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Phoebe - Sunny & Hot
12/03/2012, Mexico

This tour was the highlight of our trip. On the morning of the 21st (in Creel) we called a local guide recommended by some other sailors who had done the Copper Canyon. Unfortunately he was busy but he said he knew someone else and he would be there in 15 mins, which he was!

César González Quintero was going to be our guide for the next four days. We were interested in adventure. César warned us that it would be a very long day to get to Batopilas. We would be taking a rougher road than usual as the current road to Batopilas was under construction and being paved. This is a significant project and would likely take 2 to 5 years as many bridges would have to be built (currently most people would just drive through the mostly dry riverbeds. The next day we would tour around Batopilas (Nov 22) and then on the next day (Nov 23) we would take the long drive back to Creel via the same road but enjoying different stops and views along the way. Well he was right it was a long day but really outstanding.

Copper Canyon (Spanish: Barranca del Cobre) is a group of canyons consisting of six distinct canyons in the Sierra Madre in the southwestern part of the state of Chihuahua in Mexico. The overall canyon system is larger and portions are deeper than the Grand Canyon in neighboring Arizona. The canyons were formed by six rivers which drain the western side of the Sierra Tarahumara (a part of the Sierra Madre Occidental). All six rivers merge into the Rio Fuerte and empty into the Sea of Cortez. The walls of the canyon are a copper/green color which is where the name originates.

The fun began after we left the paved road behind. Cesar's 4-wheel, all wheel drive vehicle got a workout as we forded streams, climbed up and down, around hairpin turns, avoiding cattle and one skunk. The elevation at Creel is 2330 meters and Batopilas is 460 meters.

We travelled through groves of Ponderosa pines, long needle pines, weeping pines, apache pines, then lower to madronas, oaks and then cacti as we got closer to the bottom of the canyon. We passed families of Tarahumuras walking miles from a village to their settlement, including women and small children in brightly colored clothes, men wearing jeans and cowboy hats or loin cloths. In the hillside we saw their cave dwellings and corn fields. Some raise livestock such as cows, pigs and goats.

There are about 65,000 Tarahumura living in the Copper Canyon and they own a large portion of the land. We bounced along on roads used for logging. The views were spectacular. We could look across the deep valleys and see the different levels of flora, and the amazing rock formations. We passed a group of locals who shared a sip of Lechiguilla, an agave liquor locally made similar to moonshine. It has a bit of a kick to it.

It was a little hair raising to look over the side of the road, steeply down into the valley below, hoping the vehicle would not slip over the edge. It became even more disconcerting as night approached and we came around a corner and met the headlights of a truck with a flat tire in the middle of the road. César and Reg got out to see if they could provide some assistance.

The spare tire did not fit the hub and was barely a tire (no tread and the steel belt was visible). The finally secured the spare by only 2 nuts and they moved the truck enough for us get by.

We finally arrived at the Hacienda Batopilas. It was quite dark by then but on the inside it was a gorgeous place with lovely Mexican tile work in the bathroom and stained glass windows. Cesar took us to Dona Mica's for dinner where we had a home cooked meal of chicken with mushrooms, refried beans and rice with freshly made corn and flour tortillas.

In the morning (Nov 22) César picked us up and we drove into town for breakfast at the Restaurant Carolina. The food was fresh, omelettes, huevos rancheros and of course hot tortillas enjoyed by all.

The town was established by the Spanish in 1632. The town's heyday was in the late 19th century when an American, Alexander Shepherd, purchased the silver mines and hacienda from the previous Spanish owners.

Batopilas is a small town of about 2000. It stretches about a mile along the river, with two main streets paralleling the river, most often used as one way streets going the opposite direction but this is not always the case. The homes and buildings along the streets are clean and brightly painted, often with small porches on the second floor. There are two plazas, a large one by the municipal offices, the museum and the oldest building in town which houses a tienda.

The plaza has some large old trees, a gazebo with stained glass and park benches where several men congregate during the day. Nearby is a store called Casa Morales, which is the equivalent of a Walmart in Batopilas. If there is something you want you can get it at Casa Morales, otherwise you just don't want it.

Batopilas received all goods by mules from Chihuahua until 1961, when the train was completed, then they received their goods from Creel again by mule until 1977 when a road was finally completed.

After breakfast we drove to the Lost Cathedral at the Jesuit mission of Satevo. The cathedral was built with only one tower, as the architect died before the second tower could be built. He is buried beneath the floor of the cathedral. Satevo means sandy place in Tarahumura. The Jesuits came to convert the Tarahumura and the location of Satevo was a large settlement of Tarahumura. Now there are only about 200 people living here and the priest from Batopilas comes every Sunday to say mass. It is not a simple drive and requires a four by four vehicle to cover the terrain.

On returning to Batopilas, we stopped by the museum. The curator became very engaged as we asked questions about the exhibits on the mining operation of Alexander Shepherd. Mr Shepherd was a former mayor of Washington D.C. and came to northern Mexico in search of silver.

Mr. Shepherd bought a large hacienda across the river from the town. This hacienda included not only his family home but also a swimming pool, stables, smelter facilities to convert the raw ore into pure silver ingots weighing 90 lbs each, plus a church for the workers, and a communal outhouse so the workers did not have to go home to do their business.

The ingots were sent to Chihuahua via mule, 2 ingots per mule in long mule trains. The annual Silver Trail re-enactment from Batopilas to Chihuahua is a 13 day trip that many people sign up for - 13 days on a mule too many days for me. We looked at the latest pictures of the 2010 re-enactment.

After the museum we had lunch at Restaurant Carolina, again very good. We also met Patrocinio Lopez, a famous (in this area at least) Tarahumura who makes and plays violins. He did not have any to sell but we did buy his CD of Tarahumura music. He also wears the traditional Tarahumura dress, a loin cloth, sandals made from tire tread, a large bright shirt and a headband. He consented to letting us take a picture of him.

After lunch we went across the river to see what was left of the Shepherd hacienda. It is a mere shadow of what you might imagine it once was. An 83 year old local man bought the hacienda with the idea to put in an hotel and to fix up the buildings but it is still in a sad state and would require a lot of funds to fix it up.

On the morning of Nov 23rd we drank our coffee and ate our pastries provided by our guide. The Restaurant Carolinas delivered the coffee in a plastic jug as well as sandwiches for our lunch stop in the canyon.

When we arrived in Batopilas on Wednesday evening we had been traveling in the dark the later part of the way. This morning we got to see it in the light. It is a series of short switchbacks that go up the side of the valley. I am glad it was dark when we came down!

The views we had this day, again, were spectacular. We looked down from part way up the canyon to see the town (Batopilas) below. Later we came around the corner and on one side we were looking into Batopilas canyon and on the other side Urique canyon. We stopped at a viewpoint for our ham and cheese and jalapeño sandwiches and wafer cookies for lunch.

We enjoyed the rest of the day just looking and arrived in Creel around 4:30 pm.

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El Fuerte - The River Tour

Upon our arrival back at the hotel on the 24th we arranged a guided tour for the morning of the 26th before taking the bus back to Los Mochis and onwards to Topolobambo.

We were up by 6:30 am and a quick café and sweets were served to keep us going until we got back around 11:00 am.

We hopped into the zebra painted tour truck towing our boat along with our guide Felipe. They took us up river where the boat was dropped off to drift back down to the hotel.

Felipe was very knowledgeable about all the local birds and I really wished that my Dad had been able to be with us. The trip was great along with a stop to hike back in to see the petroglyphs of the early indigenous peoples of that area. We also enjoyed the many birds along the way.

I hope you enjoy what pictures I was able to take. After we got back the hotel served us a great breakfast and off we went to take the bus to Los Mochis and the end of our Copper Canyon adventure. Thanks again Elaine and Rich for being uncomplaining, adventuresome travelling companions.

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El Fuerte - The Fort
12/03/2012, Mexico

After taking a taxi from Topolobambo to Los Mochis (on Sunday) we met Rich and Elaine at the hotel in Los Mochis. We were staying one night and catching a bus in the morning to El Fuerte to catch the train.

We spent a pleasant two hours on the bus, stopping frequently, and enjoying the sites of living in Mexico. We passed through a major agricultural area where many types of fruits and vegetables are grown.

The city was founded in 1563 by the Spanish Conquistador, Francisco de Ibarra, the first explorer of the lofty Sierra Madre Occidental mountains. In 1610 a fort was built to ward off the fierce Zuaque and Tehueco Natives, who constantly harassed the Spaniards (no kidding). For years, El Fuerte served as the gateway to the vast frontiers of the northern territories of Sonora, Arizona and California

For nearly three centuries it was the most important commercial and agricultural center of the vast northwestern region of Mexico. El Fuerte was a chief trading post for silver miners and gold seekers from the Urique and Batopilas mines in the nearby mountains of the Sierra Madre Occidental and its branches.

Once off the bus we located a taxi, a 4 door pickup truck driven by a man with only one leg. He was amazingly quick and mobile including helping to load luggage in the truck box. In fact we liked him so much we used him every time we needed a taxi.

We arrived at the Hotel Rio Vista "El Mirador" which basically means a view of the river. It was tucked away high on the hill. As we had not booked ahead Reg and Rich went in and checked out the rooms and giving us a thumbs up upon return.

What a great hotel, rustic but very unique. Lots of artwork, antiques and old pictures of Pancho Villa. Our rooms were set on a large balcony overlooking the Rio Fuerte river and it was a spectacular view. The owner brought us our very own cooler of "pony" Pacifico beers (means half size), which we enjoyed while watching the sunset. Then he asked us if we wanted dinner and we said why not, save the wear and tear on Rich's ankle. We just let them decide what to serve and it was fantastic. Nachos, tortilla soup, fresh water perch with citrus sauce, zucchini, potatoes, a cold bottle of white wine topped off with a flan dessert.

El Fuerte is a very historical town with lots of nicely painted buildings and the usual town square. The Palacio Municipal Building was open, as they usually are, in all towns and Elaine and I went in and enjoyed the murals and took pictures.

When we came back to El Fuerte after our train trip we watched the local high school kids doing band practice in the square. We enjoyed a great dinner and breakfast in the Posada del Hidalgo hotel home of the legendary Zorro (until age 10). Reg, Elaine and I wandered around the town, which was quite busy with folks Christmas Shopping!!! We stayed in the same hotel, Rio Vista and again enjoyed their service and good food. We arranged for a river tour, which I will cover off in another blog.

We also went through the extensive museum which had a ton of photographs donated that were originally taken by an American photographer. We were followed around the museum by a few local boys practicing English in the hopes of a few pesos.

We celebrated Reg's birthday with drinks, some small gifts and dinner at El Meson del General Restaurant, specializing in seafood. Back to the Rio Visto for an early rise in the morning to take the "river tour" hosted by Felipe (seperate blog).

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Chihuahua al Pacifico–Fondly known as El Chepe
11/30/2012, El Fuerte, Mexico

Barrancas del Cobre - The Copper Canyon.

Well, another great adventure under our belts!!!! I am going to break up the blog in pieces followed by the appropriate photo albums (I have new photo software so may be a bit slow at it!!!) I am going to start with the entire train ride there and back. There will be a blog on El Fuerte, Creel, Batopilas and Divisadero. We travelled with great people, Elaine and Rich of SV Windarra. Rich was a pretty good sport considering he slipped on a wet marble floor and hurt his ankle at the hotel in Los Mochis on the very first day of our adventure!!

The train trip itself to Creel is about 8 hours in total. The railway is made of 656 kms of track, 37 bridges, 86 tunnels. One tunnel takes a 180 degree turn followed by a bridge with a 90 degree turn. The train travels through the Sonoran-Sinaloan transition tropical forest and then it climbs 8,000 feet into the Western Sierra Madre while skirting the Copper Canyon. The construction of the railway was 60 years in the making and was completed in 1961.

We followed a river, sometimes on one side and then sometimes on the other side, after crossing some pretty scary bridges. The train picked up and dropped off people on the way. Major stops included Temoris (the town with the red roofs), Bahuichivo, Cuiteco, San Rafael, Posada Barrancas, Divisadero and then Creel before continuing onto Chihuahua.

At San Rafael we saw Tarahumara women and children, one of Mexico's most distinctive indigenous peoples, selling bags of apples and hand woven baskets. Their clothing is very bright and they wear sandals made out of old tires and leather straps (which tourists can buy anywhere in Creel). The Tarahumara men are well known in the trail running world. There are marathons held in the area, I think, every year.

The train stops at Divisadero and people can get off to get a quick look at Urique Canyon and buy a great lunch of quesadillas or gorditos made of blue and yellow corn. They were packed with meat, potatoes, fried onions and cheese and were very good!!!!

The views were to numerous to keep track of. Hanging your head outside to take photos was a bit daunting as the tunnels came up pretty quick! The train had very comfortable seats, a great snack car. Elaine and I did the best we could hanging out in the open areas between the cars while trying to maintain our balance on a very bumpy ride. I hope you enjoy the pics in the album. It is amazing countryside to see and you get a real appreciation for rural Mexico. It was well worth the trip to see this amazing piece of the world.

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11/30/2012 | Peter Berkley
Sounds great! .you talked me into it! I'll be there Monday for the train!
12/03/2012 | Lorna & Bryce
We LOVE reading your blogs guys...what a great adventure!!
Good Bye San Carlos
Phoebe-Sunny & Nice
11/30/2012, San Carlos, Mexico

Just thought I would post a few comments on the marina where Three Sheets spent the summer. I must say when we got back in late October the weather was much cooler than when we left in late June!!!! This marina and small town is pretty devoted to the gringo's and mexican's who keep their boats here. There is quite a strong sport fishing industry and we saw lots of boats coming and going. Our boat was docked beside a large parking lot where there was a long stone wall. If you got up early enough you would see the cats in a very long row chowing down on the food that someone came by and put out every other morning. In another section of the marina there was a group of cats who lived in a big tree!!!

The people were very friendly. We had a great dinner at JJ's on the main drag of town eating fresh fish tacos and margaritas. The local pub was great too and even tuned in one of the TV's for me so we could watch the Breeder's Cup Races.

You can see in one of the pictures why the point is called Indian Head. We left early in the morning in good clear weather on our way to Topolobambo and our planned venture to the Copper Canyon.

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Copper Canyon - There and Back Again

Hey all - A bit limited on the internet - Just a note to let you know we enjoyed our trip to Barrancas del Cobre (Copper Canyon). We were gone 8 days and I hope to update the blog as soon as I can. We will be here for another week or so in Topolobambo!!

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