Mon, April 21st: Left Parral on a bright sunny
morning at 9:30 am. When we got to the gas station to fill up before leaving town, the
attendant informed us that it was only 8:30am! With all the switching back and forth
across state lines we had changed time yet again. Well that worked out well since it gave
us another hour of traveling time. The ride that morning was beautiful with wide-open
vistas, a bright blue sky, ranches filled with cattle and pine trees, and a stiff chilled
The town of Guachochi is dusty and barren, cold and windy too. It sits on the edge of
the Copper Canyon range, and some people in Parral had told it was a nice little tourist
town to relax in for a day or two. Well the people were nice in the town but I
wouldnt want to stay there any longer than need be. We thought we might camp at the
bottom of the canyon so we picked up groceries here, and then moved on.
Immediately outside of town the road turned to hard-packed dirt and started to wind its
way into the canyon and passed small ranches and farms. After about 75 kms of this and not
descending very far in altitude we arrived at the town of Yoquivo. It is really just a
cluster of a few houses. We stopped and had lunch on someones doorstep, while all
the locals stood around and watched us eat. Lunch was good ol canned deviled ham (is
there any other kind?), mayo, sliced Italian pepper, all on fresh flour tortillas.
According to the GPS we still had 26 kms to go to get to Batopilas. Just after leaving
Yoquivo the road got very rough, heavily rutted and looked like a road that didnt
see much traffic. There was pine needles that covered nearly the whole thing and concealed
many pot-holes and big rocks. There were many little river crossings, and one in which
Chris got temporarily stuck in the mud while trying to go around it. I think if the locals
want to go to Batopilas they take the long way around back on the paved road. This dirt
track looked like a newly cut road because you can see the caterpillar tractor tracks
imbedded in the dirt, and there were electrical lines strewn everywhere on the ground
where the new lines were being put in. Apparently electricity had just reached Batopilas!
Well, the way down got very steep and slippery with lots of loose rock chips and rocks
spread across the track. At about 1800 meters I crashed. I bounced back and forth across
the rocks while trying to slow myself down with the front brakes. I came precariously
close to the cliff edge a few times and my heart jumped into my throat. The views from
here are somewhat like looking across the Grand Canyon! Finally I lost control of my front
wheel and the handlebars were jerked to one side and I went down hard. My left foot was
pinned under the bike twisting my knee and an odd and painful angle. I couldnt move
and had to wait in a bit of pain until Chris, who was behind me, navigated his way through
the tricky section and could stop and help me.
At this point the GPS said we had only 10 more kms to go to Batopilas, which we could
see at the bottom of the canyon. But, it was still a long way down! (almost 25km). This
road was not on any of the 3 maps we had, and only the GPS confirmed we were going in the
direction of Batopilas. The road got steeper and worse from then on. Many terrible
slippery sections we just bounced our way down and thought it was a miracle we didnt
go right over the edge. Nerves had set in to the point that I was shaking constantly with
fear and it was pure torture for me, even over the easier sections. A few turns later,
AFTER a particularly bad section, I came to a switch-back and panicked. I tried to pull up
and stop before the turn to catch my breath, and I ended up locking up the front tire and
losing it again. I sat on the ground and just cried big sobs to release all the pent up
nerves and energy. I wondered if we would every make it down the mountain! It was still
another 20 kms to the bottom. Fortunately, we had a couple hours of daylight left.
When Chris arrived we talked about setting up the tent right there and just camping for
the night. But then the sand flies attacked us and we decided to push on. From then on,
when I came to a difficult steep, rocky turn, Chris would take my bike down to a calmer
section for me and thats how we finally got down!
It was one of the most challenging stretches of off-road Ive done on this trip,
and hopefully the last! At the bottom, just outside of Batopilas, we came across a
beautiful hotel across from the river, with lots of hummingbirds flying in and around the
bushes. There were also two other motorbikes parked there with Oklahoma license plates. We
negotiated the room down from $70 to $30 (including breakfast), so we decided to stay
there. Wayne and Joanie, a retired couple with the two bikes who travel 6 months every
year have been here many times before.
It was a very nice distraction to have two wonderful people like Wayne and Joanie to
share riding stories and just have a few laughs after the stressful day we had. The next
morning we shared breakfast with them and took a ride into the town of Batopilas. Wayne
filled us in on the history of the area. It was originally built by the Spanish who
constructed many of the fine old colonial style buildings. During the later part of the
1800s an American named Shepherd built mines in the area and became quite rich. He
built a huge adobe-style hacienda for himself and his family, which is now sadly in ruins.
He lost his fortune during the raids of Poncho Villa. Further on past town, Wayne and
Joanie took us to the "Lost Church". The ride is just 6 miles from town and very
scenic with lots of cacti dotting the canyon walls and palm trees lining the river. The
church is also quite scenic set by itself in the canyon with a swing bridge over the river
just in front of it.
After lunch back in town, we said goodbye to our new friends and started the long ride
up and out of the canyon------a different way this time!!! This route was more scenic,
winding its way alongside the river for about 20 kms before crossing the river and
climbing the canyon walls for another 20kms or so via steep switchbacks. But, the road was
much better maintained, wider and with less loose gravel. The views looking back down into
the canyon were stunning. This was a far better route then the one we took in.
At the top it leveled out and the road widened even more for an additional 30 kms
through pine forest and past small farms, until we reached the pavement. About half way
through this flat stretch we stopped to check the fluid level in Chris battery and
check one of the pannier mounts on my bike which we had noticed had broken one of its
mounting points. It turned out the rear foot plate screws had snapped, putting too much
pressure on the mounts. We worked for about an hour to rig up straps to ensure it
didnt hit the swing arm any more and we added water to Chris battery.
The pavement was a smooth, windy stretch with brand new pavement and no one on the road
for 70+ kms. We arrived in the town of Creel at about 6pm, just as it was beginning to get
quite cold and windy. We located Margaritas guesthouse, which had been recommended
to us by several people and met James out front. James is a new F650 rider and had just
arrived by himself from New Mexico for a short tour of Copper Canyon. When I pulled up
beside him and parked James immediately pointed his finger at me and said,
"Youre the New Yorkers!" He recognized us from the web site and had a
feeling he might bump into us somewhere in the area. Well, it was our privilege to meet
him, as he is a really nice guy and delightful company.
Margaritas is a really good deal as the room cost of $25 US includes a hearty
dinner and breakfast too. We spent dinner with James and all the next day riding around
the area. One of the better lookout spots in the area is called Divisidero. It was a short
43 kms ride to the lookout where we enjoyed a picnic lunch out on a rock cliff gazing at
the view. Later we took a stroll through the small craft market there where Tarahumara
Indians sell their wares. The women are very shy and dont make conversation or like
to negotiate for that matter. Theres a famous tourist train that stops here which
originates on the Pacific coast at Los Mochis and ends at Chihuahua city.
When we returned back to Creel we decided to make a short stop at the nearby Valle de
los Hongos (valley of the mushrooms) where weird rocks have eroded to form shapes like
mushrooms. There was a small fee of $1.50 US to enter and the money goes to the Indian
community that lives there on the land. The whole place is full of weird rock formations,
caves and log cabins. Some families live in makeshift houses built into rock overhangs. It
must be absolutely freezing for them in the winter!
Upon returning back to town and pulling into the parking area at about 6pm, James
dropped his bike while going over some rough imbedded stones at slow speed. Unfortunately
his clutch lever snapped off at the base which left him in a bit of a dilemma. This is a
small town with almost certainly no motorcycle shops to find a replacement part. Chris
helped him disassemble the piece and took off for the telephone to see if he could get
some advice from friends in the states who are good mechanics and know this area of
Mexico. James and I returned to the hotel and had a cold beer to take the edge off. About
an hour and a half later, Chris returns with the part welded repaired. He managed to find
a guy at that late hour who located some aluminum sticks and could weld it! It looked
pretty messy but felt like a strong weld.
Thursday, April 24th: James decided to stay a few
days longer and explore Copper Canyon without his bike. He felt good about the weld job,
at least until he arrived back home to Albuquerque where he could get a new part to
replace it. As we packed the bikes in front of Margaritas, another biker was loading
his gear as well. His name is Michael, hes from Austria, and hes been riding
for the last 10 months through Iran, Pakistan, India, the States, Central America and
Mexico. Turns out he was staying at Margaritas the whole time we were there and we
never met. We rode out of town together since we were all heading for the same border
crossing --- Palomas,MX/Columbus,New Mexico. He needed to stop to do an oil-change, so we
split up from riding together and agreed to try to meet up again in the States somewhere.
The ride north went from cold, windy, pine covered mountains to flat, brown, windy and
warmer desert landscape. Jack rabbits and roadrunners were spotted darting across the road
in front of us. The pavement was smooth and the roads were straight and relatively
traffic-free. This made for fast going for us and we covered 500 kms in just over 5 hours
riding time. Thats the best weve done in a very long time! But, as we got
closer to the border, I could sense a feeling of sadness descend on me. Its hard to
explain, and I know its not quite the end of our trip yet, but somehow crossing the
border back into the states is a significant point that signals the end of the more exotic
side of our journey. We are now going back to the familiar, which in a lot of ways will
also be a comfort. Hearing the American English accent will be like honey to my ears (our
friend Liam said that once when he heard the northern Irish accent of another friend of
ours). One doesnt realize, until theyve lived or traveled abroad for a long
time, just how much effort you put into trying to understand other peoples accents,
let alone different languages!
Billboard signs, grocery stores, the imperial system of measurement, Fahrenheit for
temperatures, big cars, big everything------ that will be a feast for our senses for sure.