|One of the "Must see and Do's" of Northern Mexico is the Barranca
del Cobre and accompanying train ride. For the fist time we left our bikes and
camping gear behind and took a wonderful side trip that we will never forget. If
you are interested in something close to the USA but with a real taste of Mexico this is
The Barranca del Cobre, or Copper Canyon as it is know in English, is
well known around the world. Because we are from Arizona it is best described by
comparing the two. It looks similar, from the rim, as Arizona's Grand Canyon.
The locals boast that it is bigger than the Grand Canyon which is true in most
aspects. Fist the Grand Canyon is one canyon with some good size tributaries.
The Barranca del Cobre is seven to twenty canyons, depending on witch book you read, and
also has many large tributaries. The Barranca del Cobre does not refer to just one
canyon but this whole system of canyons. Because there are so many canyons the total
square mileage is easily several times larger than the Grand Canyon. The Barranca
del Cobre is also a bit deeper than Arizona's Grand Canyon. It is hard to determine
just how much deeper because there is some disagreement as how to measure how deep a
canyon is. All sources that I have read did award the deeper canyon prize to The
Barranca del Cobre. I may be partial, because I am from Arizona, but the prize for
sheer beauty has to go the Grand Canyon. It has steeper walls with several
thousand feet of near vertical cliffs. This makes it appear deeper. For this
reason it is much harder to build a trail into it. The Barranca del Cobre may have
some good cliffs but it also has abundant gradual slopes that are relatively easier to
have trails. The Grand Canyon also has a much more colorful geology in its rock
layers. The Barranca del Cobre's rock layers are but two observable colors that
consist of white and gray. The Grand Canyon has these colors plus red, orange,
black, and others. These colorful rocks are layered in sharp contrast to each other.
The debate over beauty is just opinion and could rage for years but that is my two
One of the biggest draws for us was the fact that this canyon has a train
that runs along and into the canyon. I particularly like trains even though this is
only the second one I have ridden. The other one was also in Mexico. I get
motion sick in cars and buses but a train makes no sudden movements and I have no
problems. The Grand Canyon also has a train but is extremely lame and
expensive in comparison to the one into the Barranca del Cobre.
Another attractive aspect to this canyon is its Indian inhabitants. The
Tarahumara Indians that inhabit the canyon and the pine covered rim country still live a
very primitive way. This is in part due to the fact that they have never received
money from the government and the rugged canyons keep them isolated. The Tarahumara
number over 50,000 and are often observed in the area. This makes them the second
largest Indian tribe in North America. They migrated into the canyons from the high
plains, to the east, about 500 years ago. They migrated east because the Spanish
Conquistadors started enslaving them to work in the local silver mines. They would
be forced to work eighteen hours a day until it killed them at a very young age. The
Conquistadors would often give chase until they reached the rim of one of the canyons.
They thought it crazy to chase any further.
We left our bike behind in a Cuauhtemoc hotel room and went to the train station at
9:30 am. There were two classes of trains to chose from. The Primavera Class
was for tourist, mostly from Europe, sitting in plush dining cars and checking out the
abundant scenery. Segunda Class is half the price of Primavera and a bit
slower and had older cars. It is mostly Mexican locals using the train as
transportation to visit family or just get somewhere. Since we have come to Mexico
to learn about Mexicans and their culture we wanted on the Segunda class. We
will learn the ways of the European when we get to Europe in a couple of years. The
Primavera Class train came rolling up to the platform in which we were standing. An
employee of the railroad asked us if we wanted it to stop and was astounded when we told
him that we wanted Segunda Class. We were in fact the only non-Hispanic people
around and the only ones he asked about the Primavera train. Because no one was
getting on the Primavera train he waved it on. The Mexicans around us could not
believe it when the train passed and we happily waited for the same one that they were
getting on. Several of them got big smiles on their faces. In some small way
we were one of them now.
Once on the train we could not believe how nice it was. "This is the cheap
train" we kept saying to ourselves. This was not at all a "Chicken
Bus" kind of thing. The seats were very big and had tons of leg room. We
noticed that everyone was well dressed and we were the only ones in T-shirts and sandals.
There was a big difference between us and the locals. The Mexicans almost
immediately went to sleep. They had probably been on this train dozens of times and
Mexicans seem to be masters of sleeping on public transportation. We were excited
about riding one of the most famous trains in North America and were wide eyed and taking
The scenery that rolled by was not unfamiliar to us at first. We had spent the
previous two weeks ride through this part of Mexico. Adobe houses where the pace of
life looked comfortable and slow appeared with frequency through the pine forest.
Occasionally there was a village where we could see men on hours back trotting to town to
pick up something from the village store. In fact everyone was on hours back and
rode easily as if they had all of their lives. A car or truck would probably get
stuck during the rainy season. Even though these people had seen trains come by
everyday of their lives they would still gather on the porch to wave at us as we went by.
As we got closer to the Canyons we saw new sights that we had not ridden past.
The Tarahumara were living in caves and girls in brightly colored dresses tended
flocks of goats and sheep. We later learned that these Indians would often come out
of the canyons in the summer to escape the hot depths of the canyon some 3000ft below.
Unlike the Mexican families waving from their porches the Tarahumara (except for
the girls) were out of site when the train rolled by. They have a reputation for
being shy and distant. The first views into the deep canyon and the pine trees
reminded us of Arizona's Grand Canyon.
When the train rolled up to our stop at Divisidero everyone got off. This was the
only place that people on the train could walk around, stretch their legs, and buy
something to eat. We were bombarded with the now familiar smells of Chile Rellenos,
tacos, and other local favorites. We also saw our first non-Mexican tourist since we
crossed the border. Shortly we got off we met Jim.
Jim was from Liverpool, England but had been living and traveling in foreign countries
for the past several years. He had traveled to every corner of the globe and was a
wealth of information about the places that we intend to visit over the next several
years. Unfortunately, for us, he had not cycled much around the world but preferred
the bus or train in all but the most bike friendly European countries. His current
journey was from South America to Alaska and he was on his 18th month.
He was not impressed with Mexico and told us that we would enjoy Central America and
Especially South America much better. He said that Mexico is at least twice as
expensive as any country to the south. This made us think. We really like
Mexico and even though it cost more than other Latin American countries it was still
within our daily budget. Originally we planned on spending nine months here but
could only get a six month visa. Extending our six month tourist visa would be a
hassle and cost around $300 in transportation because we would have to take a 24 hour bus
ride in order to leave the country. We would probably go from some where in central
Mexico to either the USA or Guatemalan border and re-enter the country, like it was our
first time in, and get a new six month visa. We would also have to re-pay the
$22 per person fee that they charge Americans to visit the interior of Mexico. The
problem is that there is no way to tour Mexico, at our leisurely pace, from top to bottom
in six months. We knew that at least one bus ride, with bikes and gear, would be
necessary to make up the difference. I hate buses because I get motion sick and I
especially hate subjecting our bikes to this kind of torturer. We put this decision
off till later and just gazed into the canyon.
Back to the canyon
After we gulped in the immense view we started thinking about a place to spend the
night. We left our tent and other camping equipment behind in Cuauhtemoc so for the
first time we had to find a hotel for the night. With Jim we hitched a ride into the
village not far from the Divisidero train station. Our guide book recommended the
same place that we got dropped off. The name of the cabanas (small hotel) is Rancho
de Lencho, and we would not recommend it and here is why. We had to bargain hard to
get the price down from 100 pesos ($10.50) per person to 83 pesos ($8.50) per person.
Even the lower price was outrageous for Mexico and a crime for the quality of the
facilities. We shared a room and the bathroom was around the corner. The
toilet didn't flush, because the water to it was turned off and non existent and the water
was not hot for a shower. They served us dinner for 30 pesos ($3.10) and the food
was greasy and very bland. They nickel and dimmed us to death and even wanted us to
pay 50 pesos ($5.30) a piece to go for a hike. We turned them down on the hike and
took a hike ourselves that evening and the next day.
After settling into our pricey hut we walked to the rim of the canyon with Jim.
The views were stunning and we were surprised at how many Tarahumara dwellings we could
see. We had to get going because it was getting dark. The next day we did not
have to catch the train until 3:00 PM and went on a three hour hike with Jim. We
went back to the rim and then followed Tarahumara foot paths to several different view
points. Unfortunately this canyon has a similar problem as Arizona's Grand
Canyon. Pictures do not do it justice. At one view point there was a very
rickety latter that plunged to the depths of the canyon. We actually never saw the
bottom of it but we all agreed that descending it would be suicide. Just as we made
this agreement a Tarahumara man, obviously around 60 years old, came up the latter
carrying bags that looked heavy. He was not even out of breath. Without saying
a word he walked at a brisk pace into the pines. We were still to chicken to get on
We made our way back to our room and then walked back to the train station. The
train ride back to Cuauhtemoc was just as enjoyable as the ride out.
The Conductor -
"Es Todos A Bordo"
Tim and Cindie on the edge again
Little girl checking out Cindie on the train
The Conductor -
"Es Todos A Bordo"