Hidalgo del Parral & Durango

Before heading south through the central highlands towards Mexico's Colonial "silver cities" we had one last stop in Cuautemoc. Before  departing though I find it a little difficult to choose among the many images we encountered around the Barancas, so if you haven't had your fill there are a few more 'snaps' here. Although we didn't really spend enough time around Cuautemoc to actually take any pictures, it is the local people here who really warrant mention. Cuautemoc is the center of Chihuahua State's large Mennonite community, and the countryside is dotted with numbered "Campos" as the prosperous Mennonite towns are called. It seems a little incongruous to see these blond women in bonnets and ankle length dresses, and germanic farmers in bib overalls and straw hats on their big John Deere harvesters. In fact, I think I encountered more large farm equipment in this state than I had in all of my previous trips to Mexico, and I have been coming here for 40 years. The guide books seem to indicate that the Mennonites are somewhat stand-offish, but we found the opposite to be true. Perhaps it's the fact that we are on bikes that makes us the curiosity. We got off of the highway on a bright Sunday morning to have breakfast at one of the spotless Mennonite restaurants called La Huerta. When we asked the owner for directions, he pulled up a chair at our table and ordered a cup of coffee and began to draw us a map.  We learned his name was Isack Scmitt, and after a good half hour of talking local politics and economics he instructed the waitress to tear up our check. For every little hassle the road can throw at you, there is an Isack Schmitt that makes it all worth while.

Having bucked the wind on our ride across the central highlands, I remember thinking that parts of it reminded me of Bolivia's altiplano. Parral's location in a small depression or cuenca protected it from the wind and completed the picture. Although not nearly as large, steep, or dramatic, it is the same kind of geography as La Paz in Bolivia. We got the picture at left, from the La Prieta mine above the town. The mine is closed except as a historic display for tourists. It was closed the day we were there, but a few pesos greased the watchman to let us ride up to the top. This old derrick like structure at right appears to be one of the oldest of the many structures that remain. Untold numbers of indigenous slaves died taking silver, copper, lead, and other minerals. The conquistador prospector (below) in one of the town's two small squares stands as a reminder that Parral owes its existence to those minerals. About the only other fame that Parral can lay claim to is as the place where Pancho Villa was murdered. While Parral's churches are nowhere near as spectacular as those we would encounter in some of the other colonial cities, they do project a certain solid and permanent air.

Durango's Catedral Basílica Menor, on the other hand, was more like the spectacular architecture that we would find in the wealthier "silver cities". Durango, in fact was nothing like what we expected. Scores of westerns conjured images of swaggering cowboys, and there remains movie sets outside of town where John Wayne and others made some of the most memorable films of our childhoods. Today's Durango though is a much more cosmopolitan place, and even our hotel, on a pedestrian mall adjacent to this cathedral, held an upscale Brazilian churrascaria in its atrium. The police here even got around on Segway scooters below left. Also below, Karen stands in front of our hotel. The management had even offered to let us park our bikes inside a bar off of the lobby that was being remodeled.

Even ordinary residences in the neighborhood near Durango's cathedral can be rather impressive.