Canyons of Copper, Bluffs of Rust and Gold
All sorts of people are on the go, looking for new vistas and unique experiences. You’ve got travelers, tourists, adventurers, and X-men. Mountaineers search for scree and handholds to conquer, venturing out with topo maps and compasses. Others pack the latest Danielle Steele or John Grisham novel. With the internet for booking
(and for communicating with loved ones back home), ‘the Road Less Traveled” is now found on MapQuest---to the relief of some and the acute disappointment of others.
But you can still feel wonderfully free in Copper Canyon (las Barrancas del Cobre), Mexico’s vast and unconquered version of the Grand Canyon. Best yet, you can put together a trip or a trek as adventure-laden or relaxing as you choose.
The Copper Canyon is not one but a system of magnificent gorges that dominates the west-central part of Chihuahua, Mexico’s largest state. This extensive system of canyons was carved by half dozen rivers that still define it today. Some of the barrancas, like Sinforosa, are deep, narrow, and little explored. Deepest of all at around 1,830 meters (approximately 6,000 feet) below the canyon’s rim, Urique was---as the headquarters of an 18th-century mining operation---one of the first places in Mexico to be wired for electricity. Long retired from the vanguard, the tiny town now is a wonderful destination for explorers, a unique world that seems lost in time as well as in space.
Not for those pressed for time or faint of heart, the dizzying canyon floor can be reached---with a qualified guide---on foot or by bus, car, burro, horse, or mountain bike. Deep, serpentine gorges like the Urique and Batopilas are not appropriate for casual exploration. This lonely, sun-kissed terrain is the perfect venue for marijuana plantations, and a lost hiker might stumble across a drug deal in progress or, more likely, a security guard toting an M--16. Fortunately a smattering of locally based guides, tour operators, and lodges know the area well enough to offer safe access to this magnificent world of striated gorges, pink- and copper-hued peaks, and iconoclastic mission churches.