Winter holiday 2012/2013 saw me visiting the Copper Canyon area in northwest Mexico, east of Chuhuahua. While there is a famous train ride through the area, I did that on my previous visit in 2004. So this time I flew into Chuihuahua, and took the bus to and from there. Much cheaper and faster, and more flexible, with numerous runs per day.
I started with a couple of days in the Basaseachi area visiting the national part and waterfall of that name. Then I met an old friend from Boulder who comes here every year and guides backpacking trips to hot springs. We camped down in the canyon for three days. I spent my last day in the area taking the tram that goes out into the canyon. It wasn't there when I visited last.
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Basaseachi National Park
I spent the first few days in this small national park. It has fairly well maintained trails. There is a loop that goes down into the canyon, with a spur to the bottom of the falls. The loop continues to the top of the falls and than back to the start along the canyon rim.
I stayed at Rancho San Lorenzo, which is in the park. A half mile walk down the road from the rancho leads to the main viewpoint and traild, and there ar many hikes that start from the rancho itself.
Rancho San Lorenzo logistics
If your want to go to Rancho San Lorenzo, the bus ride from Chihuahua took 5.5 hours and cost about $35. Fernando, the owner, picked me up at the bus stop and drove the few miles to the Rancho. Having a car would be handy. The cabins have a fireplace for heat so can be chilly in the winter. To get to the town of Creel by bus, you would have to go a ways back and transfer by waiting on the side of the road. There is a more direct way, but it is not served by buses. I paid somebody to drive me, but you cannot count on this. Coffee lovers note: they serve Nescafe at the rancho. Bring your own if you want and drip stuff. There is a propane burner in the cabin with which to boil water.
Descending Urique Canyon
The start of our backpack was the descent of Urique Canyon from the trailhead in the town of Arepo. We would descend 85% of the way down to a hot springs to set up camp and do hikes from there.
The hike started with a few miles of moderate uphill and a few more of moderate downhill along a ridgeline, with many views in this section. Then the real descent: over 100 switchbacks in a side canyon with little sun and view. This got us to the bottom of a major side canyon and soon to a spring - our first water source. After this we followed the bottom of the canyon past some seasonal dwellings and around a ridge to our camp.
Camp and Urique Canyon hike
Camp was next to a hot spring. We found that a rock slide had filled in the hot pool so we had to dig it out. It was kind of silty, but another warm pool was rocky and nice for rinsing off. I measured the hot pool at 105 degrees, and we had cooler water that we mixed to control the temperature.
We took a rest day the day after arriving, which was when we dug out the hot pool. The second day down we did a loop hike, going down to the Urique River, visiting with a miner named Ishmael who had shot a cougar the week before. We had a nice 75 degree break next to the river. The route back up followed a neighboring creek and had another sunny break at one in a series of waterfalls. I was surprised by some unexpected showers that night and the hike back up the next day was mostly rainy.
Copper Canyon Tram
For my last day I took the bus to Divisadero from Creel and walked the rim trail a mile and a quarter to the tram. It was a stone paved path for about 2/3 of the way, and I walked the rest on the road, though you could walk through the forest if you wanted. The tram costs about $20 and goes out more than down, to a butte out in the canyon. It takes 10 minutes to get there and that tram stays for 20 minutes before heading back, though you can always wait for the next one if you want. There are trails from the butte and local Indians will guide you to various places for fees.