One of the most scenic trips in North America is not on the radar of most people who live in the United States. My journey by train this week, through the Barrancas del Cobre (the Copper Canyons) in northern Mexico’s Chihuahua state, is one that will stay with me for many reasons: the spectacular scenery, the presence of the native Tarahumara people (described in my previous blog), and the railway itself — a modern engineering marvel that opened only in 1961, a full century after it was plotted.
The Chihuahua al Pacifico railroad extends 418 miles between the inland metropolis of Chihuahua and Mexico’s west coast, near Las Mochis. (The price tag is about $150 one way.) Along the way it drops from 8,000 feet elevation to sea level, spans 37 bridges, transits 86 tunnels, and crosses the Continental Divide three times. And this is not a rickety cattle-car train; it’s an express model, complete with a lounge car and an executive chef in the dining car.
We boarded in the western lowlands, at El Fuerte, and traveled about 200 miles to Creel, in the heart of the Sierra Tarahumara — a six-hour journey. We returned a couple of days later. Our lodging, at the Tarahumara, was quirky (it is known as “El Castillo” because its central building resembles an Arthurian castle) … but the view from our room (at an elevation of about 7,900 feet) was the finest I’ve had anywhere.
Directly outside our sliding glass door, from the top of a precipitous cliff, North America’s largest canyon system, wider and deeper than the Grand Canyon, spread to the east as far as the eye could see. Seven separate canyons, one intersecting the next, comprise the Barrancas del Cobre, so named for a copper mine that once operated here.
If I lived here, I would be wandering the canyon trails, descending thousands of feet to subsistence farms and magnificent waterfalls I could see in the distance, through my telephoto lens. A couple of days were just enough time to whet my appetite for more.