Riding the rails to Copper Canyon, one of the wonders of the world

//Riding the rails to Copper Canyon, one of the wonders of the world

When I booked to travel on this Azamara Quest cruise billed as “to the Sea of Cortez and Copper Canyon,” it was because I was looking forward to the opportunity to view the teeming marine life. I had never heard of Copper Canyon, and assumed it might be a two-bit former mining town with a few relics to its name and little else.
How wrong could anyone be? I’m now back from one of the longest and most expensive shore excursions I have ever undertaken, but it was worth every minute and every cent.
Copper Canyon is a vast region of north-west Mexico riven apart by green and red gorges deeper than America’s Grand Canyon, and yet it’s hardly visible on the world’s tourist map.
At this time of year there are few rushing rivers to compare with the Colorado; many ravines contain little more than trickling streams burrowing deeper and deeper by dissolving volcanic rock.
A few local Indians from the Tarahumara tribe eke a living by tending a few cows and sheep or growing maize, beans and squash. The women weave ornate baskets from cactus fibres and pine needles, to sell to visitors for a handful of pesos.
There are realistically only two ways to travel to the Canyon – by horse or by train. We chose the train.
The excursion cost $599 booked on the ship, and attracted almost 200 participants (not the figure of 400 quoted in my last post – I should know better than to report ship gossip as fact).
Quest was berthed in Topolobampo; we left the ship at 5.00 am for a two-hour drive to the small town of El Fuertes where our chartered Chihuahua al Pacifico – or Chepe – train was waiting. With all aboard by 7.15am we began a six-hour climb into the mountains, the scenery growing more impressive with every mile.
Through tunnel after tunnel, and over precarious bridges crossing arroyos, the track snaked its way alongside rushing rivers and past craggy cliffs.
Carlos, our guide, did his best to keep us informed about the occasional villages and stations en route, and about what we could expect when we reached our destination.
A small army of train and our staff kept us fed and watered, and an assiduous carriage porter in double-breasted jacket, bow tie and peaked cap walked up and down the carriage to collect our empties and keep everything tidy.
At Temoris, about half -way through the journey, the track took two horseshoe bends, one of them in a mile-long tunnel, to gain height from the valley floor, climbing about 3,000 feet to the plateau above.
Eventually we reached Posada Barrancas station. All change!
While most passengers headed straight for lunch at the Mirador Hotel, perched on the rim of the canyon, about 50 of us paid a further $45 to take an exhilarating trip by cable car to a stumpy outcrop further into the canyon and providing breathtaking views of not only Copper Canyon but also Urique and Trararecua Canyons.
Whoever is behind the investment needs to use a bit more imagination in naming their stations, however. Officially, we left from “Point A” and we travelled for eight minutes, suspended thousands of feet in the air, to “Point B.”
How much more exciting would it have been if the crossing had been from Rimrock to Eagle’s Mount, for example? Just a suggestion, and I won’t claim copyright.
Perhaps the investors are too busy putting in scary zip wires, ropes courses and rapelling walls to think of names.
At each cable car station there were Tarahumara girls – most with a baby on their hips – selling souvenirs; there were a refreshingly un-pushy bunch and did not even demand tips when they were photographed.
There are no words which will adequately describe the views. Take a look at the pictures in my Facebook gallery and add your own descriptions. It must be in the running for inclusion in any list of natural wonders of the world.
Every chasm and cliff, peak and plateau is simply enormous and it’s almost impossible to appreciate just how vast the canyon complex is. Four of the arms of the complex are 1,000 feet deeper than anything in the Grand Canyon of Colorado.
From valley floor to mountain top there are three distinct climatic zones, each with their own vegetation; in total there are believed to be 23 species of pine, 200 of oak, and alder and poplar trees. Wild flowers blossom everywhere and the pipe organ cacti of the lower levels is replaced by star-shaped sotol and yucca which the Indians use to make everything from alcoholic drinks to baskets.
The colour palette of the rocks, rivers and sky contains a million shades, and erosion of the volcanic deposits laid down over a period of 15 million years exposes rocks of every hue.
There are gold and silver mines, but little copper – the name is derived from the colour rather than deposits of the actual metal.
From out cable car eyrie, we rejoined our travelling companions at the Mirador Hotel. More photo opportunities, more souvenirs, and a display of traditional dancing and a brief example of the marathon running for which the Indians are famous, and then it was time to return to the train.
The downhill journey was a little quicker, but the final two hours on the bus seemed to take for ever.
Back at the quayside in Topolobampo, Azamara Quest crew were quick to provide a restorative cup of hot chocolate and rum, but even that could not instil enough energy for me to join the stay-at-home passengers who were dancing at an impromptu disco on the dock-side.
After 17½ hours away from the ship, there were only two things on my mind: bathroom and bed; to remind myself that it had not all been a dream. We had seen the biggest canyon complex in the world. And it was worth it.

By | 2017-06-15T15:59:28+00:00 6 February 2014|Cruise Destinations|0 Comments

About the Author:

John Honeywell is a travel writer specialising in cruise ships and cruise travel. Winner of CLIA UK's Contribution to Cruise award 2017.

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