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Reflections on Mexico’s Copper Canyon

The Copper Canyon of Mexico represents nature dressed in her “Sunday best.” There are the deep, rust canyons, formed by the relentless winds; the green pine forests with their shiny reflection enhanced by the bright blue sky; and the barren desert adorned with brilliant earth colors representing all forms of timeless life.

The decision to take the journey into this region decorated by time, is by no means a vacation. A vacation consists of pool-side drinks, lazy mornings, paperback novels and a big tab for your trouble. Going to the Copper Canyon is a travel experience. It is a very personal and unique journey. When asked if you had a great vacation in the Copper Canyon, the response is “no,” but we had a great travel experience.

Our itinerary was self-designed via recommendations from various travel resources. Our travel arrangements were made by Sue Stilwell of S & S Tours based in Arizona. Sue gave our itinerary the “seal of approval,” arranged hotel reservations, scheduled a driver/guide for the trip to Batopilas, and reserved tickets for the Copper Canyon train. Our goal was to visit the areas most recommended along the train stops and include a trip deep in the canyon to Batopilas.

Batopilas CanyonAfter arranging our own flights to and from Los Angeles, with our itinerary in hand, we set out for our 7-day journey. Our departure point for the trip was in Los Mochis. Arriving late, we found our way to the Hotel Santa Anita, settled in for the night and reflected on the events to come. Frequently, at this point in their journey, travelers say, “what was I thinking?” I could be home right now nestled in my own little bed, with a relative degree of certainty about the next day’s events. Instead, you are a long way from home, with the unknown ahead. Sleep is usually a welcome distraction.

Our train tickets had been waiting for us at the Hotel Santa Anita. A driver met us for our early 6:00 a.m. departure. Right on schedule, the Chihuahua/Pacific Railway Train glided into the station en route to Chihuahua via the Copper Canyon. After polite greetings from the train conductor, baggage handling and seat assignment, we were on our way. Turning over control of your life for a few hours on the train is a welcome relief. You glide along knowing that your destinations are ahead. There is time for thought and contemplation, as you peer out the window at the changing scenery. The dining car on the train is a respite with good food and service.

Hotel Posada Mirador on the RimIn the early afternoon, we arrived at our first stop, which is in the Divisadero region of the canyon. Our hotel stay was the Hotel Posada Mirador on the Rim. The hotel earns its name by sitting on a precipice overlooking the deep canyons of the region. The drama of the day was enhanced by a thunder storm and welcome rain. Though busy with a large group, the hotel was restful, with well appointed rooms and fireplaces. Each room overlooks the canyon, complimented by a private balcony that becomes an inviting retreat, even in the rain. After a satisfying dinner, we fell asleep to the sounds of blissful silence.

On our second day of the journey, we had an opportunity to tour the Divisadero canyon area before we met the train for the continuation of the journey started in Los Mochis. The area is well served by a large plateau, which has enabled ranchers to supply the area with much needed food. We saw the Tarahumara Indian women weaving their baskets for the first time, and were reminded of the culture that has occupied this countryside for much longer than anyone else.

The Tarahumara Indians are a hearty people who live off the land that has supported them for thousands of years. Most likely, migrating long ago from Asia, the Tarahumara have a symbiotic relationship with the land, taking what is needed and giving back what is owed. We can all learn something from this type of relationship.

Joining the train again, we traveled a short distance to Creel. The topography changed again becoming forests of emerald pine, with the silver tips gleaming in the sun. Creel is an old west town with an old west feel. Tough people settled here and still live in the area. The town is an end destination from many parts of the canyon, providing basic supplies for the hearty residents.

Our hotel, the Lodge in Creel, is an old west style log cabin hotel. Rooms are equipped with a pot belly stove, that would be most welcome in the cold of winter. For dinner, we enjoyed one of the best steaks we have had in a long time in the hotel dining room for a very reasonable price.

The next morning we anxiously awaited our driver/guide for our trip down the 85 mile road to Batopilas in the belly of Copper Canyon. To experience just the rim of the canyon, without the trip to the bottom is like reading the beginning and end of a book and skipping the middle. You miss a very important part of the story.

Batopilas Canyon, Oscar LoyaOur very competent driver, Oscar, met us on schedule, and with four other fellow passengers, we began the journey to Batopilas, that would take 7 hours. The road, partially paved, is a winding descent along the narrow rim of this spectacular vista. We pass through tiny settlements and Tarahumara villages. We were told of the stories of the region and see the cave dwellings still used by the Tarahumara people. Eagles and hawks circle overhead, reminding us of the freedom that is so precious to us all. There is time to stop and take it all in and then move on.

In the late afternoon, we arrive in Batopilas. Originally a silver mining town occupied by thousands of fortune seekers, it has settled into a permanent residence of approximately 2,000 people, who inhabit a long narrow town built by the river. There isn’t a telephone, pager, or television in sight. There is just a place where people have designed lives with precious possessions and the joy that is found in the simple pleasures.
 

We stayed for two nights at the Hotel Casa Real de Los Minas. The hotel has a brightly decorated courtyard, surrounded by well furnished rooms, and a friendly staff determined to make your stay in Batopilas comfortable. Meals in Batopilas are arranged by your hotel or guide. In our case, we dined at Doña Micas, a private residence, whose proprietress serves guests on the front porch. Hearty country fare is served with sounds of children playing in the background.

Since Sue Stilwell was visiting Batopilas, escorting a group, we were most pleased to be able to join them for a special dinner at the Hotel Casa Real de Los Mineros. For two nights, we enjoyed Batopilas hospitality surrounded by satisfied travelers.

Exploring Batopilas is a must-do. Approximately 4 miles from the town, in a village called Satevó, is the Jesuit mission church unnamed and known as the “Lost Cathedral.” The daily life of the village goes on in the shade of the vast mission church built so long ago. The key is available at a local home, so we were able to enter and reflect on the spirit of this remarkable place.

For the daring souls who don’t mind the dark, the long-closed silver mine is a possible stop. For most people, a peek in the front of the mine is all that is required to satisfy the visit requirement.

Early the next morning, we left Batopilas the same way we arrived. Our trustworthy guide, Oscar, was ready at 5:00 a.m. Breakfast was on the table at Doña Micas, and we were on our way. Our goal was to be back at the train station in Creel to meet the train on its way back to Los Mochis. The mission was accomplished after another uneventful, but spectacular ride out of the canyon.

Once again, we were gliding along a familiar path. Our visit to Batopilas was now a memory, but deserved time for discussion. The train provided the opportunity to do just that.

Our next stop a few hours later was Bahuichivo, where we would be met and driven to the Hotel Misión in Cerocahui. The simple village of Cerocahui has another mission church at its center, with all of the village life centering on the mission and the town square. Preparations were underway for a fiesta to be held in two days. Our regret was we would be on our way before the big event.