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!

In Barkhor Square in the old section of Lhasa, Tibet, is the Jokhang Temple where Buddhist monks resided for almost a thousand years. For most Tibetans it is the most sacred and important temple in Tibet. The temple’s architectural style is a mixture of Indian Vihara, Chinese Tang Dynasty, and Nepalese.

First constructed by King Songtsän Gampo around the year 642, it was originally called the Rasa Tulnang Tsuklakang or The House of Mysteries, The Magical Emanation at Rasa (the early name for Lhasa). It is home to a large and very important collection of about eight hundred metal sculptures including Jowo Buddha, a statue that is said to have been blessed by the Buddha himself, as well as thousands of painted scrolls, known as thangkas.

Despite attacks in past centuries by the Mongols, and in more recent times by the radical Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution, the building survived and the temple complex was expanded. It now covers an area of about 6 acres.

The California Native has been leading tours to exotic destinations for more than 30 years and people are always asking us to name some of our favorites. One of them is this wonderful journey which begins in Beijing, China, travels through Tibet and hits its high point at Mount Everest Base Camp at the top of the world. California Native’s own Lee and Ellen Klein recently revisited this adventure which now includes a visit to Lhasa and the Jokhang Temple.

Buddhist monks walk the courtyard of Jokhang Temple

Buddhist monks walking in the courtyard of Jokhang Temple

Courtyard of Jokhang Temple

Courtyard of Jokhang Temple

Tibeten singing bowls

Tibetan singing bowls

Upper section of Jokhang Temple

Upper section of Jokhang Temple

Monks of Jokhang Temple

Monks of Jokhang Temple

Upper view of the Jokhang Temple courtyard

Upper view of the Jokhang Temple courtyard

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.

For more than a thousand years, the site known as the Three Pagodas has survived severe earthquakes, man-made and natural catastrophes. Made of brick and covered with white mud, the pagodas form a symmetric triangle. Unique among China’s ancient Buddhist architectures and a must-see for visitors to Yunnan province. The Three Pagodas are a national treasure of China.

The main pagoda, known as Qianxun Pagoda, was built during 823-840 AD by King Quan Fengyou. It stands 227 feet high and is one of the tallest pagodas in China. The other two sibling pagodas, built about one hundred years later, stand to the northwest and southwest of Qianxun Pagoda, and are 140 feet high.

According to local legends, before the humans arrived Dali was a swamp inhabited by breeding dragons who were believed to deliberately create natural disasters. The dragons revered pagodas, so the three pagodas were built to deter them.

You can visit the Three Pagodas, Dali City and other amazing sites on our 9-day Yunnan Explorer trip.

Three Pagodas of Chongsheng Temple

Three Pagodas of Chongsheng Temple

California Native's Lee & Ellen Klein standing in front of the Three Pagodas of Chongsheng Temple

California Native’s Lee & Ellen Klein standing in front of the Three Pagodas of Chongsheng Temple

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

 

One of the destinations we here at The California Native love to travel to is Mexico. On a recent trip to the Yucatan Peninsula, our own Lee Klein visited the archeological site of Tulúm.

Tulúm is the site of a Pre-Columbian Maya walled city which served as a major port for Cobá (large ruined city of the Pre-Columbian Maya civilization). The Maya site, formerly known by the name Zama (meaning City of Dawn), stands on a bluff 12-meters tall, along the east coast of the Yucatán Peninsula on the Caribbean Sea. Tulúm was one of the last cities inhabited and built by the Mayas; reaching it’s peak between the 13th and 15th centuries and surviving about 70 years after the Spanish began occupying Mexico. It appears diseases brought by the Spanish settlers were the cause of Tulúm’s demise. Today Tulúm is one of the best-preserved coastal Maya sites and a popular location for tourists.

You can visit both Tulúm and Cobá on our 7-day Exclusive Yucatan Adventure.

Lee Klein standing by "El Castillo" (The Castle)

Lee Klein standing by “El Castillo” (The Castle)

El Castillo (The Castle), the largest structure of Tulum

El Castillo (The Castle), the largest structure of Tulum

Side view of El Castillo (The Castle) and the Caribbean Sea.

Side view of El Castillo (The Castle) and the Caribbean Sea.

The Palace - the largest residential building in Tulum which was inhabited by the upper echelons (nobles, spiritual leaders) of Maya society.

The Palace – the largest residential building in Tulum which was inhabited by the upper echelons (nobles, spiritual leaders) of Maya society.

One of the most recognizable symbols of China is the Great Wall, which actually consists of numerous walls and fortifications, many running parallel to each other. Emperor Qin Shi Huang (c. 259-210 B.C.) originally conceived the wall as a means of preventing intrusion from barbarian nomads into the Chinese Empire. The Great Wall is one of the most extensive construction projects ever completed.

The Great Wall visible today largely dates from the Ming dynasty, when much of the wall was rebuilt in stone and brick, and portions were extended through challenging terrain. Some sections still remain in relatively good condition or have been renovated, while others have been damaged or destroyed, deconstructed for their building materials, or lost due to the ravages of time. For long an object of fascination for foreigners, the wall is now a revered national symbol and a popular tourist destination.

The California Native has been leading tours to exotic destinations for more than 30 years and people are always asking what our favorites are. One of our favorite trips is this wonderful journey which begins in Beijing, China, travels through Tibet and hits its high point at Mount Everest Base Camp at the top of the world. California Native’s own Lee & Ellen Klein recently revisited this adventure which now includes a visit to the Great Wall.

Lee & Ellen Klein at the Juyong Pass of the Great Wall

Lee & Ellen Klein at the Juyong Pass of the Great Wall

Visitors at the Juyong Pass of the Great Wall

Visitors at the Great Wall

Ellen Klein at the Juyong Pass of the Great Wall

Ellen Klein at the Juyong Pass of the Great Wall

 

We appreciate it when our guests share their stories with us and allow us to post them on our blog. Jan Okumura, from Placerville, CA, wrote us this short letter about her recent bicycle adventure in Ireland:

The bike tour was incredible and met my expectation for challenging and beautiful rides. The people in the group were far more interesting than I expected. We cycled through amazingly beautiful country scenery. I loved the challenging rides. I greatly enjoyed the tour guide. It also, turned out to be a fabulous group of people on the bike tour. The weather was great! Our guide Danny was great. He was very helpful and had a delightful sense of humor. He was, also, an extremely knowledgeable person which made for great dinner table conversation. Danny was truly wonderful, I got such a kick out of him. The people in my group and the amount of time that we spent with our guide. The accommodations far exceeded my expectations. The owners of the B&B’s were wonderful. I extended my trip for 5 weeks and fell in love with the Irish people and the country’s amazing geography!

Jan Okumura
Placerville, CA

 

Bicycling through the beautiful Irish countryside.

Bicycling through the beautiful Irish countryside.

One of the many highlights of our California Native China, Tibet, Mount Everest Adventure is a visit to the city of Xi’an to see the world famous Terracotta Army.

The Terracotta Army is an amazing collection of terracotta sculptures depicting the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China. The figures were buried with the emperor in 210–209 BC to protect him in his afterlife.

The figures were discovered in 1974 by local farmers in Lintong District, Xi’an, Shaanxi province, dating from approximately the late third century BC. Each figure varies in height according to their roles including warriors, chariots and horses, the tallest being the generals. Three pits have been discovered containing the Terracotta Army estimated at holding more than 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses, the majority of which remain in buried pits located by Qin Shi Huang’s mausoleum. Other pits have been discovered including terracotta non-military figures–officials, acrobats, strongmen and musicians.

Terracotta Warrior restored to it's original color.

Terracotta Warrior restored to it’s original color.

Other statues were part of the Terracotta Army including war horses and carriages.

Other statues were part of the Terracotta Army including war horses and carriages.

Side view of the Terracotta Army in one of the pits still being excavated.

Side view of the Terracotta Army in one of the pits still being excavated.

More than 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses have been discovered.

More than 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses have been discovered.

Discovered in 1974, China's Terracotta Warriors are regarded as one of the most significant archeological discoveries of the 20th century.

Discovered in 1974, China’s Terracotta Warriors are regarded as one of the most significant archeological discoveries of the 20th century.

We appreciate it when our guests share their stories with us and allow us to post them on our blog. Penny Mackrory and Heather Bullen, from Mogale City, South Africa, wrote us this short letter about their recent adventure in the Yucatan:

Hello Dave

We are back from out trip to Mexico and had a wonderful time.  Thank you for your wonderful organisation.  We enjoyed the food, hotels and everything on the itinerary.  The arrangement in Mexico were excellent.  Please thank your team there for all they did to make out team a success. I have now achieved my seven wonders dream and will have to decide on a new bucket list.

Thank you all at the Californian Native

Penny Mackrory and Heather Bullen
Mogale City, South Africa

"El Castillo", Chichen Itza

El Castillo is a Mesoamerican step-pyramid that dominates the center of the Chichen Itza archaeological site in the Mexican state of Yucatán.

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

Colors set our mood and add an important dimension to our feelings and memories of the places we visit. I thought it might be fun to group some of the photos from our library of California Native images by their predominant colors. Our first collection was based on the color yellow.

This, our second collection is based on the color blue. Blue is the color of the sky and the ocean. It symbolizes trust, loyalty, wisdom, confidence, intelligence, faith, and truth.

“Somewhere over the rainbow, skies are blue, and the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true”—Lyman Frank Baum

“Mozart has the classic purity of light and the blue ocean”—Henri-Frédéric Amiel, 18th century Swiss philosopher

Beautiful, blue Agua Azul falls, located 40 miles from the Mayan ruins of Palenque, in the Mexican state of Chiapas, tumble down from the jungle in a series of cascades where they have carved out delighful limestone swimming holes.

blue-agua-azul

Photographed from an aircraft, the dark blue hues of Mount Popocatépetl, located in central Mexico, are highlighted by the blue sky just before sunset. Popocatépetl, which can be seen from Mexico City is a very active volcano, whose last eruption was just last year (May, 2013).

blue-popocatepetl

Wearing blue aprons and caps, Chinese ladies go home from work in Yunnan Province.

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Falls cascade down into the refreshing lagoon in Venezuela’s Canaima National Park.

venezuela-canaima
patagonia-glacier

The blue of this Patagonian glacier looks almost unreal as it glistens in the sunlight near the bottom of the world.

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.

We appreciate it when our guests share their stories with us and allow us to post them on our blog. Last week, Jean Dook who lives in Almeria, Spain, returned from our California Native adventure in Costa Rica and wrote:

We had a fantastic time. I don’t know how you do it! Every connection, transfer, and trip arrived and delivered. Never had to make a call to check anything. Now I think that this is VERY GOOD given how many things seem to go wrong when I book a flight from Spain to UK.!!!!!! I have told everyone who will listen how good you are.

It’s hard to pick out a highlight from our trip, we all loved different things, the young people loved the zip lines in Monteverde, couldn’t drag them away. (I enjoyed it too but the zip lines in Copper Canyon [are hard to beat]).

For me Tortuguero was the highlight, loved the hotel and the riviera. All guides excellent, kind, caring and very knowledgeable. All spoke good English but is was nice for me to chat in Spanish, so much easier than here in Spain where everyone talks so fast. We saw a sloth with a baby, a spider monkey crossing the river with her baby, and a large group of howlers, who were as interested in us as we were in them, and so many other wonderful things.

We changed a horse riding trip for a paddle down the river and coffee with a local family, that was a highlight for many of us. The hot springs were an unexpected success with us all, after the long trip sitting in the rain in those springs was mind blowing.

The start of my trip alone was great fun on the white water rafting, wonderful day, wish I had booked the two day trip. Great people who took care of this old lady really well. Hotel Santo Tomas was a super hotel for us all but I loved it when I was alone—it had the personal touch. I could see the Holiday Inn and was so pleased not to be there. I thought San Jose was underrated in the books—I loved it.

I want to go back, cannot remember when I last said that about a trip (oh yes, it was Copper Canyon) but I would like to see the same things at the end of the rainy season when the rivers will be high and everything different. I loved the rain, it’s very dry where I live. I may not find another friend to go with me, words getting around about long days and rough roads!!!!!! I live 30 minutes from a tourist beach so want something different. Costa Rica is so beautiful.

Thank you all very much and look forward to traveling with you again.

Jean Dook
Almeria, Spain

Costa Rica Rafting

An exciting day rafting down the Reventazon River in Costa Rica’s rain forest.

Arenal volcano in Costa Rica

California Native travelers pose nearby Costa Rica’s Arenal volcano.

We appreciate it when our guests share their stories with us and allow us to post them on our blog. Last summer, Bonnie Brunt from Spokane, Washington, enjoyed our tour to Chiapas and Yucatan.

I wanted to write you a quick note to let you know how thoroughly this trip surpassed my expectations. It really was a magical trip for all of us—one that we will never forget—and much of that was due to the services of our amazing tour guide Javier. He really was a great match for our group of bright, professional, well-traveled women. His knowledge of the Mayan civilization and culture was profound, his passion for the subject deep, and his explanations, articulate. He was extremely professional and personable (good-natured, kind, sensitive to the needs and desires of the group). In addition, he was really good at organizing our time such that we were in the right places at the right time, taking into consideration the weather, the size of the crowds, etc.  We just could not have been more happy with him.

Thanks for all you did to make this trip so special for all of us!

Bonnie Brunt
Dean, Visual & Performing Arts
Spokane Falls Community College

 Flamingos in Yucatan, Mexico

Flamingos flock at an estuary near the beach at Progreso, Yucatan.

Misol Ha Falls in Chiapas, Mexico

Misol Ha Falls in Chiapas, Mexico

Exploring the Mayan ruins of Palenque

Exploring the Mayan ruins of Palenque

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.

Costa Rica's Monteverde Cloud Forest

Eerie, fog-enshrouded and peaceful, Costa Rica’s Monteverde Cloud Forest is well worth visiting.

Eerie, mysterious, yet peaceful, strolling through Costa Rica‘s Monteverde cloud forest is a memorable experience. The trees are almost entirely covered by mosses, ferns, and epiphytes—plants which grow on other plants but cause no harm to their hosts. The fog enshrouded scene is brightened only by the brightly colored orchids which grow high up into the canopy.

A great number of plant and animal species, many unique to this delicate environment, live in the cloud forest—most impressive of all is the Resplendent Quetzal, which looks more like the product of a papier-maché piñata factory than a living creature. Predominately green, the Quetzal has a brilliant red breast, a helmetlike crest, and remarkably long streamers for tail feathers.

Monteverde was first settled in the 1950’s by a group of pacifist Quakers from Alabama who migrated to Costa Rica to escape serving in the military of the United States. Located high up in the mountains on Costa Rica’s continental divide, it has been internationally acclaimed for its conservation efforts.

To visit Monteverde, you must travel two hours up a 25 mile steep, unpaved road. Efforts to pave the road have been vehemently opposed by members of the community, who believe that by making access to the area a little difficult they limit visitors to those who are environmentally conscious and truly interested in what this unique area has to offer. It’s well worth the drive.

We appreciate it when our guests share their stories with us and allow us to post them on our blog. Last summer, Mardis Nenno from Spokane, Washington traveled with us to Chiapas and Yucatan and had this to report:

I want to thank you for providing an excellent tour. The six of us were impressed by the scope of the itinerary, the variety of experiences and the professional way in which the tour was conducted. The accommodations were well chosen and very comfortable.

We so enjoyed the luxury of sitting back and relaxing as each new day unfolded. And each day brought a new adventure — thanks to our wonderful guide, Javier. His knowledge of Maya history, architecture and culture is extensive and his fluency in English is remarkable. He was patient, unhurried and always courteous. He went out of his way to make sure that we had a positive experience and came away with a deeper knowledge of the Maya people’s past and their lives today.

This was a trip I’ll never forget. I had an extraordinary experience in Chiapas and Yucatan and hope to return to continue to study and improve my Spanish! In a very significant way the success of it was due to the excellent service and professionalism provided by CalNative.

Best Regards,

Mardis Nenno
Instructor, Fine Arts
School of Design and Construction
Spokane Falls Community College

Agua Azul Falls in Chiapas

Beautiful Aqua Azul Falls in the Mexican state of Chiapas are located 40 miles from the ruins of the ancient Mayan city of Palenque.

Weaver in Chiapas

A young lady weaves patterns on a hand loom in Mexico’s state of Chiapas

Market in San Cristobal de las Casas

Sunday is market day in the lovely town of San Cristobal de las Casas in Mexico’s Chiapas state.

The Mayan archaeological site of Yaxchilan

The Mayan archaeological site of Yaxchilan is accessed by a boat ride up the Usumacinto River which is the border between Mexico and Guatemala.

A few weeks ago, as guests of the Mexican Tourist Board, we traveled to the city of Merida, the capital of the Mexican state of Yucatan, to attend the 5th Annual Feria Turistica del Mundo Maya, Mayan World Tourism Fair, a trade show which featured tourism vendors from the area that once was the Mayan Empire. Now this rain forested terrain encompasses Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador and Honduras and the Mexican states of Yucatán, Tabasco, Campeche, Quintana Roo and Chiapas.

We met with regional tour operators, tourism boards, hoteliers and other vendors, and visited many sites where we had not previously explored.

New to us was the Mayan archaeological site of Dzibilchaltun, a lesser visited site not far from Merida which was inhabited since around 500 B.C. We climbed around its temple, plaza and other structures, and were quite impressed with its museum of artifacts from throughout the Mayan world.

We then traveled to the town of Palenque, in the state of Chiapas. After driving through the jungle we boated up the Usumacinta River to the ruins of Yaxchilan, capital of one of the most powerful Maya states in the region and a rival to Palenque and Tikal. The site contains many impressive ruins, with palaces and temples bordering a large plaza above the Usumacinta River. Throughout the ruins are impressive hieroglyphics depicting the history of the kingdom.

South of Yaxchilan, on the border of Guatemala, we explored the ruins of Bonampak, another Mayan city, noted for its vivid 8th century murals.

In the near future we will be offering these Mayan sites as add-on options to our Yucatan adventures.

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

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