Chihuahua & La Baranca del Cobre

With our first destination being Mexico's Copper Canyon, we elected to enter the country at Agua Prieta rather than approaching from the west by going in through Sonora. Part of the reason for this is that I wanted to pass through Mata Ortiz near Nuevo Casas Grandes in Chihuahua. Mata Ortiz is home to some of Mexico's finest potters, many of which are members of the same extended family. On our very first night in Nuevo Casas Grandes we were approached by a rider who had notice the sticker on my bags from ZMW. Frank over at Z's Motor Works had set up our bikes with some of the little details we wanted for this trip such as heated grips, Odyssey batteries, stainless steel serrated pegs, and a pair of LOUD air horns. This last item is something we had found to be essential on our India trip, and so far has proved to be an extremely effective tool here as well. We also started out with a fresh pair of tires and new chains on both bikes, and Frank ordered up our list of all those little spares we might be looking at over the course of six months along with an extra set of tubes for each bike. We had already outfitted the bikes with Progressive shocks and springs and had given them a "shakedown cruise" in Baja this past spring. Turns out that this guy Ricardo was also from Tucson, and Frank had gone over his bike for his trip as well. He's a retired pilot for United, and his riding partner was a United dispatcher from Chicago by the name of Andre. They were on a short trip down to the bottom of the Baranca del Cobre, and we would bump into them again.
The next morning we headed out to Mata Ortiz on a nice paved road, a marked difference to the rutted track there a dozen years or so ago. There is no real market in the town, but if you ride around for a few minutes locals will eventually come out and invite you in to their homes to see their work. Mata Ortiz pots are done entirely by hand turned in the palm of the hand rather than on a potter's wheel, and cured on open fires rather than in a kiln. Some of the pieces are exquisite, and certain artist's work can fetch thousands of dollars


After our brief visit to Mata Ortiz, and before heading into the Sierra, we made a stop at Paquimé, pictured above and below. Paquimé is near the smaller, older village of Casas Grandes and is the source of its name. It dates from the 10th to the 14th centuries and is a World Heritage Site. In order to maintain the fragile adobe remains below, workers use their hands to smear mud mixed with straw to try to preserve the site's outline for future generations. While it leaves the walls looking a bit artificial, short of putting up a roof to protect the walls from being eroded by  the elements, this seems to be the best solution. The Mata Ortiz pottery is a renaissance of techniques that were practiced by this area's ancient residents.

While Richard and Andre took the more scenic dirt road through Cueva de la Olla and on to Madera, we opted for the pavement picking up the road south of Madera and went straight on to Creel. Creel is a stop on the Chihuahua Pacífico train line that visits the Barancas and also stops in Divisidero. At a little over 7,000 feet, the pine forests around Creel are not unlike the area around Pine Top in Arizona.

Heading out of Creel, the 140 kilometers to Batopilas at the bottom of the canyon consists of about half paved road and then another 25 or so kilometers of nice widened gravel road that takes you through the heart of the Rarámuri homelands. Then you get to the meat of the matter pictured above. In somewhere around 20 kilometers you drop about 5,500 feet. When you can take your eyes off the road for a few seconds, the reward is breathtaking.

Batopilas, with its tiny plaza has a stuck in time feel to it. While here we once again ran into Richard and Andre, as well as a great group of well-heeled guys from Mexico city. Each of them was on different brand of motorcycle from Husquavarnas to KTMs. One of their group had gotten a flat visiting the mission at Satevó, so we lent him a tube from our collection. They invited us to meet them for dinner back in Creel, where they replenished our supply. We had decided to go back through Creel rather than going straight on to Parral so that we could ride over to see the falls at Basaseachi.


There were a few hairy spots on the way out to Mission Satevó, which had only recently been discovered deeper in the canyons beyond Batopilas. I had ridden out there with Andre and Richard, shown here, where we met the INAH architect who has been working on its restoration. He later stopped at our hotel where he showed us scores of pictures and was a wealth of information about the "lost" missions in this remote region.


Near another such mission at Cusárare, the woman above left uses needles from the long needled Pino Ayacahuite right to weave the delicate little baskets below.


Back in Creel our new friends treated us to dinner at Creel's best lodge.

The area around Creel is home to some unique rock formations. Near Lake Arareko was this 'elephant rock', and closer to Creel were several valleys. Such as Valle de los Hongos (valley of the mushrooms) below. (well, yeh maybe)


There is also the Valle de las Ranas (valley of the frogs) above. (yes, definitely) And below, what the Spanish new as Valle de los Monjes (valley of the monks) was known by the Rarámuri as what translates to "valley of the erect penises". (you be the judge)


Finally, before leaving the Sierra Tarahumara we visit Cascada Basaseachi, which at nearly 800 feet is one of Mexico's tallest falls.