BARRANCA DE COBRE -- 1952
February 6, 1952 (by Dick)
Five us -- Lt. Col. Bill Matthews, Sgt. Johnny Wlodarski, Jim Gifford, Isabelle, and I -- made up the expedition. We went to see Nesbitt, the operator for the Potosi Mining Company, who told us how we could reach Urique River using the mining road. Nesbitt also gave us a letters of introduction to La Junta, Creel, and other villages near the Urique River. We left at noon, after running down Jim. Jim got lost chasing Tarahumara Indians; he's started a large collection of Tarahumara belts.
The Indians are reluctant to sell their belts, mainly because these belts hold up the only articles of clothing they possess. The Tarahumara are a small, interesting people. They are so shy that when we pass them on the road, the women turn their heads away.
The country between Chihuahua City and La Junta is not exceptionally beautiful, but the people and the land are very interesting. The rough roads isolate the area from ordinary tourists. The land is over-grazed, and the livestock is poor. The heaviest beef couldn't possibly weigh over 400 pounds. On some of the roughest stretches of road we saw little boys repairing the roadway with the most rudimentary tools. They always demanded a toll tax of us, which we freely gave.
We passed through a large village that had a number of black and blond-haired people. Some of them had blue eyes. When we inquired about the roads we were surprised to find they didn't understand English. Many years ago Canadian Mennonites settled the valley, and now they have intermarried with the Mexicans. These Mennonites may have black hair and blue eyes, but they are Mennonites from head to toe. Their walk and dress is still distinct Mennonite, but every one speaks Spanish.
The Sierra Madre Mountains have many interesting things in them. You read of the Sierra Mountains as a wild mountain range inhabited by renegade Indians. Most of these reports are absurd. Adventurer's go into the mountains and bring out all kinds of reports.
La Junta is a nice village. Our hotel, or adobe house, is very comfortable. For seven of us our rooms cost $2.50. Food is good but all Mexican. Johnny is already very sick.
February 7, 1952
We left La Juanta early in the morning. It was very cold, ice on all the streams. The farther we went the rougher the road became. My parlor car hit a rock on one of the high centers and punched a hole through the flywheel housing. The noise was really worse than the damage. We fixed it then drove back to the village. The road was too much for a Pontiac Sedan parlor car! We left it with a white man who was 60 years old and very lonely. He has lived in this area so long that he's almost forgotten how to speak English.
We all piled into Jim's truck, which was already overloaded. Pete and I rode on the tailgate, and within an hour we were completely covered with dust. Fortunately Pete was a very patient young man. He's a social anthropologist. Pete will drive my car back to Tucson.
Bill, the Colonel, is an easy-going fellow. He has paid for all the expenses. More than anything else, Bill wants to have a good time.
Johnny, the Sergeant, is 22 years old and a little green, but he'll do. This is his first real camping trip.
Finding Creel was difficult since there are no road signs pointing the way. We stopped at every village to ask directions. At one village Bill jumped out and spilled out a string of Spanish to a Mexican. The Mexican answered him promptly, saying, "Me no speak English."
So much for our Spanish! Mexicans are nice to us, they have not seen many tourists, if any.
Jim's truck did a good job getting us to Creel. Rocks, high centers, and steep grades would have made it impossible for my passenger car.
This country, or I should say the Sierra Madre Mountains, isn't too impressive. The hills are low even though we crossed the divide at an elevation of 8500 feet. There are large pine trees, and the scenery is much like the Colorado Rockies. A railroad ends at Creel, hauling lumber and ore on the return trip ore to Chiuahuaha City
A Chinaman fed us and gave us rooms. He has three daughters and speaks some English and Spanish. Our bill was $7.
There certainly is no inflation here. The food and rooms are moderately clean, at least they are cleaner than we are.
NOTE! I visited this area in 1987 with my mother. I learned from the locals that the Chinaman was cruelly tortured until he died. The bandits wanted all of his money that was suppose to be hidden in his house. The Chinaman did not have any money for he had previously given all of his land and money to the Catholic Church. He donated the town square. He was very much remembered and revered by the locals.
February 7, 1952 (by Isabelle)
Five excited people lay awake thinking about tomorrow, the day that was to be the beginning of an unknown adventure, the day when five people would venture into the Barranca de Cobre (Canyon of Copper) deep in the Sierra Madre Mountains of northwestern Mexico.
For Lt. Col. Bill Matthews it was a dream of two years, of taking a boat down the Urique River, which cuts through a deep canyon of unknown depth. It will be a first. For James Gifford, an archaeologist, it was an opportunity to study the little-known culture of the Tarahumara Indians. For Sgt. Johnny Wlodarski, it was a exciting adventure to be the first people to traverse the rugged canyon. For Dick, a geologist, it would be just another adventure. For me, a woman who would rather explore and chase down rivers than stay home doing housework, it was a thrill to know I'd be the first white woman to even see the canyon in depth.
We spent our last night of civilization in a hotel in Creel run by the Chinaman. He was short and round as he was high -- a funny little old man, but he had three beautiful daughters. His hotel took us back 40 years. It was lighted by oil lamps and made out of rough boards. Upon retiring we were instructed, should the need arise, to go outside, first turn to the left, right next to the pig pen.
The dinner served by the Chinaman was delicious; steak, fried potatoes, sliced tomatoes, beans, apple pie, and coffee. But oddly enough, Dick and Jim got sick and took walks all night.
February 8, 1952
We got up early, all of us bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, eager to go the final 20 miles to the Urique River. We wanted to see how much water there was, how fast the river was going, and just what we were getting ourselves into. We had so little information about the canyon from the beginning. A few white men have gotten to the canyon and to the river, but no one has ever traversed the entire canyon, a distance of 150 miles.
At 5:00 a.m. we piled into the truck. Carol, Jim's fiancee, and Pete came along from Tucson so they could drive the truck and our car back. It was a three and a half-hour drive from Creel to the river. We started in the dark and drove right into the sunrise. It's magnificent country. Cold too, there was ice on the creeks. I suspect this trip will be different from our lazy days on the Colorado River. But the sun shines here, too, and the country is superb.
In the distance we saw Umira bridge. The Urique River! We craned our necks but could see nothing. The truck rolled to a stop, and we all jumped out and ran to the bridge. Below was a 100-foot deep gorge filled with huge boulders and a clear blue sparkling river that tumbled over the rocks. Beautiful, but here we met with our first disappointment. There was very little water this time of the year, and the flow was slow -- about 80 cubic feet per second. There will be many, many portages.
Dick thought fast and ordered everything unloaded from the truck, unpacked, and spread out on the ground. Then he ruthlessly put aside about half of our equipment to be sent back with the truck. He foresaw great difficulties with the river; that this wasn't to be an ordinary river trip. Our 450-pound, rapid-running neoprene boat wasn't even unloaded. Back went the life-preservers, surplus clothing, and a good part of the food. Jim and I protested vigorously, because we thought the river might become more floatable lower down. Dick was firm -- he didn't give a inch.
Carol and Pete took off shortly. As I watched the truck drive away I had a momentary feeling of panic. There went our last contact with civilization.
A steep and rugged trail lead down to the river. We packed everything down and then made camp. The first thing I did was to dip my hands in the water. What a shock -- it was icy! Oh Boy! We've got troubles.
We're using two seven-man rubber life rafts. The Air Force loaned them to Bill to try out. I suspect the Air Force will never see these boats again. They weigh only 60 pounds each, and are bright yellow, nine feet long, and five feet wide. The boys inflated them and deposited them right on shore.
Here we are at last on the Urique River. Johnny's sitting in a boat, Jim is upstream, I've lost track of Bill, IÕm sitting in the other boat, Dick is perched 200 feet up a cliff -- and all of us are busily writing notes. We might be in Mexico, but the scenery is typical of the canyons; deep blue skies, pure white clouds, steep canyon walls, pine trees, and the music of water pouring over the rocks. But there the similarity between the Urique and the Colorado River ends. This water is low, very low. We'll be doing a lot of walking on this trip, and the boats will carry mostly food and equipment.
I stopped writing and looked around, relaxed and happy in the warm sunshine. I saw movement on a path along the canyon wall. Two people walked across it, a man and a woman, Tarahumara Indians. They tried to keep out of sight and watched us through the trees. The woman kept her face averted but was so full of lively curiosity that she would sneak a look every now and then. She wore a full red skirt and a white headband. The man wore a white loincloth wound between his legs. Both were barefoot. They wore beautiful wool belts about five inches wide and two and a half yards long, woven by loom in intricate designs and natural colors. I possess one of these treasures. Jim got it for me in Chihuahua.
We are hoping some of these Indians will come to our camp some day, even though they are so painfully shy. They are fascinating and so little is known about them. Some live in the canyons in caves or rough shelters built of stones. Others live on the mountains and farm. They are incredibly swift runners and have been known to track deer until the animals drop from exhaustion. Then the Indians close in and either throttle the deer or slay them with knives.
Dick came bursting into camp full of excitement and carrying a thigh bone. He'd found a dead man on a ledge high up the cliff in a small cave. The bones were bundled together and loosely covered with leaves. He could find no skull; wild animals might have carried it off since the brain deteriorates slowly.
Everybody is happy and full of great expectations. We have a grand bunch of people, all of us very compatible. This promises to be an interesting and unique expedition.
February 9, 1952
It was a cold, clear night. The trucks crossing the bridge in early evening had a gala time. We would hear a squeal of brakes, then all the Mexicans would climb out to take a better look at us. We all waved back and forth with enthusiasm.
We ate breakfast -- french toast, chocolate milk, and bacon. We were eager to start.
Johnny and Bill took the lead while Dick, Jim, and I followed in the other boat. The boats are light and fragile and tip crazily if not treated with respect. The bottom is thin so we put our inflated air mattress in to support our duffel and food.
The canyon is magnificent -- sheer towering walls with trees clinging everywhere, rugged terraced rock climbing straight up, clear, sparkling water. We could see fish swimming in its depths.
We had a splendid run -- for about a hundred yards. Then the river was choked and blocked by monstrous boulders as big as houses. The river broke into rivulets and miniature waterfalls, with water running over, under and between boulders. In some places the boats could get through, in others there was hardly room for a fish to squeeze through. We looked at each other in dismay, but every one was game. I was of little help in lifting or portaging, so I left the boat and went to shore jumping from rock to rock. The boys got out of the boats and lifted, eased, and squeezed the boats over and between the boulders. The water was icy and seemed more than they could bear, but eventually their feet grew numb and eased the pain. At one point the boulders were so big and blocked the river so completely that the boys were forced to go around on shore carrying the boats and relaying all the cargo. The weight was terrific. We had ten three-gallon cans holding part of our food, such as 50 pounds of flour, 25 pounds of sugar, 15 pounds of canned meat, 10 pounds of rice, 4 pounds of cereal, 25 pounds of potatoes, cans of corn and peas, spaghetti, dried eggs, dried milk, etc. Then we had six duffel bags, sleeping bags, air mattresses, seven cameras, six tarps, paddles, two guns, jackets, and medicine. The boys had to relay all of this over the huge boulders, scrambling over the top and dropping the stuff over the other side. The going was painfully slow and difficult.
I wasn't much help to the boys so I scouted ahead. The walking was up and down over boulders. I began to hate the sight of them. The river never cleared. I was about to turn back, when I heard the familiar growl of fast water in the distance. I ran in my excitement. The growl increased to a roar. The water quickened, and the river disappeared into a chute carved through the rock. I scrambled to the top and my heart missed a beat as I saw the river plunge down into a 28-foot water fall.
We unloaded the boats and carried all the equipment about 100 yards. We called it Red Rock Falls.
We had barely finished our portage when the clouds closed in and it started pouring. We scrambled about putting everything under tarps. We were anxious because we were now trapped in the canyon and an extended rain could pin us down in one place for a long time. We made a shelter by standing the boats on end, leaning them side by side against a cliff, and stretching a tarp on top. We huddled underneath, a pretty beat-up bunch; tired, hungry, muscles aching from the unaccustomed labor, disappointed in the river and the fact that we made only about two miles progress today. Our boats showed daylight peeking through. One boat had eight holes in it, but fortunately we had tire patching with us.
Sunday February 10, 1952
It rained on and off all night. Johnny and Bill slept under a tarp, Jim found dubious shelter under an over-hanging boulder, and Dick and I slept under the shelter made by the boats. The boats were still wet in the morning so we took off without patching them.
Bill's tennis shoes are slick and smooth with no traction. While easing the boats over the rocks, his foot slipped, up went his heels, down went Bill up to his neck in the icy water. He emerged dripping and grinning.
Yesterday we saw a Mexican and his son walking two burros along side the river. We exchanged a few words in Spanish while they followed with us apiece. We reached a narrow point between two large boulders where the boys had to squeeze the boats through. The river bottom is very deceptive, ranging from ankle deep to over 20 or 30 feet deep, due to the rocks and boulders. Johnny's boat got hung up on a rock. He tried to rock it off, one foot on a rock and one knee on the boat. Dick came from behind with his boat and gave Johnny's boat a hard shove. Johnny grabbed at the air, arms waving frantically, then toppled in. The Mexicans rocked with laughter and everyone, even Johnny, was convulsed with mirth.
Light rain kept up on and off all day which made us fearful that it might rain in earnest. A hard rain for just a few hours could wash us out of here. There are few escape routes out of the canyon.
The river was the same today, boulders and portages. After a half-mile we came to a terrific obstacle. It was magnificent and spectacular, but no place for a boat or people. The canyon walls dropped down into the river on both sides. The river plunged down over a 25-foot falls into a second pool of water. We immediately named it Plunge Pool Falls.
The boys said they might have to lower me by ropes since the sides seemed so shear. I got so scared at the thought of it that I took off on my own. I eased down over rocks along shore and jumped across places where I couldn't walk until I reached the level of the second pool. There I was stopped by a ten-foot drop of sheer wall. I sat there for half an hour trying to work up enough nerve to drop off the edge onto a patch of ground below. Finally I eased over the edge with my hands braced behind me, then dropped down on all fours. I had cut myself off from returning to the boats, but now no one would have to lower me on ropes. Later, I learned the boys were only joking.
They lowered the boats into the first pool, then lowered all the cargo with ropes into the boats. They rowed across the pool and again lowered the boats and equipment over the second drop. It took about two hours.
Our progress was awfully slow. All we made today was a turn around a goose neck. Rain in the afternoon stopped us around four o'clock. We found a cave and made camp.
I'm writing by firelight. The moon is rising and the canyon walls are flooded with light. The boys are sitting around the fire drinking tea and talking. We're all in gay spirits and eager for the new day to see what's below. We can still walk back, but not out of the canyon. One of these days we will be trapped by waterfalls or sheer walls and there will be only one way out -- down the river. Jim is talking like a black boy and there's much laughter. But the conversation took a serious turn as we discussed something very important -- TIME. Johnny and Bill have to be back March 15 or they will be AWOL. That will jeopardize Bill's career. Johnny is to be discharged in three months after four years' service. Jim will loose this semester's credits if not back by March 10. At the rate we're going, we wonder if we'll get out in time. The original plan was to be in San Blas by March 10 at the latest, where there is a train going out. Maybe helicopters will pull us out of the canyon.
The boys keep teasing me, saying this will probably be my last trip and pinching my arm to see if I'd make good eating.
February 11, 1952 (by Dick)
No rain during the night, but in the morning there was heavy fog. We put eight patches on the boats, and by 10:30 we were off. It was easy going for a half mile. The boats glided across deep pools of green water between almost sheer cliffs. Then we came to a stretch of water where huge boulders had rolled from cliffs into the river. These boulders were large as houses, and it was difficult to even walk through them. We had to portage everything 200 yards around them.
Every one of us threw something away. Jim abandoned his extra sleeping bag, archeology equipment, clothes, and soap. Bill and Johnny both unloaded clothes. I threw away two blankets, my gold pan, and clothes. Isabelle was sitting on top of a huge boulder and protested loudly and vigorously when she saw the blankets go. We piled everything on top of a huge boulder hoping the Indians would find it.
We put our boats in once more and went several hundred yards. Then we again portaged through boulders for 150 yards. We made camp approximately one and one half miles below the last camp. One mile yesterday and three miles the day before isn't much. We work very hard and our labors seem barely worth the effort. This canyon is so large and difficult to traverse that I can't see any way to get down it with boats. One could walk, but many places require swimming to cross.
The canyon is rather lush with many trees that are typical of the Canadian climate. Although this is winter, there's an abundance of green vegetation. We're dropping down at the rate of 150 feet per mile, and already there are signs of tropical vegetation creeping in. One mile below this camp I found a cave and a new variety of cactus.
Jim named our boat Poco Loco -- Little Crazy.
The Tarahumara Indians are following us. We've seen their footprints in the sand when we relay loads. They haven't taken any of our equipment. We've left a small fortune to the Indians behind us. They're only several hundred yards from us, but we never see them. They're also in front of us and above us watching every move we make. We're glad that they're a gentle race of people.
February 12, 1952 (by Isabelle)
The night was bitter cold. We all burrowed deeper and deeper into our sleeping bags until in the morning we looked like big brown balls scattered around camp. Dick and I were reluctant to get up so we waited until we heard the familiar sound of the air-pump as Bill coaxed a fire with it. Then we crawled out. I made breakfast of cream-of-wheat, scrambled eggs with bacon, and tea. Dick made bread in the dutch oven.
Today was one grand portage. We came through a mass of boulders as big as houses scattered and dumped into the riverbed and filling the canyon floor. The river wound in and out, going under the boulders, dropping off into crazy waterfalls, forming deep, silent, gloomy pools, while the waterfalls shouted and screamed. The sun never reaches down into this devil's cellar. We named it Black Gorge.
The boys stuck to the river, relaying the stuff off sheer sides in the water, up over huge boulders, dropping the boat off cliffs into the water below, squeezing down through chutes of water between boulders. At one point they took the boats through a tunnel beneath large boulders.
The way is slow and difficult, and we average about two miles a day. Still, our group is gay and eager to see what lies ahead. We are way behind in mileage and are beginning to speculate how we can make it out of the canyon in time. Dick and I have plenty of time, but the rest have to be back by March 15. The Air Force might even send rescue planes if Bill isn't back. Bill has an important job at the Pentagon.
I helped whenever I could with the portaging. When I got in the way, I left and scouted ahead. It was an up-and-down hike over giant boulders. About half a mile from the boys, I came across huge footprints made by shoes. There's nothing more frightening than unknown man-tracks in the middle of the wilderness. Dick hooted and explained that he did a little scouting last night and those HUGE prints were his.
There are Tarahumara Indians around us. We came across their barefoot prints, as small as a child's, many times. It gives me an eerie feeling knowing that we're being continually watched.
Johnny and Bill are swell guys, easy with laughter and eager to help. Johnny is 22 years old with the curliest smile. His eyes crinkle up and his nose wrinkles. He is a natural for Dick to tease. Bill is 42 and looks and acts like the other boys. He is ever so thoughtful and an excellent conversationalist. Jim is the clown.
The canyon is cold at night and cool in the shadows. When the sun shines it is remarkably warm for February. No bugs.
February 13, 1952 (by Dick)
Now we often hear drums -- tombolos, a thousand feet above us on a ledge. And we still haven't seen a single Indian. It is kind of like a western movie -- we are surrounded.
Just a half mile today. We portaged most of the way. These boulders are amazing. They form weird passage ways that are dark and narrow with sheer walls rising straight up. You can scramble up to the tops of them, but many times they drop straight down 20 feet into the river and form a dead-end.
Towards evening Johnny, Jim, and I walked down the river for two miles. It was more of the same.
It doesn't look like I'll be able to hold this group together much longer if things don't improve soon. We're getting deeper and deeper into the canyon. We can no longer escape by going back up river, and soon the canyon walls will be so sheer that we may not be able to climb out. There is already talk of abandoning the expedition.
February 14, 1952 (by Dick)
It was so cold, not one of us slept over four hours. It's a damp cold that seems to go right through to the bones. Tonight we will wall the fire with rocks and sleep around it. We'll keep it burning all night.
This morning we once again heard a tombola just above us on the cliff. The continuous beating lasted an hour. The beat was quite audible and could have been heard miles away. We don't know what's going on, maybe messages are being relayed to Indians below us. At one time we heard an Indian yell at us or to another Indian. We are continually throwing stuff away that an Indian would prize. A empty tin can would be a real find to one of these people. These Indians may have never seen a white man and they certainly have never seen people with boats. I'm sure glad they are friendly, timid people!
The canyon is now 2500 feet deep and the canyon floor is about 300 feet wide. The canyon walls are becoming more perpendicular every day.
We had good luck portaging through the big boulders and came through about three o'clock.
There have been several other expeditions in this canyon. Today we came to the quitting point of two men from El Paso. On a rock Paul Reed and Frank Lynch had painted El Paso City Limits. This was as far as they got into the canyon, which was farther than anyone else with the exception of us. The newspaper articles quoted them as saying that it was impossible to traverse this canyon with boats. They had to abandon their boats and all their equipment to escape the canyon. Like us, they were attempting to be the first people through the canyon.
It was an article with pictures printed in Life Magazine that first caught Bill Matthew's attention. Bill then contacted me to organize the trip. I was mildly interested, but now that I have touched the fringes I'm becoming fanatical about this area -- I've got to have it all. Life Magazine had two sentences that caught my attention, No man is known ever to have traversed the canyon from end to end. It has never been surveyed by the few adventurers who have gone in or by the Mexican government. The magazine went on to say that the canyon might be as deep as 8000 feet deep, deeper than the Grand Canyon.
February 15, 1952 (by Isabelle)
We beat the cold last night, built a roaring fire and put in a reserve of firewood five feet high. Then the boys took turns feeding the fire during the night. Sleepily, I opened my eyes in the middle of the night. The flames were burning low. Someone got up and put a big log on; the flames leaped up brightly. I closed my eyes, comfortably relaxed, and fell asleep again. For the first time I was able to lie straight instead of curling into a tight ball for warmth.
Rough day of portaging again. It's really rugged. The boys' legs are raw and chapped from the cold water. They now wear jeans instead of shorts. They are wet to the waist all day. Five hours a day portaging the boats and lifting them over rocks and boulders in the cold water is about all they can take. So our traveling time is very short. We get up about 8:00 and make camp about 4:00. We roll in about 8:00.
Before we started this trip, we read accounts of parrots and monkeys down in the canyon. We look sharp but have seen none so far. In fact, the only wild life we've seen are two eagles, canyon wrens, and a cute little bird called a dipper. Every time they chirp, their bodies bob and dip.
We are convinced the only kind of boat to use down here is our seven-man Air Force rubber boat because of the numerous portages. They're light, yet carry enough food and duffel. We put another hole in one of the boats, but tire patching fixed it.
Dick makes bread every day now. Our meals are simple. For breakfast, cream-of-wheat, scrambled dry eggs, tea, and sometimes pancakes. Bread and honey for lunch. At night, soup and goulash mixtures made with rice, potatoes, or spaghetti, canned meats, and various sauces.
Bill had a fungus disease on his hands that he'd acquired in North Africa. It has since healed but left a lot of scar tissue. Portaging and the cold water has cracked the skin on his fingers and it's very painful for him. He offered to do the dishes for me last night, but I wouldn't let him. He is that kind of a wonderful guy. All the men are swell. No griping. But they are discussing the probability of not being able to get out of the canyon in the limited time we have. After eight days on the river we've made ten miles. There are 200 miles in all. We might go just as far as the town of Urique and then walk out.
The canyon is very deep and the sunlight only shines down here about six hours. The walls are becoming more sheer with each passing day. There are many hardwood maples. Jim believes slight earthquakes toppled these gigantic boulders down here. The skyline is ragged with eroded boulders, some tipping crazily. Dick thinks the tremendous amount of water that tears through the canyon during the rainy season is responsible for the gigantic boulders.
We made camp early in the afternoon. The boys hiked about three miles to look the river over. They came back with discouraging news. The river never clears itself of boulders and the whole darn thing is one portage after another.
February 16, 1952
Today was momentous. We all had a confab and came up with these important facts. There isn't enough time to go down the river. Jim will loose his semester's credits if he isn't back in time. Bill will have the air force down here looking for him, and both he and Johnny would be AWOL. Johnny has only three months to go for his discharge after four years of service. They don't want to risk walking through and getting stranded in the middle of this Mexican wilderness.
But Dick is another breed of cat and isn't about to give up. He said, "I'm walking through," and looked at me.
"Me too", I answered promptly, for I knew he would go off and leave in a heart beat.
We've concluded now that the only way to traverse this canyon is on foot, and maybe Dick and I can't even do that. We shall see.
We slept in a big cave. Built a monstrous fire and fed it all night. Everyone was warm.
Sunday, February 17, 1952
Sunday always seems a fateful day. We had a whopper of a breakfast of scrambled eggs with chipped beef, bacon, cereal, rice, and tea. Then everyone made up their small packs. Johnny is taking Dick's flute and my camera back. They will walk out the ten miles to the bridge, hitchhike to Creel, and then try to get transportation back to Chihuahua.
Dick and I took our sleeping-bags, his two cameras, and food. We took rice, raisins, dried milk, dried eggs, tea, sugar, dried soup, and three cans of meat. Dick and I had quite a discussion over the air mattresses. I wanted to take both. Dick exploded over such luxury. I insisted, so he gave in providing I'd carry them. After I got my pack on my back, I could barely stagger to my feet, let alone climb up and down over boulders. Exit one air mattress.
Except cameras and two sleeping bags, everything was left behind. All the food -- flour, sugar, crisco, rice, cereal, spaghetti, etc. Air mattresses were left, boats were left, clothes were left, and everything was just piled up for the Indians who were watching every move we made. We were sure our things would be gone within hours, just as soon as they realized we'd abandoned the goods.
We shook hands all around, bid each other good luck, and parted, the boys walking upstream and Dick and I downstream.
Toiling up and down those huge boulders was rugged and slow going. Even though we took just the bare essentials, I swear our packs had rocks in them. I'd carry mine on my back, on my hip, my shoulders. I haven't tried my head yet. We went through all of our things three times to discard something -- a roll of toilet paper, some soap, even combined our medicine so we could throw some bottles away. We have penicillin, halogen tablets, chloromycin, and pills for malaria.
It was a magnificent day, warm and sunny with sparkling, singing waters and the happy song of the canyon wren. The vegetation down here is fantastic; in fact it's downright crazy. There are northern hardwood maples, northern pines, many varieties of cactus, orchids, and a profusion of colorful wild flowers. There's a purple flower that is lovely. It has a cluster of purple petals with a soft, furry pussy-willow-like center. The pink orchids, ready to burst into bloom, wrap themselves around the branches of trees. They are parasitic.
We camped early, sheltered against a monstrous boulder. After building a roaring fire we dined on rice and raisins. Life certainly is exciting down here. Every day brings something new, and we are always going around that next bend in the river. We're having a great adventure in the unknown.
Dick scouted ahead about a mile and a half and had all kinds of adventures. He saw numerous Indian tracks, but never saw any Indians. We know they are watching us, yet we never see them. Dick heard the steady beat of their drum, then a horn blasted shrilly above his head on the cliff. He nearly jumped out of his shoes, but could see nothing. Dick thinks we'll see some Tarahumara Indians soon.
We plan to walk to the town of Urique. Dick has an Air Force map, but it was made from aerial photos and isn't much good. So Urique might be 30 miles, 60, or maybe 90 miles.
We covered four miles today.
1994 Entry -- By Dick
A few parties have entered this area after we went through. They had no prior knowledge of our visit since they traversed the canyon many years later. Rick Fischer, with a large party, traversed the Barranca de Cobre Canyon and Urique Canyon in 1986. He describes the canyon in one of his writings as thus:
The Barranca de Cobre is made impassable by a huge boulder pile and waterfalls that occur approximately ten miles down stream from the Umira Bridge. This boulder stream field is where the river goes underground for over a mile. Downstream, the river course assumes a nature much like the Sinforosa Canyon. Several other areas have been tried by boat and/or kayak. One is from El Tejaban to the trail down from Divisadero. This stretch is described as unrunable. One party seemed to have better luck in inflatable kayaks from Divisadero trail put in to the village of Urique.
February 18, 1952 (By Isabelle)
What I dreaded finally happened today. We've had to cross and recross the river several times a day where canyon walls plunge straight down into the water making passage impossible on that side. This afternoon we came to a place where both walls dropped straight into the river forming a narrow impassable gorge. What now?
Dick said, "Looks like we'll have to climb that mountain."
I looked up. The cliff rose steeply with a sheer drop hundreds of feet to the river.
"I'll swim first," I retorted.
"Might be a waterfall below," Dick said softly.
I am deadly afraid of heights, and my spirit quelled at the thought of inching our way along that cliff. But I meekly shouldered my pack and started. I didn't look down, just kept my eyes on my feet taking one step at a time. When we were 600 feet above the river our trail narrowed to a ledge one foot wide. The wall dropped straight down below us. I sat while Dick scouted ahead to find a way down to the river. I looked at the sky; I sang songs; I whistled -- anything to keep from looking down.
About an hour later Dick came back muttering, "Damn, we can't get down."
So we turned back and I inched my way down. Dick, the nimble-footed goat,strode down with the 60-pound pack on his shoulders. He kept coming back to lend me a helping hand. I was practically gibbering with terror and vowed I'd kiss the ground if I ever got down. When I dropped off the last ledge onto firm ground, I grinned for the first time and settled by kissing Dick instead. I gave him a good back-rub for carrying the packs up the cliff and back again.
We are right back where we started. How to get through the gorge? The only solution is to build a raft. Tomorrow.
The day itself was incredibly beautiful. The sun shone brilliantly, yet the air was crisp and sharp like mountain air and autumn combined. Although we carried our packs, we never got over-warm.
This is big country. Tremendous! At this point we can't even climb out, nor can we go back up the river. To get out of here it's down the river.
We camped in the shelter of a huge boulder. We had supper of soup, scrambled eggs, and tea. I found a package of gum in my sack. Dick stuck his wad on a boulder so he could use it tomorrow, too. We gathered a big pile of logs to keep the fire burning all night. We kept nice and warm.
Distance 3 1/2 miles.
February 19, 1952
This morning Dick built a raft from five logs that he gathered from far and wide. He tied them together with his belt, shoestrings, fishing line, and twine. Then he put the air-mattress on top and balanced all our equipment on them -- a pack, a duffel bag, a shoulder-bag, the camera bag, and our boots. We stripped down to our underwear and packed our clothes in a bag. Then we pushed the raft out into the river and, before we lost our nerve, slipped into the icy water. The shock was momentarily stunning. We had to hang onto the raft lightly so as not to upset itÕs precarious burden. We kicked hard with our legs and guided the raft across the river.
Dick looked at me and asked, "Think you can make it?"
I nodded as each limb became numb. Suddenly my feet touched bottom and we dragged the raft to shore. What heavenly relief to climb out into the warm sunshine.
Two miles down we came to another point in the river where the walls plunged down into the water. The river was actually dammed by large boulders, forming a lake between the vertical walls. Yes, we had to build another raft. This time it was twice as hard to sink down into that icy river.
There are many canyon wrens in the canyon. Their clear liquid notes suddenly cascade through the silence. Dick and I always stop to listen.
Time after time I give many thanks for the Christmas boots Dick's folks gave me. It is the only footgear for this rugged country. I can jump confidently knowing that my ankle won't turn treacherously snap.
Dick did a little scouting after we made camp. He found a big, square rock weighing about 200 pounds, propped up by a stick with a lot of grass around it. His bump of curiosity made him poke around it, and WHOSSH down smashed the rock. It was an ingenious trap set in a figure of four by a Tarahumara Indian.
Dick gets skinnier every day. When we started this trip he was pleasingly plump. Now it's a losing battle between his pants and gravity. I'm wearing down a little, too. Our legs are badly chapped from the cold water and the tips of my fingers are split open like squeezed grapes. Little flies bite us on the legs causing bumps that itch fiercely. Outside of these discomforts, our health is superb. Lots of sleep, plenty of fresh air, and quantities of milk and eggs keep us in tip-top shape.
Cooking is quite a procedure. Our utensils consist of one pot, two teaspoons, two cups, and a water canteen. Here's how I make scrambled eggs. Mix up dried eggs, milk powder, onion powder, salt and water in the pot. Pour the goop into our two cups. Wash out pot. Fry bacon in pot, add eggs and scramble. Wash cups, then put eggs in cups. Breakfast is ready. For supper, I make soup, we eat soup, wash pot; then make rice and raisins, eat rice and raisins, wash pot; make tea, drink tea, wash pot.
Distance today, three miles.
February 20, 1952
This country is the roughest terrain Dick has ever seen. The rate of progress is brutal. Today we made only 2 1/2 miles. We struck a narrow neck in the river that required two crossings on a raft. Dick scouted around for a Tarahumara trail. He found one on the left side of the river and followed it over the edge of a cliff while I waited below. The trail ended at an Indian's house, a shelter of stones perched high on the canyon wall. Inside, Dick found pottery, woven baskets, a mano, a metate, and a wooden hoe. Outside was a tiny cornfield. Dick heard someone shout at him, but could see no one. I call this the land of invisible people. We have yet to see an Indian. We know they're around us.
Dick scouted the right side of the river. He found the beginning of a trail marked with a long pole. It climbed up into the sky and over the cliff. I started gamely enough. But about a third of the way up, as the trail got steep and edged near drops of 200 feet straight down, I sat and quietly went into hysterics. Dick patted me on the shoulder and tried to comfort me. I wailed all the louder. Gradually I relaxed, wiped away the tears and started again. We lost the trail on top. I sat on a broad ledge in the warm sunshine while Dick scouted ahead seeking a way back to the river. He came upon the trail again, and it led us safely back to the river. Dick must be half Indian because he is able to track an Indian trail that passed over bare rock. We saw numerous stone traps set by the Indians on the way down.
After we hit the river again we had to cross and recross five times. At one point we waded through water over our waists, and another place I had to drop off an eight-foot boulder while Dick caught me below.
A half-mile down we reached a bend in the river where both walls dropped straight into the water. We couldn't even see around the corner. The river is dammed, forming a large lake between the vertical walls. It means another raft.
We camped in the sandy shelter against the vertical canyon wall. Dick started building the raft tonight, but there is so little suitable wood. It gives me the shakes to think of our icy bath tomorrow. Distance 2 1/2 miles.
February 20, 1952 (by Dick)
Not much for this writing, but Iz made me. We can no longer get out of here safely. Going up river is doubtful because of the large, dammed lakes and river current. Coming down river we jumped off several boulders, and I don't think we can climb back on those boulders from this side. Climbing out is no good because Iz is not a rock climber. It appears that we are 3500 feet below the rim. The only water that seems to be available is from the Urique River, which we are following. There is no water coming out of the side canyons. We have only a one-quart canteen that would last the two of us for only a short time. Even if we did get out on top we would be hard pressed to find water.
If we ever get any rain in here we would surely be trapped. I suspect that this canyon can be a raging torrent -- there are large boulders many feet above the canyon floor with logs lodged in them.
The total section of rock from the rim to the river bottom consists of volcanic tufts. The rock is like coarse sandpaper so our foot wear is taking a beating.
Almost every day we hear the drums beating above us on the cliffs, but still no Indians in sight. We see their foot prints everywhere. The Indians use the river for a short distance then go up the side of the canyon. I have learned how to spot their trails -- they mark the spot where the trail goes up by a long skinny log. I have also become adept at following their trails, which most of the time go to the rim.
We have one map for the entire area which is photogrammetric, made by the USAF. There are no contours and the scale is 1 1/4 inches per 10 miles. The map shows Creel and the village of Urique, which is a long way from here, the Urique River, and a few trails. The map does show a trail from Creel crossing below us, but how many miles from here, I don't know because we don't know where we are. There is supposed to be a small mining village where the trail crosses the Urique River. I think the village is called Barranca de Cobre -- it isn't shown on the map.
We will be out of food in a few days. I was hoping to get food from the Indians, but they are so unapproachable.
We have come maybe 25 miles in 13 days. Not very impressive!
The world is full of dreamers but few people ever manage to pull off their dreams!
February 21, 1952 (by Isabelle)
The river isn't negotiable by boat, and now we are wondering if we can make it on foot. Everyday we make less mileage and meet more and more obstacles. At this rate it will take months. Something has to give, and I'm afraid it will be us. It is a big, relentless, harsh, rugged country and not for the faint-hearted. For the first time in my life I'm facing the absolute unknown and don't know what is around the corner. There are hundreds and thousands of corners we have to go around.
Dick made a drastic decision this morning to climb out and see if we can make mileage on top and then drop down to the river miles ahead. Something has to be done. The danger up there is the lack of water. But we will try anything rather than swim in that icy water again. We filled the water canteen and started climbing. I'm glad I had my hysteria yesterday because today there is no time. A short way up the mountain we found an Indian shelter of rocks and logs. We found baskets and pottery and also a sheep pen. A tree was growing right out of the canyon wall, its roots exposed to the open and clinging tenaciously to every crevice and crack until they could dip into the ground below.
At the risk of sounding sentimental, Dick said something sweet. "You know, I couldn't do this alone. It would be too lonely."
As I grinned at him, he hastily added, "Well, I gotta have someone to cook for me and carry my cameras."
Dick is amazing. He is ever so wilderness-wise. He spots the Indian trails quickly and easily while I blunder off into the brush. He carries all our food, sleeping bags, air mattress, clothes, and 22-pistol in two packs -- one on his back and one in his arms. I carry the cameras and medicine and still can't keep up with him. He has to come back and help me over the steep spots. I slow him down very much.
It was rough going without a trail. The underbrush tore at our clothes. In some places we crawled over loose rocks and rubble starting landslides. In other places the rocks were larger, making the footing more secure. We were panting and sweating from the climb. It took all day to get three-quarters of the way to the top. Our water was gone. Dick left me sitting under a tree while he scouted ahead looking for water. No luck! Had he found water, we would have continued on top looking for a trail. But we couldn't take the chance without water. So we wearily turned around and dropped off the mountain, very unhappy because we now had to build a raft and swim that river of ice.
Dick scouted far and wide to find logs. He built a large raft of seven logs so I could ride on top. I would have never been able to swim so far in the cold water. We braided the line so we'd have more rope. We slid the air mattress under one end of the raft, where I stepped and gingerly kneeled down. Then Dick gave a hard push and sank into the cold water. It was a long stretch, longer than either of us realized, about 200 yards. Dick was blowing hard from the exertion and the cold. I crouched tensely as our craft swayed gently, holding and balancing our duffel and guarding the camera bag. Just when both of us thought we couldn't take anymore, Dick's feet touched ground and he dragged the raft to shore. He was hypothermic and shaking uncontrollably.
He gasped out between chattering teeth, "Iz make a fire, QUICK!"
I scrambled around for matches and wood, and in a short time had a fire blazing. I put on milk to heat. Dick drank the scalding liquid and soon felt human again.
We avoided building another raft by sneaking across on a ledge. We were beat-up and dead-tired so we camped. Dick built a big fire and we slept warm. Distance 1/2 mile.
February 22, 1952
First thing, 75 feet from camp, make another raft. Dick found three flat boards, built a sturdy raft and in a half hour we were across the river. He is getting quite good at raft-building. I sat on top and kept dry.
We resumed our trek across the boulders and crossed and recrossed the stream, sometimes wading, sometimes leaping from rock to rock. Some of the rocks were so far apart that my short legs barely made it, but Dick grabbed me and pulled me up safely.
In the distance we could see a broad trail winding up the mountain on the right side of the river. We knew there was a mine somewhere down here; that trail must mark the place. A mining engineer, Mr. Hewitt in Chihuahua, said the mine was abandoned, and a Mexican caretaker was the only one living there. We climbed a huge boulder for a better view and saw a waterwheel. The whole works was made out of wood and logs and operated by a directed stream of water coming through log-chutes down the mountainside.
Our first sign of civilization! We hungered for the sight of people. We trudged on and saw many adobe dwellings built along the river. At long last we saw people, many people, Mexicans and Tarahumara Indians. They gathered around us, friendly and very much interested in the man who seemed to come from nowhere. In his halting Spanish Dick explained how we came down the river. Dick put sticks together and balanced a stone on them. OH -- they comprendo. They were amazed. Then they told us Creel was one day away, up the trail on the right side of the river. On the left side the trail led to Urique, two days' travel, about 65 miles. Creel was about 22 miles. A Tarahumara would carry our pack for 5 pesos a day -- roughly 60 cents. A peso is about 12 cents and 8.5 pesos make a dollar. Which trail did we want to follow? Dick and I grinned at each other. Urique, of course!
They led us up a trail, then one man quickly built a fire. As soon as it burned to embers, he unrolled a tea towel that held an enamel dish with mashed beans and many tortillas. He put them all on the coals, then gestured to the food and we all ate. It was surprisingly good.
One of the men spied Dick's gun in the pack. They all got so excited that Dick took it out. Each man eagerly examined it. I don't think there's a gun in the village. They shot it but were ever so clumsy with it that I was afraid for their toes and fingers.
The same man, his name is Francisco Ramiscz, took us up a long trail 1000 feet above the river to his home. A little Tarahumara Indian carried one pack, Frank the other. The Indian pranced on ahead like a little brown goat while I followed blowing and gasping for breath. Frank is a young man, small in build, very friendly, and has been ever so good to us. He tried to teach Dick some Spanish while walking up the trail. Dick would repeat the words and eventually end up with such a different pronunciation that Frank would ask him what he was saying.
We made it before my legs collapsed. Frank's house is a rough shelter of adobe, logs, and rock. We stepped inside and met his wife and two small children, a boy and a girl. His wife was very pretty with long black hair and pink cheeks. The inside of their house was plain but very clean; hard-packed dirt floor, table and chairs, a cooking place built of rocks and the inevitable mano and metate where they grind the corn for tortillas. A small fire was built in the middle of the floor and we all sat around it and "talked". Dick did fairly well, but we sure wish we knew more Spanish. A little puppy played around our feet.
We had supper of oatmeal, fried eggs, tortillas, and red hot chili peppers -- small, but oh so potent. Dick tucked in a few of the tortillas and sure did like them. We finished with black Mexican coffee which, unlike our American coffee, was not bitter. We liked it and learned that the Mexicans don't like American coffee.
They offered us their only bed. We protested vigorously, but they insisted. It consisted of four broad boards, made with an axe by Indians, laid side by side and supported at the head and feet. They stood around while Dick and I took off our boots, laid out our air mattress and sleeping bags, and crawled in. I didn't dare take off my jeans. There were no rooms. Frank and his wife slept on the floor in the kitchen.
We had a hard time sleeping through all kinds of country noises. A puppy yapped incessantly, a cat went purrrr-----oooooow, a baby wailed intermittently, a pig grunted nearby. In the morning a hundred roosters took turns ushering in the dawn. Whew! Give me the quiet of the city life. The song of our canyon wren was completely drowned out.
Dick and I got up as soon as we heard someone stirring in the kitchen so we wouldn't keep them waiting with breakfast. I could see through a hole in the roof that the sky was cloudy and downcast. Frank greeted us with a big smile, pointed upwards making signs of rain, and said, "Urique, ma–ana."
We all sat around the fire again. Frank's wife leisurely washed up the kids, then she combed her beautiful, long, black hair and carefully braided it. Everyone moved slowly and leisurely. Time seems to mean little here. No one has a watch. Then she started to make the tortillas. I was fascinated by the process and watched her carefully. She took out dried corn that had been soaking in water and crushed it in a meat grinder. Then she ground it down to a paste with a small stone, rubbing the paste in a hollowed out stone resting on a wooden stand. She patted the paste into a ball, then worked it around and around until it was hollow. Wetting her hands occasionally, she slapped the dough between them until it was a flat, round pancake, then baked it on a hot surface using no grease. The tortillas were made of corn and water, nothing else.
All the while she was cooking, people wandered in and out, Mexicans and Indians. Cat, dogs, pigs, and chickens wandered in and out, too. The dogs are frightful to look at. The people never feed them because there isn't enough food anywhere. So the dogs had to shift for themselves. They were half-starved, glassy-eyed creatures moving silently about.
About two hours later breakfast was ready. We ate a hearty soup of potatoes and meat and tortillas.
Then Dick and I made the long trek down to the river to look around. It took us all day for the round trip. We stopped at every house to talk. The people are ever so friendly. They treated us to coffee and laughed merrily at our attempts at Spanish. Dick took many pictures. All the people delighted in having their pictures taken and wanted more than anything for us to send them a copy. We will send the pictures in care of Frank.
Dick examined the mining work done here -- it is all done by hand. The ore is rich in lead, but the labor is so crude that very little material gain is realized. The Mexicans mine lead for a company, but they mine gold for themselves.
Down the trail we saw many drag-stone mills. They are circular basins with a wooden sweep that drags revolving stones inside. Ore is put inside and the stones pulverize them to mud. Mercury is mixed in to amalgamate the free gold. A directed stream of water coming down the mountain operates the sweep.
We saw an Indian going up the path with a heavy bag of lead on his back, supported solely by a leather band that went around his forehead. He wore a beautiful loom-woven girdle typical of the Tarahumara Indians.
"Dick, look at that belt," I exclaimed with excitement. "Let's see if he will sell it."
We were hard put to catch up with him even loaded down with his sack of lead. Dick offered him 15 pesos (about $1.80.) He immediately took it off and laid the treasure in my hands. It was about three yards long, four inches wide, woven in an intricate design in natural wood colors, black and cream-white with a red border. Dick asked if he could take some pictures and the man graciously consented even though he was so shy. Dick tried to lift the sack of lead, and to his astonishment he could barely life it clear of the ground.
We returned to Frank's house and had supper of fried eggs and potatoes and tortillas made of flour and water. Good. Tomorrow we head for Urique. The people here told us there are many boats there. I'm going to be hard put to keep up with our Tarahumara guide.
In the evening Frank's father-in-law brought out a magnificent Tarahumara wool blanket. Dick's eyes shone when he saw it. It was loom-woven of black wool but the colors varied subtly from black to various shades of brown and it had star-like border designs in red, yellow, and orange. The price was $10. We could have bargained for it, but we felt that they could use the extra few dollars better than we could.
As we sat around the fire, we heard the strains of a flute floating on the evening air, sweet and clear. Frank said it was a Tarahumara flute. He went outside and returned with the flute. It was made of bamboo with five holes burned into it. Dick played it and was fascinated. Nothing was said then. But later on Dick brought his flashlight out and presented it to Frank as a gift. Then Frank solemnly presented Dick with the flute. Everyone was beaming.
We paid Frank 25 pesos (about $3.00) for our food and lodging.
Sunday February 24, 1952
The whole village came out to see us off. Jose, our guide, is part Mexican and part Tarahumara. He is 26 years old and smaller than me. We eyed his size dubiously as he adjusted the straps to our 60-pound pack. He could barely straighten up with the pack and his legs wobbled like wet spaghetti. Dick had quite a load too, a duffel bag, a shoulder pack, camera bag, and his newly acquired blanket which weighed about 10 pounds. I closed up the rear carrying the water canteen.
We took off straight up the mountain following a well-marked trail. About a third of the way up my knees buckled and I started blowing and wheezing for air. We had to make many stops. While resting, I turned around and saw a little white dog was following us.
We walked all day across the Sierra Madres, up steep hills, dipping down into the valleys. Sometimes the trail was broad, other times only a foot-wide ledge on the side of the mountain. It was walk, walk until I thought I'd drop!
The country is big, breath-taking, magnificent. The mountains rise and fall as far as the eye can see, covered by tall virgin pine. In some places the mountains break away into sheer drops of rock carved in fantastic shapes. The air was sharply fragrant with pine. The hot sunlight slanted through the trees. It truly is God's world in all its natural beauty. But everything has to be paid for, and we paid in sheer physical exhaustion before the day was over.
We camped at sundown near a spring. Supped on oatmeal, tea, and hot milk. (We bought the oatmeal at Barranca de Cobre which was the name of the village we had stayed in the last two days.) The night closed in icy cold. We are 7000 feet high. Jose had nothing for warmth, just his jacket, jeans, and sandals. The sandals consist of a flat sole cut out of tire tread and are bound to his feet with leather lacings between the big toe and the next toe and wound around the ankles. Jose laid some flat wood on the ground and prepared for sleep. Dick and I were horrified. After a quick consultation, we offered him our beautiful blanket. He accepted with a big, delighted smile.
It was like sleeping under a wet sheet, it was so cold on our mountain. We had a roaring fire going. I crept closer and closer until I was curled up right next to it nearly burning my hair.
Monday February 25, 1952
We rose at sunup. Breakfast of tea, scrambled dry eggs, and hot milk with sugar. What a day! We started out fresh, full of bounce and energy, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. We walked all morning with a few stops to catch our breath. Never more than five minutes. No lunch! We walked all afternoon with a few stops only. By now Jose had reached his stride and he took off like a madman with Dick and I hard put to keep up with him. He would slow a little on the up-pull, but increase his speed down hill. All I carried was the water canteen. At about five o'clock I was finished. I could barely drag one foot after another. I stumped along woodenly, feeling like a mule. Nothing in the world could make me go faster. We traveled THREE MORE HOURS after that.
In the last few miles we dropped down the mountainside about 2000 feet. Tears of exhaustion were streaming down my face as I stumbled and fell down the rocky trail. We finally made camp by a pretty little stream. As I dragged my shoes off, I counted a blister on every toe. Dick had a hole in his heel from a nail that had poked through his boot. But he is another Tarahumara. Never complains. It was the most severe, exhausting physical exertion I've ever experienced. We made about 30 miles over rough terrain from sun-up to sun-down with no long breaks. Whew!
Tomorrow we are going to turn Jose loose. He travels just too fast. We will spend a day in camp. I'll wash clothes, Dick will climb out to take pictures. Then on Wednesday we will continue the ten miles into the village of Urique.
We call the little white dog Perro. He is sure frisky now that he has a little food in him.
Today our trail crossed flat rock that was almost like pavement. There were tracks crossing it just as if an animal had walked across wet concrete. But this wasn't concrete. It was with a thrill that we realized these were prehistoric tracks made millions of years ago.
We heard the Tarahumara drums, again beating steadily, and also the weird notes of a flute floating up from the valley below. There were many Tarahumara farms and Mexican ranches.
We saw some deer today, small white creatures bounding away over the hill. Three of them. Jose got very excited, put down his pack, and gestured to Dick to get his gun for carne -- meat. But the deer disappeared quick as a flash.
Tuesday February 26, 1952
Jose left for Urique early after breakfast. Perro hesitated a moment, looking at us then at Jose. Then he trotted after Jose. Dick and I spent a leisurely day in camp. Dick climbed the mountain again to take pictures. I repaired my shattered morale -- womanlike. I heated some icy water from the stream and washed our clothes. Then I took a bath, washed my hair, put on some lipstick, and felt like a million dollars. Contrasts in the wilderness are so sharp that every little comfort is exquisite pleasure. Just to stand by a fire when it's cold is wonderful. A drink of water after tramping many thirsty miles is perfection.
After all my little chores were finished, I sat down and read my pocket book, "The Killer." Suddenly I heard the bleat of goats. I looked up and saw a little Mexican lad coming down the trail with his herd of goats. He was so startled when he saw me that he half turned to go back. I quickly waved my hand at him and called out "good day" in Spanish. He flashed me a shy smile and continued past our camp. His goats milled around me, friendly, curious, pretty as a picture. I was afraid they would scatter everything, but they only sniffed it over then trotted on.
The night closed down fiercely cold. We threw the Tarahumara blanket over our sleeping bags and slept as under a quilt of down.
Wednesday February 27, 1952
We got up early, broke camp, and started the last lap to Urique. Jose said it was only a three-hour walk, but it took us all day to drop down from the mountain. We could see the Urique river below us, but there were many, many hills to climb before we could reach it. It looked like a little brown ribbon winding in and out.
Today I had two packs. Dick carried the big one, including the blanket, and almost staggered under the load. He is getting so skinny that he could tote a watermelon in the sag in the seat of his pants. I'm wearing down, too. Dick says he can make out my ankles now.
Finally I got mad seeing him carry that blanket. After a struggle, I got the blanket away from him and we continued.
It was a magnificent day. Lazy, soft clouds drifted across the intense blue sky. Dick took many pictures and we continued leisurely with frequent stops for rest.
Towards late afternoon we finally dropped into the valley and came to the Urique River again. It was entirely clear of boulders and looked the way a river should look. I dipped my hands into the water. It was warm. We realized a tragic fact -- had the rest of our expedition stuck together just another week, the expedition could have been a success. They gave up too soon. Tarahumara Indians at the town of Barranca de Cobre, where we stayed with our Mexican friends, would have taken our duffel and boats across to Urique. Here, the river had enough water to continue down in the rubber boats. The river between Barranca de Cobre and Urique would still be left unexplored, but we could have made the rest of the run below Urique easily. The canyon is what Dick is most interested in, because as far as we know no one has been in there. We are disappointed that we were unable to explore that area. So it is a bitter blow and good lesson to never give up. There is always new hope, and many surprises around the next corner.
The town of Urique was so elusive. We followed the trail until three hours before sundown before we turned the last corner and saw the town below us. Dick and I were ravenous. This is such a hungry country. We absolutely cannot live off the land. There is no game, no fish. So few people. We never seem to fill up on our rations of milk, eggs, rice, and oatmeal.
We cached our duffel near the river then hurried into town. We saw one street about two blocks long with rows of adobe houses. Jose came down the street with a huge grin and out-stretched hands. He shook and shook our hands until we finally had to break his grasp. He must have spread the news of the Americanos. There's never been a white woman here before. We walked down the street followed by about 30 children and half as many dogs. People stared at us with open, friendly curiosity, calling, ÒGood day, good day," in Spanish.
Suddenly Dick grasped my arm and said, "Iz -- look!"
I looked in the direction of his pointing finger and saw a brilliant green bird in a tree. There was our parrot! He sure was sassy, ready to snap at our fingers, alternately coy and bold. Now all we have to find are the monkeys.
Jose had everything arranged. He was a little drunk. Poor Jose. Too many pesos we gave him. He is a good man though, and did right by us every time. Jose took us to a sort of restaurant where we finally filled that aching emptiness inside us. The simple meal was delicious. We had beans, (the Mexicans sure know how to cook them deliciously) many, many tortillas, coffee, and goats cheese which tasted wonderful. The cheese is like cottage cheese with lots of salt. The house was ever so clean; the Mexicans in the villages and on the farms are very clean people. Their clothes are old and worn but always neatly patched, and freshly laundered and ironed with the old-fashioned iron heated on the stove. The room opened to a court with potted flowers and vines all over. One plant had beautiful, fragrant, white lilies. All the children had flocked after us. We counted 32 surrounding the large table, chattering gaily and excitedly as they watched us.
The man who owned the house, Erasmo Silva, had taken a correspondence course in English and could speak a few words. We eagerly asked him if we could buy a boat in Urique.
"Boat?" He wrinkled his forehead. "There's no boat in Urique." We were stunned.
"Were there boats on the Fuerte River?" we asked. The Urique empties into the Fuerte River.
"Yes, there were many boats there." Hope again arose within us and we planned to walk down the river until we reached the Fuerte. I asked him if he had a Spanish-American dictionary. He disappeared into a room then returned with a small, pocket-sized dictionary. We were thrilled to see it and bought it from him for a dollar.
After supper Jose insisted we get our duffel and sleep at his friend, Erasmo Silva's house. We were reluctant because we would rather sleep under the stars than be cooped up in a strange house. But when in Rome do as the Romans do. We couldn't refuse. Our bedroom was a bare, clean room with an honest-to-goodness bed (the mattress curved like a saucer,) a wooden bench, and a wooden table.
The woman proudly brought us two fresh, clean sheets, a basin and pitcher of water, a towel, and a bar of Camay soap still in its bright wrapper. We spread the sheets out, put the Tarahumara blanket on top, washed, and were off to bed.
I almost dropped off to sleep when someone rattled the door and said, "Jose. Let me in."
Dick opened the door and Jose stumbled in, drunk as a lord and smelling of rubbing alcohol. He laid down on the narrow bench and in a few minutes his snores rose and fell. We were just about ready to move out, when Dick shrugged his shoulders and said, "He's harmless. Let's get some sleep."
We even had an oil lamp which we kept burning. A half hour later Jose got up and stumbled noisily outdoors. Dick locked the door and it remained quiet. What a fantastic night!
Thursday February 28, 1952
In the morning we went to the store to buy our supplies. The store sold the barest essentials such as coffee, sugar, flour, salt, rice, oatmeal, shoes, straw hats. We bought sugar, rice, oatmeal, and a sort of a cookie I swear are dog biscuits, but they tasted good. The storekeeper wrapped everything into cones of rolled-up paper. It cost about $3.00.
Jose drank steadily throughout the day. He never got obnoxious, just became a nuisance, following us around and making vigorous sign-language with his hands. He was a gentle little man and never forgot his quaint manners. He was one of the rare men, in fact the only one, who could speak both Spanish and Tarahumara.
The day was cloudy. It rained a little in the morning, but Dick went ahead and took pictures. The people are childishly pleased to have their pictures taken. All Dick had to do was point his camera, and children would flock into the picture. One picture had about 12 children in it.
We had breakfast, king style. First oatmeal, then fried eggs, many tortillas, goat's milk, goat's cheese, beans, and coffee. The noon meal was excellent, too, and Dick actually got filled up on fried rice, a hearty cup of potatoes and meat, tortillas, beans, goat's cheese, and an exquisite tea made from the leaves of a native tree. It tasted like cinnamon with a subtle fragrance of blossoms.
We asked the woman to make us 20 tortillas to take with us. For the tortillas, a round of goat's cheese, six hearty meals and a night's lodging, we paid 33 pesos, or 32 x 12 = $3.96. Roughly $4.00. Imagine trying to get its equivalent in the states!
We gathered our duffel to leave. Jose hung close, confident of going as our guide and cargo-bearer. Dick said in Spanish, "No, Jose, you are drunk." Jose denied it vigorously, lurched unsteadily, fell heavily on the floor, and passed out cold.
Perro finally figured out who had been feeding him and followed us out of the village. We went only a short distance. So we made camp by the river, built a fire, supped on rice, tortillas and cheese, tea and dog biscuits. Dick was starting to look like a shaggy dog so I gave him a haircut, slightly ragged, but still an improvement.
We came upon a cactus around Urique similar to the saguaro in Arizona. We saw many orange trees in blossom. They fill the air with a delightfully sweet fragrance.
We will keep near the river, which widens considerably when it meets the Fuerte. Maybe we can get a boat. It is with regret that we sit here realizing our expedition would have been intact if only the others would have taken a chance and stayed a little longer.
Friday February 29, 1952
Today, February 29, was spent in the Sierra Madre (Mother Mountains) in the wilderness of Mexico. I wonder where Dick and I will be four years from now on another February 29.
Last night was delightfully warm. We are out of the freezing temperatures of the mountains. For the first time in three weeks I could sleep without going to bed fully clothed.
We discarded the air mattress as extra weight. It had a couple leaks in it and had to be blown up two and three times a night. Our meals are simple. Oatmeal for breakfast, tortillas, cheese and tea at noon, rice and milk for supper.
We walked leisurely all day along a trail following the river. The trail crossed and recrossed the river many times. We didn't even bother to remove our boots or hike up our jeans, just waded right through. It rained on and off all day.
At noon we unrolled our tortillas and cheese, made some tea, then prepared to enjoy our Mexican food. Out of nowhere materialized an old man and a little boy. Dick and I grinned at each other, shrugged our shoulders, and graciously offered a share of our food. They accepted, darn it. The man talked rapidly in Spanish with sweeping, eloquent gestures. We listened enthralled with an occasional "Si, si" and nodding our heads wisely although we didn't understand a word he said.
The people here don't grasp our hands in the hearty grip of the Americanos, but extend their arms so that hands briefly press each other. Everyone we meet shakes hands with us and partakes of our food.
The trail passed many houses, all with thatched roofs of palm leaves, herds of goats, and many chickens. The people ran out of their houses, curious as the dickens, and waved at us calling, "Buenos dias, buenos dias."
We camped under the shelter of two overhanging boulders forming a crude cave. A man came along with a catfish on a stick just around tea time. He obligingly accepted a cup. Dick gave him some hooks and fishing line. He gave us the catfish. We ate it, too, frying it in bacon fat. Dick gave him two pesos and he said he'd bring us a basketful of tortillas in the morning -- tempora -- early.
Afterwards, Dick and I sat quietly by the fire, each lost in thought, when Dick looked across the river and said, "Oh, oh, look. There's Jose." Sure enough. Jose couldn't cross the river fast enough, wearing a great big, although slightly sheepish grin. Jose and Perro! Seems as if we are stuck with them. He can carry the pack until we get to the Fuerte where we hope we can buy a boat. If so, we will go to San Blas where a train goes out. Right now we are in a completely roadless area. There are no highways across the Sierra Madre Mountains.
Saturday March 1, 1952
Early! Jeepers! It was still dark when our fisherman came with the tortillas. Shortly afterwards a woman came with more tortillas. It rained tortillas. We could buy only half of hers because we didn't have any more single pesos. These people are so poor that they don't even have a single pesos to give in change. They all stayed for breakfast. We only had two cups. Jose had a cup, the fisherman had a cup, the woman ate out of the baking powder can, Dick ate out of the pot, and I passed on the oatmeal.
I studied the fisherman and the woman as they ate. The people here are very handsome in feature and form. Everyone is lean, wiry, upright. The modeling of the face is fine and regular, firm of lip, straight nose. They are proud people, friendly and honest. None of the women wear jeans. All are dressed in clean dresses, cotton stockings, and shoes. Their hair is long. The men wear jeans and tire-tread sandals and the tall-crowned straw hat. They are very picturesque. They are hard-working farmers and have crops growing all over. Their yards are neatly swept. It is a revelation to Dick and me to see how they live simply, cleanly, and industriously. We have a lot of respect and admiration for them.
It rained all morning, steady and hard. We kept to our shelter, Dick reading, Jose dozing by the fire, Perro sleeping, and I writing. We Americanos! We are spoiled with our big houses, our automobiles, our tiled bathrooms, electric stoves, elaborate plumbing. Each of us is a millionaire compared to these simple people who live off the land. Each to their own. It is good to see how other people live. It is good to do without so the senses don't get dulled, jaded, bored. Now we will return with new perceptions of how much we have, new appreciation of our many aspects of living.
It never stopped raining; it poured sullenly straight down. We sat in our cave all day reading and eating tortillas. Gradually the rock of our cave grew saturated and the rain curved around, running in rivers into our cave. We got damp, and the ground all got wet except for a patch in the dead center of the shelter. We stayed in camp the entire day.
In the afternoon we heard a terrific rumble. A landslide of rocks crashed down the mountain into the river. There were about five more landslides. The night was miserable. It rained on and off all night. We all got a little wet. Even in Mexico March comes in like an angry lion.
Sunday March 2, 1952
Our fisherman came again with more tortillas. It had finally stopped raining. The clouds reluctantly began to break up and lovely patches of blue sky peeped through. A rainbow arched across the sky. In front of our eyes the river rose five feet up the banks and turned into a raging torrent of muddy water. Dick and I looked and fairly drooled. If we only had the rubber boats what sport it would be. We could clip down that river at 15 miles an hour. The water increased from 1000 feet per second to 10000 feet per second. But -- no boat! So packs were shouldered and we took off.
The walking was difficult. We could no longer consistently follow the trail which crossed and recrossed the river. Dick tried it at one point where the water looked deceptively easy. The current tore at his feet and pulled him in up to his neck. He had to struggle to regain shore again. So we cut across boulders and once had to climb a mountain to get past a point where the cliff dropped into the river. The water was muddy brown, the current swift with many rapids and undercurrents.
We stopped at a house and bought some cheese, tortillas, and a delicious, dried meat. The meat had been well salted. It's speared on a stick and cooked over the fire. The people told us it has been ten years since an American and his wife had passed through there. One of the men had worked in California 20 years and could speak a little English. Tomorrow he was going to Chihuahua, which was only four days' travel -- two days on mule, one day by truck, and one day by train. Even though we seemed isolated, actually we were never more than a week's distance from some point of transportation to back home.
It seems a pity that the rest gave up so easily after only eight days on the river, scared out because they thought they couldn't get out in time. They had five weeks. We knew in the beginning this expedition would be tough and rugged with many obstacles. If otherwise, there would have been hundreds of people before us who'd gone down the river. It was the challenge of the unknown that attracted all of us, but the others didn't stick with it long enough to find out what was around the corner. Dick and I took a chance setting out on foot with limited food supply. We knew nothing about the canyon or what would happen, but Dick has faith in his ability, and I have faith in Dick. Even if we had limited time, Dick wouldn't turn back for anything. He never gives up.
The people told us the river wiped out the trail farther down, and it would be best to go over the mountains to reach the Fuerte River. So tomorrow over the mountains we go. Yipes! We camped in a draw next to a creek. It was cold, but a fire kept us warm.
Monday March 3, 1952
Dick turned over in his sleeping bag and there sat a Tarahumara boy just in time for breakfast. Seems like we're feeding everyone lately. Scared Dick half to death to see the boy sitting there silently watching him.
We passed the house of a Tarahumara family. Dick took about 20 pictures of them at all angles and gave them five pesos (before he took the pictures.) They are so painfully shy. The children had only brief shirts on and were very appealing peering at us shyly while hiding behind their parents. Their home was a palm-covered shelter clinging to the hillside. They had about 20 goats. I didn't want to embarrass them by staring so I sat down and sewed patches on the knee of my jeans.
Looks like Dick is going to make a mountain climber out of me yet, darn it. It is such terrific work dog-trotting over these mountains up and down for 15 miles a day. I'm no longer afraid of high places and steep drops. I walk along the trail with high disdain for the danger spots. I've learned to watch just where my feet go using every little crack or ledge as a step and not worrying about what's below me. Most of the trail isn't dangerous, but winds over gradual rise of hills.
We have to pack in everything we eat. We never saw such a hungry dog as Perro. He is eating us out. We met a Tarahumara and asked him if he wanted a dog. He eagerly accepted, tied a rope around PerroÕs neck, and led him off. Exit Perro. Later, to our horror, Jose told us that they planned to eat the dog.
We missed the trail in the afternoon and had to slide down a mountain to get back on. It was quite an experience to try to cut down without a trail. The branches and thorns tore at our clothing, scratching our arms and legs. I lost my balance a couple of times and bounced down on the seat of my pants, grabbing frantically for branches to stop my undignified descent.
We stopped at a village. Jose put one over on us and asked the woman to make us supper. So we dined on fried eggs, goats cheese, tortillas, and coffee. We are crazy about those tortillas. The same people had a store so we bought some sugar and coffee. The woman roasted the green coffee beans and ground them down the same way they grind the corn. The coffee is exceptionally good.
The people seem to take life easy. Wherever we stop, the men gather around and talk and talk. The children peer at us shyly and never let off staring. Everyone seems to have chickens and goats so they have milk and eggs.
We climbed one mountain today, then it was a steady drop down. There is no level walking. We pull up or put on the brakes coming down. From the top of our mountain we saw the Urique join the Fuerte. It was a magnificent view sweeping down and out for miles. We will reach the Fuerte River tomorrow.
Tuesday March 4, 1952
We turned Jose loose this morning. Actually we no longer needed a guide after we left Urique, but we didn't have the heart to say no after he had tracked us down. Dick paid him 20 pesos and gave him a knife, his jacket, and his boots. Dick then wore his tennis shoes.
We came to the river in early morning. The Fuerte is wide with a strong current. Oh, for a boat. We followed the trail along the river. At one point the trail climbed to a cat-walk on the edge of a 100-foot bluff dropping sheer to the river. I didn't like it one bit. Three weeks ago I would have gone into hysterics, but it's astonishing how one can become accustomed to anything.
We camped along the river and looked longingly at that current zipping by. What we wouldn't give for a boat right now. The natives now tell us we can buy a boat at San Francisco, but they told us we could at Urique, too. Anyway, we are hoping. It's about 80 miles to the town of El Fuerte where there are roads and trucks. Hope we don't have to walk all the way.
Wednesday March 5, 1952
Nothing eventful. Saw a deer and about five rabbits. Also saw a mean old black bull standing right in the middle of the trail. I scooted ahead while Dick hissed at the bull making it snort and stamp its feet so he could take pictures. Had the bull taken after Dick, he'd be in San Francisco and I'd be up a tree.
We were walking the trail when I saw water pouring out of a hole in a rock and cascading down in a stream to the river. We've seen many springs, but this one was STEAMING -- hot steaming water laden with sulfur. I wanted to take a bath in it right away, but I couldn't even put my finger in, it was so hot.
Our rice and oatmeal are gone, so now we stop at the various houses scattered far and wide along the trail to buy goat's cheese and tortillas. We get about 20 for 2 pesos (24 cents) and about two pounds of cheese for 3 pesos (36 cents) which is pretty cheap eating. We also have some Mexican coffee that's awfully good.
Our legs are all chewed up by little flies. Their bites leave bumps like mosquito bites, but they itch for week and leave raw sores that never seem to heal. They are annoying. But there are no other insects, no mosquitoes.
The vegetation is mostly mesquite and a saguaro type of cactus. All the farm people have colorful, bright flowers growing in vases of pottery, which they keep carefully watered. We crossed the river today at a point shown to us by a man. It was waist-deep and the current pulled. We didn't even bother to remove our jeans or shoes, the sun was so hot. We followed a good trail up and down over hills following the river. My boots are almost kaput, the soles nearly worn out. Dick is wearing his tennis shoes, and I'm afraid I will soon have to do the same.
Golly, I hope we can get a boat. This is a fast-traveling river.
Thursday March 6, 1952
Up early. Dick bought five pesos worth of tortillas. We got about 50. The houses are so scattered -- we passed only two yesterday. In the yard of one was a bed made of a framework of wood and latticed with leather bands of goat-skin to form the spring -- pretty neat. We also saw a beautiful Tarahumara brown blanket banded on each end with a border of orange and yellow. How we wanted it, but it was impossible to carry anything more.
We followed the trail down the river on the left side. Soon we came to a cable with a hand-operated car on it. The cable swung about 100 feet above the river and was anchored high up on the hillside. A little boy stood underneath. We asked him if this was the point to cross.
"Si, si, Se–or."
Then we asked him how far away San Francisco was and he answered, "Much kilometer."
So we crossed on the cable. It was terrific. Just a wooden box with a hand bar above our heads on the cable that braked and pulled the car across. We dropped down to the middle of the cable swinging high above the river. Then Dick had to pull 350 pounds up the cable by hand. He had to stop after every four pulls. I don't know how he did it. The box groaned and squeaked under the load. I was afraid to breathe. We made it to the other side, and ground never felt so good.
San Francisco was just around the corner, and we were on the wrong side of the river. The map showed a thriving metropolis and a dam. The dam was there, but there was just a ghost town of three houses across the river. We had to retrace our steps and cross the cable again. Tears of dismay fell down my face at the thought of it. But we made it across safely, Dick again having to pull all that weight.
On the other side we met a man who gauged the river and made weather observations. He said, "No boats." We were stunned and couldn't speak for a moment. We have been following a will-o-wisp. Everyone told us, 'much boats in Urique,' 'much boats in San Francisco.' Shucks, I don't think these people ever saw a boat in their lives. The man said we should go to Choix where there are truck roads to El Fuerte, then to San Blas where there is a train. So we have to forgo our hope of finding a boat and going down that fast-moving river.
Choix lies on a plateau inland about 30 miles across the mountains from San Francisco -- on the map, that is. Oh boy, here we go crossing mountains again. My boots are shot. Dick punched holes in the soles and leather so he could tie them together. My socks show through now. We've walked over 250 miles already across the Sierra Madres.
The man said Choix was one day away and that there was no water on the trail. He gave us a milk-bottle full of water which we carried with our own canteen. We decided to camp in the afternoon and travel at night to escape the intense heat of the day. We stopped beside a creek to wait for evening. I walked upstream, stripped, and took a bath. I heard a whistle above me. I glanced up and then frantically reached for my clothes. A Mexican boy was coming down the trail with his goats. He glanced my way briefly, then studied the landscape with intent concentration.
We ate a big meal of tortillas and cheese, discarded one pot and took off at about 7:00 p.m. We were in luck. The moon was brilliant and lit up the trail. Everything seemed so weird at night. The trail shone brightly. It was hard to judge depth, and sometimes the trail would come up and hit us and then drop us into a hole so suddenly that our back teeth rattled. We passed one house in the night, sneaking past so as not to wake the dogs. We thought we were safely past when they suddenly set up a clamor loud enough to wake the dead. I thought they were going to chew us up and grabbed a stout stick as we hurried down the trail.
All kinds of night noises emerged from the shadows, the sleepy chirping of a bird, the wail of a coyote, the sudden startled flight of a burro as it crashed through the bushes. We pushed until about 1:00 a.m., then unrolled our sleeping bags and dropped off to sleep immediately.
Friday March 7, 1952
Dick is amazing. He has never been in this country before, yet he unerringly followed the trail in the dark. He is able to follow a trail with his feet. There were many confusing side trails, too -- goat trails and trails leading to houses.
There is water all over the place; we crossed three different streams. The friendly people in this country have given us a wealth of misinformation. So we threw away our bottle of water after dragging it over the mountain all night.
We passed more farmhouses while we trotted up and down these hills. I never saw such a country for up and down traveling. We stopped at one place, and the woman was ever so friendly and sweet. Her house and courtyard were immaculate. The people here are generous with smiles and courtesy. She offered us coffee and tortillas, but we declined. She gave us some fresh limes, and I gave her many safety pins and both of us were most pleased. Her house was a picture of cleanliness and neatness, the roof beautifully thatched with palm leaves. She pointed to Dick and asked if he were my papa. He indignantly said he was my esposo, and we all exploded with laughter. She was the prettiest woman.
It's amazing how the body has so much potential power and energy. Since Dick and I have started climbing these mountains our muscles have developed and strengthened until we can walk all day without fatigue. My leg muscles are so strong that they never get tired now, and my lungs don't feel as if they're going to burst wide open the way they did in the beginning. We Americans are sure weak in the legs with our autos and paved sidewalks.
We crossed a water-shed divide today. It was the funniest sensation to see the water run in one direction, cross the divide, and see it run the other way. Dick noticed it immediately.
We walked all day. Choix is the most elusive place. Towards evening a man said we would get there ma–ana. We stopped at a spring near a farmhouse. Dick asked the woman for some food. She absolutely refused to sell him anything. Dick went all the way down the list -- tortillas, cheese, eggs, even a chicken. She shook her head angrily and said, "I don't have to make tortillas, no, no."
So we set up camp and faced the sad prospect of a supper of coffee and no breakfast. All of a sudden Dick exclaimed, "Iz, look!"
I saw a procession coming down the hill, a little girl in the lead with a plate of tortillas, followed by the woman with a huge piece of cheese (about 2 pounds,) and in the rear a little boy carrying a pitcher of goat's milk. The woman over-whelmed us with her smiles and graciousness. She was dressed in black with a black veil covering her head, and we deduced she was a widow-woman. She had five children.
It was dark when we finished our supper and we turned in right away. We had traveled the night before, all day today from sunup to sundown, and still no Choix. One day's travel and no water! Ha! Our feet ached so that it was hard to fall asleep.
Saturday March 8, 1952
We broke camp early. Our benefactor brought more milk and tortillas for breakfast and invited us to her house. Dick paid her generously and gave her a knife, our pots, cups and silver, sugar and his red kerchief. She disappeared into the house and returned with her gift to us -- a big white egg. We wrapped it carefully in a handkerchief and put it in Dick's camera bag. They were so awfully poor that it hurt to realize how much we have and how little other people have. They make every shred of cloth and every crumb count.
We dropped down from the hills, and wonder of wonders, our trail broadened out into a road which actually had tire tracks on it. But Choix remained invisible, ever far away over the horizon. We walked and walked and walked in the hot sunlight. The trail was dusty; the sun blazed unmercifully on our uncovered heads. It was monotonous walking on level ground with no shade. We were thirsty, tired, and footsore. Where was that darn Choix. Dick mused "Iz, do you think they sell beer in Choix? Do you think it will be ice-cold?"
"Dream on, honey," I said. "There's no ice in this furnace, that's for sure."
Late in the afternoon Dick squinted at the distant hills and said, "Look!" There were many buildings, then we saw a wonderful sight -- a truck, on wheels, with a motor. Choix! We walked down the main street. It's a big town with stores all over the place. The sidewalk was lined with vendors selling sweet rolls, tacos, peanuts, hot tamales, and tortillas. We peeped in an open doorway.
I grasped Dick's arm, "Dick, does that look like a refrigerator unit?" It did and it was. Eagerly we went inside and ordered beer and pop. The girl brought it frosty cold. We were in seventh heaven. Nothing, absolutely nothing, ever tasted so good! We enjoyed ourselves hugely walking around staring at the natives while the natives stared at us.
Another sight brightened our eyes -- a stand piled high with big globes of golden oranges. Dick asked the man how much, then turned to me and translated that he wouldn't sell us less than 25.
A man stepped outside from the store behind us and said in perfect English, "Can I help you?"
We could have embraced him. He explained to us that the oranges each cost 25 centavos or 3 cents. He was the owner of the store, a handsome man, well-dressed in American clothes, soft-spoken, a gentleman. He invited us to his home and plied Dick with beer. His wife made Mexican sandwiches -- tacos, a delicious concoction of a huge, crisp cracker-like potato chip with chopped lettuce, slices of tomato, beans and meat mixture, grated cheese, and chili sauce layered on top. He kept giving Dick beer saying that each bottle was the ultimo -- the last. Dick never had so much beer in his life.
That evening the man, his name was Felix, took us all around town and the surrounding countryside in his truck. He bought Dick a bottle of beer every time we passed the tavern. Dick protested that he couldn't drink any more, but each bottle was the ultimo. Dick cautiously emptied three bottles out the car window as we were riding.
We stayed at a clean little hotel for 60 cents. Tomorrow morning at 8:00 we leave for El Fuerte and San Blas by bus. The buses are something to see. They're like a pickup with a roof and wooden benches extending its width. The rest is wide open. We'll travel 60 miles and it should take about three hours.
Two couples with two cars from Colorado were camping on the river, Felix told us. We drove to the river, but were disappointed to learn that they had left that day.
Sunday March 9, 1952
What a ride -- it was like a glorified roller-coaster. We were bounced up, down, and sideways, and jostled like mad as the bus tore across the bumpy, hilly road. Dick and I couldn't stop laughing. Everybody laughed merrily. These are a happy people. We left at 8:00 and arrived in San Blas about noon.
We sure proved something. There was plenty of time for the expedition. We originally planned to be here March 10. Dick and I, even walking across the Sierra Madres, got here a day earlier. We'll take the train out at 11:00 tonight and arrive in Guaymas 9:30 tomorrow. We sure move fast now.
San Blas is a noisy honkey-tonk. People lounge in the streets. Juke boxes blare Cuban rhythms from taverns. Many policemen walk sternly up and down with guns strapped to their belts. Trucks and cars race up and down the streets. There are many little outdoor restaurants with oil-cloth covered tables tended by women heating tortillas, stew, and beans over charcoal, and washing dishes in pails of water. We sat down at one. The stew was surprisingly delicious -- Dick had three helpings. We wandered the streets to kill time and got a hotel room to leave our duffel in. It cost five pesos, or 60 cents.
We slept in the evening and got up at 10:30 all excited over catching our train. We hitched down to the station and tried to buy our tickets. The man at the window looked at us blankly and said, "No train tonight. Train tomorrow at 8:00, morning."
Dick and I almost dropped at the thought of spending the night in San Blas. But there was nothing we could do. We felt so helpless and frustrated. Back to the hotel.
Monday March 10, 1952
We had no watches, so I got up as soon as I saw it was light and hurried down to the station a block away to learn the time, 6:45. We dressed and went hopefully to buy our tickets.
The ticket man looked at us briefly. "No train -- comes in at 11:30."
We were stunned. Then we became fiercely angry. We felt we were being pushed around, never getting the right information and began to wonder if there was a train in this country.
We sat dejectedly on the high curbing in front of the station watching the little town of San Blas wake up for the new day. Women came into town carrying straw baskets spilling over with bright-colored flowers. Men stood around idly or clustered in the saloons playing pool. People opened their stands, selling everything -- candied fruits, cookies, cakes, candies, tortillas, hot tamales, oranges, grapefruit, bananas. The old women with their oilcloth covered tables and cook pots over charcoal, lined the streets. Little shoeshine boys looked at Dick's tennis shoes and passed on. Dogs were all over and underfoot nosing around for something to eat. One had a fit, and in a flash a whole pack fell to fighting and snarling. Flies swarmed lazily. Grim-faced policeman with guns wandered around (the town had ten.) We never saw such a sink-hole, yet, we were fascinated. It was a new experience in living. So many people see this side of Mexican squalor and poverty in other towns. No tourists come as far as San Blas.
We saw the beautiful, the magnificent, the simple dignity of life up in the hills. There the people were tall, had beautiful bodies, were proud, clean, industrious. We saw a profusion of wild exotic birds and vegetation. One large bird was brilliantly blue with long sweeping tail feathers and a crest. Another was a small, vivid, flaming scarlet bird with black wings, also crested. We saw many humming birds, some large, others tiny jeweled creatures. We saw one bird we hated on sight. There were many of them in the local areas -- turkey buzzards, scavengers -- big, black, ugly, somber, silent, malignant birds perched on top of towering cactus plants. Dick wanted to shoot every one of them with his 22, but feared startling the populace since we only saw two guns in that entire country.
Above Choix we saw an exotic combination of trees -- tall, proud pines fraternizing with graceful palms. There were many varieties of cactus -- huge sentinels, some as big as trees, others spread out like gigantic pin cushions that could spear a man to death should he fall into it from the above hillside. Lovely flowers brilliantly colored the hills. The people cultivate a tree that is smothered with red blossoms. The hill people plant all kinds of blooms in pottery and keep them carefully watered making their yards little oases of color. Above all stood the magnificent Sierra Madres.
The people in San Blas stared and stared at us. White people rarely came here. Yet they were friendly and stopped to talk to us, ever so curious about our duffel and packs, our wilderness clothes, our sunburned noses. Each and all persisted and got our stories from us in imperfect Spanish.
At 11:00 we again hopefully approached the ticket window. We had already learned in painful steps that tickets are sold only a half hour before train time.
The man looked up placidly and said in Spanish "No train. Be in at 2:00 o'clock."
Dick and I were momentarily struck dumb with shock. We had already sat around for 24 hours waiting and waiting. We fairly sputtered with helpless indignation, anger, and frustration. Back to the curb again.
Then -- one man emerged from the crowds to save our tottering sanity. A good-looking, well-dressed man approached us and addressed us in English. How wonderful it sounded! We unburdened all our troubles to him while he listened carefully and sympathetically. He explained everything in an instant saying the train was late -- 20 hours late -- and would be in for sure at 2:00. He worked for Wells Fargo and knew. He took us under his wing, treated us to beer and talked and talked to us and we to him in English. It was wonderful!
That's the magic of living outdoors under difficult conditions. There are so many surprises, so many pleasures, luxuries, contrasts. One develops an acute appreciation of the smallest comforts and fills with the joy of living from the slightest provocation. A beautiful sunset holds us silent. A little burro bouncing after his mother makes us grin. A deer bursting out of the bushes stops us dead in our tracks. People stopping abruptly to stare at us makes us giggle. We felt so important in the hills. We were somebody different, unusual, unique. The children couldn't take their eyes off of us and grinned so shyly and sweetly each time we caught their eyes.
At last the train staggered in. Dick and I thought we were through with surprises. We thought everything would be simple now and that civilization would take over. We would board a modern train and relax, coasting easily in Guaymas, 250 miles north. But Mexico wasn't done with us yet. She had a few more surprises up her sleeve -- more for us to vividly remember her by. More adventures in living. But we were equal to her, young, healthy, incredibly strong after climbing her rugged mountains. We managed to bounce back with agility each time she tried us out, and I think she didn't find us lacking.
But -- back to that monster panting into the station.
Our startled eyes first saw the box cars jammed with people. That was third class. Then came the passenger cars. Hundreds of people hung out of the windows laughing, shouting, waving their arms to attract the attention of the food peddlers. They were everywhere selling pop, goats milk, beer, coffee, all kinds of food, sweets, blankets, baskets, etc. It was an unforgettable sight. We hesitated a long moment before we could gather courage to be engulfed in that hot, packed, smelly train. We gingerly got on and walked through one jammed car after another. No seats anywhere. Just when we despaired of ever sitting down the conductor came by, looking for all the world like any American conductor with the stern abrupt exterior and heart of gold. He found us seats together.
After an hour we pulled out. The train poked along slowly, making frequent stops. By late afternoon we were ravenous, and at the next stop we forgot our dignity and hung out the windows just like everybody else, flagging down vendors until we were laden with food.
In spite of the crowded conditions, the dirt, noise, and heat, Dick and I enjoyed ourselves immensely. The Mexican people are gay, spilling over into laughter easily. They are so friendly. They talked to us and were highly interested. One young woman came over and gave us some hot tamales and pop. No one wore that strained, bored look you see on American faces in trains, streetcars, and buses.
One old lady had no ticket so she went down the aisle and everyone gave her a coin until eventually she had the price of a ticket.
We were on that train 15 hours. We dozed on and off. It got awfully cold so we threw our faithful Tarahumara blanket over us. At 4:00 a.m. the conductor told us we had to change trains to continue the five miles into Guaymas. We were beyond the point of being surprised, and prepared for anything. So we got off in the dark but were very pessimistic about that other train which was supposed to come at 5:00. We sat around a fire with five Mexicans until 5:30. The train never came so we hitched a ride into town.
Our train fare cost $5.00.
Tuesday March 11, 1952
The sun was just coming up as we entered town. Its beautiful, golden fingers stretched across the blue waters of the harbor. There were boats everywhere. Houses perched on hills surrounding the water. We liked Guaymas at first sight. It was different.
We got a room at the Rubi Hotel for only $3.00. We had a lovely room with a bath and two double beds. We stripped and, luxury of luxuries, enjoyed a hot leisurely bath. It was sheer heaven. We tumbled into bed and slept.
We arose completely refreshed and strolled through town where we found a quaint little Mexican restaurant. For 3 pesos or 35 cents each we had a fish dinner -- all we could eat. A boiled, juicy, big fish steak, sliced tomatoes and lettuce salad, rolls, beans, and coffee. Dick and I gorged. We ate as if we were starved. In the evening we had a fried oyster dinner at the hotel for a dollar apiece. But it couldn't compete with our Mexican restaurant.
As we walked along the boardwalk the Mexican boys delighted us. They loved to show off their knowledge of English and as they passed by they would call out, "Hello, how are you? Good night. Do you want to go fishing?"
We'd grin back and forth at each other, and everybody felt happy.
The pesos exchange sure fooled us. Everything in Mexico seemed so cheap and actually it was cheap. Good hotel rooms cost only $3.00, food $1.00 a meal at the expensive places, 35 cents at the Mexican places, only 60 cents a room up in the hills. Dick's haircut in San Blas cost only 25 cents. In the hills 60 cents bought us enough tortillas and goats cheese for two days. But there was a catch. Everything was so cheap, and our money seemed to be so many, many pesos that we spent it like mad. To our great surprise we didn't even have bus fare after our food sprees in Guaymas, and Dick had to wire home for money.
Tuesday March 12, 1952
Our money came and we took the 10:30 bus. The day was bright and sunny. We felt a little blue knowing we were leaving the land of sunshine and speeding back to snow and winter, but we felt good, too. We'd found a great challenge in the magnificent Sierra Madres and had successfully met that challenge.
We reached Nogales in 7 1/2 hours, a 265 mile drive. Dick phoned Jim in Tucson and he drove the 65 miles down and brought us back to America -- two jean-clad, sunburned, weary, but happy Americans.
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