I’ve just returned from the Copper Canyon area of Mexico’s Chihuahua state, where I: saw a couple of Chihuahuas; discovered that my lispy Castillian Spanish is useless in Mexico (especially after not having spoken it for nearly 12 years); along with Catherine and her dad, came perilously close to buying 3 gallons of premium tequila in plastic jugs; put my life in the hands of our hired driver as he ferried us into and out of Batopilas Canyon on the longest state-maintained dirt road I’ve ever seen; dragged myself on foot from the Chihuahua train station to our hotel at 11pm on a Saturday night because we miscalculated the cost of the slowest train ride on the planet and had only 30 pesos; and sprinted through US immigration and customs in Houston Intercontinental Airport to the gate for my domestic flight home and stopped to buy a newspaper and water, all in 45 minutes. The people at the gate seemed surprised I made the flight. And the guy in seat 12D was pretty uncertain that I could heft up my suitcase into the overhead compartment without causing minor head trauma to him. Oh they of little faith!
So, I was expecting something grander than the Grand Canyon; everything I’d read (which I will admit was limited to my Frommer’s Mexico 2008 guidebook and whatever came up from a “Copper Canyon” Google search query) stated that the Copper Canyon system was longer and deeper than the Grand Canyon. What these articles neglected to say is that the fauna/vegetation is different. There are trees and brush leading up to and into the canyons. Like the Grand Canyon, indigenous people, in this case those who call themselves the Raramuri — meaning “those who run fast” and butchered by the Spanish as “Tarahumara” — inhabit the area, move into the canyon in the winter for warmth and up on the plateau in the summer.
My new dream job, by the way, is national park planner for a developing tourist economy. Accurate maps were few and far between, especially for hiking. This blindness almost necessitated guides, and even then, I got the sense the guides thought we were nuts for wanting to do things like a point-to-point hike at one waterfall, rather than hike out on the same trail on which we came in. There were vast distances between what I’ll call the major activity hubs in the Copper Canyon system, and I’m pondering what the “best” way to approach/organize the area is, now that I’ve already been. The best advice I have for someone adventurous headed to this off-the-beaten path destination is to expect the drive times to be longer than you think. If you’re in relatively decent physical shape, the hikes will take about a quarter the time the locals say. And the Chepe runs at approximately 20 miles per hour once the sun sets; I believe this is because the railway is not fenced off and rogue animals may wander onto the tracks.
More pics are here on Flickr.