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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:


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, 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.


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.

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. 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

A little holiday snow in the high country of Mexico's Copper Canyon creates a perfect Christmas Card.

A little holiday snow in the high country of Mexico's Copper Canyon creates a perfect Christmas Card.

Please join us and celebrate this year’s holidays in Mexico’s Copper Canyon. We still have some spaces left on our Christmas/New Years Ultimate Copper Canyon tour where we will celebrate a special Christmas with the Tarahumara Indians at the Paraiso del Oso Lodge.

On December 23rd, our small group departs from Los Angeles and Phoenix airports for an exciting tour into Mexico’s Sierra Madre. The 11-day Ultimate tour spends nights in El Fuerte, Cerocahui, Divisadero, Creel, Batopilas, and Chihuahua. As with all of our Copper Canyon tours, we ride the Chihuahua al Pacifico Railroad for one of the most spectacular train rides in the Western Hemisphere.

A Tarahumara church deep in Copper Canyon.

A Tarahumara church deep in Copper Canyon.

Participants will have the opportunity to enjoy a special Christmas Eve known as Noche-bueno (the Good Night), a delicious dinner at the Paraiso del Oso, and Ana Maria’s famous Christmas punch. Those wishing to join the Tarahumara Indians and mestizo community may attend the midnight mass, also known as La Misa del Gallo (Rooster’s Mass). Traditional Tarahumara dancing usually starts an hour or two before the mass, then recommences afterwards to make it an all-night celebration. As an old Spanish saying goes, “Esta noche es Noche-Buena, y no es noche de dormir” (Tonight is the Good Night, and it is not meant for sleeping).

A light snow paints Mexico's Copper Canyon in holiday colors.

A light snow paints Mexico's Copper Canyon in holiday colors.

As Christmas morning arrives, the celebration moves back to the Oso Lodge where local Tarahumara, who live in isolated ranchitos in the rugged mountains surrounding the lodge, join the hotel guests for the piñata party. The children take turns swinging at the Christmas piñata until it explodes, showering candy and small toys. The hotel is filled with laughter and glee as the children scramble to collect their treasures. Then gifts from under the Christmas tree are handed out. As the locals return to their mountain ranchitos, The California Native guests prepare for a beautiful day trip to the bottom of Urique Canyon. In the evening after the excursion, guests enjoy a special holiday dinner.

In a few days, it will be time to welcome in the year 2013, and we’ll join the New Year’s Eve celebrations in the city of Chihuahua.

Some other highlights of this tour are the Cusarare and Basaseachic waterfalls, a day trip to the village of Urique, the “Lost Cathedral of Satevo,” a trip back in time to the village of Batopilas, and magnificent vista points which overlook a whole series of intertwined “barrancas” (canyons).

Want to celebrate Christmas in Copper Canyon but can’t take the full 11-days for your winter vacation? We also have an 8-day trip which departs on December 21.

To be a part of this year’s celebration and enjoy this truly unique experience, call us at 1-800-926-1140 (or 1-310-642-1140) to make your reservations now as time is running out. Happy holiday season to all of our fellow travelers.

Young Tarahumara girls play at school in Mexico's Copper Canyon.

Young Tarahumara girls play at school in Mexico's Copper Canyon.

Lee at a Mayan ruin in Mexico's Yucatan.

California native founder, Lee Klein, at a Mayan ruin in Mexico's Yucatan. What a way to make a living.

This June we are celebrating our 30th Anniversary—30 years of leading fantastic trips to exotic destinations around the world.

This anniversary comes as a proud moment for our company’s founder, Lee Klein, who continues to scout new locations world-wide in search of new destinations for the active traveler. Klein, who holds an MBA in Management and a BS in International Marketing, spent more than two decades as a corporate manager and college professor until, in 1983, while climbing Ayer’s Rock in the Australian Outback, he decided to drop out of the corporate world, take off his suit and tie, and create an adventure travel company based on the lessons he taught his students on how to succeed in business: “keep the quality high, keep it affordable, and treat people the way you would like to be treated.”

Lee and Ellen on Patagonia's Perito Moreno Glacier.

Lee and Ellen Klein hiking on Patagonia's Perito Moreno Glacier.

The initial offering from The California Native was a tour billed as “The Other Los Angeles.” This day-long excursion traced the route of the San Andreas Fault from the Mojave Desert to the San Gabriel Mountains without ever leaving Los Angeles County. The tours became so popular that colleges in three California counties offered them as part of their community-education programs. From this, the company expanded its offerings to include tours to the Channel Islands, Death Valley, Yosemite, and other uniquely California destinations, as well as white-water rafting, ballooning, spelunking (caving), sailplane gliding, and other outdoor adventures. “My family has lived in Los Angeles for generations,” writes Klein in the company newsletter, “hence the name The California Native.”

California Native founder, Lee Klein, rappelling in Argentina

Lee rappelling in Argentina. Hey, this is research.

Satisfying the growing client base led to the development of The California Native’s most popular destination—Mexico’s Copper Canyon. These escorted and independent tours feature the Chihuahua al Pacifico Railroad (labeled as one of the most spectacular train rides in the western hemisphere) and highlight one of the most primitive indigenous cultures still subsisting in North America—the Tarahumara Indians. The California Native has become a leading source of information on this remote area and the company and it’s guides are known throughout the area for their work with the Tarahumara.

Today, The California Native offers a wide selection of tours to destinations including Costa Rica, Yucatan, Patagonia, Peru, the Galapagos, Ireland, Bhutan, Myanmar, and China, and more destinations are in the planning stages.

The Tarahumara Indians of Mexico’s Copper Canyon have long been acknowledged as the world’s greatest long distance runners. Their reputation was recently popularized by the May 2009 publication of Christopher McDougall’s book “Born to Run.” Much of the book focuses on the exploits of Micah True, an American runner who spent a good deal of time running with the Tarahumara and founding the Copper Canyon ultra-marathon race in the bottom of the canyon. In March of 2012 True, known in the canyons as “Caballo Blanco,” died on a solo run in New Mexico’s Gila Wilderness. As a tribute to True, we asked our good friend Doug Rhodes, an American outdoor adventurer, owner of Copper Canyon’s Paraiso del Oso Lodge and long-time resident of Mexico’s Sierra Madre, to share some of his memories of “Caballo Blanco” with us.

The following is a collection of a remembrances, sort of the way Micah was, all jumbled up.

Riding my mule towards Batopilas many years back, I encountered a goofy looking gringo wearing running shorts about the size of my bandanna. Bare-chested and running in the hot sun, my suspicions of this guy’s sanity were confirmed when he introduced himself as the “Caballo Blanco” (White Horse) and let out a whinny to prove it. Little did I realize then that guy and I would share trails, tears, and experiences and that we would become friends, indeed, more than friends.

One of my favorite recollections is when he asked to join us heading to our ranch at Los Alisos from Batopilas. We’d just finished a pack trip and had a small herd of horses to take across the mountains. Little did we realize that the lead horse would be this long-legged gringo known as Caballo Blanco. Now, our prize Appaloosa “Andy” is the Alpha or lead horse of the pack, a critter not known to take second place to anyone. Imagine our surprise when Andy fell in behind Micah, trotting down the trail with Micah in the lead, Andy right behind Micah and all the other horses trotting behind them. Micah kept looking back over his shoulder at the pack. When he zigged, the horses zigged as they did when he zagged or slowed down. It was an unbelievable sight; we nearly fell out of our saddles laughing.

Tarahumara Runners

Tarahumara runners in Mexico's Copper Canyon.

Another time Prospero Torres and I sponsored a faina to work on the trail above Los Alisos. (Note: A faina is a communal work project with food, fermented corn tesguino, and sometimes dancing after the work is finished.) Micah showed up and worked hard all day alongside the Tarahumara men. That night he ate as usual, like a horse. Then the dancing started, Micah could not quite get a hang on the traditional dancing so, as was his habit, he just did his own thing, a sort of 1920s type thing where one places their hands on their knees, brings the knees together and swaps positions of the hands over the knees. His dancing embarrassed the heck out of me but the Tarahumara laughed and loved it. Micah had a way of doing the strangest things and getting people to love him for it.

Back about 2001 or so, Micah got the wild idea of starting a marathon from Urique to Batopilas to get the Tarahumara people running again and, knowing him, just for the fun of it. Several of us helped him out as we could but most of the funding came out of Micah’s pocket and set the trend for future races. Micah never had much; material things seemed not to matter to him, but he shared what he had with friends and for what he believed in and he sure believed in his race.

The May 2009 publication of the book “Born to Run” catapulted both Micah and his race to virtual legendary status.

Doug “Diego” Rhodes

Tarahumara lady and baby in Mexico's Copper Canyon

The Tarahumara inhabit the same region they have for centuries—the rugged Sierra Madre of northern Mexico, known as Copper Canyon.

A recent post on the blog “never stop traveling, the source for travelers 50 and beyond,” listed the top tourism destinations in Mexico, as reported by the Mexico Tourism Board.

They noted that although there has been much coverage by the US media of the crime situation in some areas of Mexico, millions of US and Canadian citizens visit Mexico each year, and many live there year-round.

Among the destinations listed as Top Ten are Copper Canyon, Yucatan and Chiapas, all places which The California Native has specialized in for the past thirty years. We would love for you to join us.

A young Tarahumara boy is all dressed up for Easter in Mexico's Copper Canyon

A young Tarahumara boy is all dressed up for the Easter ceremonies in Mexico's Copper Canyon

Easter is fast approaching and one of the most colorful and interesting places to celebrate is in Mexico’s Copper Canyon. The sleepy small towns are full of tourists—both Mexican and foreign—who have come to see the Easter celebrations of the Tarahumara Indians. The Tarahumara are outwardly Catholic, but their version of Catholicism is unlike any form we are familiar with.

Of all the religious ceremonies throughout the year, The Easter celebrations are the most important. Hundreds of men, women, and children converge on the local church from villages as far away as fifteen miles. These celebrations are for socializing and having a good time, but the Indians also expect their efforts to please God so that He will give them long lives, abundant crops, and healthy children.

To read the whole story behind these celebrations and traditions, Click here.

The celebrations begin on the Saturday prior to Palm Sunday, with speeches and ritualized dances. The Pharisees, their bodies smeared with white earth, and the Soldados dance to the beating of drums and the melody of reed whistles. About midnight, a mass is held in the church. Shortly after sunrise, bowls of beef stew, stacks of tortillas and tamales and bundles of ground, parched maize, are lifted to the cardinal directions, allowing the aroma to waft heavenward to be consumed by God. The food is then distributed among the people. At mid-morning the Soldados and Pharisees set up wooden crosses marking the stations of the cross, a mass is held, and the priest leads a procession around the churchyard, with the participants carrying palm branches.

Tarahumara men celebrate Easter in Mexico's Copper Canyon

Tarahumara men dance around a fire as part of the Easter celebrations in Mexico's Copper Canyon

Three days later, on Holy Wednesday, the ceremonies resume, and for the next three days there are processions around the church, to protect the church and, by extension, God and God’s wife.

On the afternoon of Good Friday, the Pharisees appear with three figures made of wood and long grasses representing Judas, Judas’s wife, and their dog. Judas and his wife wear Mexican-style clothing and display their oversized genitalia prominently. The Pharisees and Soldados parade the figures around the church, dancing before them. The Pharisees then hide the figures away for the night.

On Saturday morning, the Soldados and Pharisees engage in wrestling matches, battling symbolically for control of Judas. The Soldados then take possession, shoot arrows into the three figures and set them afire. The people retire to continue the celebrations at the many tesguino drinking parties.

In Mexico's Copper Canyon, a Tarahumara man helps his wife with her chores.

In the 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 tours to Copper Canyon for almost 30 years.

Anthropologist Carl Lumholtz predicted that the Tarahumara Indians would disappear within a century. A hundred years later, these gentle people, who inhabit Mexico’s Copper Canyon, continue to be the most populous indigenous group in northern Mexico.

Spanish explorers had entered the Sierra Madre Mountains by the mid-16th century. Gold and silver were soon discovered and mines began operating. The Indians were pressed into the labor force, often enduring the harshest conditions.

The Jesuits established their first mission pueblo in 1611. Although many attempted to ease the burden of the Indians, a great deal of prejudice existed. An early Jesuit wrote, “They are inclined to idleness, drunkenness and other vices. They are ungrateful, dull and stupid…very cunning and alert in evil things…They have no sense of personal honor nor the honor of their daughters.”

Forced to live in artificially-created communities, the Indians were susceptible to a variety of diseases, and epidemics swept the area. As the demand for labor increased, the Spanish raided the mission pueblos. The Jesuits managed to protect some of their charges, but many Tarahumara fled, hiding deep in Copper Canyon. The expulsion of the Jesuits from the Americas, in 1767, ended their efforts to protect the Indians, and the Franciscans, who succeeded them, were not as effective.

Mexico attained independence in 1821 and soon established huge land grants in Tarahumara country. The Indians were uprooted again, and fled, often onto lands of other indigenous people. Fighting often resulted.

The Revolution of 1910-21 resulted in the re-creation of the pre-hispanic communal landholding system known as the ejido. The Tarahumara received some benefits from this, as much of this land has economic potential for lumbering, agriculture, and tourism. Around 60,000 Tarahumara still inhabit caves and simple dwellings in Copper Canyon.

The California Native has for many years assisted these people, donating clothing, school supplies and money. Some of our travelers have returned to volunteer in local clinics. Tourism is a positive factor, and visitors gain a new appreciation for these noble people who have survived and thrived despite Lumholtz’ dire predictions.

Since 2003,  runners have traveled to the depths of Mexico’s Copper Canyon to participate in a 50-mile foot race. This has now become an annual March event, known as the Copper Canyon Ultra Marathon (an ultra is longer than the usual 26.2 miles of a regular marathon).

The races are organized by “Caballo Blanco,” a gringo who has for years lived among the Tarahumara, or Raramuri (the running people), of Copper Canyon. The race begins in the canyon-bottom town of Urique. The participants are  taken on hikes along the trails that will be the race course days later. On race day, almost the whole town gathers to cheer on the racers—both the gringos (a group that gets larger every year) and the local Tarahumara, wearing their very “technical” footware—thin sandals made from old tires. The course features three loops of 18, 22 and 10 miles of difficult terrain that begin and end in the town. In this year’s race, which was held on March 6, only two gringos finished in the top 10.

While the Raramuri run from their homes and caves in the mountains to Urique, many make their way to the race by way of Paraiso del Oso near Cerocahui, also a stop on California Native’s popular trips to Copper Canyon.

Tarahumara Indian lady and children in Copper CanyonDeep in the heart of Mexico’s Sierra Madres, in the town of Creel, the center of Copper Canyon country, is the clinic of Santa Teresita. The lives of thousands of Tarahumara Indian children have been saved here because of the dreams and dedication of one man, Father Luis Verplancken.

Father Verplancken was a Jesuit priest who first visited the Tarahumaras in the late 1950s. He saw a great need for health care for these Indians who inhabit this remote area of mountains and canyons. At the time their children had an alarmingly high mortality rate.

Verplancken put his ideas into action by starting a traveling health care facility, housed in a 4-wheel drive station wagon. He quickly discovered that a little help went a long way—one dollar’s worth of penicillin, for example, could treat hundreds of children.

The word spread and by 1964, Verplancken and his volunteers received enough donations to establish a small hospital in an old railroad warehouse. The demand for medical care was so great that some Tarahumaras walked three days from their remote villages to reach the hospital.

A major obstacle that both the town and the hospital faced was the lack of a dependable water supply. With the help of more donations, a pipeline was built from the nearest fresh water source, which was four miles away over extremely harsh terrain. Three handcrafted pumping stations had to be constructed to lift the water 600 feet up to the level of the town. For the first time, Creel and the hospital had a dependable supply of fresh water.

In the mid-1970s, plans were drawn for a more modern hospital. With the help of his nephew, who was studying architecture at the time, Verplancken designed what today is known as the clinic of Santa Teresita. This clinic was literally “hand-made.” Along with a dedicated group of volunteers, Father Verplancken quarried the stone, crafted the brick and cut the trees.

The clinic opened in 1979, and houses a seventy-bed hospital with x-ray and laboratory facilities, a pharmacy, dental facilities and an outpatient clinic.

After 52 years of service to the Tarahumara community, Father Verplanken died of cancer, but the clinic lives on.

Today, the clinic still depends on volunteers and donors. Over 90% of the services and medications are provided free of cost, and the remainder are provided to the local residents at a token fee.

Many guests on California Native Copper Canyon tours have visited the clinic and donated money, medicines and supplies. One woman, after returning from a recent trip, sent four sets of crutches that she purchased at a garage sale in the United States.

Tarahumara Indians celebrate Easter in Copper Canyon, Mexico.Now is the time to book your trip for Easter in Mexico’s Copper Canyon. The Easter, or Semana Santa, celebrations of the Tarahumara Indians make this time the high season of the year. Small towns which are sleepy most of the year are now alive with celebrations, 24-hours a day. The Tarahumara, who call themselves the Raramuri, celebrate for a week, with dancing, parades, bon fires, ceremonies in the churches and much drinking of tesguino, the Indians traditional corn liquor.

To begin to understand the Tarahumara ceremonies, one has to have a basic understanding of the Indians’ religion. Read our story about this unusual version of Catholicism practiced by these colorful cave-dwelling people.

California Native guest purchases crafts in Mexico's Copper Canyon

A California Native guest purchases crafts from a Tarahumara weaver in Mexico

Visitors to the Copper Canyon area are always pleasantly surprised by the wide variety of craftsware and folk art available for purchase. The remote life and character of the Tarahumara Indians has fostered a tradition of crafts making as a part of their life-style.

While traveling through the region you will find very inexpensively priced baskets, belts, dolls, pottery and musical instruments.

The baskets are made out of the leaves of the agave as well as pine needles and range in size from tiny to large. Visitors purchasing baskets find that they can pack them one inside the other to conserve space during their trip. Once at home, the baskets of pine needles hold their scent of pine forests and become a wonderful reminder of the trip, and they are utilitarian as well as beautiful. The Tarahumara pottery is quite sturdy and is designed to be more functional then decorative.

Music is an important part of the Indians daily living and also plays an important roll in their ceremonies and festivals. Their musical instruments include violins, drums and wooden flutes. They learned the art of violin making from the Spaniards in the 18th century.

Carved wooden dolls dressed in typical Tarahumara fashion are for sale in a variety of sizes and portray the various activities of Tarahumara life—mothers wearing shawls while carrying babies on their backs, ladies weaving on hand-looms, and men carrying tools or musical instruments and wearing their traditional headgear.

Crafts can be purchased from the Indians who set up their merchandise on rocks along the trails and in all sorts of unlikely nooks and crannies. Crafts are also available in stores, and one that we recommend is the Mission Store in Creel, located right on the town square. Profits go to the hospital which serves the Tarahumara Indians.

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