Mystery, melancholy and charm

Teddy Roosevelt said it well…

“There is a delight in the hardy life of the open. There are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy and its charm. The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased and not impaired in value. Conservation means development as much as it does protection.”

– Theodore Roosevelt, President of the United States

wildwood white dove oyster shell
white dove oyster shell, wildwood

Don’t honk if you still see beauty

If you need a break from the clatter and noise, you are not alone. Here is a thought from a former U.S. president…

Wildwood Recreation Site
Wildwood Recreation Site

“If future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt, we must leave them something more than the miracles of technology. We must leave them a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning, not just after we got through with it.”
“We must not only protect the country side and save it from destruction, we must restore what has been destroyed and salvage the beauty and charm of our cities … Once our natural splendor is destroyed, it can never be recaptured. And once man can no longer walk with beauty or wonder at nature, his spirit will wither and his sustenance be wasted.”
– Lyndon B. Johnson, President of the United States

Divisadero, a 15 minute Copper Canyon stop

Divisadero, a 15 minute Copper Canyon stop
Divisadero, a 15 minute Copper Canyon stop
The scheduled Divisadero stop on the Copper Canyon train route lasts for about 15 minutes to allow for canyon viewing and browsing local crafts.

The stop came in the afternoon during travel at some altitude, and the aroma of food cooking in the outdoors got our attention. We skipped the crafts that were for sale, caught great “magic hour” photos with shadows in deep relief and ordered up a plate of possibly the best chilis rellenos ever. They were cooked atop a clean, sizzling hot oil drum and served on a paper plate. We carried them back onto the train to not waste a bite.

Copper Canyon scenery—close enough to touch

On the “train ride in the sky,” the entire rail trip from Los Mochis to Chihuahua has 36 major bridges and 87 tunnels. The train wends on a serpentine route from an elevation of more than 8,000 feet at its highest point to sea level at Los Mochis.

Some say their reason for emphasizing the west-to-east (lowland to highland) route is better canyon viewing during daylight hours. The most spectacular scenery lies between Temoris and Cerocahui, on the western flank of the Sierra Madre. The train departing from the low end travels this section during peak sunlight hours (10 am-12 noon). The train coming from the high end can actually enter this area after sundown during the winter months.

One solve for the Copper Canyon departure point debate: take the train both directions
One solve for the Copper Canyon departure point debate: take the train both directions

The best views were reported to be from the windows on the south side of the train. The spirit of sharing prevailed on our journey. When one of our newfound friends saw some spectacular sight, they would motion for us to join them wherever they stood. We moved from one side to the other. We entered the vestibules, the open areas between cars, snapped photos and then made room for others who were intrigued with the scenery.

Getting a seat on the Copper Canyon train: easy

Departing from the train station at Creel was uncomplicated
Departing from the train station at Creel was uncomplicated
There were two trains daily in each direction: Primera Especial (first class) and Segunda Clase (second class). The differences are important. Generally, first class trains have a restaurant and bar car, comfortable seats, tidy bathroom facilities and security, and the trip took about 13 hours one way. We found first class prices affordable, especially in view of the fact that we had come a long way just to ride the train and see the canyons.

Second class is very economical, about half the price of first class. The accommodations are not designed for comfort or viewing. It can be crowded. We understand there is no restaurant or bar car. And very importantly, the ride takes longer, about 15-16 hours.

We purchased our tickets at the station in Creel. We arrived about an hour in advance of departure, and had cash for the purchase as was suggested. Arriving early added to the fun. We met a group of Mexican tourists from Uruapan who were vacationing together to enjoy the train experience. There was a young couple from the UK, honeymooners full of life and passion about photography and each other. And a young man in his twenties introduced himself and said he had an interest in practicing English. Several of the attendants and other riders appeared to know him well as a frequent traveler. There is congeniality among those who rely on the rail line for regular transportation, as we soon discovered.

The popular base camp for a Copper Canyon journey

Creel proved to be most “citified” of the communities we visited in the Copper Canyon. We found a bank where we could access cash, a number of restaurants and coffee opportunities, a laundry and even a coin operated car wash.

For our reserve-ahead lodging prior to our departure, we discovered Best Western The Lodge at Creel. The accommodations were lovely with an in-room fireplace to keep us toasty warm in spite of the icy November weather.

The dining room was cheery and the food delightful. There was even a hot tub in a common guest area.

Revolution Day entails a lively parade in Creel, Chihuahua, Mexico
Revolution Day entails a lively parade in Creel, Chihuahua, Mexico

Creel, gateway to the Copper Canyon

Map from Basaseachi to Creel, the Gateway to the Copper Canyon
Map from Basaseachi to Creel, the Gateway to the Copper Canyon

The settlement of Creel lies at an elevation of 7,700 ft. in a pine forest valley. Looking like a 19th-century-logging town, Creel was named in honor of the diplomat Don Enrique Creel. The city’s railroad has made it a supply center for the Copper Canyon region and gateway to the Sierra Madre Mountains.

Some suggest that travelers depart on the Copper Train train excursion from west to east, while others prefer east to west. We solved the issue for ourselves as to which route is better by riding in both directions, with Creel as our “top” point of departure and El Fuerte as our “bottom end, turn-around” point.

Scenic grandeur, casual management

Basaseachi Falls, twentieth highest in the world, the fourth highest in North America and Mexico’s highest
Basaseachi Falls, twentieth highest in the world, the fourth highest in North America

The more eastern access road into the park offers a more panoramic perspective of Basaseachi Falls . The two access roads lie only about five miles apart on a paved road. To get there, we headed north through town and turned eastward onto Highway 16, then south onto Chihuahua 330 and followed signage, turning westward into the park overlook area.

We were ready to pay the entrance fee, (10-pesos per person at the time), but there was no one available to accept it. It was a case of scenic grandeur with casual management. We found a souvenir stand with a few packaged snacks for sale and a young man who showed us some available rooms. A part-time independent guide approached us and offered to escort us on the trail to the bottom of the falls. The recommended amount of time to allow for the hike is about three hours.

We thanked him and opted for a shorter unescorted hike. He didn’t pressure. He and his dog had wood to deliver in his truck. We breathed in the clear mountain air and knew that our Copper Canyon journey had truly begun.

Basaseachi, “place of the cascade”

Log cabins provide great park access
Log cabins provide great park access

In the Tarahumara language, Basaseachi is said to mean either “place of the cascade” or “place of the coyotes.” Most of the 25 inches of yearly rain falls in summer. That makes July and August the prime months for falls viewing, but we found every view angle impressive even in drier November. We intended for our visit to Basaseachi to be our kick-off on a journey to the Copper Canyon complex. Its soaring, misty other-worldliness made it a perfect choice.

The falls reside at about 6,600 ft. elevation in Basaseachi Falls National Park, the only officially designated national park in the northern Sierra Madre. The settlement of the same name and the park are easily accessible by a well-maintained road.

Of the two access roads to the park, we approached the first one when we turned south off Highway 16 past KM 276. This leads directly into the village of Basaseachi. Along the few blocks of the main street are a handful of small places to eat and lodgings before the park entrance that leads to the top of the falls.

A log cabin at El Rincon de Basaseachi (GPS Location: N 28◦ 11’ 36.7”, W 108◦ 12’ 33.4”) provided a wood stove and plenty of much needed firewood. It included a double bed, a bathroom, kitchenette with a burner, and plenty of blankets.