The Copper Canyon

La Frontera
Zacatecas

… Kathrine and Christiane wearing “Mexiflauge”…

On our first night in Creel, Jeff called it to bed early and I stayed up in the hotel “lobby” drinking moonshine with some Dutch travelers when two beautiful German travelers walked in.  They came over and joined us and I learned that their names were Kathrine & Christiane (pronounced Ka-trine & Christiana).  We started talking and I learned that they were on a one month bus tour of Mexico following a semester at the Pan-American University in Mexico City.  We chatted about future travel plans, what we were doing for the next week,where we had been, etc.  They both expressed interest in traveling to Las Barrancas del Cobre (The Copper Canyon) but were dismayed to find that the tour only departed every 3 days at it was now (winter) low season.  It looked like the Canyon tour wouldn’t be for another 2 days.

That is when I mentioned that Jeff and I had our own car and we were going to the Canyon the following morning.  I asked if they would like to join us and they happily agreed.  We agreed to meet at 7am for breakfast the next morning.  When I retired to our shared room, Jeff was still awake and he told me that he had met a couple – an American man and his Mexican girlfriend – and they had agreed to come with us to the Canyon in the morning

Oops, looks like we have a dilemma on our hands!  Jeff had given a commitment and so had I.  He asked, “Who do you want to bring along?”  And when I told him that it was two German students he said with disdain (I could almost see him roll his eyes, but it was dark in the room), “Oh great, we’ll be stuck with to Deutsch who will be jabbering in German all day, ‘Ughen flughen farphenugen!’”  I told him that they seemed “cool” and we should take the girls.  He said that he wanted to take the couple; they wanted to see the canyon but were reluctant to go on his bike as there were still ice patches on the roads – I later learned that they were traveling all over Central America on his Harley.

We went round and round on the pros and cons of taking the German girls versus the couple when Jeff finally said, “Your car, you call it.”  I told him that we would take Christiane and Kathrine.  The next morning we went to breakfast and the couple was waiting at the table all ready to go.  Jeff broke the news and explained that we had both committed without the knowledge of the other.  They said that they understood and would make some other plans.  A little while later, the girls joined us and I introduced them to Jeff.

After we climbed into the blazer, the girls (now in the back seat) began a conversation with each other in German and Jeff looked at me with a “see, I told you so” look on his face.  Sensing impending danger I began a conversation with our new German travel companions.  And in no time, the four of us were chatting away like old friends.  Within the hour, one joke turned into two, two into four and soon we were laughing so hard that I thought I might crash the truck.  In no time, we hit it off like 4 old friends and talked and bantered and laughed and the minutes soon turned into hours.

We had no map to get to the Canyon, just some crude directions from the hotel proprietor and my AAA North American highway mapbook that had all 50 sates and “Mexico” on one page.  There were few if any roads on the map for this area and signs on the road were non-existent.  We frequently pulled over to ask the locals which way, “Que direccion via Los Barrancas del Cobre?”  Amazingly, some of them had never even heard of it.  So, on we drove, aimlessly for several hours.  I asked the girls to take some shots with my camera and I ended up with this:

We drove for about 3 hours and I was started to worry that we might never find this huge Canyon.  Our guidebooks said that there are 5 canyons that join into an area that is twice the size of the Grand Canyon in Arizona.  I wondered if we might drive right past it and end up Baja!  As we drove, the scenery was stunning: we saw tall mountain bluffs, beautiful valleys and all varieties of high Sierra pine trees and desert Yucca and cactus.  Some rainstorms came and past and we finally pulled over for a nature break and caught this rainbow from a passing storm.

Just as we came to another vista and drove down into another valley, we came to a small town with a “convenience store” that was a small shack about 5′ across.  We approached the clerk and asked if she knew the way to the “big canyon” using our best/worst Spanish with an American accent that was downright embarrassing.  She didn’t answer but instead asked if we wanted to buy a drink?  Ah, I see, I got the hint, “Yes of course, Si, queremos bebidas.”  I bought 4 Miranda orange drinks and the small Indian-looking woman pointed to a side road that led up the mountain.  She made a motion with her arm that I should drive over this mountain.

And so we began up this VERY steep hill that cut back and forth like Pike’s Peak.  The Blazer’s transmission groaned with the load as we worked our way up one cross back and then down the next each time, slowly climbing a little more up the mountain.  About half way up the mountain, I realized that we had only 1/2 tank of gas left – we had been driving for hours and on steep mountain hills.  I can see why so few travel to the Copper Canyon, it is really out of the way.

We finally cleared the summit and started driving down the back side of the mountain.  But still we did not see the Copper Canyon.  We drove along for another 10 minutes as I gingerly applied the brakes and worried about our depleted fuel state.  We had a tall cliff on our left and an embankment on our right that blocked our view.  We had no way of knowing how far this elusive canyon might be.  We finally decided to pull over and climb up the embankment to have a look.

As we climbed the 2 1/2 meter shoulder everyone let collective “oohs” and “aahs.”  Apparently, we had been driving along the rim of the Copper Canyon since we cleared the summit and never knew it.  Standing on the side of the embankment we had a 240 degree view of one of the five massive canyons.  We stood there for 10 or 15 minutes just staring at the vast canyon, its beauty and we just enjoyed the quiet solitude of the place.

We debated driving down into the valley but we could not tell if there was a gas station below.  We could see a small village on the valley floor but no cars or trucks; we only saw donkeys and some carts.  It was like we had taken a time machine 200 years back into time.  We decided that we would just enjoy the view from where we were.  I took as many photos as I could but then could just not do this place justice.  What I really needed was a wide-angle lens; the canyon wrapped around us covering 240 degrees or more.

Jeff broke out some cheese and crackers and some drinks and I set up some lawn chairs.  We hadn’t seen another vehicle for hours so we felt comfortable just leaving the truck in the road.  We sat down for a picnic and just enjoyed the natural beauty of this place.  We watched as the big black vultures circled in the valley, trying to catch a thermal or updraft to sail them higher into the sky.  We watched as squirrels and chipmunks jumped from cactus to tree and as the little larks flew and chirped.  It was a very beautiful place and I wished that I had more time (and gas) to investigate it further.

Before we departed, I took a shot of the 4 of us at the rim of the Canyon.  Our drive back took 5 or 6 hours and we did not arrive back in Creel until after dark.  It was a long day but we had so much fun.  By the evening my stomach and face hurt from laughing so hard.  It was nice to have met such wonderful travel companions so early in my trip.


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La Frontera
Zacatecas

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