Ben meets the locals at Copper Canyon.
Ben takes a train through Copper Canyon.
Ben explores Copper Canyon by horseback.
Ben takes one of the world's most dramatic train trips through remote Mexico, rattling across 40 bridges and through 100 tunnels.
There are places in this remote part of Mexico which are accessible only by rail, and every day two trains chug their way through about 100 tunnels and rattle across 40 bridges, making it one of the world's most dramatic train trips. The journey goes between Los Mochis and Chihuahua; first class, equipped with bathrooms, air-conditioning and large comfortable tilting seats, is for tourists. The second-class train carries passengers and livestock and is much slower and stickier.
An American entrepreneur wanting the shortest route to carry his farm produce from Kansas City to the Pacific Ocean started building the train line in 1872. Due to the opening of the Panama Canal, the 1910 Mexican Revolution and uncooperative landscape, the project was halted halfway through last century.
In 1953 the Mexicans decided to complete the work and the line opened in 1963. It cost US$100 million, has 39 bridges, 86 tunnels and is 655km long.
The area known as the Sierra Tarahumara lies under snow in the winter months, but from July to September it explodes into full tropical vegetation, cactus-covered plateaux and endless blue skies.
The canyon is home to the Tarahumara Indians, who have resisted adapting to western culture. They call themselves the Raramuri, which means foot runner, explaining their ability to run for days without stopping. They have so much endurance they used to hunt deer by chasing the animal until it was exhausted and fell to the ground, or ran off a cliff where wooden stakes awaited it.
These days they channel their energy into traditional events in which competitors run several hundred kilometres, without stopping, through the canyons, kicking a wooden ball. In cold times they live in caves and in summer move to log cabins, living off corn, beans and livestock and selling basketwork to tourists.
While the train line starts in Los Mochis, much of the best scenery is between El Fuerte, 100km up the track, and Creel, and El Fuerte is described as the prettiest town along the route.
El Fuerte is a wonderful mix an old Spanish colonial town of 30,000 residents run by a modern-day cowboy. A Spanish conqueror founded the town in 1564, and it was an important silver mining centre.
The area can be explored by horseback or by hiking, and you often come across little Indian villages in the middle of nowhere.
The town of Creel, about 2338m above sea level, has 3000 residents, and is surrounded by pine forests and interesting rock formations. There are lots of interesting day trips from Creel where you can take in hot springs, waterfalls, a lake, cave dwellings, an old Jesuit mission, canyoning and rock climbing.
The end of the line is Chihuahua, the capital of Mexico's largest and richest state, also called Chihuahua. The wealth comes from cattle, mining and timber. Chihuahua is a city of wide boulevards and attractive buildings and, due to the influx of large American manufacturing plants, it has really boomed in recent years.