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| Neal Johns, Charles & Mary Hughes | Trip Reports

1999 Trip report - Copper Canyon, Mexico

The Lost Tribe Mini Trip Report

written by Neal Johns

Most photos by John Page, but some by Marian Johns, Marilyn Martin, and Virginia Hammerness

Copper Canyon again? Seems like we were just there, but I guess it has been over three years! You would think it would get easier each time, but it must be like childbirth; you forget the pain after a while. This time I will remember the pain for a long, long time. It wasn’t the people, they were great, but the gods seemed to snow on me (euphemism). Seven vehicles (Charles and Mary Hughes, John Page/Paul Ferry, Virginia Hammerness/Pat Loomis, Warren Alksnis, Ann Marie Nelson/Bill Turpin, Bob and Marilyn Martin and the Johns) met in Tucson where, to my horror, AAA would not process the border crossing paperwork as in past years. Then Warren got lost in the restaurant (thus The Lost Tribe name), and I started to get that funny feeling about things. Was this trip going to be like the task of herding cats? Short answer: Yes.           


The border crossing could not have been easier, thus lulling me into a sense of false security. The trip to Colonia Juarez (a left-over from an 1895 LDS settlement)  was uneventful, and we met with the wonderful Mike Romney family.  Everyone promptly fell in love with them.

This didn’t set too well with me because I had previously staked out a claim on Gwen and gorgeous daughter Stephanie. Remember George Romney, the Michigan Governor and American Motors CEO? He was a local Colonia Juarez boy (not to be confused with Cuidad Juarez on the border). This is the family that had captured and adopted Marian and me in the Valley of the Caves several years ago. At that time the first thing they did was take us (complete strangers) home and shower us. There may have been a message there - we had been camping out for several days. I held back some of Gwen’s fudge from The Tribe and am eating it now. Their many kindnesses would take another article to enumerate. We went to the Valley of the Caves the next day, and on the way Virginia had a flat tire. No big deal we thought. However.....It soon became obvious that the gods were not on our side. Several plugs failed to fix the leak, and when the spare was about to be put into service, it was noted that it was several inches smaller than the rest of the tires. But Wait! If you order now there is more! It was noted that the spare could not be removed because the trailer hitch was in the way. So we removed the trailer hitch which required removing the bumper. Did I mention the spare was locked on, and good old Virgie had no key? We made it to the Cave of the Olla without further ado and then visited Mata Ortiz, spending all our money on pots, and meeting Juan Quesada, the man who started the pottery revolution in the village. The next point of interest down the highway was the prehistoric ruins of Cuarenta Casas where an elevation loss and gain of 1,000 feet sorely tried my ancient feet and lungs.  

The next day, with a little help from Bob Martin, we found the Basaseachi waterfall nearly dry  and then headed toward Creel in a snowstorm. Yep, a real snowstorm on a dirt road no less.  I get nervous in snowstorms, reminds me of when my mother put me out in a basket for the wolves to get. Creel had not changed much, well maybe a little, like the new KOA we stayed in.  That darned Gringo culture is showing up everywhere! Got the troops lost twice trying to find a nearby waterfall. 

Then pointed them toward Batopilas at the bottom of one of the four canyons which make up Copper Canyon Country. Running late, we stopped at the old silver mining ghost town of La Bufa and found the local character, Don Bush. 

 I plan to go back someday and steal his library. Outstanding! He took us to a Tarahumara Easter dance but didn’t tell us they put a curse on the Hughes’ radiator.

Four or five of our guys, led by Paul, took it out and fixed it. One to do the work and four to tell him contradicting stories on how to do it. The high point for Pat was the friendly but drunk Tarahumara who showed up in their solitary darkened campsite with an apparent crush on white haired Gringas. 

Back in Creel we let Warren go off by himself, and he promptly flung his truck sideways into some poor Mexican kid. He claims the kid ran into the side of the truck of course. Everyone went down to the police station and surprisingly, in a friendly fashion everything was sorted out.

Then we were off to points on the railroad like El Divisadero where you can look down into Copper Canyon. It was then that the cat herding became impossible. Three of the crew left to head home early. This left Page/Ferry, Dippy Nelson (w/Bill), and the Martins to go to Urique with us.

 We noticed Page’s front wheel leaning but presumed it was just cringing from the several thousand foot drop at the edge of the road. A closer look showed it suffered from the usual Nissan bolt-dropping syndrome. The next town (Bahuichivo) had two auto parts stores and three repair shops, or was it the other way around? Eureka! They had the right bolt and two stripped bolts were replaced with different threaded bolts for 10 bucks. Got him all the way back to Anna (Who probably didn’t care anyway after the way he kept trying to apply shampoo to my poor wife’s wet slippery body the whole trip). 

The high point of the trip was no doubt the Roach Hotel in Chinipas. We gave our roaches names which made it kind of homey. Overheard on the street was a screeching sound when someone backed into the Martin’s cow skull. The Caves we had heard rumors about were a two day hike UP to the top of the mountain. Forget UP, so we headed on to Alamos with The Fearful Leader running at both ends.  Hard to command respect that way. 

Alamos was a bust. Dr. Pender was sick, and Bernie had left the day before so we had no hacienda to show people. There was, however, La Mansion, the converted-to-hotel hacienda we stayed in. Our bedroom suite was almost bigger than our house!

 The trip home was uneventful for our group, but the poor Hughes’ got run into in a gas station and had to go to the police station getting the same good treatment as Warren. I have never traveled with such a large number of criminals before. And my Toyota? Came home without a scratch, but there is the matter of the broken coil spring in the front. Probably sabotage from someone I yelled at. Toyotas rule! Thanks to the several people who, trying hard to lighten our communications burden with the natives, mistakenly thought they were speaking Spanish! Ha!


DE Logo-with-coyote



Copper Canyon Completion


by Charles and Mary Hughes


After much discussion we decided to leave Creel Monday afternoon figuring we could make a 100 or so miles before dark. So we left, and the adventure began. Warren thought if we got to Madera we could camp at 40 Casas as the signs we saw at the park said it was OK to camp. We got there about eightish and the gate was locked. Went north a ways, nothing. Turned around headed back to 40 Casas. About a mile south of 40 Casas we spotted a dirt road and took it. A good spot for camping was found. 


We were on the road early next morning. Warren found the gravel road, and we took it to the blacktop. When we got to Gomas Farias we retraced our steps through town. Warren thought we were going the wrong way and made a "Uey". After a little discussion we turned back and found our way. At Buenaventura we missed the left turn and went the wrong way on 10. I thought it was the wrong road as nothing looked familiar. I thought Warren did such a good job the day before he must be right. The further we went the more I thought it was wrong. As I reached for the "mike" Warren called and said he wanted to check the map. I felt all along we were wrong and should have said something sooner about it before we got to Ricardo Flores Magon. Made a "Uey" back to Buenavetura (60 clics). Made the turn and on our way to Janos. 


At Janos we stopped at the Pemex. I left Mary in the car and headed for the men’s. I came out and Mary said someone hit the car bashing in the doors on the right side. The guy would not trade papers and was very belligerent about the whole thing. I asked the Pemex guys to call the Policia, and they said no Policia in Janos to go to the next town. I told them I would not move the car until the Policia came ( We were blocking the pumps ) Mary said the car would not start. Sure enough it was dead. Warren gave us a jump, and it started. The Police came, and I moved the car to the side. We went to the Police Station, and they brought the driver in. After much discussion they gave me his driver info etc., and said they would make out a report and send it to me. I didn’t think they really would, but I had no choices and hoped I had enough info for the insurance Co. We left, headed for the border a 100 miles away. About a mile up the road I stopped to check the load on the roof and retie it when 2 of the cops pulled up behind me. They said they needed $10.00 to do the reports. I gave them the ten and told them I would send another ten when I got the reports. They shook hands on the deal, and away we went. 


We got to the Border, and Warren headed to US customs. I told him we had to turn in our car permits. He said US Customs would take them. I said no way they don’t care about them. It’s not their concern. Luckily he asked a Police Officer, and the Officer got him out of line to head over to Mexican Customs where after a 45 minute wait they took the stickers off. We crossed the Border. 


In Douglas I found the local Wal-Mart and with the battery warranty got a new battery. The battery was only 18 months old so we got a new one free. Off to Tucson. Just outside of Bisbee I turned on the headlights. Went to turn up the dash lights, and the car died just as I touched the switch. I said what the hell has that got to do with the car stalling? It cranked OK so I assumed my low fuel light was also out as the dash lights didn’t work. Dumped in the 5 gallon can of gas. Car restarted. Got into Tombstone and the cops pulled me over. I said what now? The whole day was downhill. I might as well get a ticket to top it off. The officer said my tail lights were out. I said I was having electrical problems as the dash lights were out also. I told him I was headed for the gas station just ahead to fix them. He said OK. We put in a new fuse, gassed up and decided to camp in Tombstone as it was so late after all the fooling around. Warren asked the gas guy about camping, and he sent us to a good area. 

Early AM we were off for Tucson where we split with Warren. He wanted to follow us to BHC to make sure nothing else happened. We convinced him it was not necessary as we have AAA+ and could get towed home if needed. We got home without further mishap, no leaks, no blown fuses, no lights out, no dead batteries. We were very, very fortunate to have been traveling with Warren. He was always thoughtful of us, never in a hurry and never complained about all the setbacks we continued to have on the trip home. He was just great. Once home, Mary became violently ill, which lasted into Friday. OK now, and we have finally settled back in. Our thanks to all for the help given at La Bufa. It was greatly appreciated.