November 23-27, 2015
Hotel Mansion Serrano in El Fuerte agreed to let us park the truck in their walled, gated parking lot for several days while we rode the train into the Copper Canyon and spent days hiking, biking and exploring.
The total area of the canyon is larger and the deepest point slightly deeper than the Grand Canyon though to be fair the Copper Canyon is six canyons combined and the Grand just one long one. That being said the canyon is quite spectacular and the train defies imagination.
It took 61 years to build, from 1900 to 1961 and has 37 bridges, 86 tunnels and rises to 7,874 ft. above sea level. The engineering boggles the brain with the tracks making a U-turn inside one tunnel and another one is 1.12 miles long. At one point the track crosses over itself to gain elevation. The scenery shifts from plain to jaw dropping and had me jumping in and out of my seat to take pictures from the open Dutch doors between the cars. The disappointing part of the scenic overlook, which is a stop at the highest point on the line, is that it is just 20 minutes long.
Knowing this in advance however we planned to exit the train in Creel, stay for a couple of days and take our time working our way back to other towns along the line via busses.
Creel is a town along the line where most people stop who are going to explore the area. It’s close to the highest point on the line and is considerably colder that El Fuerte where the truck is parked. They say it snows here at times. In Creel the indigenous people are the Tarahumara whom you see in colorful clothing
on the streets and artisans selling handicrafts in shops. In our three days in Creel we hiked around town, rode mountain bikes and took an eight hour hike with Enrique, a local Tarahumara guide. There were not a large number tourists as we expected but Enrique told us they come in waves and next week they’re booked solid . . . lucky us.Valle de los monjes (Valley of the Monks) who used to live among thees rock outcroppings. People say some of the rock forms appear to be hooded monks. The monks used to think they looked like erect penises.
Ann with Enrique our tarahumara guide.
Some of the Tarahumara live in caves. This is a coral to house goats in bad weather.
This is a Tarahumara homestead.
Thanksgiving Day was spent taking the bus from Creel to Arepona’puchi, a town that’s really hard to pronounce. On the bus we met a woman who spoke perfect English though it was obvious it was her second language. She was from Guanajuato where she had married a man from the States. Almost none of the family made the trip to Mexico to the wedding because they were afraid. She had been making brief video interviews of American travelers who were enjoying visits to Mexico to send back to her new family in hopes that they might someday be comfortable enough to visit Mexico. She interviewed us as well.
We booked a small cabin in the town that we had read about in Lonely Planet. The owner, Laura Diaz, was said to offer hikes along the canyon rim and we inquired as soon as we arrived. She yelled out and her young son Alejandro (about 13) and his cousin Jesus (7) came and lead the way through the little village and up to the rim, about a 20 minute walk. It was a great view but we were kind of expecting something a little lengthier. We had brought out our hiking poles planning on hours of strenuous climbing.
People looked at us like we were a bit weird and I guess we were. After taking a few pictures we headed back to our place where Laura made us dinner: chili rellenos, actually chili relleno since there was just one on each plate, frijoles and tortillas de maiz. We ate thinking about all of the tables back home brimming with Thanksgiving extravaganzas and returned to our little cabina with stomachs that were almost full. It gets dark early here at this time of year and it was quite cold. We asked Laura if she had some firewood since there was a small fireplace in the cabin. Jesus brought us some wood and we built a fire and laid back on our bed in the dark. The six wool blankets layered on top of us were so heavy it was almost hard to breath. It was way too early to go to sleep so we just laid there in the dark and then both started chuckling about this most unusual Thanksgiving night. We then took the time in a Thanksgiving tradition to speak aloud the things that we were thankful for. The list was quite long this year.
Copper Canyon had so many things that we still wanted to do: The world’s longest zip line in Divisidero, A hike from Cerocahui to Urique at the bottom of the canyon, but unfortunately when we awoke the next morning it was pouring rain and the forecast was for three of four more days of it. The visibility was poor and since we had a time constraint with our rental home in Alamos we sadly boarded the train and left the canyon.
The return trip was quite different from the ride in. In the rain the train travels much slower and surprisingly it leaks through the ventilation system onto some of the seats.
Several stops had to be made to await the passage of freight trains which apparently take priority. Several boulders fell off the side of the canyon walls in the rain and occasionally had to be cleared by trucks that ride the rails with their own mini train wheels. We called our taxi driver from the train but the call was dropped and I wasn’t sure he got the message about the pickup. About 5 minutes later a man who spoke English walked up to us on the train and asked if I was Jay Gallagher. The cab driver was his friend and he was called on the train to let us know that he’d be waiting for us at the train station. I asked him how he picked us out of all the people on the train to deliver the message and he just said it wasn’t too hard! We finally arrived in El Fuerte at 9:30 pm about four hours later than scheduled.
El Zorro (the fox in Spanish) was the nickname given to a reportedly historic figure, Don Diego de la Vega who was born in a home in El Fuerte Mexico that has now been converted to an upscale hotel. Legend has it that a young, dashing man of Spanish descent was roaming the Los Angeles area dressed in black and wearing a mask. He reportedly defended the poor local and indigenous people from corrupt Mexican rule in the early to mid-1800s. Diego moved to Los Angeles as a young boy of about 10. Years later as stories of El Zorro started to percolate back down to El Fuerte there were some who had seen him in person and swore that in fact El Zorro was none other than Don Diego de le Vega, their native born son.
One thought on “El Chepe Train Through the Copper Canyon”
Jay it is obvious to me that you were meant to live off the grid and do it your way. The beauty is so enormous, for me, I would just have to camp at copper canyon for a week just to take a little of it in. Peace