My Copper Canyon Adventure — Day 3

Cerocahui Christmas Morning, Urique Canyon Christmas Day

The following story was submitted to us by Kay Gililand who describes her experience traveling with friends through Mexico’s Copper Canyon during the Christmas holidays. In this entry, Kay learns how Christmas cheer spreads from the lodge in  Cerocahui to the village of Urique, deep in the valley below.

The California Native is always thrilled to have groups of friends join our trips to this charming region of Mexico. We appreciate it when our guests share their stories with us and we like to add them to our blog for everyone to enjoy. Excerpts from her journal will be posted regularly, so check back often to learn more about Kay’s 11-day Copper Canyon Adventure.

December 25, Thursday, Christmas Day

Jenny brought coffee from the lodge and made a fire. I wrote in my journal. The shower was nice and hot, breakfast was delicious including the bañuelos.  I turned them over and filled all the little spaces with cinnamon and sugar: delicious.  Laurie and Jenny helped stuff candy into a piñata. Children and parents began arriving and soon the piñata was swinging from a rope held by a boy on the roof. Diego started each child off and soon the piñata was broken and candy scattered out over a pile of children diving for it. Afterward Anna María handed out toys and toothbrushes and the children were delighted. The stuffed toys became prized possessions for each child and especially among the older girls.

We had a few minutes to get ready for a van ride to Urique Canyon. Along the way Diego picked up a man walking. We stopped at lookouts and then at a cave along the road. Diego Rhodes said at one time a family lived there, two parents and ten children. Now it is their shop and we bought baskets from a young girl inside the cave. It was my first basket purchase. The basket is made from the leaves of an agave plant and pine needles. We stopped at Mirador Cerro de Gallego, bought baskets, my second, and watched a family preparing and cooking goat meat. Later we visited that family in their home. From the lookout we could see our dirt road far below us with winding switchbacks clear to the bottom of the Urique Canyon.

As we approached the town we stopped to see a cemetery and then walked to Tortillerî Paulina Restaurant Plaza for a delicious lunch in an outdoor patio surrounded by flowers, other plants, and joyfully drunk people. We walked down the main street of town where trucks full of families lumbered toward an area near the Urique River. We turned back because of the dust and walked back up the main street. Young boys were driving four-wheelers up and down the street. By the time we got back toward town, people had cordoned off the central part of the street for a celebration. Diego drove back up the dirt road picking up those who were walking—a man, a family, some children—and dropping them off wherever they wanted at seemingly desolate places with no building in sight.

We stopped at the house of a Tarahumara family whom we had met at the lookout, Paula and Fabian. We saw their grain storage, the house, the fields of corn, some beans and melon, some apple trees, and the new room they had just built.

Back at the lodge, we had time to rest and write until 7:00 P. M. The five of us had a margarita together and then dinner: turkey and apple dressing. Off to bed afterwards, Jenny and I talked until late that night.

The California Native Announces Stimulus Package

With the economy being at its lowest point since the Great Depression, our government is trying to give it a jump-start with a number of stimulus packages. We at California Native are announcing our own stimulus package:
In Mexico's Copper Canyon, a young Tarahumara weaver modestly smiles.
We are giving a $100 discount to each person signing up for any of our trips to Mexico’s Copper Canyon. This offer applies to each person that you sign up, and you can join a small group tour or enjoy one of our independent adventures.

To qualify all you have to do is mention this offer at the time you sign up. Hurry, our stimulus package is valid only until April 15, 2009, but you can travel at any time. Yes You Can!

Pizza: The Universal Food

Traveling around the world, an important part of the experience is tasting the local cuisine. From Mexico to China, from Hungary to Bhutan, no trip is complete without sampling the regional specialties.

But on a long trip, after days or weeks of eating the local dishes, I always develop a craving for the universal comfort food—pizza. And so, I make it a part of each of my journeys to try the local pizza, the one food, besides a ham-and-cheese sandwich, that can be found almost everywhere.

In Mandalay, Myanmar (Burma), we found excellent pizza at the Rudyard Kipling Bar & Grill. In LeJiang, Yunnan Province, China, after many days of Chinese banquets for lunch and dinner, in spite of protests by our Chinese host, we headed for the nearest pizza parlor and enjoyed our pizza and beer feast.

Traveling through Thailand, we discovered excellent pizza was at the Slow Food Italian Restaurant in Chang Mei, where the proprietor, an Italian expat in a wheelchair, greeted each guest. All of his staff were also wheelchair bound or disabled.

On a dark and stormy night, in a remote corner of Mexico’s Sierra Madre Mountains, Doug Rhodes, the owner of the Paraiso del Oso Lodge, outside of the little village of Cerocahui, in Mexico’s Copper Canyon, proudly served us what he declared was the “best pizza in Northern Mexico.” Kerosene lanterns lighted the dining room and the pizza was covered in generous portions of olives, which my wife, Ellen, hates, and had great difficulty trying to remove in the dim light. I, however, tended to agree with Doug’s assessment.

Last year, while visiting Budapest, Hungary, we enjoyed the pizza at Al Capone’s, a chain of pizza parlors in Eastern and Western Europe, which is now owned by Australian pizza giant Domino’s Pizza.

Wherever in the world we go we are not that far from home when we can take a break from the ethnic food and enjoy a great pizza. My favorite toppings are ham, pineapple, mushrooms and olives. What are yours?

Copper Canyon: Which Direction is Best?

View from the Copper Canyon train as it crosses the Rio Fuerte.
View from the Copper
Canyon train as it crosses
high above the Rio Fuerte.

Guests often ask why we run our Copper Canyon trips from west to east, beginning in El Fuerte and ending in Chihuahua, instead of the opposite direction. The answer is simple: It’s the best way to enjoy the sights!

One of the highlights of touring Copper Canyon is the ride on the Chihuahua al Pacifico Railroad—the famous Copper Canyon train. One of the world’s most scenic train rides, the route climbs from sea level to over 8,000 feet, passing through 86 tunnels and crossing 37 bridges along the way.

The tracks run from Los Mochis to Chihuahua City. Every morning a train is scheduled to leave from Los Mochis at 6:00 a.m. for Chihuahua, while a second train is scheduled to depart Chihuahua for the trip to Los Mochis. Notice that I say scheduled—it is not unusual for either train to lose two to four hours along the way. The two trains travel the same route in opposite directions and pass each other along the way.

The most scenic portion of the train ride is between El Fuerte and Creel. Shortly after leaving El Fuerte Station the train abandons the lowlands of Sinaloa and begins its ascent into the Sierra Madre Mountains. The vegetation changes as the elevation climbs and the views of the mountains, rivers, waterfalls and Tarahumara Indian homesteads are spectacular. At one point the train enters a tunnel, makes a U-turn in the mountain, and exits the tunnel with the canyon on the other side.

The midpoint of the trip is just west of Creel, after crossing the continental divide. After that, the train descends and the track parallels the highway, passing through industrialized farmland until it finally arrives in Chihuahua City.

One of my favorite spots to photograph the train ride is while we are crossing the Rio Fuerte Bridge, the longest bridge on the route. With the morning sun reflecting off the water, it is just gorgeous! The eastbound train crosses this bridge around ten in the morning while the westbound train arrives there approximately eight at night—dark during most times of the year. Starting trips at El Fuerte allows you to see the most scenic portions of the train ride during daylight hours.

Sun and Snow in Mexico

The question most frequently asked by guests going on trips with The California Native to Mexico’s Copper Canyon or the Yucatan is, “What weather can I can expect?”

Having an idea of what the weather will be makes it much easier to pack. For those going to the Yucatan, packing is easy. Lightweight clothing (preferably from natural fibers), light-colors (they reflect the sun’s rays), and a  wide-brimmed hat (to protect your face and ears from the sun). And, of course, don’t forget your swim-suit!

If you are traveling to Copper Canyon, predicting the weather is a bit more difficult.  Mexico has three climate zones, tropical, temperate and cold, and the Copper Canyon tours traverse all three of them.

Upon arrival in the town of El Fuerte (around sea level), you can expect temps in the 70’s even in January. This changes dramatically as you climb high into the Sierra Madre Mountains to the town of Creel where elevations around 6500 feet can cool the air considerably. Expect frost in the early mornings from mid-October through the middle of March. It may even snow. Dress in layers. Avoid taking bulky overcoats—a comfortable jacket on a couple layers of long sleeves or a sweater should suffice. Don’t forget a pair of gloves. In the winter, if the day is sunny, you can expect the air to be mild (highs in the low 60’s). Don’t get too acclimated to the chillier air because from Creel, an excursion to the town of Batopilas in the bottom of the canyon brings you back to the heat of Mexico. It is a fact that the folks who live in Batopilas only acknowledge three seasons; summer, fall, and spring.

As winter approaches, people in the United States and Canada look to Mexico as a top vacation spot to escape the cold. Providing  respite from the temperatures in the higher latitudes, Mexico has long been a sun-lover’s paradise.  From the splendid heat and humidity of the Yucatan Peninsula, to the coastal climate at the tranquil town of La Paz, Mexico is renown for short sleeves, sandals, and sunscreen. But this time of year is also the perfect time to visit the wonders of Copper Canyon, with its scenery, cultural diversity and wide range of temperatures for everyone to enjoy.