Story nd photo by Leo Buijs
Inside a decrepit waiting room, anticipating the Chihuahua El
Pacifico train, a lot of dust was stirred up from kicking a half deflated
basketball around in an attempt to keep warm. After one particularly solid
kick, the ball arced up high and disappeared through one of the missing windows,
just as a whistle in the distance announced the arrival of the train.
The train’s appearance always seems to be a minor miracle, as
the station in the small village of Areponapuchi is located at 8,000 feet on
the side of Mexico’s Copper Canyon.
I was on the second leg of my adventure through the Copper
Canyon, a geographic marvel that rivals the better-known Grand Canyon. The
Grand Canyon is wide and long, stretching more than 200 miles and with great
whitewater rafting. The Copper Canyon is not. There’s no rafting in the Copper
Canyon because there’s very little water flowing through it. And by itself,
it’s not nearly as large as the Grand Canyon. But combined with four adjacent
canyons, the total area is larger than the Grand Canyon, and the gorge itself
Only recently discovered by tourists, the Copper Canyon still
lacks the massive resort-like hotels, tour busses and helicopter noise you find
at the Grand Canyon. The question is for how long. There are roads, but because
of the dizzying short switchbacks that descend 6,000 feet to the bottom of the
canyons they can’t handle anything bigger than a van.
Riding the rails
The Chihuahua El Pacifico train nudged gently along the edge of
canyons then trough Ponderosa Pine forest, constantly gaining altitude until it
reached a plateau, where I exited into pelting rain and wet snow in the
frontier town of Creel. This is Mexico? It was the first precipitation in
months. The gray dusty layer that had settled everywhere, from plants to
treetops and from the road to adobe huts, was suddenly washed away.
The next morning, my six-hour trip down to Batopilas was cold, but
everything looked fresh and so intense. Going down is a slow process, with so
many hairpins, rough surfaces and wash-outs. But that makes it great for bird
watching. Red-tailed and black hawks were everywhere. One was flying close
alongside with me for some time during the descent, and at one point near a
waterfall the driver spotted the illustrious but elusive Elegant Trogon.
A few miles before reaching the village at the canyon floor, a
huge area was filled with deposits from silver mines that were active here
during the last century. There are many mines around Batopilas and one has a
rare, old fig tree at its entrance.