Canyons go on forever

If scrambling up rocky cliffs, sliding down steep dirt trails and plucking an occasional chicken is your idea of adventure, then check out the hikes at the top of this page. Click on half-day or all-day hikes. Or, take off on your own.

 

High Country Overnight Hike—by Carl Franz

Here is an account of a high country hike as told by Carl Franz, author of the popular Mexico travel guide “The People’s Guide to Mexico”.

 

Copper Canyon Caves – Notes by Carl Franz, writer, former guide at Copper Canyon Lodges – 1994

I’m huddled on the bed with a cup of fresh Darjeeling tea and a roaring fire in the stove. It got down to the low 20’s last night but the sun is quite bright this morning and it promises to be a very fine day.

Yesterday I headed off into the canyons. I hiked for several hours, exploring ridge tops, then dropping down into a long, narrow canyon – the ‘secret’ lair of the eared trogon that I discovered a couple weeks ago.

On a mesa top I found two ancient Tarahumara storehouses, beautifully made of stone, adobe and rotting pine timbers. Also a semi-abandoned ranchito and several cave storehouses and temporary dwellings. My conclusion is that the entire ridge and the many arroyos that cut its flanks constitute a huge archaeological site.

My goal was to explore a deep, narrow arroyo that faces eastward – from a distance it seemed to offer good potential for dwelling cave sites, but the area is so heavily forested that it is impossible to see anything until you’re right on top of it.

I’ve learned by now some of the tricks of finding cave dwellings – one of them is to approach from above – so I humped up another ridge to get well above the gorge, carrying a pack with just enough gear for an overnight bivouac. Getting lost or turning an ankle is all too easy here so it is best to be prepared.

Once I’d gained the very top of the arroyo, I made two fruitless attempts to follow it down – but it was so deep and choked with massive boulders, that I couldn’t make any progress at all. These attempts only inspired me to keep searching. The gorge is incredibly alluring, with iridescent moss, ferns, deep pockets of pine needles and oak leaves – a veritable ‘storybook’ canyon.

By 2 p.m. I was tired enough to realize that I’d have to stop for lunch, but decided to make one more effort. The top of the gorge was so beautiful that I knew there’d be something very special down below.

Half an hour later, I’d managed to descend several hundred yards into the gorge and was contemplating a series of very narrow, heavily weathered steps that had been cut into a vertical stone face below me. Clearly these steps descended to a cave dwelling. The problem was, if I slipped….

Tarahumara storehouse and goat shelter

After careful thought about the possible consequences of an accident, I retreated. I know that even the Tarahumara suffer and sometimes die from falls in this country. Rather than seriously risking my neck I dropped off my pack and began searching for a less hazardous downstream route among the massive stacked boulders – many of them the size of houses.

After 15 minutes, I entered a sort of tunnel that twisted and turned beneath this maze of jumbled boulders…and rounding a very tight corner, suddenly found myself face to face with a wonderful cave dwelling. It was if the occupants had only recently left – an ancient stone metate sat on the ground in front of the cave, complete with the ‘mano’ or hand grinding stone! There was a terrace of stone and earth (for ritual dancing), a goat pen of huge hand-hewn logs and enough large beams to assemble a small cabin. There were many pottery fragments inside the cave as well as a large supply of pitch pine torches.

The scene took my breath away. This remarkable dwelling was perfectly hidden high above the canyon bottom, in a spot so secret and quiet that it brought chills up my spine. Later, I found a fine spring of clear, icy water just below the dwelling, and a network of grottos and ‘slots’ covered in heavy mosses, carpeted knee-deep with fallen oak leaves.

Once I got over my initial shock, I went back for my pack, then returned again to the cave for a late lunch of biscuits with peanut butter, dried beef, tea and a mandarina.

After I’d eaten, I thought about digging out my notebook and writing the book reviews I’d promised to send but instead I spread out my blue mat, laid down for a bit of a rest… and instantly fell deep asleep.

I woke two hours later, made more tea, then packed up and reluctantly headed back.

 

Carl Franz and Lorena Havens are the authors of the award-winning travel book, “The People’s Guide To Mexico.” They also publish a website on Mexico travel. Click here to visit their website.

 

 

“For the next week, these trails kept me busy hiking up 4,000 foot-high mesas with astonishing 360-degree views, past hidden caves, old silver mines, cool rivers…”

Walking Magazine

 

“The magic happens best when you take off with no destination in mind. Then…the mountains seduce you.”

—Skip McWilliams