The sun was sinking and the first day’s riding in Mexico was winding down. Along a narrow stretch of tree-lined country road, I spotted a gate made from barbed-wire and sticks. There, I pulled the motorcycle off the road and into hiding, then strung up a hammock. I climbed in and reflected on the sights of the day. Somewhere in that blissful daydreaming, I drifted off into the night.
The mountains on this Sonoran route are towering, dramatic, slightly twisted even. Odd shapes, subtly so, like scenes from “Alice in Wonderland.” One ridge looked like the spine on a giant stegosaurus.
There is so little traffic. Birds are everywhere. Goats, cattle and cowboys, too. I get a nod or a wave from everyone I pass, without exception. I’m sure a big gringo on a big moto is something of a novelty.
I passed through little villages, and saw families at play, the elderly and children and loners always mixing on the plaza. I like to stop for ice cream and conversation.
At a gas station, the attendant recognized my Idaho license plate, and became elated when recalling his years working the fields around Marsing.
Otherwise, it’s often dusty and alone; but I never feel lonely.
The next day, I rolled into Sahuaripa, Sonora, around 250 miles south of the border (as the drunken crow flies). There, I chowed shrimp tacos for breakfast and downed several cups of coffee.
Back to the road. I’m climbing on tight, steep, narrow routes, occasionally so tight I have to shift clear down into first gear just to keep the momentum. At best, I’m averaging 25 miles per hour, and even that seems pretty fast.
My second evening, I strung up the hammock over near some chickens and dogs, overlooking a deep chasm along the winding road to Pinos Altos. There are three generations of one single family living here in a group of little shacks with no electricity but solar. I felt welcome. They made delicious food and didn’t want my money. I practically had to force 200 Pesos ($12) on them.
Rolling again. I don’t actually try to get lost but when it happens it’s even more fun, that is, as long as I’m carrying plenty of water and fuel, which I usually plan carefully.
Inevitably, a little town comes around on the mountainous horizon; from a distance you’ll always see some trees and always the church towers.
I found myself on a cold, blustery evening in Creel, at high altitude in the state of Chihuahua. This is one of a few towns I’ve visited which is designated a “Pueblo Mágico” by the government. (Promoting tourism, this label means to say visitors will have a magical experience.) It’s a happy place. The “Pueblo Mágico” tag never fails.
Creel is the gateway to the deepest canyons in North America, the Barrancas del Cobre (Copper Canyons), and just being here feels like raw adventure.
The town is occupied by cowboys and native indigenous people who are living together in harmony. The natives, known as the Sierra Tarahumara, are world famous for their ultramarathon talents, for dwelling in caves, and for escaping the Conquistadors. As a result, their culture has remained mostly intact, and their Rarámuri language still lives today. The Tarahumara are not fierce; nothing at all like the Native American tribes of the Apache, the Comanche, or the Lakota. For the Tarahumara, their talent was never fighting; it was always a talent for running that preserved them.
For me, I’ve always thought so much of the Tarahumara, I couldn’t fit my overwhelming sense of awe inside this limited space. They are so shy and gentle and mysterious, I honestly feel love for them. Words and photos cannot do it.
The next day I did the absolutely unspeakably stunning ride to Batopilas, at the bottom of the Barrancas del Cobre. At last, I arrived in the heart of the Sierra Tarahumara. All the challenges and risks of the past few days were worth it.
After many days in Batopilas, I climbed out of the canyon again, then descended on marvelous routes out onto the eastern slope of the Sierra Madre. Since landing in the valleys it’s been as hot and dusty as it gets — there are ferocious dust devils and there is no shade in sight.
After a long day, I made it to the town of Rodeo in the state of Durango. I found a motorcycle shop and recruited the owner to clean my air filter. He has family in the Kansas. He gave me his phone number in case I needed anything at all.
Here in Rodeo, I will enjoy a good dinner until sunset, then blast out into the wild for another clandestine camp site.
Tonight I’ll be dreaming of the night life and architecture in the vibrant and fashionable colonial mining city they call Zacatecas ... just one long day away.