<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="65001"%> RV Guide to Copper Canyon Mexico
NOTE: While this is designated as an ARCHIVE FILE, it is retained despite the date of first publication because it offers information of continuing current interest and/or for its historical perspective. Please be guided accordingly.




by David Eidell

Mexico's famed Barranca del Cobre (Copper Canyon) is fast becoming one of the top RV'er destinations in Mexico. But as you will read, there is a lot more to this area than just sightseeing a magnificent canyon by train. I say "just" but fear not, the train experience is a real "E Ticket" ride, however the side trip (below) turns the journey into a life-long memory of exotic places and experiences.

A Mercifully Short Overview Of The Copper Canyon And Railroad

Located in the northwest of Mexico's mainland, a series of several vast canyons and rivers cleave the Sierras and eventually drain westward into the gulf of California near Los Mochis Sinaloa. In the middle part of the last century a long-delayed railroad line was finished that connected the city of Chihuahua, with Los Mochis, and after a monumental undertaking, railroad tracks were laid. I'm not going to list all of the construction superlatives here but suffice to say that dozens and dozens of tunnels and bridges had to be constructed and combined with the giant canyon alongside, the train ride makes for one heck of a fine overnight adventure. The track itself supports freight, but more importantly the second-class cars transport local ranchers, tarahumara indians, and just about everyone else who lives in the region. For much of the distance, the train has no competition with a roadway for none spans the region except for a primitive jeep trail that challenges even well prepared off-road motor vehicles.

Every Day A Train Departs At 0600

One leaves Chihuahua headed west while another departs Los Mochis, eastbound (Don't worry, there are sections of dual track and sidings). Most visitors choose the eastbound train, because it's schedule affords viewing the most magnificent portion of the canyon in full daylight.

There are two classes of service: Most tourists choose the first class cars because they offer a higher degree of sophistication (cleaner restrooms, and heat to ward off winter's chill). Second class is adequate, but I have experienced a couple of rides during a cold snap where my down filled vest was taxed to the limit.

Fares change of course but at the moment a first class ticket costs about a hundred dollars and a second class ticket half that.

From the west (connected by Mex 15 to Los Mochis), many RV'ers are now opting to make a left turn in downtown Los Mochis and driving an hour to the small town of El Fuerte. It's far less congested than Los Mochis. El Fuerte now has some decent RV park facilities and better yet, the train departs at 0730 and you'll save a few pesos on the cost of the ticket. A good mid-way overnight stop from the border (Mex 15 at Nogales) would be in Guaymas or San Carlos.

The logical entry point into Mexico from the east is at El Paso (Ciudad Juarez), and then drive to Chihuahua (city) overnight, and then to the small town of Creel (The way I pronounce it rhymes with "reel", snooty travel writers sometimes insist it's called Crah-ELL -go figure. An option would be to base camp at Chihuahua and then take the train from there.

Putting Your Rig On A Flatcar

I've never done this. My first trip to the canyon was an eye-opener in which my sensitive ears rang for days with complaints from fellow RV'ers whose trip included a day and a half stranded on an obscure siding, and more than a day spent each loading and unloading their rig. To top it off, many insurance companies will not honor claims for damage while the vehicle is being loaded or unloaded (one windshield was cracked when a low flying vulture flew into it). My advice is to check your insurance coverage carefully, and then maintain an open mind in case your flatcar has to go on a siding to allow oncoming priority freight to pass. Much of the freight is fresh fruit and vegetables and like one conductor explained to me "Tourists seldom spoil". As a matter of fact, I would treat my plans for shipping my rig on a flatcar as being tentative until I actually got on scene and dealt with the "Chihuahua Al Pacifico" railroad face-to-face. Note: Several caravan companies do this on a regular basis and if you are set on shipping your rig across the Sierra and don't want to do everything from scratch then a caravan your may be just the thing for you.

But after doing this trip from both sides (and up the middle and down the end), I have arrived at the conclusion that maybe this is one of the few places in Mexico where a rig may be better off cooling it's heels in a comfortable RV park while Ma and Pa board the train.

Luggage And Stuff For The Train Ride

In the depth of winter I would recommend that visitors pack thermal underwear, hiking boots for occasional light snow, and a heavy jacket. Many winter days are in the fifties but then again most aren't. I also am a firm believer in packing a picnic basket of snacks and goodies. If I stay overnight in one of the rustic rooms in Creel, I'll pack a flashlight.

The Silver Rush Village Of Batopilas

Batopilas, is a tiny silver-rush village that has been held in a form of suspended animation for the last seventy-five years. It's located at the very bottom of the canyon at the end of a spectacularly primitive descent on a rutted dirt road. The town is frantically trying to groom itself for the influx of visitors but for the next year or so you can count on Batopilas being pretty much an old-fashioned village the likes of which have almost disappeared from northern Mexico, the last twenty years. If your idea of a Mexican village is sun baked adobe buildings, dirt streets dotted with chickens, braying burros, and overwhelming charm, the Batopilas is for you (perhaps -- read on).

Honest to goodness charm comes at a price, there are no fancy restaurants in Batopilas and the only fancy hotel closed down last year. This leaves basic rooms with typical lumpy mattresses, and cement filled (well, it seems like it) pillows. Some eating establishments require the customer to come a few hours early and make reservations. The fare is authentic -- including beef, chicken, tortillas, chiles, and eggs. By being authentic, you can be assured that the food is good. Few authentic Mexican dishes are spicy, the condiments and sauces are separate. Here you might find authentic "cafe de olla" hearty, sweet, with a dash of "canela" (cinnamon). Batopilas is wildly popular within a large cult of Mexico aficionados, for good reason. The Batopilas river flows right through it (One restaurant is named "The Swinging Bridge"), there are old mines aplenty and silver mills. And finally the region is home to the legendary Tarahumara indians -- fabled runners who regularly tote eight by eight by twenty foot wooden beams from forest to market, single handed -- thirty miles at a dead run! Many Tarahumara can run hundreds of miles -- all the more amazing in this land of vertical vistas! The indians live in remote hillside caves. There are a number of professional guides available for short, medium and excursion hikes.

It would be a good idea to make Batopilas arrangements in Creel. Transportation is by bus, or by Suburban type automobiles (more comfortable). The ride takes seven hours and can be uncomfortable for those who fear heights (Don't laugh, I fit into that crowd). A good timetable would be to allow a full day coming and another for going and then toss in two or three days for canyon bottom sightseeing and prowling. Batopilas is much warmer than the canyon rim more than a mile above. It can be snowing on the rim, and sixty to seventy degrees in Batopilas. Summer travel to Batopilas is not recommended due to mind-boggling heat. Again, a good stash of snacks (I pack ten pounds worth for an extended stay) is a good idea. I also pack a Black & Decker single-cup coffee maker and drive my neighbors wild with the aroma of brewed coffee shortly after sunup.

Base Camp

Both the El Fuerte RV park and the KOA Creel RV park make a great headquarters for stowing a rig for a week or ten days in the canyon. I usually take the first class train to Creel and the second class train on the way back. Like Mexican buses, the ordinary class of transportation contains the folk who live in the region.

Recommended Reading

Start your exploration of the Copper Canyon, by accessing a web search engine and typing in "Copper Canyon". For some in-depth coverage and images from a respected travel authority (Carl Franz of The People's Guide to Mexico) go to the following URL and then follow the links to the Copper Canyon:


And Remember To Not Overplan Your Adventure

Mexico is best seen on an off-the-cuff style of travel that veers in any direction that seems alluring at the time. These days I simply refuse to commit to a schedule when traveling alone because it seems that at the last minute something wonderful always comes up which takes me in a totally different direction.