Our friends in the Luxembourg Land-Rover Club would be proud of us: after convincing us to make the trip in a Land-Rover and taking us to a few off-road training outings in and around Luxembourg, we felt ready for what was waiting for us in the Barranca del Cobre, the Copper Canyon National Park in Nort-West central Mexico.
Usually, people take a posh tourist train from Los Mochis (Sinaloa province) to Creel (Chihuahua province): a feat of railroad engineering, it makes it way through some of the most spectacular canyons that make up the Park. But it’s expensive, and it’s not a Land-Rover! To get to Creel by conventional roads, you have to drive hundreds of kilometers – boring. So here we are, choosing the straight route, despite the fact that non of our maps show any roads in that area.
Predictably, the road worsens the further we go: from a sandy strip that the last rain has partially washed away to a rocky dirt road to a narrow gravelly path, we end up crawling along canyon edges using the Defender’s reduction gears… And yes, we eat a lot of dust – thanks to our fridge for keeping the evening beers cold!
With not much orientation help from our maps, we have to rely on (very) helpful Mexicans along the way, although their indications are sketchy: they usually haven’t left their area much. We trust their judgment through when they say we can’t cross a river a few hours down the road and turn around to try a different route.
The Barranca del Cobre is Indian territory: we encounter the Tarahumara or Raramuri Indians along the way, but interaction is kept at a minimum by lack of a means of communication: we might speak a little Spanish, but they don’t. Kids don’t mind and come in droves, dutifully proposing some souvenirs for sale, but mostly watching these strangers and their extraterrestrial vehicle. The Raramuri live extremely arduous lives on the steep slopes of the canyons, preferring to preserve their values and culture from outside influence. Some make it to the cities, where they sell souvenirs dressed in traditional, colorful garments – while occasionally chatting away on a mobile phone.
After making it to Creel the hard way, we still wanted to find the “lost cathedral” deep down in the canyon past Batopilas. Another 150 km of off-roading, some of the hardest so far, to reach this strangely imposing church at the end of the world. We left a Luxembourg Land-Rover sticker on one of the beams of the only bridge down there, next to other stickers from previous “expeditions”.
As you know by now, updating the website takes us a few days every couple of weeks. This means a few relaxing days in Creel at an altitude of more than 2300m, with 28°C during the day, and chilly nights around 4°C – a welcome change from the hot and humid Baja! After this rest-stop, we’re going to drive South to explore the colonial cities around Mexico City, before visiting the capital itself. But that’s an entirely different story again!
PS (from 2021): In Creel, we met Oscar, a very nice Mexican working in Texas but spending some holidays in his native Chihuahua region. He guided us to a tune-up shop in the city for Archie’s regular wellness and thought us some Mexican slang words (that we used sparingly thereafter) 😉 Guess what, Oscar found out that this website is online again and immediately sent us a note! One more enduring friendship from this trip!