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Copper Canyon

Caballo Blanco Ultramarathon

by Mike Huckaby

Published March 2009
Hi Carl & Lorena,

We just got back from 4 weeks in the barrancas. We started with a hike to Urique for the 5th annual Caballo Blanco Ultramarathon.

Last year when we hiked from Pamachi to Guaguevo, we heard about a second bridge not far downstream from the San Rafael bridge. Sure enough, just 600 or so feet above the Urique on the Guaguevo side is a trail junction that takes off for Churo. It traverses for a couple of kilometers before dropping back to the Urique at a swinging bridge. To canyoneer that same stretch by the river would take two days, but it was just a couple of hours walking.

The trail then climbs pretty good, on a hot exposed ridge for a couple of hours or so to an arroyo with a spring at an orange grove. This was a brutally hot hike for February. Then it climbs steeply for another couple of hours or so to the base of a cliff. By this point we were 2/3 up the slope to the rim, and it started getting pretty. Too bad we were practically shot from the preceding hours of grueling ascent. We rejuvenated and hydrated in the shade of a nearby tree for a while, listening to the pastoral cacophony below.

We had reached an area they just call barranco. It was a deep arroyo cut into the high mesa. There were a scattering of houses stretched out on the high ridge. Sounds of burro bells, and goat bleats drifted up to us. Dogs barked, roosters crowed, cows bellowed, burros brayed and it was all underscored by the rhythm of some unseen woodchopper's axe. We saw goats dislodge boulders and cause wisps of dust to rise, but it was long seconds before the sounds reached us.

Finally dry and rested, we continued on our way. The trail was now hewn rock, just an extension of the cliff above us and below us. We slowly ascended the carved steps and turned in towards the arroyo as the trail leveled out, but the deep canyon still yawned below us. The trail slowly descended into deep shade and a vado over a much anticipated clear running stream.

The final climb of about 1200 feet offered us the best views yet. We were leaving the Apachean Madrean oaklands for the pines, and the cooler temperatures that brought. Picturesque ranchos dotted the steep slopes. Peach trees were full of pink flowers and trincheras lined the brickred rock trail. As the route leveled out, we were overtaken by a man carrying a sack of oranges, and we bought a couple. He disappeared among the boulders as we quenched our thirst.

The trail brought us in a little above the town and behind the Churo mission. Below was a man in his field with a hand plow being pulled by two cows. Further along the dusty road was a man making adobes, and another plowing his field in the same manner. Fires were smouldering in other fields. This time of year, the farmers will drag an oak to their field for burning. They say the ash makes good fertilzer. Nobody in the tranquil town paid us much attention as we walked past the church and on towards the edge of the mesa.

Another couple of hours of hiking brought us to the end of the mesa. This descent was the part of the trip we had been dreading from the year before, so an early start insured we were down in the land of papayas and oranges before the heat of the day overwhelmed us. A little sprucing up in the river didn't hurt either, for when we made our appearance in town.

The race was a great affair for the normally sleepy town of Urique. There were folks repairing missing slats and cinching the wires on the suspension bridge to Guadalupe Coronado. New barrels for trashcans lined the 70 km race route. Kids in track suits and basketball uniforms went around showing off their new colors, performing various civic duties. Tarahumarans in brilliant colored pleated blouses, and clean white muslin loinclothes lounged in the shadows waiting for the signal to start running, even though post time was still 2 days away.

We were on a mission to find steak, and our campground hosts Chiro and Lola suggested the Restaurant Barranca Urique. Nevermind that their inexpensive menu items might be a front for drug dealers, the hearty arrachera and sublime agua chile had us returning every day of our 4 day stay.

The race itself featured 120 participants, and gave away over 21 tons of corn. Costales of corn and cash prizes were awarded for every conceivable catagory. First and second place were won by the Chivo from North Carolina and a guy from Japan respectively, who gave their corn and money prize to the first and second placing Tarahumarans in the truest tradition of Korima. Other winners included top female finishers, kids, and the elderly. The local campground Entre Amigos run by Keith Ramsey donated 500 pesos to the first local to come in. Since the race ran through town 4 times in the circuit, runners had the option of 32km, 54km, or the full course.

Still with time on our hands we capped off the mutiday hike with a follow-up to Batopilas. However, not knowing all the water holes in route, we took 3 days getting there.

Breaking news in the Sierras:

•Telephone poles and wires have been planted and strung to El Naranjo 8 km from Urique. It looks like they're awaiting a transformer.

•Telephone poles and wires but no meters have been installed in Churo. Water harvesting is also in evidence, which is a technology long overdue!, but as a technology is nothing new.

•A vehicle bridge is under construction beside the swinging pedestrian bridge at Vado de la Cueva 12 km downstream from Urique. With bulldozers able to cross the Urique, they'll probably make a new cut past Hormguero/Pie de la Cuesta to opposite Mesa San Jose.

•From Batopilas a new road switchbacks to the top of the ridge, just out of town on the road to Satevo.

•From El Algarin, the mesatop rancho, you can see it descend almost to the Urique River, to a low mesa opposite the mines on Mesa San Jose.

•Sunday, March 8 was a festival in Tizonazo, Durango, for "los guerreros", an event which drew lots of the local Serranos. Approximately 5000 attended.

•The 4 km loop from Divisadero to Arepo has been paved. Included in the price are 2 casetas for collecting tolls. The fee collection is anticipated to be in effect during Semana Santa week, 2009.

•Continuing efforts to exploit the panoramic serenity of the Divisadero canyon rim, developers are working to fracture the ejido's reluctance to sell land to private individuals. They must be succeeding because a recent issue of XXXXXXXXXXXXXX highlights the most recent proposal for a cable car from Piedra Volada down to Rancho Bacajipara. The government agency Fonatur has plans to land this Austrian-style car that can hold up to 70 passengers at the puerto just above the village. Rumours and survey stakes! indicate that a new hotel will be built on the rocky outcropping of a butte just above the puerto. This puerto has been our lunch spot for years, with and without the improved structure that has been slowly disappearing since it was first built.

The improved trail past the puerto, the log cabin style structure, and numerous trial signs were part of the governments' last round of development. In an attempt to encourage motorcycle travel into the canyon, they widened an existing trail. Either they never finished or they realized the futility of the venture - as if the steep, narrow, winding, dusty roads aren't challenging enough. Ask any Enduro rider.

More survey stakes and paint markings indicate one pylon at Anselmo's abandoned rancho and the final landing at the Urique River. This would be great if the intended clientel intended to hike, but they'll probably never leave the patio, content to watch the indans plow cornfields with a horse and more indians fish with a net.

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