Copper Canyon comprises of seven major interlocking canyons, each one deeper than the Grand Canyon, and cool pine-forested highlands in between. The Copper Canyon is actually a giant caldera, a massive vulcanized area 80 miles in diameter that collapsed into itself during an ancient eruption. The remnant is a jumbled mass of canyons with countless rivers and hot springs to remind us of its volcanic earth. Until recently, this roadless, unexplored wilderness was known only to the reclusive Tarahumara Indians, missionaries and footsore miners. Pancho Villa retreated to the canyon labrynths when he needed a respite from the revolution. His encounters with the miners in Batopilas and Cusárare are the stuff of legend. It is said that Mexico’s great revolution of the last century was born in these wild hills.
Utopian idealists who believed 10 acres and a spade were all a family needed, created a colony at Creel over 100 years ago, and dreamers dreamed of pushing a railroad from Kansas City to the Mexican Pacific to compete with San Francisco. Nearly 60 years and dozens of attempts passed before the miraculous Kansas City Al Pacifico Railroad was finished with its tracks that pass over 37 bridges and through 86 tunnels.
Today, the still largely unexplored Copper Canyon area thrives on primitive lumbering and small mining operations, and due to its fortunate location far from urban crime, centers a bustling tourist trade.
Copper Canyon—Natural History
Excerpt from Selected Geologic Studies on the Sierra Madre Occidental, at the University of Texas at Austin:
Volcanic History of the Tomochic Caldera Region
“The Sierra Madre Occidental volcanic field (SMO) is the largest remnant of a broad and extensive belt of continental-margin magmatism that was active along the western edge of North America during suduction of the Farallon Plate. Covering much of western Mexico, the field includes the Sierra Madre Occidental proper and parts of the Mexican Basin and Range province farther east. Unlike most subduction-related arcs, in which the dominant rock type is andesitic or more mafic in composition, exposed rocks in the SMO are dominated by voluminous rhyolite ash-flow tuffs extruded from large caldera structures…The volumetric predominance of these ash-flow tuffs has led to recognition of the SMO as the world’s largest continuously exposd, rhyolite-dominated volcanic province…”
Copper Canyon country—God’s country! A measurable chunk of rugged landscape, roughly 2,000 square miles of largely unexplored mountainous terrain. Parts of the Copper Canyon are two times deeper than the Grand Canyon and four times larger. The Copper Canyon was formed during volcanic activity some 30-40 million years ago! Deep fractures in the earth’s crust were formed by the tectonic activity and rivers formed in the high Sierra cut deep canyons on their way to the Gulf of Mexico.
The resulting landscape is varied and immense. Hundreds of bird species have been recorded, and until recently, Copper Canyon mammals included black bear, puma, deer, and the Mexican wolf. These animals have been hunted to the point of near-extinction.
Perhaps the best way to experience the diversity of seasons in Copper Canyon, is to spend time in the high country around Cusárare and at the bottom of the Batopilas canyon, in one trip.
Fall – October through December – Generally the best time to travel, nights in the high country are cool with warm, sun-filled days, averaging between 60-80 degrees. This is post-rainy season time so plant-life thrives and so do the birds. Travel to Batopilas and temperatures are typically 20 to 30 degrees warmer than at the top.
Winter – Wake up at the Sierra Lodge in January or February to snow-covered mountains and valleys. Ice forms on the river. Daytime temps do warm to around 50 to 70 degrees. Unpredictable and beautiful! The bottom of the canyon is warm but nights are cold. Best birding season is around February in and around Batopilas.
Spring – Melting snows, warmer temps, this season is around March through May. Great hiking weather in the high country! Daytime will bring lots of sun with 60-80 degree weather.
Summer – This is the rainy season—between mid-June through September. Expect an afternoon rains almost daily. The Cusárare River should be moving faster and the valleys sprinkled with wild flowers. Everything is green this time of year. In Batopilas, it is hot—over 100 degrees—and humid. Lush tropical plants grow quickly and profusely.
Click on the buttons at the top of this page to read about the diverse area between the high country sierra and remote canyon floor.