The Exquisite Copper Canyon and Some Amazing Paintings

I’ve gotten a few questions about my motorcycle ride in Mexico’s Copper Canyon and its timing, right before my second OH surgery.  Here is some background on that trip and most importantly, some of the photographs that led to paintings by my wife, Maggie, who is an artist with a special talent for painting portraits. Below is one of her paintings. “Worried and Waiting” based on a photo from the Copper Canyon Trip.

For a real treat, check out the website where Maggie has many of her paintings. Can you spot the ones from the Copper Canyon trip?   (hint, look near the end).

While the Copper Canyons in Mexico are deeper (over a mile/1.6 km) and four times longer than the Grand Canyon in Arizona, they’re very different. The Grand Canyon is larger overall than any of the individual canyons of the Copper Canyon system in Mexico, but Mexico has six canyons: 1. Tom chic, 2. Las Varas, 3. El Comanche, 4. Manzanita, 5. San Juanito and 6. Copper Canyon.  Mexico’s canyons sport far more vegetation and are populated by the Tarahumara Indians, who’ve managed to keep their unique and fascinating culture despite thousands of years of outside pressure.

Most people know the Tarahumara from their long-distance running abilities, outlined in Christopher McDougall’s book, “Born to Run.”  During the 16th century, they retreated deep into the canyons to escape the Spanish conquistadors. They have remained largely isolated from the outside world growing corn, potatoes, and beans while living in caves. A complex network of trails links their small communities. Trail running to deliver messages between families is a major part of their lives. Running is also important for hunting animals, as they chase deer until the deer are too exhausted to escape. 

Skip Mascorro of MotoDiscovery, a tour operator, is one of the world’s best-known experts in this part of the world, having led trips here since 1981.  I’ve known Skip for over 20 years. We often talked about his adventures in Mexico and the Copper Canyon specifically.  In 2018, almost a month to the day before my big surgery, we managed to pull together a trip with some of my closest riding friends, including: Roger Hansen, Mark Dilly, Eric Schmid, Kevin Ward and a friend of Eric’s from Chicago, Eric Bauer and my brother Leif formed the core group. We were joined by Kaz Uzunoglu, a good friend and tour operator from Turkey as a special surprise guest of Skip. Skip’s crew included Alex Moore and two skilled, bi-lingual guys who formed the chase crew.

We met in Phoenix on Thursday, March 15, and left the following morning for Douglas, AZ, right on the US side of the border.  Before leaving, Mark and Jeanne Dilly hosted a terrific party at their home and provided rooms for some of the out-of-town riders. Bikes had been shipped into Phoenix the weeks before the ride or trailered in from Salt Lake City or rented locally.

After transitioning from the center of Arizona to its far southern border, we met up at the Gadsden Hotel in Douglas where Skip reviewed the route and details for the next six days. It was a remarkable trip and following are some of the photos.  I’ll try to put captions on some of them.  In general, here is what the riders among you will want to know:

  • Weather (Mexico in March): It was glorious. It hovered around 70 degrees and was sunny nearly every day.  Cooler at night at the bottoms of the Canyon – or maybe it was cooler near the rim, I forget.  It’s almost a mile straight down to the bottom of the canyon, so the temperature changes were significant.  Removing or adding a layer was pretty much all that was needed to find comfort.
  • Roads: In general, they were very good. However, some roads leading into the bottom of the canyons as well as several others were not paved.  They were graded and in pretty good condition, but riders needed to be comfortable on gravel and traversing loose rocks and sand. Anyone experienced with this sort of riding knows you can’t ride this terrain tensed up or get overly concerned if your bike moves around a bit. A different attitude from pavement is necessary as the bike moves differently. Fortunately, all of the riders on this trip were well-qualified and experienced, and those who may have been borderline caught on pretty quick.
  • People: The Mexican people are gracious and welcoming. We saw smattering evidence of what we took to be possible drug cartel presence, a couple of very well-armed men sitting in a pickup truck at the edge of a town we were entering.  But this was far from the Copper Canyon areas. We never had any encounters with anything scary and even our interactions with police officials when we’d gotten a bit cross-wise with some of the local laws were resolved by our bi-lingual team members.
  • Food: Superb, but it goes without saying, it helps if you like Mexican food.  Rice, beans, chicken, tortillas, salsa, steak, eggs, salad, and fresh veggies.  All dinners were well-prepared and very good and many breakfasts were superb as well.  Some of my favorites were stopping to lunch at small stands along our route.

Be sure to tell me if you were able to navigate to Maggie’s website and if you saw her paintings.  Here are some of the pictures (more on the blog):

Four of our group stare into down into where two of the Canyons come together.

You’ll find the painting that was done from this photograph on Maggie’s website.

Earthquake damage is cleared on just one lane of the road.

Some of the best food came from small road side stands.

Eric Schmid made friends with many of the locals.

Towns in the bottom of the canyons at dusk were quiet and full of color.

The tallest of these 3 nuns did not reach five feet.

Breakfasts featuring huevos rancheros were a favorite.

Maggie’s painted a large portrait of this cowboy’s photograph.

Mexico’s Copper Canyons have more vegetation and less brilliant colors than the Grand Canyon in Arizona.

Tarahumara Indians dress in bright colors for their monthly visits to town.

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