The Barranca del Cobre: Mexico's Grand Canyon... Then Some!
A camera cannot capture this vastness
An Extraordinary Rail Journey
The Barranca del Cobre: Mexico’s Grand Canyon
The magisterial Sierra Madre Mountains begin at the Arizona/Sonora Desert border and continue south, part of the magnificent cordillera which runs from Alaska, through Canada and the Americas to the south of South America, taking on many names as it cuts through various nations.
Many have said Mexico’s Copper Canyon is bigger than the Grand Canyon, which is both true and false at the same time. The Grand Canyon is more consistently deeper through its main body, but Copper Canyon does have spots deeper than the North American trench. Also, Copper Canyon is part of six huge barrancas and is larger in total area than the Grand. For most, the Grand Canyon with it’s stunning panorama, yawning depths and miles of width is by far the most spectacular of the two. (Part of the reason for this may be that the Mexican ravines have more vegetation which softens the aspect). Its river - the Colorado - is still larger and more powerful than any of the six rivers which have carved the Cobre and its neighbors, continuing to form the Rio Fuerte (strong), eventually pouring into the Sea of Cortez.
Copper Canyon either takes its name from the green-to-copper colors found along its escarpments, or, as some have supposed from long closed copper mines.
The Barranca Country of Mexico is the preserve of the proud and often elusive Tarahumara Indians, known for their athletic stamina and ability to run double marathon distances with ease.
The beauty of these wild barrancas (ravines) and the mountains that frame them is their inaccessibility. Man has never really been able to tame high mountain areas and they remain the preserve of the same flora and fauna which has evolved there for millions - even billions - of years.
The Barranca del Cobre is about one half of a huge canyon, the other part being made up by the Barranca de Urique; forming the third line of the square is the third largest canyon, the Barranca de Sinforosa. Heading off Sinforosa, towards the center of the imaginary square, is the Barranca de Batopilas. The other barrancas are rarely visited and not worth mentioning herein. (except Septentrion, below).
The train from Chihuahua City/Los Mochis accesses the barranca region by means of Divisadero, on the bend of Cobre and Urique, or Cuiteco, Bahuichivo and Temoris station villages. Divisidero is the only stop near Cobre, the others are all situated on the rim of Urique.
The whole mountain area containing the Barrancas is known as the Sierra Tarahumara.
Those entering the region from the west (Los Mochis) will pass over dizzying bridges, the Rio Fuerte, Chinipas River Bridge and the Santa Barbara Bridge, just before reaching Temoris (gateway to tropical Rio Septentrion Canyon) and begins to climb to high Divisadero. As you leave the high canyon area after Creel (towards Chihuahua) you enter a lovely area of valleys interspersed with picturesque villages.
This rail trip takes just one day and is one of the most awe-inspiring rail journeys on the planet. It was a huge undertaking, containing many tunnels and bridges and costing not a few lives in its construction; that it is so relatively unknown must be due to the Mexican tourist bureau who, in the somewhat mysterious ways of Mexican minor bureaucrats, may be happy with keeping this genuine paradise untouched by human hand and most of the filth and hideousness of tourism.
Americans face an easy drive down to Chihuahua where the train runs once per day (times not known).
A good overnight stop if you are not actually hiking in the barrancas might be Creel in Chihuahua which is reputed to have a very interesting store stocked with Indian artifacts to be sold to the public (eBayers, prick up your ears!). This is where the railroad began in the 1890’s.
Any good guide will fill you in on the delights of the area, I hope this brief article will awaken your interest in a trip you won’t regret.