Welcome to the Tarahumara – Copper Canyon Expedition! In this expedition we will be driving through the Copper Canyon in our expedition vehicle exploring the natural environment and the Tarahumara culture of this beautiful region.
It has taken the past couple of days to drive from our base in Prescott, Arizona to Nuevo Casas Grandes in the Mexican state of Chihuahua. Nuevo Casas Grandes and its neighboring community of Casas Grandes are the home of the ancient Native American community of Paquime. The people who made this area their home were related to the Mogollon people of southern Arizona (see ALF’s American Southwest Expedition for more information).
The Paquime lived here until the 1400’s when warfare, which culminated after decades of extreme drought, destroyed the city. The sophistication of their civilization was surprising. They had aqueducts to carry water from springs into the city and then into the dwelling blocks. The water would then carry their waste out of the city into the nearby river. This from a people who used rocks and mud (adobe bricks) to build their city.
We spent most of the morning wandering through the ruins. Although archeologists have reconstructed much, there are giant mounds that still contain much of the city left undisturbed for future study. We had a guide who took us off the main paths and into the individual buildings. We saw that the people lived in small rooms, beds were raised off of the dirt floor and entry was through "T" shaped doorways.
We saw rooms that held parrots in special mini-rooms so that the leaders could have fancy feathers for their costumes or for trading. There were rooms for raising turkeys and big outdoor arenas for the playing of ball games. These games were similar to the games played in the ball courts of the Aztecs from central Mexico.
After leaving Paquime, we turned our expedition vehicle toward the Sierra Madre Occidental – also known as the Sierra Tarahumara. The destinations that we plan to explore before our next update are Huapoca Canyon and Candamena Canyon. Huapoca Canyon near Madera contains several caves with the ruins of several cliff dwellings and in Candamena Canyon we plan to view and hike in to see the highest waterfalls in Mexico.
The last couple of days have been very busy. Our first day in Madera, we drove for three hours west of the town, down a 63km dirt and rock road, to get to Cueva Grande (Grand Cave) which is another complex built by the Paquime people, but this one was in a cave. First the road: the road is more like a 4x4 trail with lots of rocks and dips and it is only one lane wide with a maximum speed of 15 miles per hour. We passed a construction crew trying to upgrade the road and every few minutes we would have to squeeze into tiny turnouts while the dump trucks raced by!
Cueva Grande is very large and capable of holding many buildings although only a couple are still standing. These two, two-story buildings are said to be around 800 years old. There is also a round grain storage area close to the cave entrance. The best part about the cave was that there is a waterfall coming down over the entrance. This would have provided a constant water source to the inhabitants. Because the top of the cave is an overhang, you can walk behind the waterfall to enter. I imagine at wetter times of the year, there would be quite a lot of water coming over the top, but during our visit there was only a little water and it didn’t show up in the photos.
The next morning we hiked to Cueva de Serpiente (Cave of the Serpent). We crossed a beautiful mountain meadow and then hiked down through a long, steep crack in the cliff to reach the dwellings. This cave is actually a very large overhang open on both sides. There are 14 rooms and a hallway that went from one side of the overhang to the other, "snaking" through past the rooms.
After driving back out the 63 kms, we ran some errands in the town of Madera and then drove on to Basaseachi, or on some maps, Basaseachic.
This morning we hiked to the top of Basaseachi Falls. This waterfall is the second highest in Mexico at 246 meters (212 feet). It is in Candamena Canyon which is 1,750 meters (5,775 feet) deep. This same canyon also contains the highest waterfall in Mexico, Piedra Volada. It falls 453 meters (1,494 feet) and is the 11th highest waterfall in the world. Unfortunately for us it is located in an isolated area and is accessible only on foot, seven km (4.2 miles) down the canyon. Considering that this area is still experiencing some late summer monsoons, we decided not to try hiking to the falls.
The view from the top was interesting but who wants to see a waterfall only from looking over the top edge?
The trail was very steep and rough, but it was supposed to be only 1km long. After soon passing a sign saying we were already at 550m, we're thinking "OK, this is doable". At 250m we were ready to quit, but decided to continue. After an eternity, we arrived at sign for 150m. Now we're thinking something is wrong with these signs! We were really glad we didn't turn around because just a few meters later we reached the "ventana" or window on the falls. We had made it! The view was beautiful and worth the hike.
After hiking back up from the falls we stayed at the "official tourist campground". Even though we heard in the morning that there was partying nearby all night, we were so exhausted, we slept through it!
Today we headed out toward Creel, but stopped along the way at a gorgeous location for lunch. We were driving through a river canyon that had a running creek and a meadow full of wildflowers. After having lunch, we decided we had found the perfect location to do some laundry and catch up on some e-mails, so we spent the rest of the afternoon and night there.
OK, we're off to Creel! The day started with rain and it has continued steadily. We drove 75km (46.5mi) down a dirt road (that our map said was paved) and finally arrived in Creel. Some of the drivers on this dirt road, just like drivers at home, are just plain crazy. We were getting passed on blind turns in the pouring rain! A few miles outside Creel traffic came to a stop and vehicles were parked all along the roadway. Why? It turns out that someone had driven off the road and ALL the drivers, including bus drivers, had stopped in the rain to view the wreckage!
"Capital" of the Sierra Tarahumara, Creel is the jumping off point for all expeditions into the canyons. Today, however either because it is Monday or because it is raining, everything is closed. We'll head back into town tomorrow to see what we can see.
Tonight we are camping at the Arereko ejido campground. See the special section on Ethnic Tourism.