Join Us and Celebrate the Holidays in Copper Canyon

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.

30 Years of Adventures With The California Native

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.

Copper Canyon’s Gringo Runner

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

Never Stop Traveling

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.

It’s Time to Plan that Easter Trip to Copper Canyon, Mexico!

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.

Still Here and Doing Fine, Thank You!

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.

Running at the Bottom of Copper Canyon

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.

In Copper Canyon, The Doctor is In

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.

Join Us for Easter in Copper Canyon

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.

A Tisket A Tasket a Copper Canyon Basket

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.