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9 or 10 to 3: The Copper Canyon Sprint

Joined
Jan 1, 2005
Messages
3,978
Location
Austin
Chihuahua here we come

Based on advice from our two friends back in Urique, we decided that once out of the canyon we would ride south to (almost) Guachochi. From there we would ride northeast, hopefully reaching Chihuahua before dark. This route was essentially the exact opposite of the route we originally intended to ride to get to Guachochi.
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I'm really glad we decided to ride this way. Not because it was any warmer - the temps were in the low to mid 40s all day - or lower in elevation, but because it turned out to be such a fantastic road. It's all paved, but it is twisty and scenic the entire way. It was superb! I highly recommend coming (or going) this way versus going the way we did to get to Creel. This road is much better than highway 127 north of Creel.

We rode all day and ended up in Chihuahua prior to dark. Unfortunately we didn't have hotel reservations and this was the busy time of the year. All of the hotels were booked (and we looked hard for one) and even the (sex) motels were booked. (Note - a hotel in Mexico is exactly what you think it is. Motels, on the other hand, are not the same as in the USA. They are the place you go when you need a room for some romantic time with someone.) After a couple of hours, we finally located a motel, that was now supposedly a hotel, with two vacant rooms. I say supposedly because it was 6 pm and we had to wait for the rooms to be cleaned from the previous guests who had just departed. In any case, we got rooms, which was all I really cared about.

It was cold and dark and we really didn't want to ride the bikes to a restaurant. After debating our options, we finally decided to order a Domino's pizza for supper and buy some beer from the convenience store across the street to wash it down. I can faithfully report that though it took 90 minutes for the pizza to be delivered, it was exactly the same as Domino's pizza in the USA.

It was our final hours together in Mexico so we spent the evening hanging out in Thomas and Jeff's room, listening to music, telling war stories, eating pizza, and drinking beer. The next day we would part company as I left early and made a beeline for Texas. I figured I could make it to Terlingua before 2 pm and could be home in Austin before midnight. I was right and arrived home about 10:30 Thursday night. Thomas and Jeff decided to leave later in the day and were headed to the Santa Elena overlook. Along about 10 pm I bid them good night and wandered off to bed, knowing I would be up and gone by 7 am.

Epilogue

It has been a dozen years since my other trip to Copper Canyon. While this one did not go as planned, it was still an excellent trip and I accomplished 3/4 of everything I wanted to do. I still need to visit Sinforosa Canyon, so perhaps I can return again, this time in less than 12 years. Good travelling companions amplify the joy of travelling and while our group was small, we travelled well together and were blessed not to have any significant bike or health issues during the trip.

Thus ends my story. I hope you enjoyed reading it and that it inspires you to head out on your own adventure.

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copb8

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Nov 27, 2013
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Highland Village (Dallas) TX
Richard, Will you be publishing one of your guide books for this area? And posting the tracks? If so, put me down for one. We're thinking of doing this trip in 2019.
 
Joined
Dec 17, 2017
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41
Location
Austin
First - a big thanks to Richard and Thomas for allowing this Mexico-riding newbie to tag along. As Richard said above:


Exactly right, not just due to the destination, but also the quality of the guides! The only camera I brought with me was my cell phone - and it's camera died within hours of crossing the border. I finally realized I could still take photos with the front camera - so it was nothing but selfies for me. This is a particularly perverse sort of punishment for some unknown, evil act on my part. So, having Richard along as my personal photographer sure was ANOTHER bonus!

I know Richard isn't done with his report, but I'll chip in here with my perspective.

The Bike
I rode my xr650l - and it did just about perfect. Our highway speed was a leisurely 65, so I ended up getting about 55 mpg. It has a 4.5 gal main tank and I brought a 2.5 gal rotopax. That gave me plenty range, but the rotopax up on that tail rack is less than ideal. It's a lot of weight, high and back. And, the fuel weight sloshes around unless the tank is totally empty or totally full. 10 lbs of moving weight back on that rack was REALLY annoying. Note to self: figure out a better long-range fueling solution. I put all my crap in a big dry duffel bag on top of the rotopax - with another smaller drybag for tools - the idea was to put the heavy tools on the seat instead of the rack to minimize load on the subframe, and help keep the center of gravity as low and as far forward as possible. This worked - until I added a spare tube to that pack when on a side-trip without my main duffel. So: there's room for improvement there, too. Other than that, the XRL was a great ride - it's fine with cheap gas, fine on the highways, fine on all the dirt we did. The 'bang for the buck' on these bikes is pretty dern impressive.

Crossing the border, paperwork, logistics, etc
As the boy scouts say, Be Prepared. Thomas tutored me on what I needed to get the bike across (read MexTrek prep posts!), and I followed instructions. They asked me for proof of my US liability insurance - which Thomas said he'd never been asked for before. I had a paper copy on me, which I nearly never carry. All-in-all the crossings were uninteresting. I speak a little Spanish - but not enough; this would all have been a lot more time consuming if Thomas had not been there.

Routes and maps
I'm somewhat of an amateur GIS nerd, so I had tracks and off-line maps not only for the routes we were planning, but several other popular tracks in the Canyon. I use an Android app called Locus, and downloaded OpenStreetMap-based vector maps for all of Mexico before leaving Texas. I was also able to download elevation data for the whole Canyon area - very handy when trying to avoid sub-freezing temps at altitude. My offline maps were not as good as Thomas and Richard's Garmin 'e32' maps - but this differences proved insignificant - there's nothing I needed that I was not able to find. Phone-based navigation is risky: what if the phone dies or is lost? What if the battery runs out? Phones aren't as rugged - what if it breaks in a fall? All these are real concerns, and I had no backup solution - other than my riding buddies. It all worked (the phone is waterproof, gets well over 24 hours continual use on a charge, didn't get lost or broken) - but it is a fragile way to travel. I think next time, I'll bring along a backup device (my previous Android phone, WiFi only) for cheap redundancy. The most annoying part of phone-based navigation is gloves. Note to self: buy a cheap stylus!

Comms
We all had radio-based, in-helmet comms. It took a little while to iron out the kinks, and even then, there were frequent times one of us would drop out or become incomprehensible. But, overall the system worked and was HUGELY useful. For stuff like coordinating gas stops, picking a place for lunch, warning of on-coming traffic, etc. There's room for improvement, and I'll be debugging my end of this system before my next group ride (primarily antenna placement, frequency choices).



Day 1: Alpine to Cuauhtémoc: Peguis Canyon is a geologic oddity. If you have any interest in that stuff, go check it out. Even if you don't give a hoot about how or why this thing is there, it's still an amazing view. Chihuahua = traffic. It's the only part of the trip where traffic was even part of the story. The comms system also picked up a lot of local chatter - so next time I'll recommend we use less standard frequencies. Cuauhtémoc was a cool town - and a lot bigger than I thought. ~170k people. Thomas and I walked around for a while after dinner, grabbed another beverage, and saw the sights, such as they were.

Day 2: Cuauhtémoc to Urique: Started out cold. Boring pavement until we turned south onto 25. But from there on, the roads kept getting better and better. The overlook at Divisadero was amazing, as was the food! From Divisadero to Urique was also amazing. Here's a satellite view of the dirt road into town; how could that NOT be awesome??


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At dinner in Urique, our newly made local friends told a VERY interesting story. We were teasing the one that wasn't married about all the girls he must have in each little town - single guy with a large territory to work through. But, he said all the girls either leave town or get involved with cartel guys. The locals say the "girls smell like bullets" - that's a phrase I'd never heard before, and won't soon forget! He was at least partly joking.

Day 3: Urique to Batopilas: One of the best days of riding in my 7-ish years on two wheels. First half of the day was a 4300 foot climb in 11 miles, then up another couple thousand to top out just over 7000 feet. You stay up at altitude for about 15 miles, then descend down to Bato:

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Day 4: Bato to Chihuahua: The keyword for this day was: cold. 230 miles with an average elevation over 6000 feet, maxing out at 8273. First gas stop I got a very bad but very hot cup of coffee in me, and with the sun high the coldest part was behind us. It was about 60 miles of amazing, twisty, paved mountain roads before we hit highway 83 heading north. From there, the road drops out of the Sierras, getting straighter and lower each mile, signaling the end of the trip.

Day 5: Side junket thru Manual Benavitas: Richard headed from Chihuahua back to Texas to be with his family, so Thomas and I had a day to fill. We got a route to the south rim of the Santa Elena canyon, so that seems like a perfect detour. It would have been, too, if we hadn't run out of daylight. We knew we'd be short on time, so we set a 'Turn Around Time' of 4:30. Regardless of where we were, we'd stop and head back to our hotel in Ojinaga at 4:30. Great plan; poor execution :) . We actually made that turn-around about 5:15, and by 5:30 dusk had set in. We didn't reach the canyon overlook, and did a lot more miles on dirt, in the dark than we wanted, but the side-trip was still a huge success. 'FUN' was our only objective.

Day 6: Oj to Alpine: We packed up the bikes, remembering the rest of the tequila bottle we didn't kill the night before, and headed north. Crossed the border, then detoured up Casa Piedra Road and on into Marfa for a light lunch and a heavy beer. 30 miles later we unpack the bikes in Alpine and the trip comes to a close.



So, conclusions?
There is a thread with over 39,000 posts on ADV Rider called 'Is Mexico Safe' - and for us, it was. Perfectly so. We met great people, had great food, enjoyed great roads. We were prepared enough, equipped enough, experienced enough, and most importantly flexible enough (also, maybe lucky enough?). A shortcoming in any of these areas by any of us would have put the rest of the group in a pretty sticky situation. Urique is a long way from anywhere, and had Richard's family emergency demanded his immediate reaction, well, I'm just not sure how we'd have achieved that. An American tourist was murdered in a town we stayed in two week prior to our arrival. Mexico was not safe for him. Choosing to ride a motorcycle is risky. Riding off pavement is risky. Riding in remote areas and in Cartel-operated lands is risky. Riding in November through the mountains during a cold-front is risky. Did we "get away" with this adventure, despite the risks? Or are these various risks over-stated and fear-mongering? I dunno. But we made it and I can't wait to do it again!

I'm not big on group rides, so MexTrek and similar things aren't in the plans for me. So, I was really lucky to be included in this band of moto-brothers. Hasta pronto, amigos!

Jeff
And or anyone else who is looking for a gas container solution that won’t slosh. I use a “Gas Bag” (you gotta love just sayin it). I purchased the 1 Gallon size. Works great no sloshing and it shrinks to the amount of gas you have in it. I have not had any problems with it.

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Joined
Oct 14, 2014
Messages
237
Location
San Antonio, TX
Awesome report, and I'm sorry about your brother in law.

As a side note, I've been up to the Santa Elena Canyon overlook twice this year. The trail is becoming very faint and it's very easy to lose it in many areas. It's still worth the effort though.
 
Joined
Sep 7, 2004
Messages
366
Location
Houston, Tx
Great report! I can’t wait to go back - this time on a smaller bike! I spent probably 95% of the Bato to Urique road in 1st gear. It was pretty nerve racking. Actually my next trip down there may be with my wife in the jeep. Just refreshes the soul looking at those pics.

The ride from the border after you get out of the mountains to Chihuahua seems to go..on..for...ever! That’s one section I’d love to be able to push the hyperspace button on.
 
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Joined
Jan 1, 2005
Messages
3,978
Location
Austin
Richard, Will you be publishing one of your guide books for this area? And posting the tracks? If so, put me down for one. We're thinking of doing this trip in 2019.
Bart,

I don't have any plans to publish a guide for the Copper Canyon area. I just don't know it well enough to write a guide.

Tracks for the Copper Canyon area are available. You are welcome to the tracks I have from this trip. However, JT (and probably others) have much more extensive collections of proven tracks in CC than I. I suggest reaching out to JT and starting a discussion.

Also, I highly recommend the E32 gps map. It is a very good map and shows most of the dirt roads in the canyon. If I didn't have proven tracks of Copper Canyon then I would not hesitate to rely on the E32 by itself. It's not perfect (no map is) but it is easily good enough that anyone can use it and have a great time in the canyon.
 

copb8

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Joined
Nov 27, 2013
Messages
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Location
Highland Village (Dallas) TX
Bart,

I don't have any plans to publish a guide for the Copper Canyon area. I just don't know it well enough to write a guide.

Tracks for the Copper Canyon area are available. You are welcome to the tracks I have from this trip. However, JT (and probably others) have much more extensive collections of proven tracks in CC than I. I suggest reaching out to JT and starting a discussion.

Also, I highly recommend the E32 gps map. It is a very good map and shows most of the dirt roads in the canyon. If I didn't have proven tracks of Copper Canyon then I would not hesitate to rely on the E32 by itself. It's not perfect (no map is) but it is easily good enough that anyone can use it and have a great time in the canyon.
Thanks Richard. I'll definitely reach out to JT. I do have the E32 maps already and they are very good.
 
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