Our group consisted of ten men and one woman, mostly from Minnesota, two from Wisconsin and one from Kansas City. I knew most of the participants, all of whom except for me and Andrew, a DWI lawyer from Milwaukee, had ridden Copper Canyon before. We met at Terlingua Ranch Resort, near Big Bend National Park, and spent Saturday night there. The area is host to what I hear is a pretty good dual sport ride in November, and is probably worth a trip in itself. I had always wanted to go, so the choice of Terlingua as a jumping-off point was a happy accident. Paul, Richard, John C., Andrew, Craig, Marty We would be staying in hotels and riding some difficult roads, so I tried to pack light, and chose my DR650 for its nimbleness over the more-familiar KLR. The PO had set the Suzuki up for Mexico travel with a 5-gallon IMS tank and a modified Corbin seat. My luggage consisted of a Wolfman Enduro tank bag and a large Ortlieb duffel across the rear rack. A small Chase harper bag on the rack contained my tire gear and a minimal tool set to supplement the stock Suzuki kit. I also threw some old ATV panniers over the tank with a can of WD40, some Tow-Downs, and a taller countershaft sprocket. They were mainly there to have a place to stash snacks and stray items collected along the way. We got a little taste of the area right off the bat with a 15-mile ride out via Ament Lake Road. Nothing like 10 miles of fast, sandy or rocky 2-track to test your luggage packing skills. The group comprised five KLR's, three Suzukis of various stripes, including my DR650, and three Yamahas, Marty and Lissa's XT600s, and Tom Phillips's YZ426, converted to dualsport with a WR lighting coil and homemade aluminum rack. Tom lost a couple of bottles of oil and a jacket liner before we reached the highway, but someone always stopped to pick up his stuff. I bet Craig quietly that EL Tomo's rack would not last the trip. From the first fill-up at Study Butte, we took the twisty and scenic River Road along the Rio Grande to Presidio, where we crossed into Mexico at Ojinaga. A few miles into the ride, customs agents waved us through an inspection station, as did the heavily-armed kids who manned the military checkpoint a little farther along. The road was good pavement, scenic and twisty until past the lunch stop at Coyame. From there it was a series of long straight shots across three basins separated by mountains. Somebody has to provide comic relief on a trip like this, and on this day it would be me. At Aldama we stopped for gas at a busy Pemex. The DR is jut a bit tall for me, and my Roadcrafter pants take up Saddling up to leave, I dropped my bike in front of a large crowd. As we rode into Chihuahua, a pair of Kawasaki-mounted cops asked us our destination and gave us a blue-light escort to our hotel, the Parador. As became our daily practice, we finished our ride in mid-afternoon, with plenty of daylight remaining. We got settled in our rooms, found some beer, fettled the bikes and set out to explore our surroundings, which seemed pretty exotic to this guy who had never seen any of Mexico other than beach towns and border towns. The first thing that struck me was the apparent prosperity of the state and city of Chihuahua. There seemed to be plenty of poverty, and a great divide between the upper and lower social classes, but what stood out was an apparently sizable and vibrant middle class, if the number of shiny new cars and F250 Lobos was any indication. The veterans headed to the main square a few blocks away for a shoe-shine, while we newbs tagged along, goggling at the sights. We strolled for a while looking for a restaurant, passing up Domino's and KFC before settling on Caballo Loco, a 24-hour joint near our hotel that the locals had warned us away from, but where we found some perfectly satisfactory pollo asada and an enviable bowl of pozole. Breakfast the next day was included in the price of the room. It turned out to be a stingy selection of cereal, yoghourt, bread and coffee, doled out grudgingly in the hotel dining room by a concessionaire who refused to budge until he had received the necessary certificates from the hotel management. Thus fortified, we suited up for the next day of adventure. The ruta libre or "free road" took us through rolling countryside to Cuauhtemoc, an attractive city set on a plain populated largely by Mennonites. We continued on the paved Route 16 to Carichi, where we left the highway for lunch. Tom and a few others had needed to stop at cycle shop in Chihuahua, so only seven of us rolled up to the restaurant on the corner across from the square. Even a small group can create a disruptive spectacle in a small town. Most of the visible population of Carichi drifted over to the steps of the Palacio Municipal to watch us shrug out of our riding gear. We exchanged pleasantries with the locals and did our best to understand and answer their questions about where we were from and where were headed. Trip veterans were looking forward to lunch, which was served upstairs in a cool, dark room under a log-beamed ceiling that looked very, very old. While most of the group ordered tacos or enchiladas, I asked the waitress to explain a dish called higado encebollado. The most that I could grasp as that it was "meat from a cow", with onions, of course. Only when I smelled it cooking did I realize that I had ordered a large plate of diced liver. Andrew had ordered the same thing, in addition to his enchiladas. The liver turned out to be very popular, one of the tastiest meals of the entire trip. Even so, I was stuffed before I could finish my plate. I am glad I ordered it, because I never saw it offered anywhere else. After lunch, we waited for the stragglers and tried more conversation with the curious spectators. John and Lissa, who would be traveling slowly in deference to Lissa's recovering shoulder injury, got on the road right away. My cigar was not quite done when Marty, our road bully, finally grew impatient: "They know the way. We'll see them in Creel." A back street off the square carried us out of town on the back road to Creel. Although there was a paved alternative, this was a dual sport ride, well-scouted by the guys who had done it before. Wherever there was a choice, Charlie's GPS tracks (which we had all loaded onto our own receivers) followed the unpaved route. The next fifty miles gave us a little foretaste of what the next couple of weeks would bring. The road was fast and fun, gradually rising into the Sierra Tarahumahara, with plenty of curves and elevation changes, a few stretches of rocks or sand and a water crossing or two. At the hotel in Creel, we secured "the clubhouse", a suite with accomodations for five, plus a small living room and kitchenette, and made sure there would be rooms for the entire party. The shower was the last hot one I would get for eight days. By the time the latecomers arrived, we were getting laundry done, mixing Tecate with Kertomate (Clamato) and thinking about dinner. From Creel, you have basically two choices for a trip into the canyons: to Urique, or to Batopilas. Last year, they started with Batopilas, so this year it woud be Urique. It was all the same to me. The road begins with about twenty miles of spectacular twisties. We stopped at Divisadero, a popular stop for tourist buses with dramatic views into the canyons. There is an expensive tourist hotel, burro tours, and Tarahumara women selling their baskets and woven goods. Once we left pavement, at San Rafael, there was a choice between the high road and the low road to Bahuichivo. The high road was on the GPS tracks, but Craig knew the turnoff to the Low Road, so he took the lead. This was a beautiful ride that followed a shady creek bottom. Every so often we climbed a little, and encountered our first stretches of polvo, very fine dust that covered the road, concealing hazards, rendering traction uncertain and forcing us to spread out to avoid the dust clouds.While most of the party took lunch at Bahuichivo, Craig and I pushed on to Cerocahui, where we sat in the town square for a light snack. Shortly after the turn-off to Urique Canyon, we encountered two spectacular sights: an overlook with a panoramic view of Urique and the canyon, maybe 6000 feet below, and Richard sunbathing in his undershorts. In a suit, his imposing frame is no doubt very impressive in a courtroom. However, I am sure that Richard wishes that his photo never saw the light of day. On the way into the canyon, we passed a newborn goat and his mother. A long hour of switchbacks took us down into Urique. The hotel room had bad feng shui, and felt claustrophobic at first, but the courtyard was spacious and pleasant. After a cold shower and dinner, there was a large cop presence in the streets. The owner of the next hotel over had died, and her wake was being held in the middle of the main drag, so the street had to be closed to traffic. John Coons buttonholed a cop to see if he could schnorr a URIQUE POLICIA t-shirt. He even offered a Wabasha Co. Sheriff patch in trade, but could not make the deal without approval from higher up. In the morning, we had breakfast with a doctor and an orthodontist from Chihuahua, who were on a volunteer tour to deliver medical services to the Taramuhara. The doc put in a word with the jefe de policia, and Coons got his shirt. The road to Chinipas took us through Temoris, where Craig and I arrived about lunchtime. As the rest of the party rolled up, the duena of the restaurant where we had parked was obviously thinking that we were thinking about taking lunch with her. A local kid dashed her aspirations with a bucket of fresh, hot tamales at two pesos a pop. Craig muscles up on tamales. Following Charlie to the local overlook, I came over the crest of a hill to find a low cloud of polvo across the road. Charlie stands about six two, and the dust cloud was only three feet high, so I knew Charlie had to be on the ground. He got up and made it about fifty feet before biffing it again, this time going wheels up and landing over the embankment. I guess the trip to the overlook was worth all the drama: a view about a mile straight down to the old town with the railroad winding in and out of tunnels as it snaked up the mountain. In Chinipas, Marty found us a hotel with a large, charming courtyard for our bikes, and comfortable beds. The promise of agua caliente failed to materialize, however. In fact, we never got water to our rooms, and lined up instead for cold showers in the house facility at the back of the courtyard. We had a recommendation for Restaurante Gaby, but she was closed. We found her taco stand on the square, however, and enjoyed a plate of excellent beefsteak tacos. Mere tacos were not enough for Andrew and Richard, who ordered huge platters of grilled beef. Tom was more interested in Gaby, and cajoled her into opening up for breakfast in the morning. At breakfast, Tom stepped into the kitchen and started flipping hotcakes while keeping up a running patter alongside our hostess. The presence of a husband looming somewhere just offstage kept everything on the light side. The river at Chinipas was low. We crossed without incident and began a long, hot climb into evergreen forests whose shade gave a little relief from the heat. After crossing the mountain, the road into Alamos was fast and sandy. We were well spread out to beat the dust, but reassembled at an excellent taco stand in the town square. Under a canopy, a long table with benches held lots of fixings: peppers, cukes, guacamole, several salsas, radishes and more. Wealthy Americans are buying up a lot of real estate in Alamos. We talked to a yuppie couple from Santa Fe ("We did very well on the sale of our house") who had cashed in their chips and moved to Mexico with their grade-school-age daughters. "In the U.S. we'd have to worry about them. Here we can let them run loose and be kids. And they will grow up bilingual." At the other end of Alamos, we turned under a viaduct into a wide arroyo that led to the road out of town. At a wide junction in the road, Charlie followed the GPS track past the mining town of El Chinal, while Marty veered right in search of a faster route to El Fuerte. I followed Marty, but he left me far behind when I stopped to wait for Craig. The road crossed a sandy plain dotted with saguaro and thorny bushes. Craig and I navigated by following John and Marty's tracks in the sand, and asking directions as we went. We made some of the same false turns as they did, and once rode into a yard where the rancher and his family came out from the shade of their porch to point us to the right way. After chasing them around a reservoir and across its dam, we finally overtook them outside El Fuerte, and followed them to the Hotel Guerrero, where John Krueger and Lissa were waiting, having come down from Bahuichivo on the train the day before. The courtyard at Hotel Guerrero El Fuerte is a vibrant city of about 50,000 people (Charlie says more like 15,000). Bass fishing in the nearby reservoirs creates some tourist traffic. The RV trains from Creel stop there, disgorging trainloads of name-tag-wearing AARP members from the North. But unlike the beachtowns where every bellboy has to speak english in order to get the job, El Fuerte pretty much minds is own business, of which there is plenty, conducted in Spanish. My own Spanish has improved, still not quite rudimentary, but nevertheless past the stage where I just point and grunt. Well, almost. I have to point and grunt to get internet access, but in the liquor store I am able to (sort of) discuss the relative merits of reposado tequilas. The brand we like is Cabrito. Richard found it first, but required considerable assistance in getting through the first liter. Cabrito is a very nice aged tequila, the best I have tasted. My experience is limited to Herradura and Centenario, but I know what I like. The liquor store guy says Calzadores is just as good, and he has more of it, but I grab the special offer two-bottle pack of Cabrito. We can drink the big bottle in an evening, and the 375 will travel nicely in my bag. El Fuerte has some pretty good restaurants, some internet shops, and hardware stores. It has young girls tearing around town on 4-wheelers, and a nice shady town square where teenage sweethearts nuzzle on the benches. There is an old fort, and a walking path by the river. It is close enough to the Sea of Cortez that El Tomo and Paul can ride to the coast for the day, while John Krueger and Richard try some bass fishing on a nearby reservoir. After two nights there, we hit the trail again feeling pretty refreshed, except for Andrew, who was a little shaky from the effects of too much Cabrito. Palacio Municipal - El Fuerte Across from the square - El Fuerte El Fuerte We followed pavement to Choix, then turned into a cool road that took us along a creek bottom and then through some mountainous mining country to Tubares for lunch. After Tubares, the road was not exactly difficult, but in poor condition, requiring constant attention. Before La Reforma, we had to take a ferry to cross Lake Huites. The rest of us had been loaded and ready to sail for some time before Andrew finally came around the last bend to the landing. We rode back into the high country and came to a town that would have been a convenient stop, but the hotels had neither electricity nor running water. We made a shared lunch out of a couple of grilled chickens and backtracked to Cerocahui for the night. Our Parc Ferme in Cerocahui This trip was routed to follow the dirt roads wherever an alternative existed, In the canyons, however, the only pavement we saw was in the larger towns. Where the roads were at their steepest and tightest, they were also the only roads, carrying pedestrian and equestrian traffic, as well as cars, trucks and buses. Drivers were generally courteous, and gave us a wide berth where possible. Although many of the turns are blind, you can often spot an oncoming vehicle several turns ahead and plan to pass in a safe place. On some of the back roads, however, the drivers do not seem to expect to see motorcycles, and can surprise you coming around a turn. Andrew and John C. each reported having dropped their bikes in avoidance of oncoming traffic, and coming to rest under a truck bumper. An F250 Lobo (Chihuahua's's answer to the Northland Edition) once surprised me coming out of a turn, crossed up and with his foot in it. I grabbed all my brakes to avoid centerpunching his grille on the loose descent. I didn't hit him, but his bumper stopped about four feet from my downed bike. Richard hit an embankment one day and went down; he was sore and a little cranky that evening. Everyone had close calls several times a day. It is important to crash-proof your bike, wear your protective gear, and carry a supply of ibuprofen. Some time in the gym beforehand wouldn't hurt, either. Problems with the bikes were rare. No one reported tire, brake or chain problems. Andrew's KLR experienced some fuel delivery problems in Texas and he broke the plastic L-fitting on the float bowl. Marty figured out a way to use the fuel filter in place of the fitting, which solved a potentially vexatious parts problem. Later on, in the motel courtyard in Chihuahua, Andrew cured the balky fuel delivery by extracting the brass filter medium from the filter body. In Cerocahui, my DR wouldn't crank in the morning, and was very difficult to bump-start. The battery was fine, but I had left the gas on overnight and fuel had flooded the air box.