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Planning a trip into the Sierra Madre is complicated by a lack of "infrastructure" and a dearth of reliable information. I've listed several itinerary options below, followed by a more detailed, place-by-place description. Whichever itinerary you follow, do your best to make at least one side trip by bus or hired vehicle to the deeper canyon bottoms at Batopilas (from Creel) or Urique (from Bahuichivo). The roads to these ancient mining villages provide views that rival and even surpass those seen from the train.
1. The Copper Canyon train : Take the train across the Sierra Madre, preferably from west to east, that is, from Los Mochis (or El Fuerte) to Creel or Chihuahua, overnighting and making side trips along the way. This is the route taken by at least ninety percent of the visitors to the Sierra Madre. My "best" suggestion is to fly or bus to Los Mochis, then take a local bus to El Fuerte, and spend the night there before getting the next early morning train.
From Los Mochis or nearby El Fuerte train to Bahuichivo and side-trip to Cerocahui and Uriquecontinue by train from Bahuichivo to Areponapuchi (very close to Divisadero) and Creelhiking, biking and side trips to Cusárare, Arareco, Sisoguichic and Batopilastrain or bus to Chihuahua for local sightseeing. Bus or fly to El Paso and home.
2. The Copper Canyon loop : Start in El Paso and bus or drive to Chihuahua City or Ciudad Cuauhtemoc. Continue on by train (or bus) to Creel, a small mountain town ideally situated for side trips on foot and mountain bike. Local van tours are also available, so plan on spending at least one or two days here. From Creel continue west to Los Mochis (no bus; you must take the train). Spend one or two nights in El Fuerte (near Los Mochis) and then return on the train to Creel.
To return to El Paso, Texas, take the "back door" (by car or bus) from Creel to Madera (good hiking and the Cuarenta Casas archaeological site), and on to Nuevo Casas Grandes and Paquime (ruins and museum). If you like fine pottery, take local gravel roads to the village of Mata Ortiz (highly recommended). Then back to El Paso.
• A smaller loop variation: Drive or bus from Chihuahua City to Ciudad Cuauhtemoc, and from there to La Junta and Basaseachic Falls National Park. Continue north on Highway 16 to Madera, Casas Grandes, Janos and Ciudad Juárezor, double-back to the east on Mex 10 to El Sueco, and from there go south again to Chihuahua City on Mex 45.
By the way, with the exception of the train trip from Creel to Los Mochis these loops follow good secondary roads and are easily done in a rental car.
•The Copper Canyon loop by bus :Many people don't realize just how easy a trip into the Sierra Madre can be if you take the bus. Start by taking a cross-border Greyhound bus from El Paso, Texas, directly to the huge terminal in Juárez, Mexico (about an hour).
Before reaching the Juárez terminal, the driver's assistant may offer to radio ahead and reserve a seat for you on the first available bus to Chihuahua. He will make the reservation and even issue the ticket, at no additional charge. This is very convenient; I usually step off the cross-border bus and onto a departing Chihuahua-bound bus (about five hours) without even entering the terminal.
The bus to Chihuahua City from Juárez stops for a baggage and immigration inspection about fifteen miles south of the border. Tell the driver you need a tourist cardit shouldn't take more than a few minutes to run inside to the Migración office. (A tourist card is absolutely required to visit Mexico beyond the border zone, so be sure you get one.) If there's a delay or the driver is impatient, he may leave you here and let you catch the next bus after you've gotten your tourist card. This is fine, but keep your ticket handy and be sure to take your baggage off the bus.
In Chihuahua's splendid terminal de autobuses, look for Estrella Blanca, the major bus line to Creel (four to five hours). If you're not in a hurry, there's also the daily, early a.m. train from Chihuahua to Creel, but unless you're a serious train buff, take the bus -- it's faster and a lot cheaper.
3. Drive to Creel from Hermosillo: Passenger cars regularly travel these isolated but decent secondary roads. Once you get to Creel, do a round trip (with stopovers) on the train to Mochis or follow the Gran Vision highway south all the way to Parral. By the time you read this, there'll probably be a paved connection from Parral to the Pacific coast near Culiacan.
4. Only for the stout-of-heart: An unmarked four-wheel-drive route goes from Los Alamos, Sonora, all the way to Bahuichivo and Creel. The directions are very complicated.
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