Wednesday, 16 May 2012

NOTES, SOME HISTORY, and OBSERVATIONS ABOUT THE COPPER CANYON TRIP (last proofed and amended on 6 May 2012)


For such a simply named destination, and a one-way-in and one-way-out configuration, it ought to be fairly simple.   But, The Chihuahua al Pacifico rail adventure is full of variations and choices, almost all are good.   Our particular experience begins during the Summer of 1968, while El Gringo Viejo was still a Gringo Nuevo.   Wild Bill Matern, a German-ancestried Texan from the Fredericksburg area in Central Texas and the Gringo Viejo were working for the Institute of Texian Cultures.   Since we wore "cowboy" clothes the bosses sent us out to the extreme most outlying area of the Republic, which was in the Trans-Pecos and beyond.
     We were to gather data on the Kokernot and Faver ranches and any material from living persons who might have recollections of the Goodnight - Loving and Chisholm cattle-drive trails of the period 1870 - 1905.   Also of interest were any tales, lore, or artifacts concerning Texans who supported one side or another of the various, ever changing sides of the Mexican Revolution of 1910.
       While milling around on the Rio Grande between Fort Leaton, Lajitas, and Presidio we were advised that from this Thursday through next Wednesday, our orders were in flux.   There was a meeting to determine what our new mission would be.   Stay close to a telephone, but no later than Tuesday we'll give you your new instructions.   It was like Heaven and Hell at the same time.   We were being overpaid and over-accommodated for doing a Summer job that was very close to being on vacation.   Our research was being catalogued and processed for use in the massive Institute of Texian Cultures museum located on the HemisFair World Fair compound in downtown San Antonio...openning in April of 1968.
        But here we were in Presidio, full of Republic of Texas per diem money, our hotel (?) paid for the week, and nothing to do except comb through the old instructions, even if it all had to be flushed later.   The owner of the "New Phillips Hotel", an interesting facility next to the downtown area of Presidio, suggested that we could use our time to take the Mexican train from Ojinaga, Chihuahua across the Rio Grande and go to Chihuahua, and  then catch a fancy little train to a place called the Barranca del Cobre.    "How long does it take?"  we wondered aloud.  And our host figured he had seen people do it, "....there and back, over a couple of nights...". 
     The next morning found us taking a "taxi" of sorts over to Ojinaga, which was a respectable looking dump, actually quite a bit more substantial than Presidio, and to the Chihuahua al Pacifico train station.   Our train was about 20 cars long, with two Pullman cars, two first class special cars, a diner, and six second class cars, a baggage/express car and a couple of boxcars  full of some kind or another of freight behind the locomotives.    Because we were at the end of the time zone, the morning was still darkish.   We bought our tickets for the first class special car, and boarded.  The train left about 15 minutes later, just as the sun was breaking over the eastern horizon.
      Our car was pleasant, about half-full of families travelling on vacation and a few business people and ranchers.   It was clean and airy, with ventilation and air-conditioning that worked.    So we were happy.  The rest rooms were even clean.   "When do we arrive in Chihuahua City?" ....we asked the Auditor (conductor).   "Probably in a little while...." he responds.  That was an interesting answer, but Wild Bill and I knew that clocks in Mexico were engineered to run sideways, so it did not really matter.   During the entirety of the journey, our train rumbled, squeaked, clanged, hooted,  and clunkity-clickity-clacked between fifteen and fifty miles per hour.   It stopped with some frequency at isolated, unlikely places.  People would board and de-board.   The train was obviously an institution for these people who lived in the absolute middle of nowhere.   The scenery changed from torturous mountains to desert-like plains, and then back to low mountains, and the rock-scapes.   It was, oddly, pretty much the stereotypical image of Chihuahua, and because of the extent, most impressive.
        We reviewed the card the Auditor gave us with the times and stations...he knew the Gringos liked to have predictability and punctuality...."Sometimes this works", he smiled as he passed us the card.  "The diner is open, first we feed the Gringos."
        "Oh, no,no! " we protested, "We don't want to go ahead of the families and their children."
        "No, no, Gringos, you have to go and eat first.   If you survive, then the other people will go eat."  He said with a very straight face.  (this is all in Spanish)
         Wild Bill says, "Did he say what I think he said?"
         We laughed heartily, and then rambled up ahead, boots and hats, looking every bit the image of what the children thought Texas cowboys would look like.   The people seemed glad that we caught the joke and could take some ribbing....and the ice was broken for the rest of the trip.    Wild Bill was surprised that the menu of the hour was breakfast, but El Gringo Viejo told him that since Mexico was based on Manana Savings Time everyone seemed to eat a little later than "normal".   "Does this mean I can't have beer?" seemed to be his concern.  So, after flapjacks, bacon , coffee, scrambled eggs and a couple of Carta Blancas, Bill was happy.
        Our clicking and clacking continued, and we fell steadily behind schedule.   We slept for a bit, woke up, and noticed that we were almost on schedule.    "Can we brush our teeth with the water in the dispenser?"   "No, because the relief engine is a steam locomotive and we have to maintain a reserve just in case our engine breaks down."   "ha, ha , ha...."  again another joke.   We brushed our teeth after eating a far better than average club-sandwich each.   Once again Wild Bill washed everything down with as couple of Carta Blancas.   In those years, El Gringo Viejo scarcely if ever used anything with alcohol, save for communion, but he decided to join Bill in drinking one of the cold brews....and then promptly fell asleep again for and hour and a half.    We were on a siding when I woke up, and another passenger train was going past us in the other direction.   It seemed amazing that our passengers were waving at the other passengers as they went by....'' Look, there Aunt Minerva!  Hello...hello!"....wave, wave, wave....repeated three or four hundred times, all passengers considered.
      The Auditor came by, calling out the name of the next stop....and then declaring, "...Chihuahua, one hour!  Chihuahua, one hour!"   We looked at the card and it appeared as though we would be about 10 minutes late...arriving at four in the afternoon, or thereabouts.   Nine hours to go 220 miles.   Such is life on a train in mountainous country with 40 intermediate stops.    But we had just ridden through a time machine experience, with cowboys for real, with pistols stuck in their belts, horsemen and big sombreros, autos and pickups from the 1930s, adobe villages, all such things....already in rapid diminishment, but still quite common.
       Once in the train station, we asked about the train to the place called La Barranca del Cobre....but the ticket agent says only..."You buy your tickets at 05:30.  It leaves at 06:05." and the ticket window closed.   So, then we were left to our own devices in a strange city that was, oddly enough, fairly familiar.   Cowboys, regular looking people, Indians in native attire, and then the Mennonites (we hadn't anticipated that).   The city seemed prosperous enough, and there were smelter stacks in the near distance, with smoke indicating some thing to do with gold, silver, and iron.   There were numerous...even the majority....of the people who were of total or near total white racial and green eyes were not comment worthy.   "Hey! Cowboys, you wait for the train to-morrow?"  It was Fulgencio the the taxi man.  "I take you to the good place."
      We were dumber than a dead rock, so the Lord guided the issue and Fuli, (pronounced 'fool-ee, really) took us over to the Hotel Victoria, which was a nice enough place that had an entrance that came through what had been a stone-block, Victorian-era mansion.   It was a remnant of what had been a considerable English investment and occupation of Chihuahua City during the later quarter 0f the 19th Century.   We opted to hang around in the bar for a while, and then finally decided to take a room....It was the equivalent of about 6 USD for a double room.  Our friend had changed a hundred dollars for us back in Presidio...I had felt pretty spiffy with 625 units of any currency in those days.   As an aside, the 1,250.00 pesos that he changed to us lasted until our return to Presidio, and we had 400 left over, which we used to liquidate our hotel bill at the New Phillips Hotel.    And we still had money left over.   It was a different time.
       After a pleasant stay....boring, but pleasant....and a good night's sleep, we carried our little bags out and we pleased to note that Fuli was there in the darkness...."Hey! Cowboys, let's go!"
       "Yeah, we have to get our tickets," grumbled the Gringo Viejo.
       "You Gringos!  You think you are the only ones who can organise an army!'' Fuli laughed.  He flipped Wild Bill an envelope."There are your tickets.   Ida y vuelta...come and go...same day.   You owe me 33 pesos."
        We were impressed, "How did you get the tickets?   The guy said 05:30," protested Wild Bill.
        "I work that cabbie station. I know all those guys.   You just board the train and show these tickets."
        "Where did you learn to speak English, Fuli?"  I enquired.
        "I was born in Waxahatchie (Texas).  Went to primary six grades there.   My family moved here when my grandfather died and my dad came and took over his store.  My mom is media-gringa."   We pulled into the parking lot and witness the line...perhaps 100 people long, buying tickets. "They sell for the 2nd class trenecito, and the 1st class trenecito at the same time...too many people....wait and everyone gets nervous when the departure comes," Fuli informs.
        True to form, we go directly to the boarding area, and there is a strange assembly of two self-propelled, shiny lacquered blue Fiat Autovias.   Very glitzy.   In front, about 100 yards ahead, are three Fiat Autovias coloured in cream with orange-red trim, also boarding passengers, albeit in a less organised manner.  The blue ones are the 1st class and the cream/tangerine ones are  2nd class/all stops.   Both intend to make it over the Sierra Madre Occidental to-day, and arrive in Los Mochis, Sinaloa nearly adjacent to the Sea of Cortez sometime before midnight.  The 2nd class will depart earlier, but then by the time the first major station ahead is reached, it will be overtaken and then passed by the 1st class Autovia that has many fewer stops.
      We expressed our appreciation and admiration for Fuli...El Gringo Viejo never saw him again even in all my other comings and goings with groups or alone in Chihuahua.   He had charged us the equivalent of 4 USD for everything.   In those days.

Hotel Divisadero on the edge
 of the Copper Canyon.
  Picture is circa
     We left the Chihuahua Chihuahua al Pacifico (Che - Pe, pronounced Chei - Pei) Terminal and headed west by southwest for the next five hours.    We passed through several busy communities scores of villages.   The Blue Fiat did not stop except for the bigger towns.    We went through Cuauhtemoc, San Rafael, San Juanito, Creel, had a bit of a meal on board, sold by children carrying buckets full of somewhat identifiable stuffing wrapped by tortillas.   It was a bit disconcerting however, when we noticed that nobody bought anything until after they had seen us eat on or two.   I had given the little Indian girl a one peso silver coin, for which she returned five smallish, fat, rolled tacos...called "flautas" (flutes), and a little paper cup with some salsa verde.   So that all will know how cheap money is now, she pulled my shirt a few seconds later, and gave me my change, which was 50 centavos...The tasty little meal had set me back 4 cents USD.   I motioned that there was no need for change, but she insisted.   Then she pointed shyly at my pocket.   It dawned on me that she wanted my ball point pen...official State of Texas pen.   Ask and ye shall receive.
      To make a long story a bit shorter, we arrived at a place called Divisadero.   The Auditor told us we had 30 minutes to "look at the Canyon", that the FIAT would whistle three times and depart two minutes after that warning.    Then he told us,"You gringos will wait here after we leave.   The big train will come 15 minutes later.   Where do you go, finally? "
     "We have to make it back to Ojinaga."
     "Then tell the auditor that you want a dormitorio," and with that he went about his duties.
So then Wild Bill and the Gringo Viejo strode on down to where everyone else seemed to be going.   There was a small, rustic, but pleasant looking lodge...apparently finished, but under the process of improvement or expansion.   There was a small restaurant, and everywhere there were Tarahumara (Rura'muri) Indian women sitting in mounds of petticoats and palm leaves (?), making baskets.   Their daughters, dressed identically, down to the bandanna head coverings, drawn tightly over the ears, were playing with rough Indian dolls which, like the baskets, were all for sale.
     I went to the rail at the edge, where a substantial group was taking pictures with the new instamatic cameras (remember?), and leaned on the wobbly, one-pole wide, "fence".  Looking down, it was shall we say, disconcerting.    It was 4,000 feet straight down.   My first remembering is that I looked over to the right and down about 1,000 and about a half mile off, and saw a convoy of Tarahumara women and girls, perhaps 50 persons, carrying huge bundles of palm leaf up to the patio where others were labouring.   Wild Bill suggested that we ought to have brought our State of Texas cameras, but they could not have captured the dimensions in any regard.   We had heard a series of train honkings and was from a unit out of view.   People began to go back.  Various honkings and whistlings continued.

NDEM 316
FIAT Autovias,
 like the 1st class category.
This picture taken in Mexico City, 2009.
Colour motif is different from our ride
 in1967, between Chihuahua and
    Before long the Blue FIAT Autovia pulled away with all its charges, and in short order another regular train with about 14 cars of various type replaced it, but heading back towards Chihuahua.    We located the Auditor, and said we were heading back to Ojinaga.   He said we could travel in 1st class on our ticket, or for 100 pesos more we could take a "bedroom".   We decided to indulge ourselves.   The trip would be at least 17 hours.    We had a pleasantly uneventful trip back, sleeping from midnight until our arrival in Ojinaga, and completely unaware that we had avoided, miraculously, all the delays, avalanches, rail failures, and equipment problems that had plagued the line since it had finally made the complete passage from Chihuahua to Los Mochis...only 5 years before.   After 100 years of effort.
     The difficulties had been mentioned about the Chihuahua to Los Mochis stretch, but only in passing.   Our host at the New Phillips Hotel in Presidio, Texas confided to us on the night of our return that he had made the same trip with his brother and sister-in-law three months before, and had been stuck at the Divisadero for three nights.   One has to consider in these days that for 25 years after the completion of the railway, it remained the only way in and out for traffic involved in making it from Chihuahua to the other side of the Sierra Madre Oriental.   No cars, trucks, busses....only trains....almost all on a single track line.


     The problem with the Copper Canyon is that there are many different Copper Canyons on many different levels, figuratively and literally.    The trip can be done in such a way that it would only require two days on the rails, and one night's stay at a terminus, either Los Mochis or Cd. Chihuahua.     This would involve stopping for a couple of fifteen minute photo-ops at the edge of the Copper Canyon's easiest overview...and perhaps the least impressive.   Make no mistake, it is a blow your socks off overview.
     But for all the trouble that it takes to make it to Chihuahua and/or Los Mochis, it seems a high physical and monetary price to pay for fifteen minutes of fame.   For several years, many tour operators did the tour exactly this way, citing that it was far too cold to stay there during the Winters (temperatures can go well below 0 F in the area...San Juanito, Chihuahua registered -26 F back in the 1980s...and it is on the rail line further to the east).   Others pointed out that it is far too hot to go in the Summer, although almost all Texans, for instance would find the heat anything but uncomfortable.   Once one makes into the innards of the cordilleras of the Sierra Madre Occidental, any place in the shade is cool even during the heat of the day.

A picture of the period of our last year of
 group operation, 1992 at the Divisadero.
  Things had changed!  The Chihuahua
 al Pacifico, reassumed ownership
 from Nacionales, and has since
 been melded into a Mexican/
 American Corporation
     The best time to go is probably in the Autumn.   Both the going up and the coming down from the mountains are blessed with magnificent Fall Foliage presentations, especially in latest October and November.   Nights can be nippy, but all the facilities along the way have adequate heating.   Your train, especially the first class train, has heating and air conditioning that works dependably.    The rivers and brooks are running from the Summer rains still, and so things are lush.   It is apple harvest time in the Mennonite areas just to the west of Chihuahua, near Cuauhtemoc and thousands and thousands of acres of fields of wheat   being machine harvested.  All in all it is pleasant  and temperate, and comfortable.
     Winter is problematic.   Heavy snows can be enough....15 to 50 a couple of bring trains to a stop.  The newer highways, although generally well-built and drained, can be cut off for three or four times....perhaps once every other year or so.   Side touring away from the traveller's estancia can be more easily interrupted by more common snows of 3 to 10 inches, that occur several times every Winter.

Copper Canyon
Tarahumara (Rura'muri)
 Man and son, in
 ultra-traditional garb
     Three or four hundred years ago, we ran our tours in the Autumn, like October, and as late as possible in the Winter, like latest February and early March....a majority of our clients were winter tourists from the North who wintered in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas.

     As seasons went by, we finally determined to do a set of four double-excursions that would meet over Mazatlan, where both groups, the one departing and the one arriving would arrive at the same time, at the same hotel.   We used the Oceano Palace and its sister the Luna Palace on the beach at Mazatlan, and the stay was for three nights.   It was summarily pleasant.  Mazatlan is a place where Howard Stern and Lawrence Welk could both get along.    However, returning to the issue, it is a pleasant waste of time, moderately scenic, and affords access to the very nice toll expressway between Los Mochis and Mazatlan.   The trip can take as little as four hours now, but in my day it was generally six to eight hours, depending on the traffic.

     There are perhaps as many as three first-class or deluxe busses departing Mazatlan for Los Mochis and points north,  on a direct or express basis per every 15 minutes.   There are various....hundreds..... of places to rent an auto  throughout Mazatlan.   Of course, in those days we did the transfer on a deluxe charter touring coach from our adjunct company in Mexico City.  Los Mochis is a town that was built pretty much in the very late 1800s, by American agricultural interests.   All the area to the north of Culiacan (the capital of Sinaloa) up to and beyond Los Mochis is serious tomatoe and truck production.   It is also famous for sugar cane, but the money is in tomatoes.
     In the days of yore, we would stay either at the old Holiday Inn, way out on the edge of the city, or at the old stand-by, the Santa Anita, a nice enough place with a really fine dining facility.    It is in the middle of town.   It is really not important about placement in Los Mochis, because we are just going to get up and go...very early in the morning.

El Gringo Numero Uno arranging the
supper at the Copper Canyon Lodge
 in Creel, Chihuahua
     NOW! Here is where is starts to become interesting.  All that stuff about staying here in Los Mochis, or there in Los Mochis?  Perhaps not.  Perhaps a person would prefer to stay in a more interesting place, picturesque, typical, clean, nice, and relaxing.   To take such an alternative, after leaving Mazatlan, and passing through Los Mochis's outside, we would head by highway to the East, into the mountains and making it up to El Fuerte (The Fortress) abot 39 miles east of Los Mochis.   This is quite a nice city, and we would recommend to go ahead a splurge by staying at the  Hotel El Fuerte, in El Fuerte.  It is summarily pleasant.   We recommend two nights in El Fuerte, to catch ones breath and to see the little city up close.  It would be good to have your tickets, so part of the day could be spent in buying the necessary number of 1st class tickets, for your departure tomorrow.   The train will arrive about an hour after departure from Los Mochis...and that would mean around 07:00 hours at the station in El Fuerte.
     From El Fuerte, the rail ride begins to become really interesting. From there on, the engineering, maintenance, and operation of the engines are a marvel, approaching the level of disbelief at times, and then sometime crossing the frontier between real and imaginary.
      It is hard enough to make any kind of train move, but this one will have to increase its elevation by 8,000 feet in about four hours, and within 120 miles.   It will do the first 40 miles in less than an hour and a half....that is the part about going from Los Mochis to El Fuerte.  The next 80 miles or so will take every bit of three hours.   All the tales about 80 some odd tunnels and 37 bridges are true, but they almost become incidental.  It is rather much like saying, "It's a lot easier to use a toothbrush if you want to brush your teeth".    It is compelling, however, to see that it was done, and that the railway people manage to maintain it as well as they do.   Obviously, 90% of the bridges and tunnels are found in the middle 33.3% of the trajectory.   There is even a place where your train will manage, in spite of its short length, to cross over itself.   There is another place place where the train will enter a tunnel and come out going in the opposite direction.   There is a place near that where a passenger will see three tiers of track, all of which pertains to his trip, to-day.   With all that is going on, one must remember that there is a bar, and that the staff is also preparing meals in a very adequate, almost elegant diner.  And then, one has to be prepared to jump off the train should he wish to comply with his planned itinerary and/or take advantage of his pre-paid reservations.   One choice would be to travel as far as from El Fuerte to Bahuichivo, deplane and take the bus or whatever to the little community of Cerocahui, about 15 miles to the south of the railway.  This community is a ranching and mining community.

     The rustics, mainly hillbilly whites and/or mestizo type cowboys, come up to the little hotel where you will stay "in town" and present little balls of a v
El Gringo Numero waits for folks to finish
their photos, back when folks took photos.
This is the road to Batopilas before it was
paved and finished, the last 90 miles.
ery heavy metal.   One of the little balls might be 1/2 inch in diameter and he might want 500 pesos for it.   My mother fell for this ruse on her first trip.   She asked me 312 times if she should buy one or more of the little balls.   Finally, El Gringo Viejo told her to go ahead and risk it, because he would beat the guy up on the next trip in if they turned out to be compressed marshmallows.  She was a true trader/scavenger and a court qualified authority in matters of value of collectibles, antiques, and such things.  She had a great deal of experience in pricing Estate Sales for people, and for many years she ran the "exclusive" charity and foundation store for a significant and historical Episcopal Church in the center of Texas.    When her jeweller and "metals man" did  the test on the little metal balls, he called her and said," Mrs. Viejo, those little balls of metal, you paid 24 dollars for them, no?"   She answered in the positive.  "Well they have some sand, but the metal is come out to 22 karat gold even with the silicate, copper, and silver in it.   It's about 288 dollars in scrap.   Do you want to jeweller them, leave them like they are, or melt them into something fancy?"
       Of course that was back in the mid-1980s.   The gold, silver, and copper never run out.   But whether those fellows are always there, who knows.    Usually when we were there for the two night stay, they would, almost shyly, come slouching around like timid children.  By now they might have publicity agents and a smelter.    They made the little balls of heavy metal by rolling the flecks of gold around like a child rolling a clay ball.   It would take hours of hand heat and rolling to make a little ball of 1/8th inch.   The biggest one I ever saw was about 5/8's of an inch in diameter.   Much effort, but it solves the problem about the Devil's workshop.
       El Gringo Viejo, his better half, and his 5 year old daughter went into the Copper Canyon during one of the early days, to make arrangements for the groups.   There was one little Rura'ruri girl about my daughter's age, her name was Dominga, and she and my daughter interacted like long-lost buddies, at least by the Indian standards.  My daughter bought a little Indian girl doll from's around here somewhere.
    Leaving Cerocahui and Bahuachivo a person can travel on to Cuiteco where there are places to stay and other places of interest to visit.   As in all places, some of the attraction is human...the Indians themselves, and some is the overwhelming imperatives forced by the geography and geology of this area, which is larger than New England.   Cuiteco is interesting because it is right on the railway, but oddly remains almost untouched by tourism.  There are places to stay that are pleasant, but the guest will have the impression that he is staying as a family member...or at least that he is staying as something like an exchange student with a nice family.   Cuiteco has apples and other cold weather fruit production.  There are also access points to the Canyon's edge within a reasonable hike from "downtown" Cuiteco (pop. 315).
     It is almost obligatory that one stay at the Hotel Divisadero, which is the place that grew out of the little place described during the trip we made with Wild Bill Matern in 1967.  Many people of note have stayed there.   Helen Hayes...ambassadors, governors, presidents, John Wayne, and of course El Gringo Viejo.   It really does cling to the edge of the Barranca.   It is a bit pricey, but of course it is all meals included, and the stuff they serve is good.   There are two ways to attack the stay there.   One is to head over to the bar at about 8:35 am and stay there all day.  Others trade in tranquillity for hikes...some quite lengthy....some including overnight camping...or overnighting in very humble Indian villages with basic services only.

      With the picture, above right,  one can appreciate El Gringo Viejo's impatience with a client's insistence upon having a good time.   This particular picture shows the construction of the road to Batopilas, a remote village that at one time served as an R & R site for Pancho Villa.   The road leads from Creel, which should be an inclusion on a person's trek through the route of the Chihuahua al Pacifico.   Since the 1992 period, it has been paved, possible for the entire distance.   Creel is a good place to spend two or three nights...there are folks who come there for the summer.   In town there are several, eight or ten now, decent places that are probably worth the charges.   The people own and operate the facilities, in my opinion, really seem dedicated to complying with the idea of fair value, plus a little more.
     The last time we were there, there were only five places to stay, including the one about 9 kilometres south of town.   Now, one need only click onto a general search, Creel, Chihuahua Hoteles.   The first entry, or thereabouts, will have a listing of about fifteen accommodations ranging from about 20 USD per night up to a ritzy place with a tag of about 170 USD per night.   One must make do with ones willingness to tolerate and the level of friction his soul has with the idea of parting with money.

    When the stay is up a fellow can get back on the train, usually arriving in mid-afternoon, and head for Chihuahua City.   Arrival will be after dark.   There are usually numerous talkative taxi know, gabbie cabbies...and ask to go to the very central San Francisco (half-block from the main Plaza) or the Posada del Sol, downtown.   It's a short drive.   The San Francisco is a bit gloomy but has really good moments, food, bar, etc.   The Posada is glitzier...or tries to be...but the restaurant is excellent and most of the rooms are deluxe.

     FINALLY:     If there ever were a reason to do something effectively rather than efficiently, this is one trip where such is indicated.    Think about what has been listed above.   At each stop there are things to do...or not.   There are other places that represent investments of less or more time and money quite nearby.   One notices in the write-up that there are immediate things to include or exclude.   "I don't really care about beaches and Mazatlan." or "I've alway wanted to see that place.   What magic does it have that keeps it in business when there are so many glitzier, up-scale sea-side destinations?"
     This is a trip better suited for a single person, a couple, or for a group of really, really close friends....a group of six or eight persons....who have travelled together successfully.   There should be at least three or four planning sessions....all the while allowing for the inevitable happenstantial contretemps that might occur when dealing with trains and boats and planes and other worthwhile things:
    There must be complete satisfaction and willing agreement on the various choices of 2nd class, 1st class, and deluxe accommodation.   For instance it should be considered to use the 1st class train to go through the entire train route on one day from Chihuahua to Los Mochis...fourteen hours....and rest up a couple of days at the Santa Anita and then take the 2nd class train back in stages....El Fuerte, Cuiteco, Cerocahui, Divisadero, Creel.
     Although the security situation around Batopilas and areas to the west has improved substantially since the disorders of 2010, a recent flare up, a little further to the west yet, has been intense and quite successful for the "our side".     There are several write-ups by back-packers, elderly right-wing hippies, curmudgeons, and dumboes who have been down to that beautiful place and reported that normalcy has returned.    These are people who sneer that no one should visit a post office or a Virginia university campus, or a Luby's in Temple if they think they are too important to be exempted from reality....I see their point, actuarially they are correct...pero,  para ser prudente requiere algo de prudencia....which, of course, means "To be prudent requires something of prudence."
     El Gringo Viejo would go down to Batopilas without a second thought.   For someone going to the Copper Canyon for the first time, however, it would be a long waste of time, due to the length of time required for the drive there and back.    That time can be better invested in getting to know, getting to feel, getting to enjoy the millions of brain impressions that the nearer destinations provide in abundance.
     The food on this trip ranges from okay to excellent, with excellent selections in Los Mochis, El Fuerte, and Chihuahua, and a bit more limited within the train route.   However, El Gringo Viejo never had a really bad meal along this route, nor did he ever receive the merest hint of a complaint about the fare.   If folks want to throw in Mazatlan, that particular destination is nothing short of astounding in terms of great grub...from the push-carts to the linen and crystal places.
     One of the best write-ups we have found contains about 40 glaring inaccuracies, and it is terribly dated, since it comes from 2001.  But, it does point out that anyone can do this trip and be substantially "un-babysitted"....because it was taken, and remains being taken by of the participants on this trip, for instance, being 88 years of age.   In spite of the inaccuracies and dumboe information the poor people were given, it was a fair trip for the price, and they had a good time.   It seemed that there might have been some anticipation on the part of some of the participants that they were going to downtown Vienna, or to some really primitive place, like Round Rock, Texas.

     One should also be aware of the main sport of the Rura'muri men is the making and taking internally of tesquino.   This sport is much more popular than their sport of running one hundred miles without stopping all the while kicking a wooden ball.   The running and kicking sport has no winner, apparently, no score keeping, so perhaps it fits into the new American Public School concept of  "Goals and Objectives".   The tesquino drinking involves a lot of stumbling and mumbling, but there is no distance requirement.    This more important sport is described in this link:

     As is noted, this is not a traditional travel guide.   This is the voice of experience that also is the voice of recognition of reality.   Each person should stand at the bat with his own stance.  This expedition, in particular, should be done only after setting aside about 3,000 USD per person, including roundtrip airfares, and investing an absolute minimum of 10 days, leaving by air in various settings:   San Antonio, or Dallas/Ft. Worth, or Houston Bush to Monterrey to Chihuahua.   Also LAX to Mazatlan.   Phoenix to Mazatlan.    AeroCalifornia from Tucson to Los Mochis or Mazatlan.   Upon returning home, one should have up to half of the money remaining, depending upon bar bills, bail bonds, and shopping alternatives.
 For veteran travellers to Mexico:
 El Gringo Viejo sees no problem in taking a taxi to the main bus Terminal in Cd. Juarez and taking any of several different departures via Express deluxe or first class bus to Chihuahua.   It will be about 3.5 hours, and there are literally three or four or more different departures every hour, twenty four hours per day.   Transportes del Norte, Transportes Chihuahuenses, Tres Estrellas de Oro, are all recommendable.

Typical Consist of a Chihuahua al Pacifico
 Ist Class Train To-day

For further information, advice, and/or commentary, please email us at the linkage provided on our home page or within our website.   Thanks everyone for the time and interest expressed by having read these observations.
El Gringo Viejo