Trip Number: 13555A
Price: $3,795 (10-12)
$4,195 (or fewer)
Staff: Tim Wernette
- Explore one of the world’s most scenic canyons by train and on
- Witness rarely seen Tarahumara Indian Holy Week/Easter pageants
- Camp in a Tarahumara village
- Discover neotropical birds and exotic plants of four climatic zones
- Six-day burro-supported trek, camping through spectacular scenery and
visiting remote Tarahumara Indian village
- Three-day exploration of Batopilas, a mining town deep in Copper
Photo: Copper Canyon Trails
The Sierra Tarahumara (Copper Canyon) is a high and rugged section of the Sierra
Madre Occidental and one of Mexico's premier attractions. The term "Copper
Canyon" or "Las Barrancas del Cobre" refers to one of the Sierra's
most salient geographical features: its vast network of canyons, of which at
least four (each over 5,400 feet deep) are deeper than the Grand Canyon. This
region harbors four distinct climatic zones: the highlands up to 8,000 feet,
with ponderosa pine and Douglas fir; the pinon-oak-juniper at slightly lower
elevations; the tropical deciduous thorn forest just below the canyon tops;
and the canyon bottoms with tropical-subtropical riparian forests.
These forests contain the largest stands of old-growth forest in the Americas
and produce more pine and oak than any other area in the world. Mexican wolf,
black bear, and puma live in the highlands. Wide-ranging mammals include white-tailed
deer, coyote, bobcat, javelina, ringtail, coati, and river otter. Over 200 migratory
and indigenous bird species have been spotted here, including eared and elegant
trogon, solitary eagle, squirrel cuckoo, crested caracara, green parakeet, and
The 25,000 square miles of Copper Canyon are also the traditional homeland
of Mexico's 50,000 Tarahumara, whose lifestyle is in many ways much the same
as that of their ancestors. The majority of Tarahumara live in caves, along
rivers, and in small log cabins on the canyon floor, cultivating the land, using
time-tested methods. Life in this rugged wilderness has made them adept at maneuvering
the steep mountainsides on foot; they are noted for their long-distance running
ability, even up and down the steep mountain trails. We will undoubtedly find
groups of Tarahumara women and children making beautiful woven baskets, belts,
and wooden figures to sell.
We will begin our journey from the town of El Fuerte, Sonora, on the first-class
Copper Canyon train of the Chihuahua al Pacifico Railway, considered by many
to be the most spectacular train ride in North America for its scenery and sheer
engineering marvels. We start from near sea level, passing over 26 bridges and
through 50 tunnels in 200 miles to an elevation of close to 8,000 feet.
We will disembark at Posada Barranca and meet our outfitter, who will guide
us on a six-day, burro-assisted trek to the remote Tarahumara Indian village
of Siquirichi, where we will witness rarely seen Semana Santa (Easter Holy Week)
festivities. The burros will carry all our gear except for a light day pack.
The remainder of our trip will be spent in comfortable hotels on the rim near
Creel and at river-level in Batopilas, one of the most remote towns in North
America. Throughout our trip we will hike in the canyons and to historical sites.
Photo: Copper Canyon Trails
Note: Itinerary is subject to change due to weather conditions or other factors.
Day 1: We meet at the airport in Los Mochis in the early evening
and take a van to our comfortable lodge in the charming colonial riverside town
of El Fuerte. After settling into our rooms, we have a delicious dinner at the
lodge and get acquainted at our orientation meeting.
Day 2: This morning we take the first-class Copper Canyon
train, traveling from 600 feet above sea level to our destination on the rim.
The views are fantastic! We meet our outfitter as we disembark, and then are
transported to a rustic guesthouse near the rim for a late lunch. Afterward,
we'll enjoy a two-mile scenic walk on level ground before dinner in the evening.
Day 3: After a hearty breakfast we'll meet our local guides
and watch the arrieros (burro drivers) pack up our gear for our hiking and camping
over the next six days. We'll carry a day pack with hiking essentials and begin
our trek along trails that are used daily by the Tarahumara Indians for commerce
and commuting to work. The Oteros drainage lies to the west of the ridge, standing
high above the Urique River. We'll probably have lunch in an apple orchard,
part of Rancho El Manzano, where the parents of one of our guides (Jilo) settled
about the time the railroad was constructed. The camp for our first night is
in a bowl formed by the junction of two ridges, with some unusual and beautiful
rock formations. We descend 1,200'; 5 miles.
Photo: Copper Canyon Trails
We continue our descent toward the Rio Oteros, camping
at Arenales ("arena" means "sand" in Spanish), which is
above a sandbar at the confluence of the side drainage we've been descending
and the Rio Oteros. If it's warm/hot, the cool water of the Rio Oteros will
feel very refreshing. We'll spend two nights here, day hiking around the area.
We descend 1,200'; 6 miles.
Today we ascend to the village of Siquirichi, and we'll
have some good views of one of the Rio Oteros narrows. We cross over numerous
ridges to the pastoral, remote Tarahumara village of Siquirichi, located on
a tributary of the Rio Oteros. The setting is inspiring, with thousand-foot
cliffs surrounding the little adobe homes, dotted with small fields of corn
and the freshly whitewashed visita (church) sitting peacefully on its promotory
in the middle of the rancho. We'll be greeted by the village dogs, burros, and
chickens, and probably by some of the children and elders. If we're fortunate,
the gobernador (governor) of the rancho will provide some musical entertainment
for us. We'll be visiting during Semana Santa (Easter Holy Week) so we'll expect
to see some of their festivies and celebrations. We ascend 900'; 6 miles.
We'll continue our ascent up to a secluded valley named
the Arroyo Recayna, where we visit Mogollon-era cliff dwelling ruins and pictographs.
Our last night of camping will be in the Arroyo Recayna. Ascend 800'; 4 miles.
We ascend back to the rim on the last day of our trek
and welcome the hot showers and civilization of Mansion Tarahumara, our hotel
for the night. Ascend 900'; 6 miles.
Day 9: After breakfast we travel most of the day in our private
van 5,000 feet down through several different ecological zones to the remote
town of Batopilas on the Batopilas River. The site of one of the richest silver
strikes in the world, Batopilas is a throwback to an earlier, quieter era of
Mexico. There we will most likely encounter traditional Tarahumara coming into
town to buy staples and then returning on the town’s footpaths to their
cave dwellings. We spend three nights at a comfortable lodge near the river.
Photo: Copper Canyon Trails
Day 10: In the morning, we hike on a lovely trail by the
river and visit a school and community near Batopilas. After a riverside picnic,
we visit the ruins of the mining company that once dominated the town and region.
Day 11: We spend the morning hiking on the Camino Real, the
original "Royal Road" used by mining companies to transport their
silver ore by burros up to Mexico City. Expect wide views of the river and surrounding
desert countryside. We have lunch at the Satevo church/mission, which has been
lovingly restored. We van back to Batopilas and relax at our lodge.
Day 12: Today we leave Batopilas and drive up the canyon to
a lovely lodge in the pine forest where we take a hike to a nearby waterfall.
Day 13: A short ride from the lodge takes us to Creel, the
hub town of the Copper Canyon area. Here we’ll have time to shop for souvenirs
if we want. We take the late-morning train back to El Fuerte, arriving there
for a late dinner.
Day 14: A taxi ride takes us back to the airport at Los Mochis
and our flights home.
We will meet in the early evening of Sunday, March 24th, at the airport in
Los Mochis (LMM), which is accessible by Aeromexico from a couple of western
U.S. cities. The trip concludes on Saturday, April 6th, at the Los Mochis airport.
Group transfers will be provided between the airport and El Fuerte, which is
a 1.5-hour drive away.
Accommodations and Food
Photo: Copper Canyon Trails
Our meals will be tasty, plentiful, and nourishing. All of our meals are made
from scratch in the restaurants we visit and on our trek. Vegetarians will be
accommodated easily since most meals in Mexico include beans and rice.
We spend eight nights in lodges, ranging from a rustic guesthouse to comfortable
lodges, and five nights camping in tents on our trek. Our outfitter supplies
roomy two-person tents, which the crew sets up and takes down for us. All of
our lodges feature double rooms with private bathrooms. We will use a portable
outhouse on our trek.
This trip is moderately-strenuous: during the burro-assisted trekking and
camping portion, we will be hiking up to six miles per day at elevations from
5,300 to 7,700 feet, with daily elevation changes up to 1,200 feet. Temperatures
usually range from 55 to 75 degrees on the rim and from 60 to 85 degrees in
the canyons. This trip will appeal to participants who are in good physical
shape and who enjoy outdoor activities as well as new cultural experiences.
Equipment and Clothing
Broken-in hiking boots, hiking poles, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and day
pack are the basic equipment needed for the trekking portion of this trip. Our
outfitter will provide two-person tents. A complete packing list will be sent
to each trip member by the trip leader.
- Touristic Guide of Sierra Tarahumara, Chihuahua
- Cummings, Joe, Northern Mexico Handbook. Moon Publications, 1998.
- Fayhee, John, Mexico's Copper Canyon Country. Cordillera Press,
- Fontana, Bernard, Tarahumara: Where Night is the Day of the Moon.
Northland Press, 1979.
- Kennedy, John, The Tarahumara of the Sierra Madre: Beer, Ecology, and
Social Organizing. AHM Publishing Corp., 1978.
Photo: Copper Canyon Trails
The ongoing drought continues to be a major problem in the mountains of the
Copper Canyon region. The Tarahumara, as well as the local mestizo population,
practice dry farming, and are thus susceptible to prolonged periods of little
rain. As well, the peoples of the region are dependent on rainfall to recharge
the water table and on the springs to supply the drinking water -- some of which
are drying out.
The ongoing development in the region is very controversial. Tourism officials
in the state of Chihuahua are planning a canyon rim complex (more hotels, etc)
to coincide with the completion of a new airport in Creel. This development
will, of course, make some people very rich and tourists happy, but there is
no evidence that it will help the Tarahumara or their culture in any way. The
encroachment of "chabochi (Anglo) culture" continues to the detriment
of the native population. One of the major hotels in a town on the rim, for
example, continues to dump black water into a populated canyon below, even while
insisting that repairs are taking place. The drug cartels are pushing their
cultivation of poppies and marijuana deeper and deeper into the canyons, displacing
traditional Tarahumara cultivation. The article, "A People Apart,"
by Cynthia Gorney in the November 2008 issue of National Geographic has some
good, current information on the region.
This trip requires a $200 per-person deposit. An additional payment of $300 per person is due six months prior to trip departure. International trip prices are subject to change and are based on double-occupancy or group accommodations as described above. Single rooms may not be available or may cost more than the listed price. If you have any questions regarding double occupancy, please contact the trip leader.
See the How to Apply for an Outing
section for more details on registering for this trip and details
about our Reservation and Cancellation
The payment of a deposit does not confirm you as a member on the
trip. Participants must be approved by the trip leader. After signing
up for this trip, you will be sent a confirmation packet containing
approval materials (Participant Approval Questionnaire, Medical
Form, Liability Release Form). Each applicant (including those on
the waitlist) must fill out these forms and promptly mail them to
the trip leader. The leader will review the approval materials and
notify you of your acceptance in a timely manner.
The Sierra Club accurately and fairly budgets and prices our trips. However, unforeseen costs such as devaluation of the dollar compared to other currencies and fuel surcharges assessed by our international providers may necessitate adjustment in trip price. We will make every effort to mitigate and absorb these fees. If a price increase is necessary, however, you will have 14 days after announcement to cancel without penalty.
Tim Wernette has been leading Sierra Club service trips for more than 25 years. He is an avid "canyon rat" and has led numerous Sierra Club service trips on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, including previous trips in Kanab Creek Wilderness. He also leads international trips (to Nepal, Bhutan, Belize, Ecuador/Galapagos Islands and Costa Rica). Tim is semi-retired and continues to work part-time at the University of Arizona doing educational equity work. Tim enjoys hiking/backpacking and, with his wife, tandem recumbent bike riding and sea kayaking. The canyon country we will visit is Tim's geographical "spiritual home," and he loves sharing it with fellow Sierra Club members.
General Notes About Sierra Club Trips