Horse Packing In The Remote Mountains And Canyons of Mexico's Wild West...From high in the Sierra Madre, we drop steeply down into the deep Oteros (Copper) Canyon, ride through dusty outposts, cross the great divide on remote rugged trails, explore lost cliff dwellings and camp near forgotten Tarahumara settlements. A wild, crazy adventure...
Report of the Great Sierra Madre Horse Expedition
Amy Finger's e-mail Message to Friends and Staff
Hello Cathy, Mike, Carl, Jaime and all,
The horse trip went so well that I'm still floating on it. We just got back last night after flying home in our friend's (Robert's) small plane from El Paso. The group was exceptional. All were looking for a good adventure and that's what we gave them. Anything less would have been a disappointment. All of those areas that I feared would be too difficult in the recon were what made the trip live up to its description:
"Following seldom used rugged trails, we travel through some of the wildest terrain on earth. Mexicos living old west... a wild, crazy adventure..."
Day 1-We took the same rim ride you went on just taking it further to the south and west over the high mesa there then down and back north to the trail under the Mansion in the Urique Canyon side that goes to the Tarahumara cave under the Mirador (the fancy pink hotel). We actually rode the horses up all those steps that lead up and out at the Mirador Hotel! Then we tied up and went to their exclusive bar and had Margaritas (in our chaps and spurs and cowboy hats). It was a lot of fun and the horses proved to be responsive and bombproof. Everyone liked their horse which was really something seeing as we had some very experienced riders who owned their own quarter horses and had rode all over the States. Guiermo brought a strong, pretty red mare of his uncle's named Alasan for our friend Robert (225 lbs experienced rider) and she was dynamite.
Day 2-Everywhere we went we ran into the Mancinas sisters and brothers. First they met Gero and Teresa in Cuauhtemoc, then Lola at Arepo at the Lodge, then Poncho and Beto showed up to help clean the tar off the newly painted van that we got on the freshly tarred highway, and then MariCruz was in the Mirador hotel, as manager, giving Gary and I freebies. The next day out on the expedition we had to visit the Padres, Concepcion and Lencho and get a tour of the house that spawned all these Mancinas. And of course, cousin Jilo joined in with the burros. The group got a full dose of the local Mexican family and they really appreciated the fact that so many of them were benefiting from the trip (we used one of Lencho/Gero's horse's, Milagro, after all which Guiermo rode). I had Coyota, the little brown mare Guiermo rode last week and Gary had Pando the stallion as the horse had to be in the front or he would be too ansy (a perfect match).
Pockets loaded with apples and peaches from Lencho's orchard we took off on the same route down to Manzano following Gero walking, swinging his machete and clearing trail. Guiermo had hired a man named Alejandro as his assistant who rode a black macho mule. He was very personable and an expert rider. (He's the competition up the street whose family owns Cabanas Diaz.) The group got their first dose of rough country right away and it took a little getting used to. I rode everything and encouraged them to do so and showed them how. They loved it and their surefooted ponies. We bypassed Mansano and continued down past the Tarahumara house, up the hill, over to the pass and down into the Chuachique which we dubbed Mushroom Valley for all the stone pinnacles. We had lunch where the trail turned bad. By this time they were riding over everything with confidence. It took 3 hours. Then it only took an hour or so to return to Manzano for the night. When we arrived Jilo had the camp perfectly set and organized. He was proud of himself and it really was a great camp. The rock spires that surround his family's homestead glowed in the slanting light above the dark pines and it seemed even more beautiful then when we saw it the week before.
Day 3-In the morning we awoke to the call of the Eared Trogan. The two women clients were both birders and one (Andrea) spoke Spanish. Gero told them which call was the Trogan and they followed the sound to its source and were rewarded with the sighting of two trogans in the trees in the side valley north from camp. We talked about how rare it was to see them over chilequiles for breakfast and then packed up and headed off for new territory. The cross over trail to Batochique began half way up the hill past the Tarahumara house and wound up and down on a rideable trail that was just beautiful. It took an hour and a half and we came out at the upper cabins of the Rancho Batochique. We were able to ride through the valley and we stopped for a snack at the rock art. Gary thought most of it was modern Tarahumara maybe inspired by some pre-existing Mogollon figures. The trail is really quite trecherous down from there. It is cliff edges and steep crap and we all walked leading our horses. The exciting moment came when Alejandro's mule who was loaded with a bag of corn feed for the night slipped down around his legs causing him to spook and run crazily trying to rid himself of the dangling bag. At first I was just afraid for the safety of the mule as I saw him run along the edge below us and up to a crest, then when he realized he couldn't get over it he did a 180 and ran back on our level straight through the riders. I yelled, "Get out of the way!!". I thought for sure someone was going to get hurt. But good ol' Caseta (Carl's horse) stood in his way and he stopped, breathing hard while the guys caught him. All the horses were totally calm. He got dubbed the loco mula. Alejandro could ride this beast on every inch of the trail while we walked which just confirmed his insanity as the trip went on.
We arrived at the river camp, Arenales, just an hour or so later- in time for the afternoon sunshine to still be on the river. Everyone changed into bathing clothes and some even swam. I sent them upstream but later discovered the really good pools are all downstream. We had a late lunch and then I took a hike with the birders upriver to the confluence of the Chuachique and beyond. It took about 45 minutes and Gary and I were able to stay in touch on the radios with him in camp the whole way. We had to turn around before we saw the Capulin trees as it was going to get dark.
Day 4- The Great Cross Over Trail. We noticed the night before that the trail had been repaired right there in camp and realized that Lupe, the district Tarahumara governor, had come through as promised with his trail clearing crew. It was a nice job and they even marked the way with carefully placed cairns and branches tha blocked the wrong route. We were able to ride for a long ways beside the river and then when it went seriously up we had to dismount and walk. It was a hard, challenging hike with horses having to leap up rough spots behind you. The group did very well and I think found it exhilerating. We got back on after looking at the view point but had to get off again to gain the rest of altitude until the point the trail levels off heading for Orachique Canyon. From here on we were able to ride the whole way. We had not been on the correct trail on the recon and this although not too far away was a major trail. Thanks to the cairns we figured it out and it took us down into the valley below Siquirichi, the Tarahumara Rancho, by a corn storage log\building. It took 3 hours from Arenales.
Guadalupe was waiting for us and greeted us coming into the Rancho. Everyone was inspired by the setting, with thousand foot cliffs surrounding the houses and Church on their raised diaz above the corn fields, it really is something special. Slowly Lupe's 16 year old beautiful daughter emerged with his wife and son. They have a young baby as well. After awhile someone rolled out the wheelbarrow with sodas! Lupe eventually asked if we wanted the matachine and pascual dancers and we arranged for a fiesta at 4-5pm after our afternoon ride out to the view point. He told me his mother lived out there. The ride was outstanding (just 30 minutes). We arrived couple of log/adobe cabins perched out on the ridge with an unbelievable view of the Oteros Canyon both up and down river. Lupe's mother and sister were sitting outside grinding corn. She looks ancient. We shook hands Tarahumara style but Lupe's comment when we returned is that she doesn't talk. His sister was friendly and smiling. We could see from the map that the trail then descends steeply to the river and supposedly makes its way up the next valley over to San Rafael. A shorter well used route to San Rafael (not on the map) heads out right above Siquiriche.
We returned to the Rancho and eventually the kids and neighbors gathered, put on wood helmets with streaming colored strips of cloth, and proceded to dance the matachine. Lupe played guitar and an old man played violin. Lupe's wife had 2 other violins and several baskets for sale beside them. All took place at the Church of course. The dance began inside and then came out to the front flat spot where we all had our spectator stools. The group ate it up and took a million pictures. It was a very simple dance that did not change from dance to dance. The pascual was slightly different without the helmets and with the 16 year old leading wearing the ankle seed pods. Between dances the group bought all the baskets and a violin from Lupe's wife and everyone was very pleased. I also paid 200 pesos to Lupe for the dances, 60 pesos for firewood and 250 for the trailclearing. Our visit was definitely a major financial event for the Rancho and there were lots of smiles. The last day up the Recayna is absolutely stunning and rideable the whole way. The group was saying it was the best horse trip they had ever taken. It is 3 hours up to Guiermo's allowing time to explore the Mogollon cliff dwelling caves and another hour and half up to Lola's.
Our last night at Lola's was a great party complete with a local character named Felipe playing guitar and singing. He lived in LA for many years and has quite a reperatoire. I recommend him highly. We had margaritas we shared with the guys. No one got drunk and they all danced! including Rudi! It was a great time. We ended the trip with a last night in Chihuahua City after picking Jaime up in Creel because everyone wanted to buy tack. We've decided that a stop in Creel and ending in Cuauhtemoc is the way to go. Its just too much driving and traffic in the big city.However, we made it out and the crowning star on a great trip was we went through the Santa Teresa border crossing and we were the only car and didn't even have to pullover to be checked!! The only way to go. Absolutely marvelous, Carl, thank you!!
We'll be in touch about upcoming trips. Let me know how the Nov trips go!