Ojo de La Barranca: Gateway to Adventure

Lonely Planet’s first reports from Copper Canyon centered around Creel, and despite decades of tourism most visitors still begin there journey there. Unfortunately, if they arrive in Creel from the coast by train, they’ve already passed the canyon! So instead of backtracking, they go to the bottom of the canyon by bus to Batopilas. Que barbaro! More information would allow visitors to get off the train in Bahuichivo, and get to Urique much quicker than the 2 day connection to Batopilas via Creel. It’s also rumored that with a first class ticket, you can get off the train 3 times. Adventurous travelers may opt to spend a night or two in Temoris. They could reboard after visiting some interesting canyons, guesthouses and waterfalls, and reboard Chepe for Bahuichivo. A mere 20 minutes from Bahuichivo is the beautiful Misíon Cerocahui. The are great trails from there to Urique (almost all downhill!) for the backpacker or horseback rider. With the new road connecting Urique to Batopilas, one could do a loop instead of the old in-and-out. At this time travelers are strongly discouraged from backpacking between Urique and Batopilas. It’s a shame, too. Just look at a map to see how close they are.

Copper Canyon visitors take note, the only opportunity to SEE the canyons coming from the coast by train is where the railroad widens enough to permit the southbound and northbound trains to pass at Divisadero. Luckily all trains stop here. For a stop with only one hotel, no restaurants, and no infrastructure, Divisadero is doing pretty well. It now sports an Austrian-Swiss engineered cable car, and a 6 kilometer Tyrolean traverse consisting of 7 ziplines and two long gravity-defying swinging suspension bridges. A new 2.4 kilometer chair-equipped zipline is almost completed. There’s a fancy new train station that’s been gathering patina for 3 years now. It also has the best – and only- street food in the Sierras. The gorditas -fat corn tortillas stuffed with your choice of toppings- come in three flavors hot off the wood-stoked barrels from women loudly hawking their food to all arrivals and departures. Look over the tasty offerings like BBQ pork, nopales with papas, shredded beef, quelites, sesos, lengua, chicharones, or chile relleno and stuff them into a yellow corn, blue corn, or red corn gordita. Grab a couple as you walk the gauntlet of more vendors hawking Copper Canyon and Tarahumara themed T-shirts, ball caps, carvings, necklaces, and various recuerdos of every sort as you make your way to the canyon rim.

Don’t miss the view of the river! It is barely discernible at one tiny spot along the bend in the chain link fence beside the Hotel Barrancas Divisadero, and it is easily overlooked because of the immensity of the panoramic vista. Once you spy the usually emerald green colored “V” far below, you’re looking straight down “Ojo de la Barranca” to the Rio Urique. To get all the way down there is easily a day’s walk- but not an easy day’s walk. It’s roughly 5000 feet of descent. There are guides available, just no signs. Linger longingly at the edge after the train has pulled out, and you’ll be approached. You can descend by a number of unmarked trails, and the guides know them all. Several speak English. There are no storefronts or rows of ATV’s like in Creel, but there’s a vast network of trails, and a solid network of reliable guides. There are also a couple of caballeros on call nearby to take visitors on an exhilarating horseback ride. You probably won’t start your hike until the morning anyway, so be aware of the accommodations. You can spend $250/night or $50/night (US money). Quite a range- the difference being a hotel or a guesthouse. There are lots of choices for that, too. Ask your guide. If you opt for the guesthouse, it will probably be his house or his cousin’s anyway, and chances are the food will be more authentic and certainly spicier that at a hotel.

Actually, infrastructure is on its way. Soon there will be ATV rentals. Vans will shuttle the less adventurous adventurer from the train station directly to the cable car bypassing the locals’ stalls and the chance to talk about more than just fiddle prices. Restaurants are slated to open. Currently, the hotels and guesthouses must furnish meals for their guests. There’s the rumor of a golf course. Remember when the cable car was a rumor? Sadly, government ecotourism is an oxymoron. The cable car terminal originally had dry toilets, but I guess too many complaints have shifted their focus to flush 4 liters of precious fresh water per restroom patron. Trenches are under construction for the fresh water pipeline from the reservior in San Juanito.
Andale, Paisanos. See you in the canyons. Don’t forget, the first Sunday in March is the Caballo Blanco Ultramarthon in Urique. 2014 is the 12th running!