Barrancas del Cobre (copper canyon) – train ride on the “Chepe” – Creel – Batopilas
Barrancas del Cobre (Copper Canyon) – train ride on the “Chepe” – Creel – Batopilas
The Barrancas del Cobre include some of the most spectacular landscapes in the country. Its national park covers an area of 150,000 square kilometres with various vegetation and climatic zones, from the cold and mostly barren heights of the Sierra Tarahumara to the subtropical landscapes at the bottom of the gorges. This huge canyon complex includes the Barrancas de Urique, Sinforosa, Batopilas, Candameña, Huápoca and Septentrión. With depths between 1520m and 1879m it even surpasses the Grand Canyon.
Culturally, the region is home to the indigenous Tarahumara, as they are called in the Spanish transformation of Rarámuri. Rarámuri means as much as runners with light feet, whose hunting techniques included rushing the hunted game to death. Many endurance runners of the people still live up to their name by covering distances of more than 100 km barefoot or with sandals without any problems.
The Tarahumara belong to the few indigenous groups that also successfully resisted violent missionary work and largely adhered to their traditional way of life. At the beginning of the 19th century, when the silver deposits of Batopilas were to be mined and the Tarahumara were to be forced into forced labour, they withdrew from this violent exploitation by retreating to the more remote gorges of the Barrancas. From the middle of the 19th century, more and more Mexicans also challenged the Tarahumara for their land, which had been released by the government for settlement and use. Nevertheless, many of the estimated 60,000 Tarahumara live on barren soils, some of them in archaic cave dwellings, supplemented by low income from the sale of handicraft products to tourists along the Chepe railway line.
Since 1961, the Chepe has been running daily on one of the most spectacular railway lines in the world from Chihuahua in the Mexican highlands to Los Mochis on the Pacific. The journey leads through the majestic Sierra Tarahumara landscape, crossed by huge canyons and is an absolute must for all railway friends, landscape photographers, hikers and all friends of wild mountain landscapes. The trip should be interrupted for one or more days in any case. Creel, Cerocahui or Divisadero are suitable places to explore the gorges, waterfalls and rivers off the railway line.
The place in a plateau of the Sierra Tarahumara is one of the most important stations along the legendary Chihuahua al Pacifico railway line. Creel is the starting point for excursions into some of the most spectacular landscapes of the copper canyon system. Walking and hiking around Creel you pass some indigenous settlements. From the viewpoint of Cerro Chapultepec on the outskirts of the village, especially in the early morning, when the fog is still defying the morning sun, one has a beautiful view over Creel.
The mission of the Jesuit priest Luis Verplancken, who died in 2004, has been working in Creel for over 40 years. In addition to building a hospital and schools, it has also set up an arts and crafts cooperative that sells authentic products in a shop near the station.
Creel’s surroundings are ideal for walks and longer hikes, some of which you can do on your own without joining a tour. Alternatively, it is also possible to reach the surrounding area by horseback or mountain bike.
One of the easiest and shortest walks leads to the Complejo Ecoturístico Arareko and the lake of the same name. One crosses agricultural land, interspersed with rocky sections and (partly inhabited) caves, until one reaches the small parish of San Ignacio with its modest, more than 400-year-old mission church. Lake Arareko is finally reached after a total of 7 km. Since it also borders on the road to Cusarare, one can also travel one strech by taxi.
Near Cusarare (22km southeast of Creel) is the 30m high waterfall of the same name.
The Monks’ Valley (Valle de los Monjes), 9km from Creel, is a popular destination for all-day horseback riding tours offered by various tour operators in Creel. We especially recommend a tour to the hot springs of Rekowata, which are 22km away from Creel and guarantee its water supply. Several tour operators offer this tour, but sporty people also make it by mountain bike. The crystal-clear water in several pools has 37°C and guarantees a pleasant bathing experience.
The destination of another day trip from Creel is the waterfall of Basaseachi, whose 246 meters make it Mexico’s highest. But the view is spectacular only in the rainy seasons of the year, and it takes six hours to get there and back alone. A trip to Divisadero is recommended (at least for adrenaline junkies), where a large adventure park has been created near the train station, at the viewpoint of the “Piedra Volada” (“flying stone”). The Parque de Aventura Barrancas includes a modern cable car from the Austrian company Doppelmayr and a cable and suspension bridge system called “Tirolesa”, which allows courageous people to cross the gorges at imposing heights.
The way to Batopilas leads from Creel first on asphalted road to Guachochi. In Samachique, about 70km from Creel, the gravel road branches off to Batopilas. After Kirare we descend into the 1800 meter deep canyon. Following the course of the river of the same name you reach Batopilas after another 55 km. Although Spanish advance troops, so-called Adelantados, had already found silver in the river in 1632, the mines of Batopilas were not discovered until the early 18th century. Jesuit missionaries followed the silver diggers and founded the church Nuestra Senora de Loreto in Yoquivo in 1745, today a small logging community 12 km northeast of Batopilas. Much less is known of the missionary church of San Miguel de Satevo, which was probably built between 1760 and 1764, and today appears out of nowhere, since there is no longer a settlement worth mentioning that could justify such an elaborate, large church building. The mission church of Satevo is built of fired bricks and only partially plastered. The distance from Batopilas to Satevo (about 7 km to the south) is easy to walk.
After the Mexican War of Independence, the mining industry was abandoned in Batopilas for a good twenty years. Among the Americans who came to Batopilas in the 1860s, Alexander “boss” Shepherd, last governor of Washington DC, was the most notable. Many of today’s buildings and facilities of the municipality can be traced back to his work. The ruins of his former residence are called Shepherd’s Hacienda.
Batopilas and the surrounding canyon bottom are only 500-600m above sea level. During the winter months, this leads to the curious phenomenon that while the peaks of the Sierra are covered with snow, tropical fruits and plants such as oranges, mangos, papayas and avocados, plamen, flambboyants, bougainvilleas and ceiba trees thrive in Batopilas. Along the River Batopila there are numerous camping possibilities and bathing places. Of particular interest is the La Bufa Bridge. It marks one of the lowest points of the canyon. Near Piedra Redonda a series of larger waterfalls of the Río San Fernando flows into the Plátano Canyon. The highest of them plunges over 100m into the depth.