Treasure of Sierra Madre

Mexico's Copper Canyon - Introduction
By Karen Schwartzman & Bob Melia; Copper Canyon Lodges assisted with this story.

Only the drums told us we were not alone.

Our small party had been hiking for hours through Mexico's Barranca del Cobre -- the Copper Canyon - without seeing a trace of any other human being. Now, in the heart of a canyon even deeper than the Grand Canyon, we heard the echoes of Tarahumara drums. Their simple beats were faint at first, but soon gathered strength. Echoing off stony ridges, it was impossible to tell their number or location. We looked to our guide for direction. "Quien sabe?" she said. "Who knows? The Tarahumara can't be seen unless they want to be."

Just 300 miles from the US border, we are in another world, a world unknown to most Mexicans, let alone Americans. In the heart of the Sierra Madre, the Copper Canyon is really seven major canyons, four of which are deeper than the Grand Canyon. This is where the US Army hunted Pancho Villa for ten years, without success. Not surprising, given the expanse. Only the Tarahumara know this land.

The Tarahumara are probably the most isolated and primitive Native American tribe in North America. Scattered over 10,000 miles of mountains and canyons -- a family here, another there -- the Tarahumara may be invisible, but they're everywhere. The world's strongest long distance runners, running up to 125 miles non-stop, the Tarahumara can live just about anywhere in the canyon system, and they do. Though there's a Tarahumara ranchito wherever there is a flat patch of land, that's not saying much, since flat patches are few and far between.

Extremely shy, most Tarahumara want little contact with the trickle of adventurers who make it to the canyon. The best place from which to explore their land, though, is through the Copper Canyon Lodge in Cusarare, just south of the town of Creel. Tucked away in a hidden valley just yards from the Rio Cusarare, the 14 room lodge is an oasis of comfort in a remote and rugged landscape. Built from handhewn logs and stucco, and lit only by kerosene lamps, the lodge exudes charm, comfort and authenticity. Each guest room has a beamed ceiling, wood stove (at 8,000 feet the nights are chilly) native art and tile bath. The flannel sheets and down comforters put the typical first-class hotel to shame, and the terrycloth bathrobes are reminiscent of the Ritz.

But the real treat is the setting. The verandah offers magnificent vistas of sky, mountain, valley and water, and you can take it all in as you sip a margarita in the late afternoon sun. Delicious three and tour course meals are served family style by the mainly Tarahumara staff in the communal dining room. And during the pre-dinner cocktail hour, Tarahumara musicians play homemade violins and flutes.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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