Travel Agent magazine article by : Frauke de Looper,
Sierra Madre Express
Riding the Rim
A train ride on the Sierra Madre Express offers
the thrill of a lifetime
Mexico's spectacular Copper Canyon cuts across
the Sierra Madre Mountains in northern Mexico. The area is one of the most
remote and unexplored destinations close to U.S. borders. Only a trickle of
tourists find their way here, and those who do often travel on the Sierra Madre
Created eons ago by volcanic activity, Copper
Canyon covers 25,000 square miles and plunges 6,136 feet from its rim to the
canyon floor. That makes it four times larger and quite a bit deeper than the
Grand Canyon, which measures only 4,674 feet. Mexicans call this rugged and
inaccessible region--which is home to the Tarahumara Indians--the "Barranca
del Cobre" after an old copper mine deep in the bowels of the canyon near
the village of Tejaban.
Although Copper Canyon has given the area its
name, it is actually only one part in an extensive canyon system. The total
system consists of five major canyons: the Urique, Sinforosa, Copper, Batopilas
Shielded From Society
The difficult topography has shielded the
Tarahumara Indians from the influences of modern society. It also has kept
tourists at bay. There are only a few hotels, most of them rather simple, and no
highways. Transportation is mainly by dirt road, since the first blacktop road
has only recently been finished between Chihuahua and San Rafael.
But what the region lacks in tourism
infrastructure, it makes up in natural beauty. The few hotels gladly cater to
adventurous souls who are ready to rough it. But the easiest and most
comfortable way to explore Copper Canyon is on the Tucson, Ariz.-based Sierra
Madre Express, which has created a unique product. The Sierra Madre Express has
provided the only private rail service with sleeping accommodations since the
train first began service in 1986 with just one car and 20 passengers, says
Peter Robbins, the founder and company president.
Today the company owns five vintage cars from the
1940s and 1950s, and transports approximately 1,350 travelers on 30 trips per
year. Expansion, however, is not in the cards, says Robbins, who prefers to book
smaller groups and offer a personal touch that breeds good customer loyalty.
Temperatures vary according to season. While it
can snow on the canyon rim in winter, spring and fall temperatures range from
the low 50s to the high 80s and drop at night. The bottom of the canyon has
tropical temperatures. Most passengers are nostalgia buffs and soft-adventure
lovers who want to ride in comfort, and many are between the ages of 65 and 70.
Although all cars have been totally overhauled to meet the standards and needs
of modern travel, only two nights are spent on the train. With the exception of
the single sleeper compartments, each state room now contains a sink, toilet and
lower twin beds or upper and lower berths. A domed dining car is a wonderful
relic from the 1950s. The two Pullman cars were built in the 1940s.
more nights are spent at the Posada Mirador near Divisadero. Built seven years
ago on the canyon rim, the hotel beguiles its visitors with unexpected comfort,
outstanding service and a breathtaking view. The hotel has a restaurant, bar and
48 rooms, all with a large terrace. The rooms contain hand-painted furniture,
two queen-size beds and a tiled bath. Another night is spent in the Hotel Mision
in the village of Cerocahui, one hour down the tracks from Divisadero in a
valley of the Sierra Tarahumara Mountains. Built next to a 500-year-old mission
church, the hotel has 39 rooms with private bath, a restaurant, large courtyard
with a fountain and a small vineyard.
Places to See
While traveling by bus from Tucson to Magdalena,
Mexico, passengers can visit the beautiful San Xavier Mission--founded by Padre
Eusebio Kino in the 18th century--and Tubac, an arts-and-crafts community with a
small arts center and lots of gift shops. There's also a quick tour of the
town's central plaza in Magdalena. In Divisadero, the highest spot in the
canyon, clients can enjoy an insight into the Tarahumara culture, as the women
in their colorful costumes weave and sell their baskets made out of palm leaves
and pine needles.
Next is a train ride from Divisadero through the
Continental Divide to the lumber town of Creel for a quick shopping trip. From
there clients travel by bus to the old Tarahumara village of Cusarare. A photo
stop at a cave-house provides a close encounter with an extended family of cave
dwellers who seem quite content with their traditional habitat. A bird's-eye
view of the Urique Canyon--the deepest in the system--is gleaned on an excursion
from Cerocahui. The bus ride leads through spectacular mountain scenery and pine
forests until suddenly the canyon opens its jaws to reveal the small mining town
of Urique and the Urique River at the bottom of the pit.
The mix of nature, culture and railroad history
is entertaining, and the mix of hotel and train accommodations means that there
is truly something for everyone. Tours are offered from September through May.
Call Toll-free 877-466-2934. Local 727-254-4373 or email info@MyTravelFind.com About us
EMCO Travel LLC DBA E&M Travel
is registered with the State of Florida as a Seller of Travel. Registration
California Travel Seller # 2079011-40
Copyrights EMCO TRAVEL LLC 2007