Sunday, November 09, 2008

A Train Trip to Copper Canyon in Mexico

During election week in the USA, I was serving as a Study Leader for Smithsonian Journey's. This is the travel program for members of the Smithsonian and we were traveling down in the Copper Canyon region of Chihuahua, Mexico. Most of my fellow passengers were happy to be away from the many TV ads, especially those from Florida and Pennsylvania. I don't think there was a chance that even one in our group of 27 travelers was an undecided voter. Nonetheless, we were headed down to warm and sunny Mexico on the private Sierra Madre Express train.

Our group assembled at the historic Arizona Inn in Tucson, built in 1930 when the last big depression hit the world economy. On Halloween morning, we made a stop at the Arizona State Museum and Mission San Xavier del Bac before crossing the border at Nogales and driving to the rail station in Magdalena del Kino.

It was here that Fray Eusebio Kino, the father of the Sonoran and Arizona Spanish missions died and was buried somewhere on the mission grounds. About 30 years ago, workers discovered some bones while digging there. The related artifacts that were included in the burial led some people to believe that this was the burial site of the good Father. His bones are now proudly displayed in a glass case outside the front doors of the mission church. Scenes like this may be a bit macabre for people of English heritage but this is one of the larger tourist attractions in northwest Mexico. Viva Padre Kino!

After traveling on the coastal plain of Sonora, where huge agricultural fields were seen, we entered the Sierra Madre. What a dramatic sight as out little train headed into the vast canyon system of these mountains.

At Temoris, the tracks make a huge loop across the river and then enter a tunnel which itself loops 180 degrees underground. The tracks below go uphill from left to right and this photo was shot as we exited that tunnel traveling right to left.

Look at the size of these boulders within the canyon and along the train tracks. Is it any wonder how these deep canyons are carved? Not really - it is the unusually large floods that have rolled boulders of this size and they physically pound the bedrock and chip away at it through time.

Here is a view of the Urique Canyon near Cerocahui. We traveled here on a bus for about an hour to see the view. It was hazy but warm at 7,500 feet.

The town of Urique at the bottom of the canyon. The road continues down but we did not have time to visit.

The roof on the beautiful mission church in Cerocahui.

As many of you have heard, there is quite bit of violence in Mexico these days regarding drug cartels. In August of this year 12 people were gunned down after a dance in the little town of Creel (population 8,000). Here are symbolic caskets pleading with the government to end the violence. Decriminalization of personal marijuana use in our country would act to remove the profit motive in the drug trade and help to end this violence just as well.

A Tarahumara Indian woman shops in a local tienda in the Copper Canyon region.........

..... and then walks home beneath these strange and colorful ash flow tuffs that dominate the landscape in this region. Copper Canyon is cut into these relatively young (25 million years old) volcanic rocks.

Here are a few more scenes of the Tarahumara.

And the hotel on the rim of the canyon where we stayed for two nights.