasure hidden by the Jesuits during their rapid departure). The Franciscans took over from the Jesuits, but the Indians were pretty much left alone until the Jesuits returned in 1900.

The Tarahumara Today

Today the Tarahumara number around 60,000. They live in caves and small cabins and practice subsistence farming. The majority practice a form of Catholicism liberally intermixed with their traditional beliefs and ceremonies. Among the peoples of North America, they are considered to be the least touched by modern civilization and the most unmixed of any of the Indian tribes of Mexico.

In the remote village of Kirare, in Mexico’s Copper Canyon, a Tarahumara man helps his wife with her chores. The California Native has been a leader in operating tours to this remote area for almost thirty years.

In the remote village of Kirare, in Mexico’s Copper Canyon, a Tarahumara man helps his wife with her chores. The California Native has been a leader in operating tours to this remote area for almost thirty years.

We appreciate it when our guests share their stories with us and allow us to post them on our blog. Last month, Carman Cunningham and Lucile Griffiths, from San Rafael, California, traveled with us on our Copper Canyon 9-day Independent Tour to the Bottom and had this to report:

My friend, Lucile Griffiths, and I traveled to Copper Canyon, Mexico  from December 23 to 31. We flew to Phoenix, Hermosillo, Los Mochis, then by taxi two hours to El Fuerte, Sinaloa. One of the few disappointments of the trip was that we arrived in El Fuerte after dark, and left before sunrise to catch the train. From the little we could see, El Fuerte is a beautiful colonial town and we wanted to see much more of it. Our hotel was a traditional hacienda with courtyards and gardens open to the sky, furnished with Persian rugs and antique furniture. Modern plumbing, though.

Our early morning train quickly climbed from farm land surrounding El Fuerte up into the mountains. By noon we were in the canyon lands, pine forests, ice and snow on canyon rims and mountain peaks. We had gone through 86 tunnels and crossed 37 bridges.

Tarahumara children celebrate Christmas with a piñata at Copper Canyon's Paraiso del Oso.

Tarahumara children celebrate Christmas with a piñata at Copper Canyon’s Paraiso del Oso.

We got off the train at a little town called Bahuichivo and were met by a enthusiastic American, proprietor of the lodge where we stayed two nights. Although simple, the lodge was comfortable and the hospitality outstanding. We were swept into Christmas preparations and rituals. A pinata was stuffed, bags of sweets prepared for the area children who were expected, and a toy selected for each one. Doug’s family members (his wife is Mexican from the area) and Tarahumara Indians came and went, all excited.

In the late afternoon, we set off for the small village called Cerocahui, about 20 minutes drive from the lodge. Doug stopped to pick up all the people, most Indians, he met along the road. They overflowed the SUV, sat stacked on one another, smiling and silent. When we reached the village, we all congregated in the church.

When mass was over, the crowd walked around the central plaza stopping along the way to sing the song that asks for lodging (the posada) for Mary and Joseph. The householders sang back that there was “no room at the inn” until the last house where they were welcomed to the manger. After a pinata was battered open by the children and the sweets distributed (they made sure the only foreigners, Lucile and me, received a share) we went back to the lodge.

Two twenty five pound turkeys were put on to roast, but it became obvious that the American Christmas dinner tradition was unclear at best.  And so it was that I made gravy for 120 people. The poor turkeys were not so much carved as torn apart and served with instant mashed potatoes and canned corn. The following day, I even introduced them to the old Dresden tradition, carcass soup. The children lined up for their presents, and the Indian women lined up to receive a blanket each. At this point Lucile I gave up and went to bed, but most people returned to the village for another mass and dancing. We were told they got to bed around 2:30 am.

The following (Christmas) day we boarded the train again and traveled to a town called Creel.  Creel is 8000′ and pretty cold, patches of ice and snow crunched underfoot. The landscape was similar to the High Sierra, but I gather the biodiversity is much greater; more species of pine trees, oaks and other plants. Rock formations, caves and waterfalls are found all around the countryside. Some Tarahumara live in the caves. Many houses are built of logs and rock looking like the Lincoln log buildings we made as children. Men on horseback on unpaved roads add to the Far Western look of the area. The hotel is also built of rock and log. It could have been in Montana.

With the exception of one group of men in the bar one night, and one Canadian, we were the only foreigners we saw the whole trip. The hotel was full, but all the guests were Mexican. It was fun to see middle class Mexican families enjoying their Christmas holidays. And they were so polite and gracious with us. Perhaps the novelty of seeing two elderly American women traveling alone was the reason, perhaps they are just culturally different, but we were treated with utmost courtesy. I think the fact that I could speak (basic, I’ve forgotten a lot) Spanish had something to do with it, too. A lot of people remarked on my efforts.

From Creel, we were supposed to travel seven hours down to the canyon floor to spend a day in a town called Batopilas. However, about two days previously there had been a storm, the town was partially destroyed and the roads washed out. We were advised not to go. So, we missed Batopilas. Our driver had some ideas, and it turned out that we spent the next three days in the area and saw some interesting sights. The first day (which would have been the day of the descent) we saw the Valleys of the Mushrooms, the Frogs and the Monks (all rock formations), cave dwellers, and had a picnic by the side of a mountain stream.

The second day we went to a resort town called Divisadero and took a thrilling cable car–finicular-teleferique trip across a section of the canyon. We could see into the depths, thousands of feet below, sheer rock walls all around us. Copper Canyon is six times larger than the Grand Canyon! We had lunch in a market set up along the train track after that. I should tell you that neither of us had any stomach trouble at all on the trip. The third day (which would have been the ascent) we went to a very old village and as it was Sunday, attended mass in an attractive old church. We were amused when one of the “hymns” was Jingle Bells.

Prior to our departure on this trip several people expressed concern about our safety. We never saw any evidence of danger, nor sensed tension. As I mentioned previously, aside from the one group of men in a bar, and one Canadian, we did not see any people other than Mexicans. Surely tourism is suffering and it is too bad. The trains were guarded, that is, two armed soldiers walked up and down the aisles from time to time. We saw several armed vehicles on the road, filled with soldiers, presumably on patrol. That was all. No one looked the least bit intimidated, or even interested in them.

On the way up to Creel there were few passengers on the train. On the way down, the train was very crowded. In order to get from our seat to the dining car we had to go through the bar. It was packed with revelers, singing, dancing and drinking. They treated us like delicate eggs, as the train swayed and rocked and jumped, they handed us along, person to person, with welcoming smiles and greetings. When we got to the dining car, they put us at the head of the line to be seated.

We traveled home on the 31st the way we came: El Fuerte, Los Mochis, Hermosillo, Phoenix, San Francisco. Again the frustration at not seeing El Fuerte. Despite that, we had a wonderful time. To a future traveller, I would recommend stocking up on 5 and 10 peso pieces for tips and Indian children.  Our 20 peso notes were too big.

A trip to Copper Canyon is one that I would recommend without hesitation.  Beautiful scenery, friendly people, comfortable train and hotels. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Carman Cunningham

We appreciate it when our guests share their stories with us and allow us to post them on our blog. Last month Tessa Godfrey, from Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire, England, traveled with us on our Copper Canyon 10-day Independent Tour to the Bottom.

The journey down from Creel to Batopilas was both hair-raising and amazing. Lovely day exploring Batopilas and walking up and down-stream from the village. Glorious drive back up to Creel. The rock formations of the “Valley of the Monks” were a wonderful surprise. I also very much enjoyed the trip to Urique with Doug Rhodes, a very interesting man. The view of the canyon from the hotel [at Divisadero], including the bedrooms, was magnificent.

I liked the balance between your organization and our freedom. The scenery [on the trip] was incredible and your arrangements were excellent.

Many thanks,

Tessa Godfrey

Copper Canyon Cave Dwellings

If you look carefully you can see many cave dwellings in the cliffs throughout Mexico's Copper Canyon. Many indigenous Tarahumara Indians still make their homes in these traditional lodgings.

We appreciate it when our guests share their stories with us and allow us to post them on our blog. Last month Jo Rawlins Gilbert, from Menlo Park, California, traveled with us on our Copper Canyon 10-day Independent Tour to the Bottom and had this to report:

Jo Rawlings Gilbert reports on Mexico trip, December 2012

Jo Rawlings Gilbert reports on Mexico trip, December 2012

Mexico’s Copper Canyon was the third choice for this year’s Holiday trip. Rejected was Ethiopia’s Afar Region and the Balkans (too dangerous or too cold!), so I was left scrambling. In a stack of possible excursions was a clip from the National Geographic about The California Native and the Copper Canyon.

The California Native had a a ten day independent tour to the bottom of the canyon, including train ride and accommodations. We paid extra for two trips into the canyon—one with Don Diego. the colorful American operating a lodge near Cerocahui and another via cable car from the canyon’s rim at Posada Barrancas. A slippery drive on a wet, partially completed road for a two day stay at Batopilas, a colorful. remote mining town, was included in the tour.

It turned out to be an excellent choice: a combination of walking and sightseeing in some of the most beautiful country in the world.

There were four of us, two Brits and two Americans, who had traveled together in various combinations over some five years. All ladies of a certain age. Last year it was Rajasthan and the year before, Oman. Three of us did a four day pretour stay in Mexico City—one had been there before and the other was conversant in Spanish.

We met our fourth member at the [Mexico City] airport where we all flew to Los Mochis, the jumping off point for the tour. We had arranged for an extra day in El Fuerte before boarding El Chepe, the Copper Canyon Railroad, famed for its twists and turns and tunnels as it winds up into the Sierra Madres. Our adventure began but without Walter Houston and Humphrey Bogart.

View of Copper Canyon near Batopilas

View of Copper Canyon near Batopilas (Photo by Jo Rawlins Gilbert)

We were met at the first stop by Doug (Don Diego) Rhodes who could certainly qualify as a Readers Digest, Most Unforgettable Character. Ex-Army, ex-NASA, ex-cop, ex-tour guide, he settled in the area twenty-two years ago and now runs a lodge, Paraiso del Oso, for visitors such as us. Affable and knowledgeable, he provides social services for many of the local Tarahumara families in the area. As I found out, he is known from one end of the Canyon to the other. We stayed two nights, spending a day down the road to Urique.

On to Posada Barrancas, on the edge of the canyon, every room with a spectacular view. One of us hiked, two of us did the cable car and adjacent walks and the fourth stayed abed with a cold. So from there to Creel where there was a clinic. Medication helped but even more so, the descent to Batopilas.

There, as at other stops, the local Indians were selling their handicrafts. Colorful and peaceful, there was no pressure to buy. Their work was excellent and we bought bits and pieces.

Batopilas was the charmer. A remote, colorful, small, mining town located on what may have been a stream, but now with the rains, was a full sized river; it was a high point of the trip. We walked to the Lost Cathedral and to the ruin of Alexander Shepherd’s Hacienda. Shepherd, a runaway from Washington, DC, bought the mine in the eighteen-eighties and built bridges, viaducts and a hydroelectric plant. From a look at his crumbling hacienda, he lived high on the hog. All in all, I walked some 15K while the others, who also went along the wet and muddy aqueduct, totaled 20 K.

The ride between Creel and Batopilas was extraordinary: partly paved but often wet dirt. En route, we stopped at various scenic spots: waterfalls, lakes and volcanic eruptions of old. The Valley of the Monks was high on the outstanding sights of the trip. Back at Creel for a night, there was time to walk about the small Mexican cow town.

Copper Canyon's Valley of the Monks

Copper Canyon's Valley of the Monks (Photo by Jo Rawlins Gilbert)

The train ride from Creel to Chihuahua was long and less scenic. Two of us took a included tour the next day, in and about Chihuahua while two others went about on their own—we met up for a mid afternoon meal, our final gathering as we all flew out the following morning. Chihuahua is a good sized city with mementos of both Indian and Spanish heritage. From the Cathedral to the Capital’s historical murals to Pancho Villa ‘s residence. Our guide took time and energy to make sure we appreciated Chihuahua’s past and present.

Accommodations: Ranged from Holiday Inn in Mexico City and Chihuahua and Best Western in Creel to the basic Paraiso del Oso near Bahuichivo and Hotel Juanita in Batopilas with Posada’s Hotel Mirador‘s spectactular views making up for its touristy ambiance. All different, a contrast with one another.

Food: Ah, that’s a different story. There were several really nice meals. This was not a gourmet’s journey—some of the meals were ok, some were suffered. But then, I avoid the nightshades which limits me. The cost of nearly half were included.

The tour: California Native did an excellent job of preparing and executing the tour. They rate an A+.

Comment: It is too bad that there were not more visitors. The local economy is suffering from lack of tourists. Apparently, fear of drug traffickers and personal safety issues keep people away. The Mexicans seem determined to keep the peace—cops of one kind or another were evident throughout. We certainly didn’t feel unsafe.

Cost: $1765 for the tour including the extra night at El Fuerte plus 190 Pesos apiece for trip to Urique. Approximately 200 Pesos for shared hotel room in Mexico City. Air fare San Francisco-Mexico City-Los Mochis; Chihuahua-SF was $856.47. Cat care: $650.

Jo Rawlins Gilbert

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