El Gringo Loco

Mexico – June 2007

I’m in Mexico to explore Barrancas del Cobre, or Copper Canyon, a group of six distinct canyons in the southwestern part of the state of Chihuahua that is four times larger than the Grand Canyon. I’ve joined a tour by train that’s already taken us from Creel to El Fuerte and, this early morning, from El Fuerte to Barrancas, just south of Creel. We arrive at our hotel in the afternoon, which is poised at the canyon’s edge near the highest point of the canyon.

From the striking view afforded from the hotel’s terrace, I notice a circular structure off to the south, which becomes the focus of a hike. I’m not exactly sure how to get there but a brief exploration behind the hotel finds what turns out to be the beginning of a trail. As I start to head out, I realize that I am alone and have told no one where I am going. I am also traversing along the edge of the canyon at an elevation of around 8,000 feet and left my hiking boots at home, so I’m attempting it with sneakers.

The hike is going well till I come across a short ladder made of weathered wood missing its bottom rung that is the only way up a tall boulder. I have long legs, so it’s not a problem overcoming the missing step. I continue on along the boulders and narrow path till I come across a broken bridge, the first few feet of which are missing. This poses more of a dilemma. Should I turn around? Should I try to find another way across? Never being one to let obstacles get in my way, I decided to jump and continue on.

My goal now in sight, I come across my final obstacle: a narrow wooden pole with notches cut into it acting as a ladder up to the structure I’m aiming to reach. It again comes to mind that I am alone and have told no one where I have gone and am only one slip from a very long fall. But I’ve come too far to stop now. I slowly ascend it to the circular structure, though still have no idea what it is. It does offer some stunning views of the canyon, so I get in some photos.

It starts to gently rain, so I quickly return back to the hotel. Rain now subsided, I head back to the terrace for a drink only to find that several of my group had been following my hike with the binoculars they’d brought for birding. “We really didn’t think you’d jump,” they tell me as I’m offered a few drinks. I like to think the locals tell stories of “el gringo loco” who overcame three obstacles to reach his destination, though the hotel staff probably just warn others not to attempt what this crazy gringo did.

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