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Mexico's Copper Canyon

Not far south of the Mexico-United States border in the Mexican State of Chihuahua lies an extensive system of deep gorges and canyons known as Barranca del Cobre or as it is popularly called, The Copper Canyon. Hidden away in the northwestern Sierra Madre this system of 5-6 deep canyons comprise an area larger than the Grand Canyon of Arizona and in some of the canyons the depths descend down 300-400 feet deeper than the lowest point in the Grand Canyon. This area is the homeland of the Raramuri, the Tarahumara Indians. The Tarahumara are still living virtually unchanged for the last 200-300 years. This second largest group of North American native people live with the land in their traditional life-style and extended family groups. They farm small plots of land where they raise corn, beans and squash and some livestock. Shunning most of the outside world and living in simple rock and log cabins and some still inhabiting caves and cliff shelters, the Tarahumara preserve their simple lifestyle. Their name, Raramuri, means foot runners and they are well known for running & walking long distances over many days.

In 1961 Mexico completed the Chihuahua al Pacifico rail line from Los Mochis to the city of Chihuahua. This line took nearly 100 years to complete and crosses some of the most rugged and beautiful country in North America. Along its route the passenger trains go through 86 tunnels and across 37 bridges as it climbs into the Sierras. The train ride alone has been called one of the most spectacular in the world.

This part of Mexico offers unique opportunities to see some of the "Real Mexico". Warm, friendly people and a relaxed atmosphere. There is breathtaking natural scenery and remote, quaint little villages. Scattered throughout the area are the "ranchos" of the Tarahumara.



















Hidden deep at the bottom of a remote, deep Barranca is the sleepy little town of Batopilas. This remote village on the banks of the Rio Batopilas was once one of the richest silver minning areas in North America and the second place in all Mexico to have electricity (Mexico City was first). Batopilas today is quaint and friendly with narrow cobblestone streets and buildings from the colonial period along with the ruins of the Hacienda San Miguel, the site of the Shepherd family silver mining operation from 1880-1912. A relaxed, unhurried pace takes the vistor back in time a hundred years, reminiscent of days gone by. Tarahumaras come to the village from their remote ranchos to trade or just take in the curious sites or to work long enough to earn enough money to buy a new axe or some other necessity.

Until about 1980 there were no vehicle roads to Batopilas and all supplies that were brought to and from Batopilas, including the monthly shipments of some 300,000 ounces of fine silver in the form of silver bars had to be transported on mules or carried by hand, including a grand piano! Nearby at the small village of Satevo is perhaps the most elegant church in the region and probably dates from around the late-1500's. Some of it's bells in the bell tower have casting dates from Spain that predate Columbus. The records from this church and who built it have been lost in time. Why such an elegant church was built here is one of the interesting mysteries of the canyons.







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Copyright 1998 Charles Rau

All images on these pages are under the copyright of Charles S. Rau and CSR Nature Photography, none of the images may be copied, reproduced, downloaded or used without the express written permission of Charles S. Rau