People's Guide Homepage Copper CanyonLive & RetireCarl's NotebooksLettersFavorite Books Visit our SponsorsTable of ContentsThe Best of Mexico: Favorite PlacesSearch This Site

Copper Canyon
Hiking Trips


2002 Spring: Mar 24-April 3, April 14-24
2002 Fall: Oct 20-30

The Great Sierra Madre Horse Trip

Horse Packing In The Remote Mountains And Canyons of
Mexico's Wild West...

From high in the Sierra Madre, we drop steeply down into the Copper Canyon system of great remote barrancas, explore Mexico's highest waterfall, ride through the dusty streets of a 17th century village, cross the great divide on remote rugged trails and travel through some of the wildest terrain on earth. Mexico's living old west... a wild, crazy adventure...

Day 1) Meet at the airport La Quinta Inn in El Paso at 7:00 am. We drive through the Chihuahua desert then over a scenic mountain highway to overnight at Cuauhtemoc. Be prepared to listen perhaps to the complete history of the Mexican revolution if Gary Ziegler is driving or to endless adventure stories If Amy Finger is along. Bring a good book. Maybe you can hide in the back of the van!  We lodge at Los Cumbres, a very comfortable three star, Santa Fe style Motel on the hill overlooking the town. A short walk takes us into El Centro to change money, and perhaps buy a pair of chaps or boots in one of the several ranch stores. We share margaritas and Dos Equis while enjoying good local beef ( they serve frijoles, chiles rellenos and other vegie fare for you non-carnivores) and pleasant conversation at El Rancho Viejo, a favorite eatery.

Day 2)  Leisurely breakfast and morning coffee behind us, we head westward across the high savanna plain toward the pine/oak forested foothills of the Sierra Madre. Soon the narrow paved roadway winds up, then down past towering andesite cliffs into the immense west facing escarpment that hosts the great arroyos  and rivers of the famous Copper Canyon.  We reach Rancho San Lorenco  by mid day.

Now established comfortably in several of the Rancho's log cabins, we have time to hike and explore. A short trail leads to a cliff top overlooking North America's highest waterfall, Basaseachic. We stare in silent awe at the turbulent pool, plummeted by tons of cascading water, in the deep gorge some 800 feet below. Gary likes to run the winding trail to the bottom and backup before dinner. Some may be crazy enough to join him. We regroup for evening refreshments with our host, Fernando Dominguez on his ranch house porch. Later, we enjoy the first of many home cooked Mexican meals before blowing out flickering coal oil lights for  a quiet night's rest.

Day 3) Fueled by Senora Domenquez' huevos rancheros, we pull our hats down tight, throw down a last cup of cowboy coffee then head down to the corrals to select a sure footed caballo from the milling remuda of mountain horses eagerly munching at flakes of alfalfa.
The morning moves quickly, we saddle, pull the latigo  up tight, adjust stirrup leathers and take a trial spin around the yard as the pack mules and horses are carefully loaded with balanced, weighed loads.  Ponies pushing into the bits, we trot off on a winding trail across the vast expanse of the sierra. Today we stay high making only a handful of miles before stopping to camp at a mountain spring. The crew pops up sleeping tents while dinner is prepared over the campfire.

Sparks leap from the glowing embers. Shadows flicker ominously about the tall stands of long needled pines as we hunker down around the fire, cups in hand. Was it here perhaps that General Crook cornered Geronimo and his band of marauding Apaches in the summer of 1883? Could this be where Pershing's army corp chased Pancho Villa's rag tag bandits fleeing from the attack on Columbus New Mexico in 1916? Heads full of mysteries and legend, we slip off to our bedrolls as a distant owl hoots a forlorn cry. Or...could it be the ghost of Coronado still searching for lost cities of gold ?

Day 4) The crew is up early. The aroma of fresh coffee drifts through camp. Breakfast; tortillas, beans and chile laced scrambled eggs simmer on the grill.  Soon we are mounted, bouncing along a rocky trial leading down toward the distant Barrancas. We ride past several Mexican farms, small clearings hewn out of the thick woods with roaming pigs and barking dogs, eventually entering a steadily deepening canyon. The well used track is marked by tracks of tire soled sandals, horses, cows, burros, mules, dogs, goats, coyotes and the occasional ring tailed cat. Seems all of rural northern Mexico is traveling our way....

Following along side, frequently crossing a small stream, we come to a broad open area where another larger canyon joins in. A number of earth and log cabins dot the hillside, burros and horses graze the flats.. We pass through one of the many remote Tarahumara communities that are scattered throughout the sierra.... the reason for all of the tracks. `Quida Ba '; hello...We stop to visit with several men who have walked out to greet us. They are friends of Fernando. He has prepared them for our arrival so they are not concerned about a bunch of Gabacho  riders invading their rancho.

Moving on down canyon we find a magnificent camp site inside a ring of giant white rhyolite boulders, something like a Mexican Stonehenge. Tents are soon up but most of us just throw our bedrolls against a protective boulder. Horses are turned out to graze in the flats. There is plenty of time before dark to do some exploring. Wandering up a side arroyo we find an ancient fire blackened shelter cave with bones and pots. A stylized figure resembling the Anazazi  Kocopeli stares out at us in painted relief from a back wall.

Day 5) We awake to a cold clear morning, frost coats the tent tops, making the nearby clumps of bunch grass looks like decorative white bouquets. We gather around the welcome crackling fire with coffee in hand. Soon the sun has arrived, quickly warming the camp to comfortable day time temperature.

This is a big day! Leaving the high sierra  we descend several thousand feet steeply into the depths of the Orteros Canyon, one of the several great tributaries that flow into the Rio Urique to make up the Barranca del Cobre, Copper Canyon. In late afternoon we find a fantasy camp with  hot springs and sand beach along side the small Charuyvo  River. Colorfull Trogans and Magpie Jays dart through tall Ficus trees, squawking displeasure at this interruption of canyon solitude.

Day 6) No hurry....we sleep in, enjoying the tropical warmth of the Canyon. At about 4000 feet of altitude, having descended some 3000 feet from the last camp it is deliciously warm compared with above. We move on down river.  The route is steep and precipitous, winding up, down and around cliffs, boulders and arroyos. Fernando sent a trail crew down here last year to improve a route for horses but it is still barely passable. We dismount, allowing the horses to scramble up and down bad spots on their own. Miraculously, none stumble or fall. The pack animals need to be unloaded, loads carried by hand some distance then all repacked again on several occasions.

We locate another magical riverside beach camp ringed by thorny acacia trees and organ pipe cactus. A round of margaritas ...then we settle in to a near gourmet meal of chiles rellenos and fresh tortillas.

Day 7) Pressing on down canyon the Charuyvo meets the much wider Rio Oteros. We lope our mounts splashing into emerald pools as lunch is spread out in the shade of an immense Ceba tree. Turning westward down the Oteros , we follow good trail past the ruins of an occasional adobe house, fields and mines abandoned during some forgotten revolution.  As John Wayne would say "daylight's a burnin" We ride on to yet another magical riverside campsite arriving just as the sun sets.


Day 8) A steady climb along an old mining track carries us back up into the high country again, passing by several small Mexican settlements. Now ready for change from the hot lowland, the cool breeze down from the high mountains feels good. Tonight we will need the campfire to keep the chill away. The view of the Oteros drainage and vastness of the Sierra Madre  stretching beyond the horizon is staggering from Camp.

Day 9) Down winds the ancient, deeply incised mule trail into a broad valley, brightly colored red and yellow by volcanically deposited Tertiary irons and sulfurs. Below, situated like a set from some old Hollywood production, lies the valley centerpiece, the 18th century town of Uruachic.

Founded in 1736, Uruachic has a long and colorful history, similar in many ways to Batopilas, but much less known to the outside world. The architecture is unusual in that many of the colonial era houses have second floor wooden balconies. Unlike Batopilas, which has lost the tradition of self-sufficiency, residents of Uruachic still tend extensive terraced gardens and orchards.. Reached only by a primitive dirt road winding hours over the sierra, days from tourist routes, Uruachic remains authentic old west Mexico.

Spurs jingling, horse shoes echoing on cobblestone streets, we tie up at the Cantina for a warming shot of Tequila then corral our ponies for a much needed graining and rest while we lunch at the local cafe. Later, barking dogs and waving children left behind, we climb out of the deep Valley on another well used foot and mule trail, soon back in the pine forested high sierra.

The path zig zags up through massive rock formations to enter a narrow canyon leading northward. We now have almost completed a 360 degree circle route from our start at Rancho San Lorenco .We have been in the saddle many hours. Although tired from the long day, the horses eagerly push into a trot as they sense that the end of the journey is near. Just before dark, we arrive at our final destination, Rancho Otachique. A roaring fire in the big bunk house fire place and hot beverages await us. We unsaddle, turn our horses over to the ranch wranglers and head out to claim one of the several log cabins. Then, a  hot shower and change of clean clothes brought in by our van shuttled around to meet us...!  We gather for a dinner of massive quantities of ranch cooked Mexican specialties.

Day 10) Back in the dust covered van, we bounce along rutted back roads, Lyle Lovett and Ian Tyson's Cowboy ballads blaring out of the speakers . Reaching paved highway, we strike out for the Sierra Madre town of Madera. The scenery is striking and lonely, vast high land plains punctuated abruptly by steep isolated volcanic peaks. We find the best motel in town for a bit of deserved comfort. And yes...CNN on cable. Do we really want to know what has been going on in the world?

Day 11)  Rolling on, we soon hit the major four lane leading from Chihuahua to Ciudad Juarez, Some of us read or quietly visit. Relaxed, thinking about home, jobs, projects to return to, we cross the boarder into the traffic and congestion of El Paso to meet afternoon flights home. Someone asks " When's the next trip?"

Note: this is a sample itinerary. We may make day to day changes as we ride and explore. Come prepared for a flexible expedition experience.

Joining us is Fernando Dominguez, owner of the eco-reserve Rancho San Lorenzo. Fernando supplies the horses, pack animals, cook and handlers. In the event of an emergency, Fernando's VHF radio net provides communication with Rancho San Lorenzo throughout most of the trek.

Details and Local Color

The region from Creel to Los Mochis is widely promoted as the "Copper Canyon". In fact, the northern Sierra Madre embraces 15 major canyon systems (barrancas) within an area of 75,000 square kilometers. Seven of these canyons are considered "most notable". Our trip takes in two of these: the Candamena and Oteros-Chinipas.

Candamena Canyon: 5,380 feet deep; high point 8,333 feet Oteros-Chinipas Canyon: 4,986 feet deep; high point 7,283

Wildlife: Unlike the heavily hunted and foraged main Copper Canyon region, wildlife can still be found in the mountains and canyons around Basaseachic. This includes black bear, cougar, bobcats, small jaguar, macaws, eared trogons, parrots, deer, peccaries, nutria, rainbow trout, quail, golden eagles and other small species.

Chihuahua City to Basaseachic: 169 miles

Indigenous People: Among the notable features of the Uruachic region is the variety of native peoples, which include Tarahumara, Guarojios, Pimas, Mexican "mestizos" and mixtures of all. The great mining and timber eras also brought in large numbers of Anglo Saxons -- their contributions to the gene pool can be easily seen in the features of local Mexican hillbillies.

It is also interesting to note that this area was held under almost constant siege by the Apaches for well over a century. When the explorer Carl Lumholtz trekked through over a hundred years ago, he found that memories of the Apache terror were still quite fresh.

Here's a couple of important historical tidbits from Uruachic:

Carolina Rascon was born here in the early 1900's. She grew to be over seven and a half feet tall, and was said to be the world's tallest woman. Her strength was legendary: she once singlehandedly loaded a large iron cookstove onto the back of a mule.

Among the more notable pistol duels was a face-off held in 1920 between Rafael Tejo and Federico Rascon at "El Meson". To this day, no one knows who won -- being good shots, both men were found with matching bullet holes in the center of their foreheads.


This is a rugged, physically demanding adventure. Although the horses are "no nonsense" and well trained, you must be an experienced, confident rider in good physical condition. Rider weight is restricted to 200 lbs. We spend long hours in the saddle and must hike some steep or dangerous sections. Be prepared to cheerfully accept the unplanned and unexpected. Although the guides and Mexican staff are the best, remote travel in the Sierra Madre has risk. This is the real thing....comparable to traveling through the Rocky Mountains in the 1880s. Only the adventurous should consider this trip. PLEASE COME PREPARED FOR THE UNEXPECTED AND CHANGES IN THE ITINERARY.

Dates: 2002 Mar 10-20,  (Special Easter trip; Easter Sunday in Uruachic)
April 14-24, Oct 20-30

Cost:From El Paso - $1795 6-10 riders.

WEATHER These trips are scheduled during the dry, cool winter season in the Sierra Madre. Our fall and spring dates will have the warmest temperatures when the canyon bottom can be in the 80's- 90's and the rim at night in the 30's. November through February dates are cooler with the canyon bottom in the 60's and 70's (nights 50's) and the rim 30's-70's (nights down to freezing). Winter storm systems periodically affect this area (particularly Dec-Jan) and can cause freezing temperatures and snow on the rim and rain in the canyon bottom. .

DOCUMENTS Proof of citizenship is needed in the form of a passport (preferable), or official birth certificate from the courthouse with seal (not from the hospital with your feet) accompanied by picture I.D.

MEETING TIME AND PLACE: Time: 7 am on the morning of departure. Please leave your bags in your room and we will breakfast together. Place: The lobby of the Airport La Quinta Inn in El Paso, Texas.

SUGGESTED PRE AND POST TRIP LODGING: La Quinta Inn, located off the Geronimo Exit of I-10 near the 6140 Gateway airport and downtown. Free airport shuttle is offered El Paso, Texas between 7:30 am and 10:30 PM everyday. Parking your vehicle while on the trip can be arranged with advance notice.Local Phone Number: (915) 778-9321 Toll free for reservations: 1-800-531-5900 Specify the Airport La Quinta in El Paso. On Day 11 you should plan on a flight no earlier than 4:00 pm.

RESERVATIONS -719-783-2519 (May-Nov) 719-630-7687 (Dec-Apr) gets you in touch with the Adventure Specialists staff, Bear Basin Ranch Westcliffe, CO 81252,     Http://

AIR: We recommend Earl at Taylor Travel at: 800/530-8828; or for international calls: 719/636-3871; fax: 719/636-3879; e-mail:

INCLUDED: Round trip transport from El Paso by van, all lodging, camp, tents and cook, guides/wranglers, meals except as noted below, horses, tack and saddle bags.

EXCLUSIONS - Costs resulting from illness or injury and emergency evacuation, program changes and delays beyond our control, meals in Cuauhtemoc  and Madera, items listed on the equipment list, tips for trip and hotel staff.
Trip leaders: Gary Ziegler, Carl Franz, Amy Finger -. Gary and Amy combine extensive outdoor experience to make Adventure Specialists a successful and unique operation. Gary's unusual background includes a Ph.D. in archaeology, discovery of archaeological sites in remote Peru and Mexico, first ascents of seven Andean peaks above 18,000 ft, extensive exploration of the Sierra Madre Mountains in Mexico, and the first person to bicycle the ancient pathways of Peru's Machu Picchu. He guides horse pack trips in his native Colorado and Peru. He completed a `Discovery Channel film last year and is just back from leading a National Geographic Expedition in Peru. Sponsored  by Western Horseman Magazine, Gary and a friend traveled five weeks on horse back from Chihuahua, through the Sierra Madre and Copper Canyons to Batopilas some years ago.

Amy has led more than one hundred groups into Mexico's rugged Copper Canyon since 1980 and countless more in Colorado, Spain and Peru. Amy's degrees in geology, climatology and her studies of flora and ecology strongly influence our emphasis on natural history and environmental awareness. Gary and Amy operate Bear Basin Ranch in Colorado with a herd of more than sixty horses and Long Horn Cows.

Author Carl Franz (Peoples Guide to Mexico), thought by many to be the world's authority on Mexican folk culture, adds his extensive experience, sense of humor and special cultural awareness. He has guided trips in Mexico for over 20 years.


__Passport __Credit cards and cash for tips, city meals, shopping etc.__Airline tickets.__Travel Insurance to include emergency medical, trip cancellation etc. Available any travel agency.__Duffel bag or large frameless pack for the majority of your gear.__Plastic garbage bags to line duffel for waterproofing on the trail.____Warm Sleeping Bag (to 20ø) __sleeping pad.__Leisure clothing for town._hiking boots (some are okay for riding as long as they are not too wide) We use our hiking boots along with a pair of half chaps which makes for a practical combination for both riding and walking. Good half chaps are available at: for $45-$75. We also like chaps but they are hot__Warm outer coat or parka. Or shell jacket and polar fleece type pullovers for layering__Rain gear; pants/slicker.__Hat with a Brim...essential for sun protection.__several bandanas.__Warm cap and gloves __light riding gloves__Assortment of light expedition clothes. pants, shirts, socks, underwear, trail shorts.__Toiletries...biodegradable soap, sun block (#30 or more) lip balm & personal items__Insect Repellant__Personal medications...__Water Purification Kit-iodine or filter for hotels etc. We boil camp and trail water__Sun Glasses.....__Flashlight...with extra bulb and batteries- We like headlamps.__Pocket knife.__Water Bottle__Camera and film. __

1) Franz, Carl: People's Guide to Mexico
2) Lumhotz, Carl: Unknown Mexico
3) Schwatka, Frederick: In the Land of the Cliff Dwellers
4) Bennett & Zing: The Tarahumara
5) Kennedy, John G.: Tara humara of the Sierra Madre
6) Fontana, Bernard: Tarahumara: Where Night is the Day of the Moon
7)  Fisher, Richard: Mexico's Copper Canyon
8) Shepard, Grant: The Silver Magnet
9) Villasenor, Victor: Rain of Gold.
10) Ziegler, Gary: Discovery and Adventure; Copper Canyon

Pack your gear into your duffel. Your duffel bag will not be available during the day on the pack horses. Your saddle bags should hold rain gear, water bottle, and other items you will want during the day. Line the duffel with a garbage bag. Please remember that space is limited so cover all the eventualities but do not bring many different pairs of items. The most important thing to bring is your cheerful acceptance of whatever surprises the adventure may hold in store!



Book Your Place on a Copper Canyon Trek

  • Call: 719-783-2519 (May-Nov); 719-630-7687 (Dec-Apr) for the Adventure Specialists staff.
  • Write Adventure Specialists at: Bear Basin Ranch, Westcliffe, CO 81252

  • SPECIAL OFFER: When you book our Copper Canyon trek, mention the People's Guide to Mexico website and you'll receive a complimentary copy of the award-winning book, The People's Guide to Mexico.

The Copper Canyon Home Page

©1972-2002 by Carl Franz & Lorena Havens
Copper Canyon Live & Retire Table of ContentsBook Reviews LettersSearch This Site