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Riding the Trail in Copper Canyon, Mexico's Sierra Madre Mountains

December 10, 2009
Michlle and Kurt Winner
Michelle with husband Kurt on the trail in Mexico
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The road to our trail ride in Mexico is a long one from my home in Oregon, but each part of this journey unfolds with its own discoveries along the way.

From Los Angeles International we catch a flight into Mexico. We fly into Los Mochis, which provides a comfortable rest stop at Hotel Santa Anita. In the morning we will board a pleasure boat and cruise around the breathtaking Topolobampo (to-po-lo-bam-po) Bay.

Topolobampo Marine Sanctuary is a rich, bio-diverse bay filed with tuna, shrimp, clams, oysters, scallops, and crab. As the boat pulls away from the pier and the small town recedes, we learn the sanctuary area has no houses but curiously, it has an energy production plant. We marvel at pods of dolphins and photograph the seabirds nesting in the rock walls along the coast. Our captain slows and pulls alongside a small dory. We trade some cola with a day boat fisherman for fresh shrimp. Lunch is looking up!

While our chef, Victor Samaniego of Balderrama Hotels, prepares delicacies in the galley we sip cervezas on the canopied fly bridge. Soon, platters of shrimp and scallop ceviche, coconut shrimp, garlic shrimp, and sautéed shrimp arrive. A bit of scallop ceviche with a squeeze of lime and a sip of cold beer and I am in Topolabampo nirvana! The boat rocks gently in the Mexican sun as I imprint this perfect memory of warm sun, cool beer, birds squawking on rock ledges nearby, and the soft brown hills rising from the bay.

Fast forward 50 land miles and a day to the 1564 Spanish city of El Fuerte, birthplace of “El Zorro.” After a relaxing river tour to ancient petroglyphs and an enchanting evening poolside at “Hotel Posada del Hildalgo,” we are seated aboard the Ferromex “Chepe” train headed to the town of Bahuichivo, where a bus will take us to the mountain town of Cerocahui (sero-ka-wee). Through miles of Copper Canyon across Mexico’s Sierra Madre Mountains, our train snakes along this geologic marvel four times larger than the Grand Canyon.

“Ride or hike?” At the Hotel Mission we are gathered informally in the lobby’s comfortable seating area and the tour guide asks us if we are interested in seeing the Cerocahui waterfall, Huicochi (wee-kochee). “Ride, you bet!” I say, along with three other adventurous souls who posses the strange compulsion known only to we trail riders who eagerly volunteer to ride a trail we have never been on and with horses we have never met!

Juan is waiting for us outside the front of the hotel with his string of horses and his wiry dog, Pepe. After sizing each of us up he motions to the horse he wants us to mount. Maralyn gets on Lirio, Frederica gets Pepino, Kurt is astride the beautiful black gelding Lucero, and I hop on Conejo. The saddles are hard and very dark brown, the stirrups are covered in heavy brush covers, and the reins are soft and thin. The horses wear unusual shoes that are flat. Juan points to the stamped saddle mark on the saddle seat and points up into the hills, showing me where the local saddle maker lives. We walk the horses across the bridge over the river in the center of town, past Juan’s house, and into the hills. We know its Juan’s house because the horses all want to turn into the drive. A few very loud diesel trucks threaten throughout this part of the ride to scare us all off the road. Maralyn soon finds out Lirio likes to lead!

The horses, with the exception of the black gelding Lucero, are all on the small side. Juan says they are a type from southern Mexico, not from around here. Indeed, as we pass some other quarter horse type horses in pasture, these seem more like ponies.

We make our way along the river and up the steep sandy trail. The horses are sure-footed and calm. No so the riders! Each time we crest to a part of the trail that seems to be too narrow and inches from certain death, one of us lets out a wincing “oh, God.” But the horses never falter. They pick their way along the trail, through the stones and boulders in the fast moving river, squeeze us through narrow rock openings, and clamber up rocky ledges. Trying to cross the river at one spot we have to dismount. The river is too deep and the horses have to be led as we hop from boulder to boulder to the other side. Juan, who walks the entire trip in native Tarahumara sandals of tire rubber, constantly reassures us with “no problemo.” Pepe the dog runs ahead of the horses to chase a longhorn cow or two off the trail.

The good news? We are almost at the waterfall. Bad news? We have to return the same way. After the long ride, the box canyon narrows and then opens up. We are rewarded by a long horsetail waterfall carving through the rock outcroppings and into a pool of clear deep green. But, alas, we can’t stay. It’s getting dark and there are margaritas waiting for us at the hotel.

Travelers Guide
Air: Aero Mexico: www.aeromexico.com
Complete Tours: www.mexicoscoppercanyon.com.mx
Hotels: www.hotelesbalderrama.com
Train: www.chepe.com.mx
Tourism Office : www.ah-Chihuahua.com
Hotel Chihuahua City: www.sicomoro.com

Cerocahui is reached by train as part of a rail trip you book through Mexico Adventures.Inc. You may start the trip either in Los Mochis or Chihuahua City.

The trail ride: Available through the front desk at the Balderrama Mision Hotel. Plan to book ahead so the horses are ready for you when you arrive. It costs approximately $20 American plus tip.

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