Copper Canyon Location Facts History Mexico

Copper Canyon Location Facts History Mexico

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The railway journey up into the high mountains of Mexico’s backbone seems stupendous enough. On its ascent towards the Copper Canyon, the train swings round the hairpin bend and crosses bridges raised high above the ground. It plunges into the darkness of one tunnel after another, emerging to offer its passengers new vistas of dizzying drops down steep-sided valleys.

But the journey’s scenic rewards pale in comparison with the prize to be found at Drisadero, a railway station more than 7500ft (2300m)up in the mountains. The view that offers down the Barranca del Cobre, or Copper Canyon is mesmerising. A vast trench stretches away for some 30 miles (The railway journey up into the high mountains of Mexico’s backbone seems stupendous enough.

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On its ascent towards the Copper Canyon, the train swings round the hairpin bend and crosses bridges raised high above the ground. It plunges into the darkness of one tunnel after another, emerging to offer its passengers new vistas of dizzying drops down steep-sided valleys.

But the journey’s scenic rewards pale in comparison with the prize to be found at Drisadero, a railway station more than 7500ft (2300m)up in the mountains. The view that offers down the Barranca del Cobre, or Copper Canyon is mesmerising. A vast trench stretches away for some 30 miles (50km), plunges some 30 miles (50km), and plunges some 4600ft (1400m) to the Urique River that flows in shadowy blackness far below. Gullies cut deeply into the canyon’s walls their steep sides meeting at knife-edge ridges. In the distance, waves of ridges and pinnacles ripple away like a petrified sea.

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Copper Canyon – named after long-abandoned mines – is one of at least 12 huge gorges that gash Mexico’s the Sierra Madre Occidental. At the top of the canyons, the rocky land is often snow-covered in winter, but the steep descent into a canyon takes the visitor through a series of ever-water worlds.

The open pine and cedar forest of the higher ground give way to mesquite and acacia trees, and tall branching cacti. On the floors of the canyons, the scene changes again to one of well-watered, balmy valleys where oranges, bananas and wild orchids grow. As one 19th – century explorer wrote: ‘In a little over four hours we dropped from the land of dropped off the pine to the land of the palm.’

Despite the canyons’ uninviting appearance, they are the home of 70,000 Tarahumara people. Before the arrival of Europeans in the 17th century, the Tarahumara lived in a much larger area, but as the Spaniards encroached on their territory they retreated deeper and deeper into the canyons to retain their way of life. Now they keep cattle, sheep and goats, and grow corn, apples and peaches on what little flat land there is.

The Tarahumara call themselves ‘Raramuri’ – running people – for they have an astonishing capacity for running, in a land where almost every step they take is either uphill or down. They hold competitions in which teams dribble a wooden ball along a course that can take several days and nights to complete – a feat of endurance that staggers visitors drained by the mere sight of the awesome Copper Canyon.

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