BARRANCA de COBRE Part II -- 1952
Monday March 31, 1952 (by Isabelle)
We left Mexico March 12 and here we are back again to finish what we started.
Did you ever play follow the leader? As a youngster did you ever follow some skinny, freckle-faced, dare-devil over fences, across creeks, in and out of empty lots, over rock piles, all the while feeling wondrously brave and adventurous? I was planning on doing something like that, only the back-yard was the fabulous Barranca de Cobre tucked away in the remote wilderness of the Sierra Madre Mountains in Mexico, and the leader was my husband, a broad-shouldered, long-limbed, six-foot specimen of healthy, young American manhood.
We had tried to penetrate the canyon before but failed due to a wealth of misinformation and improper equipment. We made all our mistakes on the first exploration trip, learned much, now we are preparing to tackle that elusive canyon again. Here are our plans: We'll start at the village of Barranca de Cobre on the Urique River and continue 100 miles down the river to the town of Urique. There we'll hike back over the mountains to Creel.
On our first try we by-passed the canyon between the villages Barranca de Cobre and Urique and we hiked over the mountains between the two . This time we're going down the river. We'll hire Indians, about three, at Creel to carry our food and cargo. We have a little two-man rubber boat that weighs about 15 pounds. We'll walk through the canyon, and the boat will carry us across the river where the canyon is impassable. This is our plan, but anything can happen in that deep dark canyon to alter it.
We arrived in Chihuahua early morning welcomed by balmy sunny weather, and drove straight to the Hilton Hotel where we got a lovely room.
The first thing we did was drive up and down the streets looking for Tarahumara Indians so we could buy their art craft of belts, baskets, hand-made violins, and blankets. At first we didn't see any. Then all of a sudden we saw one woman walking down the street, three walking up the street on the other side, and a couple disappearing around the corner. We were so startled that we didn't know whom to approach. We finally went around the corner and approached the couple. He had a violin, which he eagerly sold to Dick for 30 pesos. (A peso is roughly worth 12 cents and 8.6 pesos equal approximately a dollar.) Then we asked him how much he wanted for his belt. He was so reluctant that Dick offered him ten. When he took it off, we saw it was old and worn and that's why he didn't think it was worth selling. But Dick paid him anyway.
We watched the three youngsters, a teenage boy and two teenage girls. They went from door to door with their little pails and people gave them food. We were so disappointed to see that, because up in the hills the Tarahumaras are a proud, shy people. The girls were like children all over the world, giggly, happy-go-lucky, feet dancing and skipping, scorning to walk. They were dressed in typical Indian fashion. The boy wore his cloth headband, loin cloth, short poncho bib thrown over his blouse, everything white, and went barefoot. The girls wore many full-gathered skirts, blouses with full-gathered sleeves, a bib thrown over it, head-bands, and were also barefoot. The girls looked big because of the multitudinous skirts, but actually were so tiny with fragile ankles, small dainty hands and feet.
We saw more Indians, more than we expected, but many did not have belts. Dick remembered that the Indians had camped along a dry riverbed so we scouted around until we found their camps. There we saw numerous Indians. We had many gifts that we gave them in exchange for taking pictures of them. Some were a little shy, but all were friendly and could speak more Spanish than we could. We had jeans, T-shirts, material, kerchiefs, dresses, candy, shirts, and caps. All had been used but were in good shape.
We conversed with one family. The woman was making a basket out of palm reeds. Her baby played quietly at her feet, and her husband was resting. She had a beautiful belt of rare design around her waist. Dick offered her 20 pesos for it, but she shook her head. No money could buy it. We weren't about to give up. We laid down gift upon gift on the ground; an axe, overalls, denim jacket, kerchief, material, an old tire (the Indians make sandals out of tire tread), a T-shirt, a sweater. Her husband talked to her gently and persuasively, both of them smiling, she persistently shaking her head. We were finally discouraged when suddenly she unwound the belt and laid it in Dick's hands. No matter the race, color, or creed, a woman always surprises a man with her quick change of mind.
We saw many belts, but most of their owners were reluctant to sell them. We were mostly interested in obtaining different designs. We bought ten with five different designs at an average of 20 pesos each. We also bought Tarahumara baskets, which were made for selling. Those averaged from one to ten pesos each according to weave and size.
While we were walking around, we saw a Spanish woman holding a paper bag and giving bread rolls to the Indians. We exchanged greetings and were delighted to find that she spoke English. She told us that it had not rained much in the last three years. The crops had been so bad that the Indians were forced to come to town with their children to seek food, and many of them were starving. The town people gave them food as often as possible. We felt very bad to learn this, although we were relieved to understand why we saw them going from door to door for food. The Indians in Chihuahua are the same proud hill people.
Tuesday April 1, 1952
After an exchange of April Fool jokes, Dick and I bought 100 rolls of bread (penny a piece) and went to our village. We strolled from family to family, finding them scattered in camps along the rocky river bed, and we passed out rolls, took many pictures, and learned more Spanish and a little Tarahumara. We sure do like these people with their colorful dress and modest ways.
We will stay at the Hilton tonight then take the 7:15 a.m. train to Creel tomorrow, a 17-hour ride of 200 miles. Travel is slow in the backwoods country. We're storing our car in the hotel garage. The weather is wonderful but it will get hotter and hotter as we approach the canyon.
The desk clerk sure tossed us a verbal bombshell. With the infinite patience and skill of the interested Mexican, he got our story from us in complete detail. Then he told us a party out of El Paso was due tonight. They, too, were going to Creel and into the Barranca de Cobre -- a big party. We were very eager to meet them and learn the purpose and extent of their expedition. At 8:00 p.m. we checked with the desk and learned they had arrived. We called them on the desk phone then met them at their rooms.
There were six of them -- two men and four women. There was such a flurry of introductions and excited questions flying that it was all confusion. They had a dinner date at 9:00 with the red carpet unfurled, so we had little time to talk, much to our disappointment.
One man was Earle Stanley Gardner, the well-known writer of the Perry Mason mystery novels from California. Another man was Henry Steeger, owner of the Popular Publications Co., which includes Argosy and other magazines from New York. He knew all about our first Mexican holiday, was interested in our story or notes with pictures for Argosy. So it might be published. We certainly will give it a try. He said Marion Hargrave who wrote "See here, Private Hargrave" is on their staff and would do the re-writing job on our notes.
They plan to leave for Creel in jeep and pickups either Thursday or Friday. We said we would wait in Creel until Saturday for them so we could have more time to talk together.
Wednesday April 2, 1952
At 6:00 a.m. our telephone rang to wake us up. We made arrangements for the hotel garage to store our car for $10 a month, then took the taxi to the train. It was on time and much different than our cattle train out of San Blas. The ride to Creel was uneventful on our little ole chug-chug train. Left 7:15 and arrived 10:00 p.m. We read our pocket books all the way, White Witch Doctor, and The Naked and the Dead.
We got a room at our Chinaman's hotel. There we met three Americans, Joe Clark, Jack Wash, and I didn't catch the name of the third man, all from Albuquerque, New Mexico. They were meeting an American, Mr. Tenny, who owns a lead mine producing 50% ore near Creel. We learned that the Potosi Mining Co. is operated by the American Smelting & Refining Co.
Thursday April 3, 1952
We are back again in the town of oil lamps and quaint little houses -- outside, turn to your left. There's electricity here, but evidently Joe, our Chinaman, doesn't believe in it. Our room is plain, but clean -- ironstead bed, wooden floor, table and chair, whitewashed walls, pot-bellied stove, wash basin and pitcher. Two Tarahumara blankets covered the bed. One made my eyes gleam -- dark subtle shades of brown with orange and red striped borders (the dyes are made from rock and plants,) heavy, with a magnificent weave. It was a treasure. They are rare in the states.
We had breakfast of fried eggs, bacon, the inevitable beans, fried potatoes, bread, and coffee. Then we looked up Father Manuel Martinez, a Mexican Catholic priest. Only he was different from any priest I've ever known, earthy, warm, and humorous with a mischievous, sparkling twinkle in his eyes. We talked for about two hours. He spoke English very well and gave us a wealth of information on the Tarahumara Indians.
He described their feast days when they used to sacrifice a cow to the sun. Their priest would catch the first flow of blood in his cupped hands, offer it to the sun, taste it, and throw it away saying, "It has no substance," meaning the sun had received it. He would do this four times. Then the Indians boiled the meat all night. The following morning the priest took a piece of meat, offered it to the sun, tasted it, threw it away and said, "It has no substance," again repeating this ceremony four times. Then everyone would eat the meat and food with great appetite.
The Indian drums are of goatskin stretched across a circular wooden frame. The Indians call each other by beating the drums. Next week is Holy Week and the Indians will gather in Creel. We are so disappointed that we will miss it. They also have races, and Father said one Indian ran 275 miles in 48 hours.
Then, at last, we did what we were dying to do ever since we hit Creel -- go to the stores to look for Tarahumara blankets. We found about ten out of which we bought three. They are beautiful pieces of art. We bought a white one with red, brown, and orange stars and border costing 80 pesos, and two dark brown ones with white, brown and orange stars and border, costing 66 pesos and 90 pesos. Price is based on weight. The big ones all weigh about nine pounds.
Then we found a fourth one. There's a story. Joe walked in as we were buying our blankets. He's a shrewd little old man (his age is estimated to be around 80 although he looks 60.) He asked how much we paid for the blankets.
I said, "You have a beautiful blanket. I'll give you 90 pesos for it."
Joe shook his head vigorously and said, "No, I won't sell my blanket. But, maybe for 126 pesos--- "
Everyone laughed and I shook my head saying, "One hundred pesos."
Joe said no and left. I despaired of getting that wondrous blanket, but I wasn't going to let him bluff me. When we returned to the hotel we met Joe.
"The blanket is yours for 100 pesos," he said.
Friday April 4, 1952
This morning Father Martinez, Dick, and I stood on Main Street while the priest interviewed Indians to work for us. He finally selected three on the basis of strength, trustfulness, and ability to speak Spanish in addition to Tarahumara. Father questioned them as to their likes for trail food. Milk and cereal drew negative shaking of heads. Dried meat, beans and tortillas brought forth hearty approval so our food list reads: Dried meat, beans, flour for tortillas, sugar, coffee, and salt. Dick and I had brought powdered milk, cereal, and rice from the states. I bet they'll eat that, too. Our Indians are young, lean and wiry. Bonito Juarez speaks very little Spanish (about as much as we do.) His name means Beautiful Juarez. Chico and Patricio both can speak Spanish. I hope we'll all be happy together for the next 30 days.
There was a political speech in the afternoon in the square. Election for president, a six-year term, is approaching. All the men gathered in front of the band stand, all politely held their hats in their hands and listened carefully, applauding after each speech.
We waited all day for Mr. Gardner's party to arrive, and they finally came in the evening; Mr. and Mrs. Henry Steeger, Mr. Gardner, his two secretaries, Jean Bethell and Lilie MacLean (an English girl here two years from England,) Sam Hicks, Mr. Gardner's ranch foreman, and Anita Haskell Jones, a famous sportswoman who has won numerous trophies in swimming, skiing, and sword fishing. Jose F. Gandara, Mexican representative of the Pemex Travel Agency in El Paso, was leading the group. They will go to the river with mules at various points such as the town of Barranca de Cobre and Divisadero. Mrs. Shirley Steeger is a botanist and will make studies of the plants, and everybody will take pictures and movies.
The Steegers invited us to dinner and guess where we ate -- at our friend Joe's. They are sleeping at another hotel. We talked and talked and talked. The Steegers are wonderful people, outdoor adventurers, simple, friendly, and unaffected.
We'll buy our supplies tomorrow and at last head for the Barranca de Cobre.
Saturday April 5, 1952
We got up early. I took my morning walk and met a horse standing across the path. I edged around him slowly then hurried as he followed me, quickly slamming the door to the little house. Moments later I peered out almost bumping his inquisitive nose. He finally left and I returned to our room and washed up in the tin basin.
We had breakfast with Anita Jones and Earl Gardner. Then we went to the store to buy our groceries. Our three Indians were already waiting for us, only Luis had replaced Chico. It seems as if Chico wasn't very trustworthy. Both Luis and Patricio wore conventional jeans, shirt, and straw hat. But Bonito was very colorful in Tarahumara dress of a red, full-sleeved blouse, a loin cloth, and another clothe that draped in the back in a neat triangle. His straight Dutch bob was bound neatly with a bright red kerchief folded into a band around his forehead. He was a little older than the other two. We bought flour, sugar, rice, dried jerked meat, coffee, beans, cheese, and salt. The storekeeper brought out some hard chunks resembling sawed off ice-cream cones that look like rock. It was a special candy that the Indians relished. We sacked that up too, then bought cigarettes and bandannas for our new friends.
The quantity of food was tremendous; 22 pounds of flour, 22 pounds of sugar, 10 pounds of rice, 22 pounds of beans, 7 pounds cheese, 13 pounds of dried meat. I waited in suspense, impatient to see how much our 120 pounds of food totaled. The storekeeper added it up and it amounted to the amazing sum of $17.00 for food enough to feed five people for two weeks. It's fantastic!
We took an exchange of pictures with Mr. Steeger, then showed Patricio how to operate our camera so he could take pictures of Dick and me together. He held the camera with calm dignity, listened carefully to instructions in Spanish from Gonzolas Muisquiz, then squinted through the viewer and squeezed the shutter steadily -- a perfect picture.
Gonzolas Muisquiz is a short, rotund, jolly man who offered to show us the trademark on our Indian blankets. He examined them closely, pushing the weave apart. Dick and I watched so closely that our three heads nearly touched. Suddenly Mr. Muisquiz deftly grabbed something, pinched his fingers together, and tossed it over his shoulders. Everyone laughed at our bewildered expressions.
We learned today that he is a rich man owning many lumber companies and approximately 750,000 acres in the region around and beyond Creel. It seems that the more people have, the more genuine and natural they are.
Mr. Gonzales, the storekeeper, piled our duffel in the back of his pickup, the Indians jumped in, Dick and I climbed into the front, and we took off to Baseborachic about 30 miles away. The road was narrow, winding down into the canyon. Tall pines and terraced rock cliffs soared above. We stopped near a Tarahumara house, piled out, shouldered the packs, and took off. I cast a lingering look over my shoulder at our last touch with civilization as we followed a narrow winding trail along a noisy little creek. By tactic consent Bonito took the lead, his strong brown legs flashing purposefully down the trail.
There seems to be a conspiracy in the heavens to always rain on the outdoor adventurer on his first day on the trail. This part of Mexico has been experiencing a serious drought, the crops are doing poorly. We had even met the government man who was distributing trainloads of corn to alleviate drought conditions. Regardless, we saw the clouds draw closer and closer in a tight huddle, heard their whispering and giggling increase to ominous muttering which cracked harshly into thunder. We hastened to the shelter of a cave and made camp. The rain minced in, poured lightly for five minutes, then retreated. The clouds departed, satisfied.
We all sat around self-consciously looking at each other. Then at an unspoken signal the Indians scattered. Dick laughingly remarked that they were probably going back to Creel, but they returned with quantities of wood. I prepared a supper of cheese, rice with milk, and coffee. Bonito made a special Tarahumara dish for himself mixing pinole, which is ground roasted corn with water, and drinking it. We tasted it. I didn't like it. He didn't like our powdered milk so we were even.
After supper our Indians kept looking up the cliff across the creek. Suddenly they took off and climbed up to a cave. We finally realized they'd spotted the quarters of more Tarahumaras. But the cave was empty at present.
Bonito piled the wood higher, and we sat around the fire as the evening advanced and darkened. The last rays hit the highest pinnacles on the cliffs turning them golden against the dark clouds. We saw an Indian coming up the trail below us. I gasped with delight as I saw the primitive thing he carried. A drum, a wondrous drum of the same kind that haunted Dick and me when we were going down the canyon alone and heard its steady beat but could never see anyone. It had a round wooden frame about five inches wide and two feet in diameter, and stretched across it was goat skin laced tightly back and forth across the wood frame. The surface was red with white petals radiating from the center to the edge of the drum. A string with five beads strung on it stretched across the drum and was attached to a peg, which tightened or loosened the string. We were fascinated with it, and Dick experimentally struck it with the skin-padded drumstick. It pealed out strongly with a strange metallic tone. Then we grasped the significance of the beads. When the drum was struck the beads vibrated rapidly against the taut goat-skin adding a wild, primitive sound to the drum's boom. Our trail friend accepted some candy and cigarettes, chatted awhile, then took off in the darkness beating steadily on his drum. It pulsated with the magic that all drums possess, until it faded away to an echo.
Patricio assembled flour, water, salt, and sugar and made a stiff dough by sprinkling a little water in at a time. Then he kneaded and kneaded it, slowly and tirelessly, never stopping. I watched him. Back home under pressure of time and urgent obligations, I'd have squirmed with impatience at his deliberateness. But out here there is no time, everything slows down, you relax and become philosophical. Patricio then broke off small pieces of dough and kneaded them into flat pancakes. He cooked them over the coals in an ungreased fry-pan. Before he was half done, Dick and I unrolled our sleeping bags and sacked out. I blinked at the stars, but the old gentleman took off over the hills.
The hill Indians are so very shy. We examined their fishing pole. It was a bamboo reed with a circle of thorns on one end to spear the fish. They had blocked off a part of the creek to trap the fish. The fish that he speared were not much bigger than minnows.
We stopped at noon and lunched on dried meat spiked on sharpened sticks and cooked over the fire. The meat was heavily salted and browned up crisp and juicy. We ate Patricio's tortillas. They were tough, hard, chewy, and delicious.
From our conversation last night involving single words, gesturing, and pointing, we learned that Patricio is 19, Luis 28, and Bonito 60. We were amazed at Bonito's age and can barely believe it. He looks in his thirties, one of those ageless people. He is a true Indian in dress, habits, and speech. He speaks very little Spanish and wears the loincloth, headband, and full-sleeved blouse of the Tarahumara. He has a quiet smile hard that's to catch unless something really funny has happened. He maintains a calm dignity and steps ever so lightly with his heavy pack.
Patricio has a quick smile, wide and sweet, and eyes that twinkle with the excitement and fun of youth. He is a good-looking youngster, his face usually lit up with laughter and lively curiosity. In repose his face is hauntingly sad.
Luis is the unknown factor, so quiet and shy that I can rarely catch his eye, but a hard and willing worker. Both he and Bonito are slight in build while Patricio is quite husky and tall for a Tarahumara.
We like our friends. They are doing a difficult job carrying 50-pound packs through the canyon with no trails for five pesos a day (approximately 60 cents.) We feel guilty about that even though we are paying them more than the daily wage of two or three pesos a day. We give them all they can eat to try to make up for it. We figure it will cost us about $100 for food for our three Indians and us for a period of four weeks.
Our friends moved slowly the first few days, stopping often to rest and smoke cigarettes. But today they took off like greased lightning, going up and down those boulders without stopping. Even without a pack I was soon left behind.
Thursday April 10, 1952
Shortly after lunch events happened as Dick predicted. We hit the Urique River at the spot Dick said we would, the place we were two days below after our original party split up. The Urique was chuck full of monstrous boulders with the river going under, over, and between them. The walking became more difficult and we had to cross the river many times, jumping over rocks and climbing boulders. We were just a little worried about our friends liking this sort of thing. They all started out wearing tire-tread sandals, but now they carried them while climbing boulders. It made me wince to see them scramble with bare feet and heavy packs.
All this was familiar to us. We had traveled down this portion of the river to the village of Barranca de Cobre where we left the river to cross the mountains to Urique. The portion of the river between Barranca de Cobre to Urique village will be new and is the part of the canyon we want to explore. We'll be the first white people to traverse that dark, deep canyon between the two remote villages with a boat, a distance of about 100 miles.
There are impassable parts of the canyon above Barranca de Cobre where we had to build rafts on our first trip. This time we are prepared with our two-man rubber boat.
In a short time after we hit the Urique River we came to our first impassable gorge. The canyon walls dove deep into the river making it impossible to pass on either side. Without a boat we would have had to climb out of the canyon and go past the gorge on top, providing we could climb out. Dick unpacked the bright yellow boat and blew it up. Bonito's eyes nearly bugged out as he watched in amazement. Dick tied the rope to the boat, and then stepped in it gingerly while it tilted and bobbed like a cork. I played out the rope while he paddled with his hands guiding the boat to a point about 150 feet below. There he tied the other end of the rope and pulled the boat back hand-over-hand on the rope. The boat was so tiny. Dick filled it entirely when he sat down with his legs outstretched in front of him. He took the four duffel packs over one by one. Then I sat on his lap, my legs outstretched over his, and down we floated. Our Indians eyed the boat dubiously and were not too happy over the prospect of their first boat ride, but they got in without a murmur. We were happily surprised and ever so relieved because the Indians don't like the river and even hate to get their feet wet.
We had some tricky places to cross on the cliffs above the river. I got hung up at one spot. I clung to every crack and crevice, afraid to let go to move to the next narrow foothold. The river yawned below me, black and deep. Dick shouted encouragements until I finally dropped off safely to the beach on the other side. The river is very deceptive, some places are only ankle-deep, then off the sides of the huge boulders the river runs black and ominous about 20 feet deep. The water is cool, not icy cold as it was on our first trip.
We made camp just before sundown. Bonito made the fire, and the others scattered for logs while I prepared our supper of goat's cheese, rice and milk, and coffee.
Before each meal Bonito takes out his little sack of pinole, mixes it with water, and drinks it. He certainly is nice. Patricio and Louis spill over into laughter easily, and even Bonito will let loose a broad grin occasionally. They are good friends, work well together, smoke their cigarettes, and chat contentedly before the fire while Patricio makes the tortillas.
Everything seems to be going smoothly, yet Dick and I have a slight uneasiness about our guides and wonder whether they might leave us. Traveling along the river under such difficulties, following no trail, progressing slowly with heavy packs, may seem senseless and silly to them. The language barrier makes it almost impossible to explain to them that it is a great challenge for us to explore a region where white man has not poked around much yet.
Our first crossing with the boat makes walking back impossible, but there is still the village.
Monday April 7, 1952
I swear those Indians of ours never sleep. We could hear them talking and laughing all hours of the night and blowing the air hose from the boat at each other and giggling. They were up when I blinked my eyes and saw daylight. The cook pot that I scrubbed clean last night was fire-smoked and looked used. I peered inside and saw a full pot of beans with large chunks of meat, which Patricio had let, cook all night. It was delicious. We are on Mexican fare of beans and tortillas, and it is a fare that sticks to the ribs while on the trail.
The going is rugged. The canyon gets deeper and narrower and the river is choked with the boulders. Progress is slow and when I get discouraged climbing over one boulder after another, I think of our Indians' bare feet. Although it's difficult travel, the beauty of the canyon makes it worth while. It's a primitive beauty, untouched and natural with a wealth of trees, flowers, and birds. There's an exotic combination of pine, maple, cactus, and orchids. The canyon wren has the sweetest song there is, especially when its clear notes cascade down through the stillness of the morning, just upon awakening. And always there's the sound of restless, rushing water pouring over rocks and forming waterfalls.
We came to an impassable place where Dick had to inflate the boat. Dick sat in the bottom of the boat and paddled backwards with his arms. The other side was deep mud and Dick tried to toss the duffel pack up on the shore, but it rolled down the bank into the water. Dick leaped out to catch it and sank up to his hips in mud. We gasped while watching him from the other side of the river. He has a disconcerting habit of whistling when things go wrong -- he dragged the pack out of the water, whistling all the while, climbed in the boat, and relayed everything and everybody over. It's old stuff to our guides now.
Bonito is the most amazing individual I have ever met. To watch him is to realize that one need not get old. He's as agile, supple, and active as a young man. In fact, Luis and Patricio are hard put to keep up with him and lack his grace and poetry of motion. I sure do like them. Luis wears a ragged jacket and a worn pair of jeans. Patricio wears two pairs of pants, one over the other, while Bonito has only his loin cloth and faded red blouse. Yet they are a happy, light-hearted trio and laugh so easily over little things. I took close-up portraits of all three today. They were so self-conscious in front of the camera and had sober faces. I pulled a long face, too, and evoked delighted grins from Patricio and Luis, but Bonito wasn't about to smile. The other two teased him and rocked with laughter until a reluctant grin spread over Bonito's face making it even more beautiful.
At about noon we came to a deep, dark gorge, impassable on either side. The Tarahumaras mark their trails with poles slanted against the beginning and end of the trail. We found the familiar marker and followed a narrow cat-walk, a foot wide, up along the cliff. We climbed until we were about 600 feet above the river where brush grew along the trail making it less frightening. After half an hour we dropped off to a point half a mile farther down river. We missed two potential boat crossings. The last time I crossed this trail, I was almost gibbering with terror at its height and narrowness, and at one point sat down and cried from sheer helplessness. This time it seemed like walking on a broad sidewalk back home.
While we lunched on dried meat, tortillas, and coffee, a large rock crashed down just five feet away from Bonito. He jumped and moved promptly into a cave. The others laughed, but followed him shortly. Later on we saw Bonito staring up at the cliffs at a round object as big as a football with a hole in the center. It nestled close to the cliff wall about 100 feet from the ground. He gathered some stones and started to throw them, missing the object only by inches. It was sheer poetry in motion to watch him. He swung his arm behind him, bent backwards, and came straight up almost from the ground sailing the rock with terrific power and speed. But the object was in a deep curve of the cliff about ten feet back. Failing to hit it he walked down the river apiece then started climbing up the cliff. Dick followed close behind. Both men are superb climbers, and it was hard to decide who was better, 25-year-old Dick or 60-year-old Bonito. When they got near Dick saw it was a beehive. Bonito was after the honey. They kept pegging rocks at the hive and bees swarmed all over. Strangely enough they didn't attack. But there was no honey.
Dick was clearly the leader now, having traversed this part of the canyon before. We came upon some boot marks in the mud along the river. It puzzled us, but suddenly with a thrill we realized they were our own from our trip in February.
We had to make another crossing by boat. Dick paddled all the packs across, then each of us, in about eight trips.
Farther down we came to a slow, sullen stretch of water that backed up between a narrow gorge and slowly disappeared around the corner. There were no boulders. It meant a long boat ride. So we camped in the same spot as on our first trip when, rather than build another raft, we tried to climb out without success.
Bonito had gathered more green plants during the day. The plant sprayed out from a long, narrow, white root. He gathered them in his lap, lifted a big bunch with one hand then struck them down into his lap with the other hand. I couldn't figure out the reason for this curious preparation. Then he cooked the roots in water with lots of salt. They were good, with a sharp pungent taste a little like white radishes.
We discovered tiny cactus about an inch high growing all around our camp. Looking closely we found many scattered in a small area. I drew a picture of one. Patricio was fascinated and watched every pencil line closely.
Tiny black flies are numerous in the canyon during the day but don't bother us at night. They are vicious little devils and hover around chewing on our arms and legs. We don't feel the bite, but later on bumps appear like mosquito bites which itch fiercely. The more you scratch, the bigger they get, the bigger they get, the more they itch. They remain for weeks. Six-Twelve would help but we have mosquito netting instead, only there aren't any mosquitoes. We also have quinine for the same non-existent mosquitoes, yet it's a good precaution because malaria will end an expedition abruptly for the unfortunate individual who becomes ill. We have another good medicine, chloromycin tablets, which is good for virus infections or severe cramps from bad water.
Dick and I carry very few clothes, only the jeans we have on, a tee shirt and sweat shirt apiece, shorts, and a change of wool socks. We wear stout hiking boots, which probably will be in shreds like our last pairs after a month of walking over these boulders.
Tuesday, April 8, 1952
The nights are quite warm and comfortable this time of year. Both Bonito and Patricio have beautiful, loom-woven Tarahumara blankets, but we were dismayed to learn that Luis had none. We had stripped down to such bare essentials that we didn't have even a spare shirt to loan him. It doesn't seem to disturb him though. He just curls in front of the fire and sleeps.
Patricio had boiled water and gotten the tortillas and beans ready for breakfast. All I had to do was add the ground coffee.
We had to cross by boat for the canyon was full of water between the canyon walls because of a rock dam down below. Dick figured that by taking each man with his pack, he would only have to make four trips. It was a long boat ride, about 400 yards between a dark, deep narrow gorge. The black water mirrored green reflections in its depths, very still and quiet. The sheer walls dropped straight into the water on both sides, leaving only a patch of blue sky above. Our friends never protest, yet they sit straight and tense in the boat, only too glad to alight from our frail craft. It took Dick four hours to ferry everyone across. The two-man boat is really a one man boat. Dick lays on his back in the boat and we set on top of him. His arms hang over the side so he can paddle.
Since there was another crossing shortly below, I carried the boat. It was light but clumsy, bobbing up and down on my back and pulling away with the wind. We never stay consistently on one side of the river, but are forced to cross and recross on the boulders, which conveniently choke the river. When not convenient, out comes the boat. At one place two boulders were about five feet apart with a drop of ten feet to whitewater that boiled and pouring over rocks. Dick leaped across easily. The others stopped and refused to move. I didn't like it either, but I knew there was nothing else to do. I braced myself for the leap, hesitated, and was lost.
Dick shouted, "Jump, Iz, don't wait to get up nerve, because it never comes. Just jump!"
I leaped before I could think and scrambled up safely on the other side. I guess I played a dirty trick on the others. By a man's code they could do nothing else but leap, too. We continued down the river, made another crossing by boat, and made a short sneak across a rocky cliff to evade another boat crossing.
About noon we heard a tremendous roar -- dynamite. We were approaching the town of Barranca de Cobre where lead is mined. Around a bend in the river we saw a rare sight, a dragstone mill, or Tuana, for extracting gold from ore. It consisted of circular basins with a wooden sweep that drag revolving stones inside. Ore is put inside and the stones pulverize them to mud. Mercury is mixed in to amalgamate the free gold. The sweep is made to revolve by a directed stream of water coming down the mountain.
We met some Mexicans who said that Americans would be in Barranca de Cobre tomorrow from Creel, they were traveling with a large party mounted on mules. Thinking they might be the Gardner party, we camped a short distance down the river below the village to wait until Wednesday. Three Mexican men followed us to camp and chatted a while. Dick inflated the boat to show them how we progress through the canyon. Their reaction was terrific, and they weren't satisfied until Dick demonstrated and launched the boat. Then each in turn got in the boat. I don't think any of them had even seen a boat much less knew how to swim. They waved their arms and made wild passes at the water twirling the boat around and about, laughing hilariously all the while.
As we sat around the campfire at night -- the quiet and serenity set me to dreaming -- and I stared into the fire, lost in thought. I wondered what adventure, in excitement, discoveries, unforeseen danger and obstacles we would find below as we followed this river that forever disappears around another corner.
Suddenly Luis jumped and began poking with a stick at a small, dark object scuttling through the small stones. He made a direct hit and it curled up and lay quiet. Dick lifted it with a stick and examined it in the firelight. It was an ugly, black scorpion with a vicious tail that ended in a curved, needle-sharp stinger. Bravo Luis! But later when a little frog hopped into camp, all the Indians jumped back giving it plenty of room. I scooped it up and set it near the water.
The evening ritual of making tortillas and beans followed. The Indians took turns making the tortillas, while we all sorted and cleaned the beans. In careless American fashion I scattered a few. Later I saw Bonito carefully pick each one up, wash them and add them to the pot. It hurts to see how little these Indians have; even we middle-income live in such splendor that we are millionaires in their eyes.
Dick and I found a broad, gleaming-white sandbar about 100 yards from camp, where we unrolled our sleeping bags. Our friends stay up so late and have so gala a time that we usually seek a quieter place. We'd both fallen asleep when I woke abruptly to the sound that turns blood to ice when one is in a deep, rocky canyon: the night was hideous with the roar, thunder, and crash of rocks. A rock slide! I slid out of my sleeping bag like a greased banana and bolted blindly for the nearest boulder, half-mad with terror. I crouched behind my dubious shelter, my hands futilely trying to protect my head, my eyes squeezed shut as I heard the murderous crash of hurtling rocks. Abruptly, everything was still.
Dick shouted from somewhere, "Iz, are you all right?"
I crawled out. The air was dense and white with clouds of dust and powdered rock. Still shaky, we gathered up our clothes and sleeping bags and ran back to camp. The Indians were badly shaken, too, although in no danger.
The next morning we returned to our sandbar and inspected the rockslide. One rock had hurtled over our heads and lay nestled in the sand ten feet beyond our sleeping bags. Another, refrigerator size, rested three feet above where our heads had been. Each rock was large enough to have pounded us into the ground. Rocks were scattered all over the beach. Boulders lay in the river and on the opposite side. A fig tree had been torn out at the roots. The rocks and boulders from the slide were recognizable by their dead-white, shattered surfaces.
Wednesday April 9, 1952
We spent a leisurely day in camp. Because the village was so close we were afraid to drink from the river. Fortunately, there was a spring nearby. We went to the store and bought flour, cigarettes for our friends, candy, and on a sudden impulse, soap for them. The soap was a happy thought. It's hard to realize there are people so poor that they have no money to buy food, who want to work but there is no work, to whom soap is a luxury. After I passed the soap around, three Indians disappeared in the direction of the river. Three Indians reappeared hours later, their shirts slightly damp but gleaming clean, hair washed, too.
All afternoon in the hot sunshine Patricio kept his blanket draped around him. Dick noticed a tear on the knee of his trousers and asked if I would mend it. Patricio disappeared behind a rock and emerged with pants in hand but still in his blanket. I found two big tears in the seat of his pants: no wonder he wore the blanket. Bonito shyly approached and "asked" me to fix his blouse badly slit in the seams of the shoulder, sleeve, and cuff. So I mended that and Luis' jacket as well.
Our Spanish got us in trouble again. After waiting all day, we learned that the Americans had come and gone already, two days ago. We broke camp immediately, glad to leave because the canyon around Barranca de Cobre was dry and ugly with little vegetation. No trees so everyone made themselves walking-canes out of bamboo; Bonito spent much time carving the root into a fancy handle. The more I watch him, the more my amazement increases at his youthfulness in body and vigor. Their canes are great aids in crossing the river and also helping each other climb those huge boulders.
Today we passed through a wicked place. The river was choked and lined on both sides by gigantic boulders, forcing us to go around them over them, and in some places, under them. Our legs ached before the day was done. The boulders made everything weird, forming deep dark caves, towering high above our heads, some forming gentle easy slopes that fooled us into climbing them, then abruptly dropping straight down 30 feet or more on the other side. At times I was lost in a maze of dark, narrow passages between the boulders. I didn't like it at all and was glad to finally emerge into sunshine.
At day's end we found a clear spring, which formed a series of little pools on the left side of the river. We have seen many such springs, but this was the first to be hot! Dick got out a bar of soap, and had himself a grand time taking a hot bath, singing lustily all the while. We set up camp on the opposite side of the river. The Indians around these parts use this spring.
Tonight Bonito told us that further down the canyon we wouldnÕt be able to return to Creel for additional food supplies. Here would be the last easy place to climb out. We are almost out of beans and flour. So tomorrow the four of them will leave for Creel, and I'll remain in camp. It might take them four to six days.
Friday April 11, 1952
The Tarahumaras' world moves slowly. Our high-pressured, split-timing way of living would be incomprehensible to them. I made breakfast early, thinking they could get a good start on the trail, but they ate leisurely. And afterwards, Patricio started to whittle a flute out of a bamboo reed. He blew a few experimental notes: the sound was infinitely sweet. I thought, now they will go. Then Luis unpacked the pots, then the flour. Oh no! Yes, he started to make tortillas, which took hours. When he finished, it was time to eat lunch. Again they ate leisurely. Finally, at noon they shouldered their packs and took off for Creel.
It seems strange to be alone in this deep canyon. But I have my hot-water swimming pool, some books to read and exploring to do, so I'll keep busy. Nights will be a little lonely though, with no company except the sound of the river.
Saturday April 12, 1952
A night along in the wilderness is a unique experience -- calm and peaceful or strange and shivery, (depending on the way a person reacts to it.) It was a little bit of both for me. I read until it was too dark to see, then pushed the sand around so it was fairly level, unrolled my sleeping bag, and crawled in. I could see no stars at first, but as the dark deepened, suddenly they were, there bright pinpoints of light against the night sky. A series of little waterfalls cascaded over rocks as the river swept by my camp, making a continuous sound of rushing water. It blotted out other sounds in such a way that my ears strained to hear noises that I wasn't sure were real or of my imagination. Sometimes I thought I heard whistling, or the distant, muted rumbling of a rockslide. But the chirping of night birds was real and comforting. The rocks and cliffs assumed weird shapes and I had to really hold down my imagination. I dozed a bit. Out in the wilderness one eye and one ear are always alert. When I looked around again, the cliffs along the lower end of the river were lit up in brilliant contrast to the surrounding darkness. The next time I awoke, the moon had cleared the canyon and flooded it with bright light. Everything looked just the way it should. I relaxed completely and finally slept.
I had a delightful morning splashing around in my hot water pool, laying in the sunshine and watching the swallows dip and soar tirelessly above the river. There's an abundance of birds in the canyon: a brilliant red-crested bird, sparkling green hummingbirds, canyon wrens whose song is pure delight, hawks that soar gracefully far above the canyon; and a little, shy yellow bird. But we never see any mammals. We did see the remains of what looked like a fox, its teeth parted in a ferocious grin, tufts of brown fur scattered all over.
I read a good part of the day. There are no mosquitoes but the little black flies were vicious, darting in for a bite whenever they could. They seem to thrive in the hot sunshine. Any slight movement makes them jittery so when we walk on the trail they don't bother us much. But they close in as soon as we sit still. Fortunately, they disappear at night. Any insect repellent would discourage them.
Tonight was easier sleeping. I made up my mind that a boulder was a boulder, a shadow just a shadow, that no strange noises hid behind the sound of the water and actually I was safer out here than in an unpredictable city. It worked -- almost!
Sunday April 13, 1952
This is the strangest place I have ever been on Easter: deep in the wilderness of the Barranca de Cobre in Mexico. If I had one wish granted to me now, it would be to hear the Russian Easter Overture. In this grand setting it would be exquisite.
I saw another kind of hummingbird today; tiny, brown, cream-breasted with a brilliant orange bill. It stuttered as it hovered above slim, yellow, bell-shaped blossoms, then flew away at incredible speed. There are all kinds of flowers, trees, bushes, cactus, and shrubs in the canyon. Bonito had cracked open some big pods off a tree, which Dick thought were kapak. They were filled with a fluffy, white, cotton-like substance and many seeds, which we ate. They tasted like unroasted Spanish peanuts.
I took a hike down river to see what was around the corner. When I got there I found the river turned another corner with middling-sized boulders and no need of a boat crossing. Satisfied, I returned to camp, sat in the shade of a huge boulder and read.
Adventure streamed past my door all day on the other side of the river. First I saw two shadows slipping through the boulders. They were so perfectly camouflaged that I had to blink a couple of times before I made out that they were two burros, a black mare and a black colt. They looked at me curiously, then came to the edge of the water to drink. Suddenly, I heard a clatter of rocks high above on the cliff. Down trotted a grey mare burro with a little black colt at her heels. They didn't stop until they were within 12 feet of the first pair. They stared at each other, then nonchalantly began grazing together.
A little while later I saw a herd of goats: black ones, white ones, spotted ones, little ones, big ones, come bouncing around the corner. They flocked around the water's edge to drink. Where there are goats, there are people in this country, so I remained hidden in my shelter under a big boulder, watching for the goat herder. So many, many times on our first trip we were watched by the Tarahumaras in the upper canyon. We knew afterwards they were following us, because when our party walked out they found footprints around every one of our camps and everything we had left behind had been carried off. Soon I saw a figure dressed entirely in white. White ankle-length skirt, white blouse, and white kerchief hiding her face. She emerged around the corner and walked along the edge of the river. She was like a ghost in the hot sunshine, but what an agile ghost. She leaped after the goats, brown bare feet flashing as nimbly as the goats themselves. She threw stones at the straying ones and shouted something unintelligible in a high, clear voice. I knew I shouldn't reveal myself, because the hill-women are painfully shy and will avert their faces if you come upon them in their homes. I waited until she had rounded up her goats. Two days' isolation had made me lonely as the dickens, so in spite of my good intentions, I crossed the river hoping to approach her. She sat on a rock, sewing, and a bundle of clothes lying open beside her.
I called out, "Buenos dias" as I came within 50 feet of her, a big smile spread across my face. My smile slipped as I saw her pick up a wicked, shining knife fully 12 inches long. But -- what relief -- she put the knife into her bundle, hastily tied it up and took off rapidly after her goats, which had started to climb up the cliff. I watched sadly as she followed them, climbing with no difficulty up the steep, rocky sides. They all disappeared slowly over the hill.
I love the wilderness, the outdoors, the fresh unspoiled beauty of a wild, rugged country like the Barranca de Cobre. But beauty shared is twice as beautiful. So I'm anxiously waiting for Dick to get back. Two days gone; might be four more days before they return.
With the sun slipping behind the cliff I built a smoke fire to drive off the moscas (flies.) I had just started to read when a belligerent voice shouted, "Hey there, why haven't you gathered any wood? Where's our supper? Lazy good-for-nothing woman! All you do is read."
I jumped a foot, looked up and saw Dick standing there, thin, gaunt, a week's beard and a happy grin on his face. What time they made! They left the canyon Friday at noon and arrived Creel, 35 miles away, on Saturday morning. They departed Creel Sunday and arrived back at camp 7 in the evening.
Here's Dick's story.
Friday April 11 (by Dick)
The four of us started the long climb to Creel, leaving Isabelle to fight it out with the flies. The climbing was very hard; like all Tarahumara trails in the canyon it was mostly vertical cliffs. It would have been impossible for Isabelle to climb out. At the 4,000-foot level we found a Tarahumara cave with a small spring running through it. The family didn't live in, Bonito said they would return to the cave in June. Inside were clay pots wooden hoes and a crude wooden plow. Under one shelf was a large goat pen where the Indians collect manure for the fields on the rim. Manure is an Indian's wealth, for without it the land is worthless. If a family has many goats, sheep, and cattle, he's considered wealthy because of the animal's manure.
We passed several large deadfall traps made of large flat rocks and others made of logs. The Tarahumaras said that the traps were made to catch coyotes. Often we saw deer and wild turkeys but very wild.
We climbed another 2,500 feet and were out of the canyon. The climb out took us four hours. This is the area where the depth of the canyon has been estimated to be 8,000 feet deep. It is not that deep.
Bonito was clearly the leader. He seemed to know where every cave, trail, and spring were located. The Indians sensed the urgency -- they knew we had to travel quickly, get food at Creel, and return to the 6,500 feet deep canyon to rescue Isabelle. Her food supply would be gone in a few days and I felt guilty about leaving her in such a vast wilderness. She does not excel at climbing rock faces. I would have been hard pressed to find the village of Creel had I been traveling without the Indians for companions. Hour after hour we moved silently, always at a relentless pace.
On the plateau there were many Indian dwellings. Some were made of rocks, others of logs and rough-hewed boards. It was Good Friday and the whole country was ringing with music. Every Tarahumara we saw was either playing a flute or beating a tombola. Very impressive. Patricio told me that after Easter the flute and tombolas are put away and aren't played again until December.
Before sundown we came to the Indian village of Tararecua, where a number of stone huts were scattered about the plowed fields. On one side of the clearing was a large stone church. The Tarahumaras had just finished a fiesta in honor of Good Friday, their last until the crops are harvested. Their ritual is half Catholic and half Tarahumara. The church fiestas are more than just religious ceremonies, they are social gatherings allowing the Indians to become better acquainted with other members of their pueblo. There is much feasting and drinking and the unmarried men look for wives.
At the church entrance I found four lances, each one about six feet long. They were tipped with a 12-inch blades of, very sharp steel. Luis said they were used for deer. I have seen Tarahumaras with bows and arrows but never spears, I didn't know they existed.
The Tarahumaras are an unusually reticent people, because of their traumatic contact with the outside world. First, in 1607, came the missionaries, bringing smallpox. Typical of the conversion endeavor was Father Joseph Neumann, who arrived in 1681 and spent 50 years among the Tarahumara without coming close to understanding them. "These Indians are by nature and disposition a sly and crafty folk," Neumann wrote in a memoir. "They are accomplished hypocrites, and as a rule, the ones who seem most virtuous should be considered the most wicked."
Latinos, first missionaries, and later miners, soldiers, and government officials have constantly bombarded the Tarahumaras. It is remarkable that they have not become more Mexicanized.
When we left the pueblo the three Indians started dog trotting very slowly. We ran until several hours after dark through large pine trees. Eventually we lost our way in very dark forest so we made camp.
It was a miserable camp the wind blew and it started to snow. It was too cold for the Indians to sleep so they huddled around the fire like black crows wrapped in their blankets. I crawled in my bag, and towards morning I moved closer to the fire but was blocked by the three Indians huddled around it. Ice formed, and two inches of snow covered the ground. Twenty miles away in the canyon Isabelle probably slept outside her sleeping bag, awakened in the morning by tropical birds. The snow soon disappeared once the sun appeared.
In Creel I bought 25 pounds of dried meat, 30 pounds of flour, 20 pounds of beans, and 20 pounds of brown sugar candy. Divided between the four of us, we were able to travel very fast.
Sunday April 13, 1952
We left Creel at eleven o'clock on Easter Sunday. Thirty-five miles from camp, I had little hope of reaching the river the same day. The Indians, being Tarahumaras, started their slow dog trot that never seemed to end. Hour after hour we ran, stopping a few times for several minutes to rest. Running with a full pack isn't easy -- for Indians or a white man. There were times when I thought I might have to stop them, but I had been walking for months in the Sierra Madre Mountains, and like the Tarahumaras I had done a lot of running.
The Indian's secret to fast cross-country travel is short cuts. Very seldom does an Indian follow a well-established trail. When an Indian stops to rest it is only long enough to catch his breath. Ernest Thompson Seton one of my favorite authors during my childhood, he was a man who had been in the far north and also in this region. He reported seeing a Tarahumara postman in 1924 who routinely covered 70 miles a day, seven days a week, bearing a heavy mailbag. I am perhaps out of my element.
We by-passed the pueblo of Tararecua, and just before sundown we reached the canyon rim where Bonito met an old friend going to Creel to sell a blanket. They talked for a half hour, giving me time to rest and observe the scenery. Everywhere I looked there were trails coming out of the Barranca. It's a wild region, but even so trails lead everywhere. Across the canyon we could see the village of Pamachic, located on a high plateau. There the Indians are pagans. Some day I must go there.
Descending to the Urique River was almost as hard as climbing out. Many times we walked on narrow ledges, and in places the rock was grooved for footholds very similar to the Navajo footholds in the American Southwest. We frequently met Indian women herding goats. They were even shyer than the deer we have seen. If at all possible, they would run and hide from us, leaving their goats to wander. If we surprised one, she'd turn her head and refuse to look at us.
When we reached camp, the three Indians sat down on the rocks and that's where they stayed until they had slept for ten hours. I had enough energy to bathe in the hot springs, but it took me more than ten hours to recover.
Monday April 14, 1952 (by Isabelle)
Everyone was so bushed last night that they collapsed and went to bed without making tortillas or beans. We spent the morning in camp. Bonito made tortillas while Pat and Luis washed up in the hot water spring.
Washing is such a pleasure out here after a hot, dusty, sweaty day. The river is pleasantly cool, just right for a quick plunge into the deep, lake-like areas between boulders.
Today was the first day we didn't have to use the boat. This part of the river was particularly spectacular, forming all kinds of waterfalls. At one place the river plunged down with such force on the rocks below that the water curled back in a tremendous spray, then cascaded down. We came to the confluence of the Rio Tararecua and the Urique, marking the Big Bend on the map. The Tararecua canyon is as deep and narrower than the canyon cut by the Urique River It was a lovely place.
Our Indians said there are many parrots and many Tarahumaras living in this Tararecua Barranca.
The walking is much easier. The boulders are of middling size, and the canyon isn't as deep, dark, or narrow as it was above the town of Barranca de Cobre. However, the walls on alternate sides of the river rise up sheer and straight. We're now in the area called Divisadero, which means the Big View. The Divisadero is a location on the rim that intrepid tourists occasionally visit to view the Barranca de Cobre.
We saw a tiny grass snake today, the first we've seen in this canyon. The birds and lizards rattle around in the dry leaves, sometimes making sudden noises and movements that are startling.
Tuesday April 15, 1952 (by Dick)
As usual the flies are devils in the morning. There are many around Bonito's bare legs. He searched constantly for a special medicinal weed to rub on his legs. This weed is as effective as 6-12 mosquito dope. At about ten o'clock a wind comes up and the flies don't bother us for the rest of the day.
Below Rio Tararecua the canyon walls of the Urique open up. Cattle and horses are able to reach the river in several places
The Spaniards have been in this area because there are several prospect tunnels. I found several veins of silver. I suspect that the Spaniards have been interested in the mineral potential for hundreds of years.
The canyon is not dangerous as we were led to believe by others. There are no Apaches Mexican bandits, or jaguars. During the rainy season (summer months) the canyon would be impassable because of rocks falling and the great volume of water plunging through such a narrow passage. We have witnessed what a small rainfall does; all the water from the plateau pours into the canyon unimpeded. One could be trapped within several hours, unable to move downstream or upstream and faced with rapidly rising water.
Wednesday April 16, 1952 (by Isabelle)
Here, sleeping at night is pleasant. No mosquitoes, no insects to bother us, all kinds of interesting night noise: singing of crickets, serenade of frogs, the muted hum of the river. I awoke every once in a while and glanced to where the campfire was glowing. I saw Bonito get up and add more water to the beans. He'd stand silhouetted against the fire, lost in thought. I wonder what he was thinking. Their future is so uncertain; dressed in rags, not enough to eat, no work, no crops because of the drought. Yet they are cheerful, laugh easily, and don't complain. When we were eating beans, Patricio sadly said they ate very little beans because they were so expensive (about 9 cents a pound.) Our friends can eat hearty for a little while anyway. We make huge quantities of food yet they always scrape the bottom of the pot.
When I say "trail" it is just a figure of speech because there is no trail along the river. We make our own. Shortly after breaking camp we had to cross the river. The boulders aren't so big now and the distance between rocks is greater. The water rushes between them, fast and foaming, into little waterfalls. We all scattered, each vainly seeking an easy way across. Bonito half-leaped and half-waded across. Pat and Luis finally made it. I followed closely behind Dick, knowing he would give me the extra help my short legs needed by using his walking stick to pull me on the leaps. But we got stranded in the middle and had to take our shoes off and climb into the water. The submerged rocks were large and slippery, and the water was deep between them. We got wet to the waist as we gingerly felt our way through, careful not to get our ankles lodged between two rocks.
On the other side we had to once again crawl over twenty-foot diameter boulders. When we'd climbed over the last one, the trail jogged along the river edge, level and easy. Ahead loomed a formidable cliff that dropped sheer and slick into the water. There were no rocks in the river to cross to the other side. We swarmed all over the foot of the cliff. It was impassable! So out came the boat and one by one Dick took us and our cargo across.
The trail then went straight through a dense clump of bamboo. Here the ground was soggy and wet from a spring. We could see a big waterfall dropping over a cliff about 200 feet from the river. Down the river blazed a spot of brilliant gold. When we got there, we found trees loaded with lovely yellow clusters of blossoms, shaped like irises and sweetly fragrant. A blue heron froze motionless on a rock, then flapped its wings and rose heavily into the air. The canyon wrens sang sweetly and happily.
The trail led us to another sheer cliff. This time we were able to sneak across, slowly edging our way about ten feet above the water, carefully feeling for every little crack to step on and cling to. I always hate these crossings. About halfway across, I got stuck. I couldn't retreat and I was afraid to go forward and hugged the wall with an affection I didn't feel.
Dick shouted, "Make believe it's a boulevard. All that can happen to you is a dunking."
I started to move again, inching my way. At last I dropped off safely on the other side, feeling sassy and a little bit proud.
We can do one of three things when we come to a sheer cliff: sneak around near the water's edge, climb a cat-walk high on top, or use the boat. All three invariably happen each day.
We saw many Tarahumara houses and gardens and herds of goats near the river, but if a woman were tending them she would hide. We stopped to look over a goat corral and were much chagrined when we met the unsmiling eyes of an Indian on the other side. He quickly turned his head and wouldn't talk with us. It's amazing how shy they are, avoiding us and not even greeting our friends.
It was a beautiful day. Lazy, soft, white clouds toned down the usual brilliant sunshine and a swishing, refreshing wind kept us cool and comfortable.
We stopped for our usual lunch of coffee, tortillas, and dried meat cooked over embers. Three Tarahumaras were coming upstream, obviously bound somewhere. They stopped, startled to see us, and stood motionless for a long time before they gathered the nerve to approach us. Then they greeted us, stretching out their hands to touch fingers with all of us. This is their customary greeting. Dick jokingly remarked that you can't get a hold of them even in a hand shake. Before they could dart away, Dick invited them to lunch. They hesitated while we anxiously waited, then surprisingly sat down and accepted our food.
The canyon walls gradually dropped lower and lower until the country open up. Our trail became easier and continued on a level stretch. Then towards late afternoon we plunged into a deep canyon again, with gigantic boulders, 20-30 foot diameter. It was a wicked stretch of up and down climbing. The sky was dark and threatening so we camped in a cave. No rain, but all night we heard rocks drop. It was a frightening sound, and we were thankful for our shelter.
Thursday April 17, 1952
What a day! Our canyon ran took us through an obstacle course. We repeatedly crossed and recrossed the river. We couldn't leap from rock to rock, so we had to remove our boots about 18 times today, get into the water, and carefully feel our way across between the rocks. It was exquisite torture to gingerly step on the sharp rocks, slip and catch a sharp corner on the instep while the water crept higher and higher until our jeans were wet to the waist.
Bonito, in his loin cloth, had very little trouble. He took a firm hold on his bamboo cane and seemed to stride easily across in comparison to our slow and painful progress. This is a good time of year to traverse the river. If the water were higher and the current swifter and stronger we could never have crossed with heavy packs. We would have been obliged to stay on one side because the little boat is useless in fast water filled with rocks. Then we'd be forced to climb out, if possible, to get around these places. During the rainy season the river would be impassable.
We made two boat crossings and a little teaser across only six feet of water. We shuttled the boat back and forth, each shooting it back to the next person. When it came to Bonito's turn, his face was a study in doubt and determination. He got in gamely enough, but as Pat tried to push him across with a stick, Bonito grasped the end of it and wouldn't let go. We all shouted with laughter as Bonito tried to get across, an uncertain grin on his face. He was actually frightened of the water and the boat, an experience completely unique to him. When he finally managed to reach the other side, he gladly sprang out.
In late afternoon the canyon became deeper, darker, and incredibly narrow, more so than we have seen it. The walls seemed to grow together as we looked down the river. It was a spooky place with the wind wailing like a malignant spirit resentful of our intrusion. You could throw a rock from one wall to the other. We had to go through it in the boat, and the many trips back and forth slowed us down, making us spend more time there than any of us wanted to. The sky was dark and threatening. The last thing we wanted was rain to catch us in this devil's cellar with its feeling of menace. But we got through without mishap. The canyon widened a little below letting in some light. We camped shortly after.
The Indians admire and like Dick. He's a good mountain climber, has a pair of long, strong legs, and is afraid of no obstacle. He usually takes the initiative in climbing over high, narrow, difficult places and ferrying everyone across in the rubber boat. He's one of those rare people who show an utter disregard for personal comfort and, more often than not, his jeans, sweat-shirt, or boots are wet because he can't be bothered about rolling up the sleeves while rowing the boat or hoisting up trouser legs to wade across the river. He endears himself to the men by always trying to learn their language, and they love his clowning antics and fearlessness on the trail. Each evening Bonito carefully brings a cup of water, usually while Dick is reading, and gravely presents it to him. Then Bonito's face lights up with rare beauty as Dick thanks him in Tarahumara. It's a little ceremony I never tire of watching.
Friday April 18, 1952
The canyon has remained deep and narrow. Today we had to make four boat crossings and have made very little progress. We could have never made it through this canyon without the boat. We crossed and recrossed the river so often that we didn't bother to remove our boots any more. Just wade and cross.
At one boat crossing we hit a little riffle just as Dick was attempting to land the boat and let me out. But that little riffle was a major rapid to our slap-happy, little cockle-shell boat, which bounced merrily on the rushing water. Patricio grabbed it as we swept by and snubbed the boat. The river promptly poured in. We remained afloat, but the seat of our pants got wet, also our duffel, sleeping bags and camera's light meter, which promptly failed. One of my boots floated out, but Bonito grabbed it on the way down. I'd rather lose all my clothes than be forced to go barefoot across this rugged terrain.
At one crossing the water was waist deep so I waited until the rest had crossed and disappeared around the corner. I slipped out of my jeans, held them high and waded through, fashionably clad in white nylon briefs. In the middle of the river, I stopped dead as I saw everyone resting on a big boulder with a sweeping view upriver. There's nothing I could do but proceed stoically across with a studied ignorance of my undoubtedly amused audience.
Intermittent rain has been threatening us for three days, so we seek caves and camp early. But the rain never breaks. We passed the Guadalupe River today and figure we are about 15 miles from Urique.
Shortly before we camped, two birds flew out of a tree and soared above our heads, flying strongly with raucous cries. Our startled eyes caught the flash of brilliant green. Parrots! We were thrilled with our first sight of them.
Saturday April 19, 1952
Our last day in the canyon was memorable. The rain finally came as we ate our breakfast, dry and warm in our cave. A false sunshine encouraged us to break camp and take off.
The clouds closed in again as we were making a boat crossing. The dreaded "plop, plop" of falling rocks began. Any of them could do a neat job of killing a man or woman. We huddled in a cave until the rain abated a little, then took off across a cliff that had just enough slant for us to attempt to sneak by. The cliff was slick and smooth and slippery as ice from the rain. We passed carefully about ten feet above the water, bracing our feet against every little crack and clinging to tufts of grass and sparse bushes. I was clinging to a branch when it broke and my feet slipped. I wailed in anguish and felt myself slowly and inevitably sliding toward the river. Suddenly a dark angel thrust his walking stick in front of me. I grabbed it. Luis gave me the second's respite I needed to regain my balance. I was saved a nasty dunking. Farther down we all had to go into the water waist deep and walk out on a convenient rocky shelf, beyond which the water dropped to more than ten or twenty feet deep.
A rubber boat is a must to traverse this wily and unpredictable canyon. In some places it is so narrow, deep, and impassable that you would have to climb plumb out of the canyon to get around. Our boat saved days of climbing and traveling.
The next few hours were tricky ones spent climbing huge boulders and again crossing the river. The rocks and boulders were slick and dangerous. Our pants clung to us, wet and clammy, and felt like tight girdles that had slipped down around our knees. Our feet played all kinds of tricks, making us dance heel to toe trying to keep our balance. Both Luis' feet flipped up and out from under him. He came down hard on the seat of his pants.
We proceeded slowly and cautiously. The rain eased and the clouds became thinner and thinner until they were like a gossamer veil. Bits of blue sky peeked through. Suddenly our canyon was flooded with light and the sun shone brightly and warmly. Behind us lay the deep, narrow canyon. Ahead of us the cliffs flattened out to gentle rolling hills. The huge boulders were gone.
We followed a well-worn path into Urique. We saw many parrots, but they were annoyingly wild. They'd perch in the topmost branches of the trees and fly away squawking loudly as soon as we came near. I always thought of parrots as being tame and lazy. But these were large, strong, splendid birds entirely unapproachable with beautiful green, blue, and yellow plumage.
We camped near the small village of Urique and went to town to buy our supplies. Urique is a quaint old town consisting of one street with crumbling adobe houses on each side. The people were friendly and everyone greeted us saying, "Buenos dias."
We bought enough flour, sugar, and oatmeal to augment our supply for the next four days -- the time we figured it would take us to cross the mountains to Creel.
Urique was the end of our canyon trip. We had successfully navigated the Urique River from the headwaters to Urique Village. Tomorrow we go back over the mountains to Creel, a distance of about 80 miles, which should take about four days.
April 19, 1952 (By Dick)
There was enough rain here and up country to flood the Urique River. Once again we were lucky to get out of the narrow canyon.
On February 28th of this year we left the village of Urique and walked down river. We graciously said goodbye to all the inhabitants of the village, and now we return almost two months later with three Tarahumara Indians from up river. I had great difficulty trying to explain to the locals exactly what we were doing in this country.
From here all we have to do is climb out of this canyon and walk back on the old railroad grade to Creel. The trip is finished, but I'm not sure I want to leave. There are many more canyons to the south.
Sunday April 20, 1952 (by Isabelle)
The Sierra Madre Mountains --Mother Mountains -- are beautiful, magnificent, proud, and remote. We left the river and followed the mule trail. It started gentle and easy, gradually climbing over one foothill onto another. It was pleasant not to have to wade the river and be wet to the waist while struggling over boulders. The trail went straight up in short switchbacks. It was comparable to climbing out of the Grand Canyon on the Bright Angel Trail.
My legs began to ache, my lungs felt as if they'd burst, I had to breathe through my nose or I'd burn up with thirst. Each time we stopped to rest I flung myself flat on my back so none of my muscles need support me. Halfway up I cursed that mountain, hated its very existence. I was wet with sweat, and then a strong wind whipped around and I felt like I was drenched with ice-water. But slowly, step by step, we gained the top then had to put on the brakes as the trail dropped steeply on the other side. Each step rattled my brain. The refrain from 'On The Train' jogged maddeningly through my head. By early afternoon I was done for, and we camped at the first waterhole we came to. I curled up in my sleeping bag and fell asleep.
It's amazing the difference in temperature. It was so warm in the canyon that we slept outside our sleeping bags in the early evening. But our first night in the mountains we had to keep a fire going all night to keep warm.
Monday April 21, 1952
Today the trail was as delightful and pleasant as it was cruel yesterday. The climb was gentle. At some places we sneaked through a saddle between two mountains. Other places the trail followed a shelf along the side of a mountain. Sometimes it went straight up, but in short spurts.
It was a beautiful day with clear, blue skies and big, fleecy, white clouds that have never seen the smoke and grime of the city. The air was cool and sharply fragrant with pine. Proud stands of pine trees rose as far as we could see. The wind sang lustily high in the tree tops. One thing about these mountains -- the more you climb, the farther you go, the stronger you get each day. You can fairly feel the strength flow through your muscles and you feel young, strong, and keenly alive, be it 60-year-old Bonito or 19-year-old Patricio. Bonito skips, nimble as a goat, across these mountains. Our Indians pull slowly and steadily on the uphill, then dog trot downhill, eating up the miles.
Dick and I are playing a little game. We make huge quantities of food in our gallon and two-quart pots. In the morning the gallon pot is plumb full of beans and meat that have cooked all night over a slow fire. That, plus quantities of tortillas and numerous cups of coffee is our breakfast. At noon we have tortillas, dried meat browned until bubbly and juicy over the fire, and coffee. Supper consists of cereal with milk and coffee. No matter how much food we prepare, the Indians always scrape the pots clean, as if storing up for the lean days ahead. This morning after two cups of coffee, four huge tortillas, three cups of beans and meat, our friends were full up and passed up the remaining beans. Dick grinned impishly at them and exclaimed in amazement making everyone laugh.
We passed many Tarahumara farms today and saw the farmers plowing their fields with wooden plows drawn by teams of cows. We touched hands in greeting with everyone as we passed through.
The terrain of the trail changed constantly. Unlike our time on the river we now followed a well-marked, worn trail. Sometimes it passed over springy pine needles. Sometimes it was like a paved side-walk over wind-swept rock. In other places it was worn deep and narrow through rock from the hooves of the thousands of patient pack mules and burros that have trotted between Creel and Urique.
Tuesday April 22, 1952
Third day on the trail. We feed these people too much. It's all I can do to keep up with them. Ever walk behind an Indian? They are absolutely tireless. They lean forward slightly, arms dangling, and take short, quick steps like a dog-trot. They pull slowly and steadily up a hill then almost run down it. By the time I reached the top my lungs were ready to bust, my legs ached, and it took everything I had to quicken my steps down hill. Dick kept up with them admirably.
We saw a coyote ahead of us trotting on the trail. He looked like a small, harmless dog until his upper lip drew back trembling with snarls. We sometimes see deer and wild turkeys
We don't lack for water. There are creeks and springs aplenty with cold water.
We hit the abandoned roadbeds of the Kansas City, Mexico and Orient Railroad today. Trucks traversed them and we are hoping for a ride -- maybe. But our Indians won't stay on the road and constantly take shortcuts.
In the afternoon we came to the Divisadero, that magnificent view overlooking the Barranca de Cobre. One minute we were on the trail, the next minute we were on the brink of the canyon where it drops thousands of feet. A breathless view of canyon after canyon spread out below and ahead of us. The clouds moved over the canyons, and their shadows made the rock come alive and mellow with soft colors. We sat on the edge of the cliff for a long time absorbing all that grandeur. I forgot my aching muscles and trail-fatigue, lost in the beauty of the canyons, which so few people have seen.
Actually the Barranca de Cobre is a gigantic chasm in the Sierra Madre range and is only one of a series of canyons such as the Barranca de Urique, Barranca de Tararecua, Barranca del Arroyo Cusarare. The Divisadero is above the Barranca de Urique, slightly below the junction of the Rio Urique and Rio Tararecua. The Urique river flows from left to right through more miles of giant barrancas on its way to the junction with the Rio Fuerte and finally the Pacific.
We passed many graves on the trail, some piled ten feet high with gravel and rocks. Each was topped by a wooden cross.
Our last night on the trail was memorable. It's cold in the mountains. Fortunately, Luis now has an army blanket of ours which Dick gave him when they walked back to Creel for supplies. I also have a bottle of 612, which the Gardner party gave to Dick on the same trip to Creel. Dick hunted some big logs, banked them in with stones, and we slept on each side of the blazing fire. Suddenly I felt the splatter of rain. We had no shelter whatsoever, so we huddled inside our sleeping bags hoping it would be brief. It lasted just long enough to wet our bags through. We dried them in front of the fire and went back to sleep, glad that the stars were shining again. A couple hours later a little cloud stole overhead and unloaded its cargo of rain on top of us. Dick made a few uncomplimentary comments as we again dried our bags. Stars were blinking complacently, so we sacked in our damp bags. Then a third little cloud, not to be outdone, poured water all over us. By dawn we were exhausted and ready for a night's sleep indoors.
It's amusing on the trail how one of our group will fade from the ranks and then fall back in again some minutes later. Bonito very politely turns his back and steps behind the nearest tree, but it invariably hides only half of him. He is a grand person. Rare with his smiles and laughs, but each one is to be treasured when earned. He has a low, dry chuckle that surprises when something amuses him. He's very kind and thoughtful and watches carefully to see where he can help any of us. The first night I was ill on the trail he brought me a cup of water and insisted that I eat. His eyes are grave and steady and have a surprising little twinkle in them. He hasn't given in to modern trail clothes of jeans and shirt, but wears the traditional Tarahumara dress.
Wednesday April 23, 1952
We were only too glad to get up after our rainy night and eager to see if we would reach Creel today. We looked at the map and figured we had about 20 miles to go. If a truck picked us up we would be in Creel in an hour or two. If not, we would have to walk most of the day.
Our Indians fell into their mile-eating trot. My feet were already sore from the previous three days, and I trailed about 50 feet to the rear. We seldom walked on the road, instead taking short-cuts on burro trails. Then our tireless Indians took short-cuts from the burro trails and followed faint trails straight up and down over hills. Dick called them "camino de chiva," road of the goat. We walked all morning. No Creel! We walked all afternoon. No Creel! At last, at about five o'clock, we looked down from a high hill and saw houses in the valley below. Creel! We dropped down to the road and limped into town, five weary, footsore people.
There, Dick paid our friends and we divided up the remaining food (just a few pounds of beans) and let each man keep his pack. Luis kept his blanket, Bonito got all the cooking utensils, and Luis the 100 feet of rope. We shook hands all around, everyone a little sad because we had become good friends, and our trail days together were over. They departed immediately to join their families about five miles from town. Both Luis and Bonito were married.
Thursday April 24, 1952
We stayed at the hotel overnight, then took the train to La Junta where we transferred to a bus for Chihuahua.
We had a little adventure on the train, a fitting finale to our Mexican adventure. Within 50 feet of the station in La Junta our train gave a terrific lurch, flinging the man talking to us on the floor while the cuspidors tipped over and rolled down the aisle.
The train fell off the track.
In 1987 my aging mother, at 80-years plus, wanted to see for herself the canyon that her son and daughter-in-law had walked through. We took the now famous Chihuahua al Pacifico Railroad from the city of Chihuahua to Los Mochis, which is on the Gulf of California. The 420-mile-long line took almost a century to build, including time out for the Mexican Revolution, before it was finally finished in 1961. There are 86 tunnels and 39 bridges between Chihuahua City and Los Mochis. The railroad was originally The Kansas City, Mexico and Orient Railroad. At one time the plan was to start the railroad at Kansas City and go to a seaport in Mexico which would have been a shorter haul to the Orient. Construction in the Sierra Madre Mountains actually began in 1885. Pancho Villa was a sub-contractor and even Ulysses S. Grant became involved in the line somehow.
Our tour allowed us to stop one night in Creel. I checked with the locals of the people that we once knew there. The Chinaman had been murdered. Bandits cruelly tortured him because he would not reveal where his money was hidden. He had no money because he gave it all to the Catholic Church. Father Martinez, who had given us so much help, had passed away. Mr. Muisquiz, the storekeeper who helped us with transportation and food, is living in Chihuahua City, now a very rich man.
The storekeeper viewed my colored photographs and he told me that Bonito was dead for many years but his family still lived in the Barranca. He related to me. "Bonito was not 60 years old perhaps 45 years old. A Tarahumara Indian 60 years of age is very old and would be unable to make such a strenuous trip as yours". I showed more of my color photographs to the storekeeper and he informed me that he had never heard of our trip down the Barranca de Cobre Canyon. He told me of several later parties that went through the canyon, all of whom claimed first descent. He was very amused to hear our story. He opened up his credit book and showed me that Bonito's off spring were indeed flourishing; however they were in debt about $20. The debt I paid for the family and left a photograph of Benito. For years I harbored a guilt: we paid each of the three Indians 60 cents a day for risking their life.
At a bookstore in Creel I discovered several guidebooks of the region, which credited other people as being first, down the canyon. These expeditions occurred many years after we went through. Being first was never my bag!
My mother and I continued by train to the rim of Mexico's Copper Canyon. The train stopped at Divisadero. All the tourists jumped out of the train and ran to the breathtaking view. To me it was disappointing. There was just Isabelle, Luis, Patricio, Bonito, and me when we first looked down into this 6,500-foot gorge at this very same spot. We were alone, and there was special meaning because we had spent months getting through the chasm that we were looking into. The tourists buy a few Tarahumara trinkets, snap hundreds of pictures, and climb back on the train. The Tarahumara culture as we once knew it had disappeared. And they drive pickup trucks, ware new jeans instead of the traditional loin cloth and now many carry an obnoxious, suitcase-size ghetto blaster slung over a shoulder. No longer do you hear the clear notes of the bamboo flutes or the resonate boom, boom of the tombolas. They were once very poor; now they have gained material possessions obviously not derived from a corn patch and a herd of goats.
In 1952 I promised myself that I would go to the ancient Tarahumara Village of Pamachic. Pamachic is on the other side of the canyon on a plateau, 6,500 feet above the Urique River. I took my mother to Los Mochis and turned her lose with the rest of the tour group. I never was into tours. I went back by train to the Divisadero.
Down the canyon I went. At first I traveled well-used trails, then I branched off onto little-used Indian trails. Some places the trail went across bedrock and over talus slopes. I quickly reached the Urique River.
I passed Indian farms going down, but it wasn't the same. There were the traditional cornfields and goats near their dwellings; however there always seemed to be a "ghetto blaster" invading the silence that I once knew. The little streams were clogged with plastic, tin cans and paper debris, making the water too dirty to drink. I passed several surly Indians dressed in Mexican clothing armed with large-caliber pistols.
I camped on the Urique River before making the steep climb up to Pamachic. It was a pathetic camp, because of the many memories, now gone. It once was a magic place. I followed an obscure trail upward, hoping it would end up in Pamachic. I climbed 3,000 feet up cliffs and ledges, before stopping to boil water for drinking. Two Tarahumara Indians wandered into camp, both armed with pistols. I tried many Tarahumara words that I had learned from my Indian friends. They paid no attention to my feeble attempt to be friendly, and spoke not one word to me. They saw my camera laying on a rock. One of the Indians picked up a big rock and repeatedly smashed it down on my camera until it was flat. I had to stay cool. They had guns, I didn't. They then proceeded to dump everything out of my pack on the ground. They discovered a brown envelope with pictures that I had taken in 1952 of our Indian friends and the canyon country. These pictures created a rather soothing atmosphere, which I welcomed. They took none of my belongings and left.
The locals warned me not to go into the canyons without a locale guide because drugs were grown on many small hillside plots for consumption in the USA. It was obvious that I had to retreat out of the canyons as quickly as possible. At night I hid in caves. I had no problems until my last night in the canyon. The sun was setting leaving long dark shadows as I steadily climbed to the rim. An Indian stood above me and one below me. They were motionless sentinels, watching every move I made. It was getting dark and I had to hide. Many ledges on a cliff became my hiding place, a place where the sentinels could not view me. Six more Indians appeared on the skyline just above me. The very audible radio that they were carrying blasting the silence. They camped and built a huge fire several hundred yards below me. Their camp was the same place that I had camped at on my way down into the canyon. They were intoxicated on either drugs or alcohol and the Indians randomly fired their weapons and did much hollering. I watched them in the dark for an hour when two Indians with flashlights picked up my trail and carefully followed it in the dark. The situation perplexed me for they were following my old trail made going down into the canyon. It was evident that they had much ammunition and automatic pistols. I crawled back into my cave and went to sleep for I could not escape until first morning light. I was awaken by a bright orange glow that lit the surrounding area. Two Indians dressed in traditional loin cloths followed my trail that I had left coming up the canyon walls. They were excellent trackers for they managed to follow my trail across bare rock with primitive corn husk torches. The situation was tense for I only had a walking stick for protection. The two Indians passed within 30 feet of my hiding place. They were confused for I left many different trails watching the Indians camped below me. At first light I escaped to the rim.
I have never made it to the top of Mt. McKinley or to Pamachic. I now know that I will never get to either. I now know that I can do anything I want to, however I canÕt do everything I want to. That is a limit when you are dealing with space and time.
I don't know how to deal with the drug culture! Drugs have destroyed this beautiful canyon and the Tarahumara culture or perhaps I should phrase it differently; the American insatiable appetite for drugs has destroyed the canyon and the culture. I was very disheartened to leave this part of the world (a world that I don't understand) forever. It seems there is no winning; only degrees of losing.
A 1995 article in Outside magazine partially described the plight of the Tarahumara Indians dwelling in the remote canyons of the Sierra Madre Mountains: "All across the Sierra Mountains, agents of the drug cartels have systematically coerced Tarahumara Indians into cultivating marijuana and the opium poppy, from which heroin is made. Those who cooperate are sometimes paid in alcohol or corn. Those who refuse to plant the illicit crops, have been intimidated or forced off their land, their food and livestock stolen, their extended families subjected to harassment, rape and torture. Over the past year, according to CASMAG, an average of four Indians per week have been murdered." The article continues to tell of the plight of the Tarahumaras: "But the same labyrinth wilderness that turned the Tarahumara into indefatigable runners has also proved to be ideal for growing illicit plants. It is nearly impossible to police, and the hot, sunny canyons can produce crops year-around. Intensive drug cultivation began in the mid-1960s when the newly completed Chihuahua al Pacifico Railroad finally opened up the Sierra and the counter revolution in the states created a new market for mind-altering plants. But during the past decade the narcotraficantes have gradually taken over. -----Twelve and 15-year old Tarahumara kids, whose role models had now become the traficantes, were snorting cocaine, smoking marijuana even shooting heroin."
My friend Roman Dial was never satisfied that we received no recognition for being the first people through the Barranca de Cobre. There were magazine articles written by several people who claimed first descent. They had the super-egos to push their claims, I didn't. The only evidence we had of our descent was written in The El Paso Times dated April 27, 1952. The short article was entitled "Pair From Colorado Walks Entire Length Of Barranca." Armed with this newspaper article, Roman went to bat for us. Roman did succeed in getting the recognition, and discovered that we had done it before these young "upstarts" were born.
For some reason the older you get; the less important it becomes to be first; but it is most important not to be last. Being first to reach a elusive conquest means to some triumphing over a physical obstacle to reach a goal before others get there. Their motivation is the recognition that humankind remembers only the first who succeed. Who was the second man to reach the North Pole, the South Pole or climb Everest? Who was the second to follow Lindbergh across the Atlantic or to swim the English Channel both ways after Florence Chadwick?