Finding your Way: First Time at the Copper Canyon Rim

Michael Huckaby hikes the Copper Canyon.

The train stops in Divisadero to tease visitors. It doesn’t matter which direction you’re traveling, you’ll be rewarded with a breathtaking view of the Barranca Urique. It’s overwhelming! Not just the view, either. Whether you’ve been traveling with like minded people searching for new sights and sounds, or with folks checking off bucket lists, or with incidental tourists; unless you’ve been here before, you don’t know what you’re in for.
Before your feet even touch the platform as you step off the train, you’re senses are assailed by unique and exciting sights and sounds. Brightly colored, filthy little Tarahumaran kids are rushing about hawking necklaces and bracelets. Mexican women tend fires at 55 gallon barrels piled high with aromatic fingerfood. They’re yelling, “pasale, pasale, gorditas de papas, chili relleno, bien calentita,” “sit down, sit down, fresh hot food!” The palm sized gorditas come in 3 colors for the different kinds of corn they harvest here: yellow, red, and blue; and can be filled with any combination of the variety of stews they’ve got simmering – beef, pork, chicken, sauteed prickly pear pads, vegetables, chilies, and cheeses, to name a few. The hubub is like the seething masses in a mini-souk or bazaar.
As you get your bearings, you notice a big yawning emptiness that beckons. It’s not something that pulls you, but the exact opposite; the lack of something. The lack of something BIG. But first, there’s a gauntlet of more people hawking more goods. Souvenir carvings and key chains, and embroidered hats, and garish paintings and blankets, are thrust in your face as the tractor-beam of the canyon pulls you closer. Finally you spy a railing, and fellow tourists waving and posing and clicking cameras, but there’s one more contingent of vendors to negotiate.
The Tarahumaran Indians, fabled runners, legendary for the ability to run down a deer, are sitting on blankets surrounded by baskets, and musical instruments, and kids. The baskets run the gamut of sizes like Russian nesting dolls, or their kids running around. These plump women have layer after colorful layer of dresses, and petticoats, and blouses. Some women have long thick, black braids interwoven with bright ribbons tied together at the bottom. Some of them have little kids wrapped up in blankets, rebozos, just like the ones they’re selling. All the women and little girls have head scarves- predominantly of the Virgin de Guadalupe, and no matter the cold temperature, most of them are barefoot. But they’re mostly all plump, and some are a little rotund. These can’t be those mythical people. But their dignified bearing, and singsong chatter gives them away. They’re not aloof, but they’re not subservient. They’re a bit inscrutable, and part of something bigger. And finally there it is- that something much bigger. The Copper Canyon. Barranca del Cobre. The Sierra Tarahumara. It’s so big, one name can’t describe it. It’s got Mexico’s highest waterfall; and third highest. It’s got 500 year old missions, and people who dwell in caves. This tortured terrain is home to 40,000 Indians, and it is remote. The train you just stepped off only got here in 1961. The road we stepped across was only paved in 2009, when they put in the beginning of the cable car.
A cable car, cool! You step to the railing and the wind whips by, ravens playing below on the thermals. The tantalizing rim on the far side looks so close, less than 10 miles, but between here and there is a mile deep canyon, and a raging river. You’re eyes strain to see to the bottom; but the teasing canyon won’t give up any of her secrets. The insouciant whistle of the departing train brings you back to your senses. Not fair. Yeah. I should know.

2 Responses to “Finding your Way: First Time at the Copper Canyon Rim”

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  1. -El Codo- says:

    This story actually carried me there for too few moments — excellent!

  2. churpa says:

    I love your descriptions!