Creel is the last major town before you enter the Parque Nacional Barranca del Cobre (Copper Canyon National Park). Here I took a room and unloaded the luggage from the motorcycle. In the afternoon I took a long hour’s ride along the corkscrew highway that follows the train tracks along and over and through the great canyon ridges. These are the tracks that run from Mazatlan on the coast to Chihuahua in the middle of the empty, mountainous northern country. That a train can run through these vast canyonlands is marvelous; it makes you think that maybe anything, anything at all, is possible.
The highway ends at a train stop. Here, at the train stop, there are artisans and souvenir vendors and women cooking and selling food. They come here because the train makes a stop here and also because there is a famous mirador (lookout) and tourists come to see the view. Here at El Divisadero on the northern rim of Barranca del Cobre, you can stand at a cliff’s edge, along a railing and a stone parapet and you can see as far south across the canyonlands as your eyes will let you. You see the rough, jagged slopes of rock and scrubland barreling into and away from each other, looking like the great, colliding waves of a storming sea frozen forever as earth and stone.
The next day I rode more than 150 kilometers of canyon highway from Creel on the north side of the Barranca del Cobre to Guachochi on the south side. The road was rough and meandering: hard corners, twisting as it rose and falling again according to the terrain, cutting through thick forests along the heights where the air was cool and smelled of earth and pine needles and, descending into the valleys, it was hot and dry and bathed in sharp sunlight. In one valley about halfway through the ride I stopped beside a bridge where the road crosses a river and I sat upon a boulder reading and resting and eating sunflower seeds and getting sunburned. Warm and sweating and skin becoming red and no shade anywhere, it was lovely here after so many days of cold.
In Guachochi I rode to the Sinforosa, which is the principal southern mirador as El Divisadero is in the north. It was 10 miles from the town to the lookout and the road was all dirt, rocky and potholed, and at one point I had to cross a large puddle which was thick with mud and sludge and I thought for sure that I would go down. This was my first time riding off of tarmac and it was not pleasant as dirt roads go. I rode slowly and looked straight ahead, avoiding large rocks and gravel and sudden dips in the road.
As I rode, gingerly and nervously, I thought about a story that a friend in Chile had told me. She had gone with her family to a pebbly beach in the south of the country with her family and they drove out onto the sand. There they saw a young American with a rented Jeep. He had got floundered in the pebbles and sand and had kept gunning the engine, which only drove him deeper in. Eventually he got help from a couple of local men with a pickup truck and they rigged a tow line and tried to use the truck’s torque to free the Jeep.
The American had a good attitude and saw it all as an experience. While the two men rigged the line, pulled from the pickup truck, and slowly reversed on the Jeep, the American had his camcorder out. He was circling the scene and filming and smiling and saying over and over again: “Qué aventura! Qué aventura!” (What an adventure! What an adventure!). Some time passed and the Jeep was not freed and the American lifted his gaze from the camcorder aperture and saw that all during the ‘adventure’ the tide had been rising up the shore. The last “Qué aventura!” was only half uttered when he made this realization and now he began repeating different words: “Oh, fuck! Oh, fuck! Oh, fuck!” Now he was no longer filming and he was helping push the Jeep. Only now there wasn’t time and the rescue had to be abandoned and the pickup moved further up the beach. The tide rose and flooded the Jeep and soon the strong, sidelong current knocked it loose from its moorings and swept it some ways down the coast.
I thought about this story as I rode, bumping and crashing into and over the uneven road, repeating to myself “Qué aventura! Qué aventura!” until finally I arrived at the mirador. There, after crossing a small cow pasture, I was alone at the lookout in the late afternoon. It was a wide concrete platform with a fenced metal rail, the cliff face tumbling down and away below. All around there was only wind and sky and what must certainly be some of the roughest, ruggedest canyon country to be found anywhere on the whole earth.