MEXICO! Exploring Copper Canyon and beyond.

My friends, It was getting to the point that we thought we would never actually make it into Mexico. Our journey across the U.S. of A was only supposed to last a month then we were supposed to cross the border to be in Mexico by early December. Well…Christmas came and went and we found ourselves in Big Bend National Park , South Texas. We could actually SEE Mexico across the Rio Grande but we were not yet in it! Oh well, you know how plans go.  No regrets! The gods may have wanted us to stay state-side with a seemingly never ending “TO-DO LIST” but our will is strong, we preserved and now we are sitting at a bar looking out over the Sea of Cortez in lovely Mazaltan, MX.

When we last left each other we had just arrived to our good friends and fellow PanAm travelers house “Ruined Adventures” in Ausin, TX. Brenton and I spent most of the week tearing into the truck in what seemed like a never ending battle of fixes while Lauren and Shannon ran all over town tracking down bits and bobs and widdling down our TO-DO list.

Swapping out the CV axle, luckily Brenton had a spare on hand. We almost dropped the truck on our heads a few times but managed to get it swapped out. Quite a pain in the arse!

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Ruined Adventures have the best setup for overland preparation, Brenton and Shannon  live in a badass warehouse/loft with every tool imaginable to tackle any problems that you can throw at them. Brenton had an extra Hi-Lift too (Think a huge car-jack on crack, used for all kinds of things on the trail) here he is rigging up a mount on our rear swingout to place the unwieldy jack. Thanks to Ruined Adventures for really helping us out on our final prep for the trip.

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We admit to spending way too much time on sites like https://enjoymexico.net/rentals/cabo-san-lucas/villa-pacifica/ trying to pick out the perfect place for us to go and enjoy. In the end, they are hitting the road on January 29th and will be cruising Baja before shipping over to the mainland, You will definitely be seeing them in future blog posts. You can follow their adventures on their own blog at http://ruinedadventures.com

Thanks a lot guys! See you soon!

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Our plan from Austin was to head south to Big Bend National Park, scope it out for a few days and then cross into Mexico at a border called Ojinaga. We hit the road, fixed up and ready for action!

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Made it to Big Bend in the middle of the night, not exactly sure where to camp we just drove about 15 miles down some dirt road and pulled off to the side, setup camp and went to sleep… Awoke in the morning to some pissed off park rangers who slapped me with a $175 ticket for “driving off-road”… Our first ticket in almost 2 months, that’s a record for me! Not to be discouraged we went up the rangers office, figured out the deal and secured a permit for a few days of “legal backcountry camping”

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Hit the backroads of Big Bend. (I forgot to mention I managed to back into a lightpole somewhere in between Austin and Big Bend, completey fubaring one of our jerry can holders and throwing off the alignment of the bumper and hitchpin, I rigged it up with some bungee cords and kept on trucking, hoping it would hold.)

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The Park guide warned us of the “dangerous black gap 4×4 road” the park ranger highly advised we go around the long way around… I pointed to our truck outside and he said “oh.” and that was the end of that. The road wasn’t too treacherous, I didn’t actually need 4×4 at all but high clearance and a truck that can take a good beating was a necessity. I would imagine if it rained and this whole dirt road turned to mud it would be a different story altogether.

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After cruising the desert for a few hours we made it to our backcountry campsite. Tally #2 (great campsite, We recommend it if you head out this way.)

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Setup shop just as the sun went down, beautiful sunset from our home for the next few days.

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Lauren busted out the park map and found a nice 10-mile day-hike for us from our campsite up to the top of a canyon overlooking the Rio Grande river and the elusive country called Mexico. We woke up to constant howling 20-30mph winds but an otherwise clear day. We suited up and hit the trail.

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Lauren made a new tree-friend, she has lots of tree-friends

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Made it to the top, with the winds gusting at 20-30 it was a little sketchy getting too close to the edge but a photo-op was necessary!

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Long way down, you can see the Rio Grande here, and our first glimpse of Mexico since our baja trip. So close! Yet so far…

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Got back to camp, exhausted and windburned but we heard tell of a natural hotspring a little further up the road. We hauled ass through the desert hoping to make it to the hotspring before nightfall. We got there just as the sun went down, everyone was gone and we realxed our bones in the 105F water, we had all to ourselves. Gazing at the stars, listening to the spring run into the river alongside. Perfecto.

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Woke up the next morning to overcast skies and cold cold weather. Looks like all those winds were blowing in a storm. We headed out of the backcountry, Lauren’s dad had promised her a Christmas gift of a hotel room, we figured now was the time to take him up on it since it was Christmas eve and started snowing outside!

Lauren hanging out in front of the Big Bend lodge, our warm home for the night.

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Little different scene than when we last saw this photo!

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The snow covered park was gorgeous, a completely different experience than when we were first here a few days ago.

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Cactus + Snow? This does not compute!

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As the sun set over the mountains I realized it was a white Christmas! The first one either of us has had in a long long time. Merry Christmas!

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Rested up for the night, woke up on Christmas day and headed out. I had done some serious damage to our already damaged hitchmount bouncing along the backroads of Big Bend. I completely sheered off the actual mount and had secured the swingout with zipties. Needed to get this fixed before we attempted the rough roads of Mexico. Unfortunately for us, Big Bend is in the middle of nowhere, closet town was 100 miles away with no real services to speak of, plus it was Christmas day. Everything was closed.

Beautiful but desolate drive along Texas Highway 90

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Aliens!?

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Weird stuff out here…

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Like a designer Prada store in the middle of friggin nowhere???

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We decided to head to El Paso, TX, a 300-mile detour, but a necessary one. We arrived in the middle of the night and guerrilla camped in a parking lot somewhere waiting for the morning light. I had found a “4 Wheel Parts” and hoped they would have the parts and services that I needed.

4 Wheel Parts turned out to be useless (Surprise, surprise…) but I got the internet and found a real 4×4 shop up the street a ways. A “Little” 4×4 Shop just outside of El Paso, TX had everything we needed and got us fixed up with a beefier mount and new jerry can holder. Big thanks to Roger and the guys for getting us in and out quickly! If any of you West Texas guys need 4×4 work done or any parts for Jeeps this is your man. His place was a mecca of everything Jeep.

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We got fixed up and were ready to hit the border but it was already 3PM, figuring it would be wise to wait to cross until the next morning we spent another night in a random parking lot working on our Spanish and getting amped to finally be in Mexico!

Note: There are no pictures for a while, We were a bit stressed out with the crossing and taking pictures of the whole ordeal was far from our mind.

Next morning, We punched “border crossing” into the GPS and took a drive towards Ave of Americas which led us to a little border crossing. There was literally no one there but a little lady. I asked her in my craptastic spanish if there was an aduana (customs office) there and a banjercito (Mexican govt bank) where we needed to get our vehicle permit. We think she said No but unsure we just drove in anyway. No inspection, no dogs, no questions, no nothing. It was like going through a stop sign in the middle of an intersection.. and we were now in Mexico. That was easy enough.

Except we still needed to get our visa and vehicle permit, attempting to navigate our way around Ciudad Juarez proved to be a fruitless effort. We decided to cross BACK into the USA and go to a larger border crossing which hopefully would have the offices we needed.

Crossing back into the US we waited in line for about an hour, got to the guard, who berated us with a bunch of questions and accusations then threatened to search our truck, and then eventually let us back in. We flipped a U-Turn and drove right back to the border crossing to get BACK into Mexico. Again hassled a bunch more by US border patrol, more threats, more questions, and eventually let through.

We found the customs office easily this time and the Mexican customs official was very helpful and spoke english. We received our 180-day permit for our actual persons and he gave us directions to the Banjecrito which turned out was 30 miles down the road towards Chihuahua. We drove through Juarez, which looked a lot like a crappy version of any U.S suburban city. Applebees, Chilis, Burger King etc. just the signs were in spanish. Eventually making our way onto the highway and cruised 30 miles toward the Banjercito which was clearly marked in english and spanish. Pulled over, parked the car, and headed inside where we found more helpful people who spoke at least a little english to help us make some copies and get our Mexican vehicle permit. We paid a fee for the permit and placed a $200 deposit down which will be refunded when we leave Mexico.

BAM! We and the truck were perfectly legal now to be in Mexico for the next 180-days. Game on.

We hit the highway again, our destination was a place called “Copper Canyon” which is up in the mountain range called “Sierra Del Occidental”  of North West Mexico

Better get used to life in the slowlane and converting MPH to KMH.

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Happy to be in Mexico! FINNALY!
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Headed to the mountains.

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We drove higher and higher up into the mountain range, Desert scrub was replaced by tall pines and the weather cooled off dramatically. We found a little side road that we followed for a bit and tucked up among the pines to camp. Our first night in Mexico, reminded us a lot of our many nights spent up in the California Sierra mountains.

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Delicious dinner of 99c Lipton Mexican rice and bagged tuna fish. Only the finest for Home on the Highway. It was awesome washed down with a few Tecates.

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Packed up and hit the road in the morning, we were going to a town called Creel, MX which is considered “The Gateway to Copper Canyon”

Passed many small logging towns along the way.

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Lunch time!

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We wound further and further up into the mountain range, it was a long but beautiful drive.

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Burro friends

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Eventually we made it to Creel!

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Not much going on here but a train station, a few shops, and a great little spot called “The 3 Amigos” which organizes all kinds of excursions into Copper Canyon. We spoke with the shop owner, Salvador, for a while and he provided us with maps and recommendations of things to see and do while in Copper Canyon. He told us there was a rough dirt road that ran from the top of the canyon all the way down to the bottom to a little town called Batopillas. This sounded right up our alley, we thanked him for the info and hit the road.

Driving a bit more, We found another side road and posted  up for the night again among the tall pines.

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Packed up the truck the next morning and hit the road, soon the highway ran out and we found ourselves on a rough dirt road, this was the road to Batopillas. It wound from the top of the canyon at ~9000FT all the way to the bottom of the canyon at ~1000FT. A beautiful yet treacherous drive. Not for those scared of heights or those with weak suspensions.

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Baby burro!

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Goat family, Lauren wanted a baby goat, figured it could eat all our trash on the way.

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After about 3 hours we made it down the canyon to Batopillas. Established a longtime ago as a boom Silver mining town, the silver has all gone but the town remains. Kind of an odd place, down at the bottom of canyon far from everything. Oddly it was one of the first places in all of Mexico to have electricity, only second to Mexico City.

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We navigated our way through Batopillas, Salvador had roughly pencil sketched another backroad on our map from Batopillas that would take us to another mining town called Urique which would eventually connect us up to the highway and take us towards the coast.

Following the road we came to a small town called Suvato, established in the 1500’s by Jesuit missionary’s who built a church here to attempt to convert the indigenous Tarahumara people.

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We pushed on through the town in an attempt to navigate the canyon roads from Suvato to Urique following the rough sketch on our map. Everything seemed to be going pretty well until we started hitting fork after fork in the dirt road. After driving around deep in the desolate canyon unsure of where we were headed exactly and looking at the fuel gauge teetering below 1/2 a tank and our water supply dwindling we decided it would be wise to throw in the towel and head back the way we came. Like Kenny Rogers says, “you gotta know when to hold em… know when to fold em’” and it was time to fold my friends.

The canyon was just as beautiful in reverse and we made back to the same campsite from the night before just as the sun was setting. That night we examined our maps and found another highway around the area that looked as if it would take us 1/2 way across the canyon, turn to a dirtroad for a bit, and then turn back into a paved highway. We wanted to get to the Sea of Cortez coastline and it was either take this highway or make a 900-mile detour to get around the mountains. We of course… choose the backroad.

Highway 24 started off easy enough, winding through more pines, nicely paved.

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As expected the highway ran out and turned to a dirtroad, still not a bad one, nicely graded and easy to navigate.

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However after about 20 miles it degraded into a very rough, very sketchy, dirt path rather than a “highway”

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We wound all up and down this road all throughout the canyon in the middle of balls ass nowhere for most of the day, eventually coming to a small logging village. Not knowing where exactly to go we attempted to ask for directions, the locals looked at us like we were insane probably the first gringos they had seen out here in a long long time.

After following the wrong directions, asking another person, and another person we found a man and his family who took pity on us and drove us up to the correct road, which we followed for another 50 or so treacherous but gorgeous miles.

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It took us 3 or so days to inch our way across the backbone of the Sierra Del Occidental mountain range but eventually we started seeing more and more towns. We were close! It was New years eve and we made a small camp off in the woods in between some of these small mountain towns. We passed out around 10PM exhausted from the road. Woke up at midnight to the sounds of the mountains filled with firecrackers, gunshots, and hollers from all directions. Happy New Years!!!

Next day we finally made it off the dirt road onto sweet sweet pavement. Jesus, thank you for the pavement! We had successfully navigated “Highway 24” from Creel, MX to Badriguato, MX. A feat we were proud of even if we did not know exactly what we were getting ourselves into.

We cruised the highway to the coastline, got a hotel room, and took a glorious hot hot shower,  ate a fine meal at the restaurant and passed out.

Next day we woke up and headed further down the coast to Mazatlan. A nice port town on the Sea of Cortez, We headed directly to the beach, happy to feel the sand on our toes and the sun on our faces. We love the mountains but the coast is where we feel most at home.

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I am writing this post from a bar overlooking the beautiful Sea of Cortez, drinking an ice cold Modelo and stuffing my face with delicious shrimps. We contacted some folks from Couchsurfing who live in town who we will hopefully be meeting up from soon and get a tour of the place.

Plan to hang out by the coast a bit before we head inland to see some Aztec/Mayan ruins and pyramids. Stay tuned!

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